Tuesday, September 21, 2010 | The future of Anaheim for the past eight years has depended in large part on Mayor Curt Pringle, a man acutely aware of his surroundings and bent on changing them. Fast.
From the creation of the Platinum Triangle business and enteratainment district, to setting the city up as a transportation hub, to trying to get City Hall staffers to think and move at the incessant pace he does, Pringle seemingly has pushed for change everywhere.
He even tried to change the way tourists visiting Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center eat by urging better restaurants to move to Anaheim so tourists wouldn’t drive to Irvine or Newport Beach for dinner.
Pringle is termed out as mayor at the end of this year and says he will not seek another public office. “I don’t envision ever running for anything again,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
And at least half of the current City Council will leave office along with him. Two current members aren’t seeking reelection, and a third, Harry Sidhu, is a long-shot candidate for the county Board of Supervisors.
But big projects from Pringle’s agenda — including development of the Platinum Triangle, millions of dollars in financing for the huge Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), bringing a high speed rail line to Anaheim and developing city water resources — will still be there. More importantly, they won’t be done, or have barely started.
So who will step into Pringle’s shoes and shepherd these big ideas through? Or will the upcoming election bring in leaders with a different vision or political approach that leaves the Pringle projects to gather dust?
There are three candidates for mayor, two of them former council members, and a whopping 14 contenders for the two council seats.
But so far, said Tom Daly, Pringle’s predecessor as Anaheim mayor and now the Orange County Clerk/Recorder, “I’m not hearing much discussion of relevant issues. I’m not hearing much detail. It’s almost eerily quiet in the city right now in terms of strong points of view from the City Council candidates.”
The Anaheim Personality
When Pringle was elected mayor in 2002, he “energized” the City Council, said former City Manager David M. Morgan.
“I think cities do have personalities,” Morgan added. Anaheim’s personality is that of an “ambitious, risk-taking person,” Morgan said.
He points to the city’s eagerness to adopt Disneyland in the mid-1950s, to its development of Angel Stadium (home to the astonishingly named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), to its dreams for the Platinum Triangle.
“Curt’s personality fit that,” Morgan said. “I think there was a pretty good alignment there.”
Pringle, a former state Assembly speaker, is one of the most influential politicians in the state, with powerful allies in Sacramento. He also plays a lead role in high-speed rail planning.
And he certainly has his detractors, from those who are politically more conservative who feel he bends too much to the left, even as he supports business, to those who agree with him on issues but worry that he’s a bit too close to the business interests he champions.
He owns a well-connected PR firm, with local and Sacramento offices, whose clients have included government agencies in Orange County.
Success Through Consensus
The only Democrat on the City Council, Lorri Galloway, points to the issue of affordable housing as a significant example of how Anaheim’s future has been dependent on Pringle’s ability to build consensus.
Galloway and a former council member raised concerns that for all of the development plans, affordable housing wasn’t available for workers at Disneyland, in particular, or citywide, in general.
In a notable battle over development of a strawberry field about four years ago, Galloway, director of a children’s shelter for 27 years, said she and others ultimately were able to convince Pringle that affordable housing was an important part of Anaheim’s future.
“To him,” she said, “it’s about getting three votes [the majority necessary for the council to act]. He’s very good at it.”
Ultimately, the three votes that supported affordable housing were Galloway, another council member and Pringle. “It didn’t come easily,” she said, but “it changed the focus of the Redevelopment Agency.”
Today Pringle is so proud of that accomplishment that he notes “the Anaheim Affordable Housing Strategic Plan was written by me on my computer.”
But it’s the ability to reach consensus that Pringle, too, credits with allowing the big development plans to come together.
Knowing How to Count
“I think my political successes over the years came from one important skill,” Pringle said. “I can count.”
For example, Pringle was first elected to the Legislature when, in 1988, he was a member of the county Republican Central Committee when the incumbent assemblyman for his district, Dick Longshore, died the day after the June primary. It was up to the Central Committee to pick the GOP nominee for the November election.
The committee picked Pringle, who then lived in Garden Grove, and he ultimately rose to become Assembly speaker, a post he held for 11 months in 1996.
Today, in addition to being mayor, he’s chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority and a member of the Orange County Transportation Authority.
“I think everybody should win” in the political process, he said. And the fact that he has a long list of important political contacts in Sacramento [such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] and in Washington, D.C., didn’t hurt when he began to try to obtain federal stimulus funds and state support for projects.
While his high-powered political contacts have helped bring projects to Anaheim, it raises the issue of whether future councils will be able to maintain the pace.
The Platinum Triangle alone is a massive development plan. Based near Angel Stadium, it stretches from the 5 Freeway on the west to the Santa Ana River on the east and from just below Ball Road on the north to the city line on the south. It’s intended to be a major entertainment and commercial area.
But the Great Recession has brought development plans to a standstill. It will be the future leaders who must see it to completion — who face the challenge of going ahead or, as Morgan warns, lose confidence and begin dismantling it.
“Sometimes leaders get nervous and want to look like they’re doing something,” Morgan said of concerns about the future.
Brookfield Homes Southland President Adrian Foley said he believes “the muscle memory is in place” within city staffers and the larger community to see important projects through to completion after Pringle.
The city, he said, has a “strong staff,” and “I’m not unduly concerned the train is going to run off the tracks. It’s a very, very well-run city.”
Todd Ament, president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, said Pringle has created a staff “culture” that “really makes it easy to do business with the city” and which should help in the future.
“At different stages, you have different types of leaders,” Ament said. While Pringle “can see the big picture,” he said, “a leader who doesn’t help set the stage for the next generation hasn’t accomplished what they started out for.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the length of Curt Pringle’s time as Assembly speaker and the year he was first elected. He served as speaker for 11 months in 1996, and he was first elected in 1988.