For Councilwoman Gail Eastman, the violence that engulfed much of downtown Anaheim Tuesday night — a result of anger over two shootings by police — was a “ big time win” for her political team.
Eastman's rationale, which she posted on a message board for her neighborhood in central Anaheim known as the Colony, was that the riot prevented the City Council from considering ballot initiatives that would place future hotel room-tax subsidies to citywide votes and change the city's at-large voting system.
The council meeting — the last opportunity council members had to place the initiatives before the voters in the Noivember election — was adjourned due to the tumult outside before any city business could be considered.
“In spite of how it happened, it was a big time win for all who opposed seeing that placed on the November ballot,” Eastman wrote. “Tonight we celebrate a win with no shots fired!”
Except that many shots were fired. In an effort to quash a violent protest that grew to more than 1,000 people, police officers fired volleys of beanbags and pepper-spray pellets. Protesters chucked rocks and glass bottles at police officers, broke windows and kicked at police vehicles. Two journalists, a police officer and some protesters were injured in the melee.
Latino leaders are not happy with Eastman's remarks.
“I do think it was extremely callous and condescending,” said Amin David, former leader of the Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County.
Many Latinos champion a district-based election system because it would force some council members to live in, and presumably better represent, low-income neighborhoods.
The disagreement on council districts has so far broken down along mostly ethnic lines, with those opposing districts saying they would pit communities against each other. Opponents also say that under the current system, residents can hold the entire council accountable by having voting power over all five council members.
Civil rights groups don't see it that way. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit demanding that the city move to a district voting system, arguing that the current at-large system violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.
The room tax initiative, meanwhile, is a reaction to a council-approved $158-million room tax subsidy for the developer of two four-star hotels near the Anaheim GardenWalk center. Opponents of the subsidy say it was negotiated without any community benefits and gives an unfair advantage to one hotelier. Supporters say the subsidy was necessary to kick-start development and will be an economic boon to the city.
The initiative drive, led by Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, failed to get the required number of signatures to qualify for the November ballot without council approval. Supporters wanted the council vote to put it on the ballot anyway.
Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos, says that Eastman's comments are evidence that a small group has sway over City Hall.
“It's a really cynical way of saying we have sustained control of the power structure of Anaheim. The status quo has won,” Moreno said. “So it shows that [Eastman] was not at the dais last night listening with an open mind and an open ear and with compassion for our community. … Nobody won last night.”
Eastman could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Colony message board is not accessible to those who aren't members. Here is the full text of Eastman's post, quoted verbatim:
To everyone who sent an email and/or came out to City Hall to support the Council tonight. It's finally quiet in the hood and I've had time to collect my thoughts.
There was a time during the meeting when we were being told things were escalating outside and our PD was only able to just hold out until back up from County and other cities arrived, that I looked at all my friends in the chamber audience and regretted my earlier plea to show up and show support. I am most grateful that you all were there for the quiet show of support and happy that everyone was safe.
It appears to have been quiet now for almost an hour so I trust we will all get a good nights sleep. The bonus now is that a threat of seeing either the TOT [room tax] issue or districting on the November ballot is past.
In spite of how it happened, it was a big time win for all who opposed seeing that placed on the November ballot. We could still be asked to vote on both issues in the future if 15% of the registered voters in the city sign a petition requesting it. We may also be facing a recall if some of tonights speakers follow through on their threats, but that will be a fight for another day.
Tonight we celebrate a win with no shots fired!
Thanks my friends for standing with us!
— ADAM ELMAHREK