A Tale of Two Anaheims

When Anaheim protesters clashed with police in a downtown riot last year after a string of fatal police shootings, it became clear to many residents that there are two Anaheims.

One city boasts world-class sports venues, Disneyland's magic kingdom and an affluent, mostly white bedroom community perched atop the tumbling hills that form the city's eastern frontier.

The other side of Anaheim is a collection of neglected neighborhoods sprawled over the city's flatlands: a mainly working-class Latino community scraping by with low-wage jobs, fearful of aggressive police officers and gangs and stunted by a bleak sense that the city's political elite cares little for their plight.

On Tuesday, Mayor Tom Tait confronted the two Anaheims during the mayor's annual State of The City address.

As is city tradition, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce presented Monday's luncheon event, and most attendees were business leaders, not ordinary residents.

Below a gilded stage and a vast blue curtain, the city's powerbrokers dined on seasoned chicken and chocolate pudding deserts served in skinny glasses.

Tait’s message was harder to swallow.

“It is important for our reputation that there not be two Anaheims,” said Tait, in reference to the media storm last summer that placed the city's strife on an international stage. “But even more important, on a human level it's just not right.”

Yet creating one prosperous city won’t be easy.

Just down the road after Tait's speech, community activists protested outside City Hall the ouster of City Attorney Cristina Talley, a Latina who sources have said was forced to resign in part because she told the council majority that the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act, a state law that requires better representation for minorities on legislative bodies.

Talley's ouster has only widened the gap between the two Anaheims, activists said.

“What the council is doing here is further alienating the Latino community,” said Diana Lopez, president-elect of the Orange County Hispanic Bar Association. “And basically the City Council doesn't care. Perhaps another riot will get their attention.”

City Council members have so far declined to explain in detail why Talley was forced out.

They accepted Talley's resignation at Tuesday night's City Council meeting by a 4-1 vote, with Tait voting no because she is “exactly the type of city attorney this city needs,” he said.

Councilwoman Gail Eastman told The Orange County Register that a council vote to approve a $158-million tax subsidy for a hotel developer — which a Superior Court judge voided because it violated the state's open meetings law for lack of public notice — was one reason for the termination. Talley was expected to advise the council against potentially illegal votes.

Tait said the problems that led to the city's unrest are “multifaceted and connected,” citing a Disneyland-sponsored study prepared by Santa Ana-based The Olin Group, which showed that some of the reasons include unsafe conditions for children and lack of access to programs.

“We are particularly failing older youth, those 13 to 18 years old,” he said.

And while Tait touted positive city developments, such as improvement of schools and a new Kaiser hospital, there were glaring omissions.

For example, Tait didn't mention a planned 3.2-mile streetcar system that would connect the city's planned public transit depot with the Disneyland Resort, among other stops. The mayor – who challenges the cost of the project – recently questioned whether an email shows local officials planned to misrepresent information to a federal agency in order to obtain grant funding for the program.

Also left out of the speech was the $158-million tax subsidy that dominated city politics through much of last year. Todd Ament, president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, said the subsidy issue could return as early as the Feb. 19 City Council meeting.

Tait instead detailed a three-pronged approach to uniting the two Anaheims.

First, Tait said that restoring the Police Department's shattered trust within the Latino community begins with transparency regarding police incidents. He touted his proposal for a citizens review committee that would investigate police shootings as an important step.

“As we thank individual officers for their service, we must also strive for improvement,” Tait said. Any “organization that investigates itself will always be challenged.”

Open-government experts say that having true transparency with police shootings is nearly impossible.

While some cities across the state have civilian oversight bodies, public access to their findings and deliberations was significantly curtailed by the 2006 California Supreme Court decision in the Copley Press v. Superior Court case.

The court ruled against the San Diego Union-Tribune's request for access to transcripts and other documents relating to a San Diego Civil Service Commission hearing on the termination of a San Diego County sheriff's deputy. Open-government advocates said the decision effectively shut down civilian oversight in California.

Transparency notwithstanding, Tait has said that having a layer of civilian oversight to review police shootings will give residents confidence that an objective body has at least investigated the incidents, even though there’s limited disclosure about what they find.

Second, Tait insisted that the city must change its at-large election system to council districts, which would require that council candidates live in the districts they want to represent.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the city on behalf of Latino activists, arguing that the city's current election system disenfranchises Latinos by thwarting their ability to elect their favored candidates. All five sitting council members are white, and three come from the affluent Anaheim Hills neighborhoods.

Tait, like the ACLU, argued that a majority of past council members have come from Anaheim Hills. Council districts would change that, he said.

Under at-large elections, candidates are forced to campaign across the entire city, a feat normally accomplished only with expensive political mailers.

Under council districts, candidates could walk their neighborhoods and be elected with more grassroots, less expensive campaigns, proponents argued.

“With district elections, people will feel closer to their city,” reflecting a basic American principle that “the government closest to the people is the one that governs best,” Tait said.

Opponents of council districts have said the system will create minifiefdoms in the city that will battle over resources and create political gridlock. They have said they prefer being able to hold accountable all their council members, not just their neighborhoods' representatives.

The third leg of Tait's plan is to carve out a portion of room tax revenue — derived from hotel stays and the city's largest revenue source — and dedicate it to neighborhood improvements.

Sixteen years ago when Tait was a council member, city leaders approved a $500-million bond that created the resort district. One purpose of the investment was to create a revenue-producing area to fund city services, he said, and “dividend time” has come.

Tait also said that the business community was coming together to implement a “plan of action” to involve businesses in the plight of the city's neighborhoods.

He announced a yearlong effort to launch a “year of kindness” website — an addition to Tait's "Hi Neighbor" initiative to strengthen bonds among neighborhoods — that will allow potential volunteers to connect with services providers.

“Mentoring a young boy through the Big Brother program can change a life," Tait said. "Teaching English as a second language in a community center or a church can change a life.”

After the city's unrest, Tait said he searched the Internet for Anna Drive, the working-class Latino neighborhood where the demonstrations began, and found a Los Angeles Times article from 1990 describing a meeting between then Police Chief Joe Malloy and Anna Drive residents at a local church.

Tait said the meeting focused on the same issues the neighborhood's residents face today — gang violence.

“It is just sad that an entire generation has passed with no real improvements to the social challenges facing our most troubled neighborhoods,” Tait said.

“My concern is that 20 years from now some future mayor will read a story about Anna Drive in the summer of 2012 and be in the same position that I am today — looking back two decades and seeing no significant change.”

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

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