Anaheim Hotel Subsidy Initiative Dealt a Setback

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Activists march on Anaheim City Hall in February to protest $158-million subsidy given to a hotel developer. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

An initiative drive in Anaheim to require voter approval for hotel development subsidies suffered a major setback this week when volunteers discovered they need some 7,000 more petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Backers of the initiative, dubbed “Let the People Vote,” say they were misinformed by City Clerk Linda Andal regarding the number of petition signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the ballot. For weeks, workers say they have been gathering signatures thinking they need 10 percent of the city's registered voters or about 14,500 signatures.

But backers discovered recently that they actually need 15 percent of registered voters, about 22,000 signatures, said Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who has been leading the effort.

“I have to be honest and say when it comes this late in the game and the time frame is still the same, to have to get 7,000 more signatures, it is, wow, it's significant,” Galloway said.

The initiative drive comes in the wake of a $158-million tax subsidy granted by the Anaheim City Council on Jan. 24 to the developer of two planned four-star hotels at the Anaheim GardenWalk center. The deal allows the developers to retain 80 percent of the hotels' room tax revenue for 15 years.

Council members and the community have been sharply divided over the subsidy.

Public sector unions and community activists have blasted the subsidy as a giveaway of public funds without any corresponding community benefits. Meanwhile, a coalition of building trades union leaders and members of the business community argue that the subsidy will create jobs and spur economic growth.

Galloway said there are more volunteers on the streets and all are working double time to achieve the signature goal. “To add another 50 percent we're really going to have to shake the bushes — shake the bushes and shake the trees. But quitting is not a part of our vocabulary. We're moving forward,” she said.

Unless the petition's backers hire many more signature gatherers, getting the required signatures appears impossible, said a backer of the petition drive who did not want to be named. Around 30,000 signatures will be necessary because not all signatures will be validated, the backer said.

“This is not gonna happen. It doesn't make sense to keep it going,” the initiative backer said.

When asked whether she was upset with Andal, Galloway said there was no time to focus on negativity.

“She [Andal] called me. She was very apologetic,” Galloway said. “I think our focus is getting it done. Getting mad at this point or retaliating at this point doesn't do anyone any good.”

Others suspect that the situation was something more nefarious and that the initiative's backers were intentionally misinformed.

“Who knows?" said Joanne Abu Qartoumy, an activist backing the initiative. "… Everything in Anaheim smacks of corruption.”

Andal denies that she intentionally misled the initiative's proponents and points out that requirements of the election code are public information.

“It was never my intent to mislead anyone,” Andal said. “As soon as I learned about the 15 percent requirement, I immediately contacted the [initiative] proponents and advised the City Council.”

Even if the initiative's backers make the signature goal, council members will still have to approve the validated signatures in order to place the initiative on the ballot. Some say they worry that the council majority that voted for the subsidy — which includes Gail Eastman, Kris Murray and Harry Sidhu — would vote to disqualify the signatures.

Murray said such a vote is a formality and she wouldn't vote to reject the signatures.

“I would not stand in the way of voters' will,” Murray said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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