Anaheim’s New Majority Rolls Back Controversial Policies

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After six years of largely being on the losing end of Anaheim City Council votes, Mayor Tom Tait finally got what he wanted Tuesday night – support from like-minded colleagues.

At their first official business meeting, the seven-member council, now with a majority of members on Tait’s side, worked through a laundry list of actions aimed at reversing major policies and actions taken by the previous council majority.

They canceled a controversial tax subsidy program for luxury hotel developers; ended a sponsorship contract with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce; “killed” any remaining interest in the Anaheim Streetcar project; and fired the interim city attorney, whose son was the campaign manager for former Councilman Jordan Brandman, who lost his council seat to Councilman Jose Moreno in the November election.

While Tait and his allies have celebrated their leadership as a new beginning, the meeting – which dragged on well past 1 a.m. – dredged up old political resentments and rivalries among Tait and the remaining members of the previous majority, councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring.  

Taking Aim at Hotel Subsidies, the Anaheim Streetcar and Chamber of Commerce Contract

The council’s decision Tuesday night to revoke an economic incentive program that provides a 20-year tax rebate to four-diamond hotel developers is a hard-won victory for Tait, whose opposition to the hotel subsidies in 2012 was the start of a years-long battle with the city’s business establishment.

Since 2012, the council has approved hotel subsidy deals totaling more than $708 million: $158 million in subsidies for two hotels projects near GardenWalk Mall; a subsidy worth $200 million for a second Disneyland Hotel; and nearly $300 million in subsidies for two Anaheim Resort hotels planned by the Wincome Group.

While council members voted unanimously to end the subsidy program, they did so for differing reasons.

Kring, who joined Tait in asking for the item to be agendized, said the incentive program has now fulfilled its purpose, which was to create a certain number of four-diamond hotel rooms to sustain a new market for luxury hotel guests, and is no longer needed.

Tait, meanwhile, sees the subsidies as a poster child for corporate welfare and believes the incentives will subsidize a market for luxury hotels that otherwise would not exist, drawing away from the existing hotel market.

“It hasn’t created any jobs yet, and it hasn’t cost the city yet – but I tell you, when these are built and we start writing those checks to the tune of $35, $40 million a year, it will cost our kids and our grandkids,” Tait said.

Moreno said he was frustrated with the lack of discussion about how the city’s efforts to grow the hotel market would also grow its low-wage tourist economy, and questioned whether the city would support an influx of low-wage workers coming to the city to work at the new hotels.

“The city creates policies that incentivizes poverty. Nelson Mandela once said ‘poverty is not a natural condition, it’s a man-made condition.’” Moreno said.

Tait also pushed for a motion not to renew the city’s $167,000 annual sponsorship of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, which pays for an annual job fair, a business awards luncheon, economic development conference and other events.

Murray said the events provide valuable services and benefits to residents and local businesses.

“I’m not sure under what auspice this is coming forward under than to be openly hostile to the business community,” she said.

Councilman James Vanderbilt said the council should look for ways to continue to support some of these events, such as the job fair, by continuing to provide city facilities like the Convention Center rent free.

Councilwoman Denise Barnes also proposed an action that Tait has long sought — assurance that the Anaheim Streetcar project is dead.

“This is a $300 million boondoggle that is not needed and not wanted,” said Barnes, reading from a prepared statement, which is how she issued most of her comments during the meeting.

Barnes’ request for a resolution is essentially a signal to the Orange County Transportation Authority that the city is not interested in seeing the streetcar project revived, after Transportation Authority directors voted to stop work on the project earlier this year.

The previous council majority still insisted that a streetcar be still be included in an ongoing OCTA study of potential transportation projects along Harbor Boulevard. They also decided to continue drafting an environmental review of the project, should it ever be revived by OCTA, at the request and expense of hotel properties along the route.

The council voted 5-2 to tell the Transportation Authority to kill the project altogether and stop work on the environmental review, with Murray and Kring voting no.

Bolstering the Mayor’s Office

The council also restored two privileges of the mayor’s office that had been removed by a previous council: his ability to agendize items outside of regular council meetings; and a full-time salary for his policy aide, Mishal Montgomery.

Currently, all members of the council can place items on the agenda at the end of council meetings and have the same budget (which is now $71,453) to spend on part-time staff.

Tait asked the council to restore the council’s policy prior to changes made in 2013, which gave the mayor the ability to place items on the agenda outside of council meetings.

On a Monday in September of that year, Brandman requested a special 8 a.m. meeting during which the council majority voted to strip Tait of his agenda-setting authority.

Members of the majority said at the time that they were simply attempting to level the playing field between council members and the mayor by giving them the same resources and privileges.

Tait and others saw it as an act of political retribution for his opposition to hotel tax subsidies.

“This was taken away from me at the meeting [where] the council passed an MOU giving the stadium property away for a dollar,” Tait said at Tuesday’s meeting. “On Monday morning with very little notice.”

Tuesday, both Murray and Kring repeated the arguments they made in 2013 – that the move would increase transparency by not allowing a mayor to surprise council members and the public with last-minute items.

“What would be the purpose of providing a carve out ot put things outside of public purview?” said Murray. “What is the harm of providing your [agenda] items in the council communications?”

The vote was 6-1 to give the mayor agenda-setting privileges, with Murray voting no.

Barnes, a close friend of both Tait and Montgomery, also requested a $40,000 increase to the budget for the mayor’s office, which reverses a 2012 vote that reduced Montgomery’s maximum compensation from $100,000 to $60,000.

Council members voted 5-2, with Murray and Kring voting no, to add money to the budget so Montgomery can work full-time through the end of the fiscal year in June 2017. Barnes also asked for staff to return next month with paperwork to create a formal full-time position.

Murray and Kring defended their previous votes, pointing to the fact that Montgomery, who was originally hired by Mayor Curt Pringle in 2003, could have retained her work hours if she chose to forgo a public pension, as other council aides have.

Tait said he needs Montgomery to be full time and that the move to cut her compensation was another political ambush by the previous council majority.

Firing the Interim City Attorney

After restoring Montgomery’s pay, the new majority voted to fire interim City Attorney Arturo Fierro, who was in line for the permanent position until controversy over his personal ties to Brandman prompted the previous council to appoint him to a temporary position.

Tait, who objected when the previous council majority approved Fierro’s contract a week before the election, has argued that the first district-elected council should appoint the attorney they would be working with.

The vote was 5-2, with Murray and Kring objecting strongly to the decision to terminate Fierro’s contract.

“I’m deeply disappointed this item was agendized so quickly tonight, on Christmas for God’s sake, to fire a man who participated in good faith with a full and fair and equitable hiring process,” said Murray.

Both she and Kring argued that failing to give Fierro a chance to prove himself would further damage the city’s credibility in a search process that had already struggled to attract candidates.

Councilman Steve Faessel said he was “extraordinarily uncomfortable” with Fierro’s personal ties to Brandman and could not approve the appointment given the conflict, real or perceived.

“Mr. Fierro’s son no longer works in any capacity for the city. That [ethical] threshold doesn’t even exist today…he is no longer even remotely affiliated with the city,” Murray said.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Kristin Pelletier, who has said she is not interested in the permanent position, will again serve as acting city attorney.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • Kathleen Heard

    Never have I been happier to see to puppets of Pringle and Disney get their hands slapped. Kris Murray in particular has been a thorn in my side ever since I witnessed her steal 2 children’s fireman hats from a teacher at Ponderosa. What a piece of work. Lucille’s speech at the swearing in was laughable. A plea for everyone to believe she was working for the people of Anaheim by giving away most of the resources available for city services.

  • Paul Lucas

    Merry Christmas Anaheim!

  • Josh McIntosh

    Good job Anaheim! Now please look for a proper representative on the OCWD.

    • Vern Pat Nelson

      STAT.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    Congratulations to the new Anaheim City Council and to Mayor Tom Tait.

  • RyanCantor

    Merry Christmas, Kris.

    Of all the comments I’ve ever made, I’m most sure of this. You’ve earned 100% of what you’re about to receive next year.

    • David Zenger

      If you think about it, the big hit for Murray and Kring is that they have both lost virtually all of their value to Pringle. They’ll be sitting there like the fruit way up at the top of tree that’s too high to reach – just slowly getting wizened and shrunken. And Brandman now has absolutely no value at all to the Kleptocracy®. Zero.

      • Greg Diamond

        Murray still has value to the Pringle Ring so long as she’s a likely candidate for Supervisor. Ditto with Brandman in the neighboring district. Kring’s value at this point is mostly to us critics of the former majority, given her tendency to spout out things that Murray knows better than to admit publicly.

        I don’t know whether you’ve watched the actual video of the debate over terminating Fierro’s contract, David, but if not then I hope that you will. I want to ask you what you think about Murray and Kring publicly recounting so much of what had been said and done in previous City Council Closed Sessions? I haven’t rewatched it while taking notes, but in real time I thought that they were WAY over the line. Isn’t there some sort of sanction for that?

  • David Zenger

    “I’m not sure under what auspice this is coming forward under than to be openly hostile to the business community,” she said.

    And Murray would have us believe that the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce is remotely concerned about anything that doesn’t solely benefit PringleCorp® clients. Let ’em back in (maybe) when they dump their obnoxious political action committee.

    As to the lawyer, that nasty little package may be placed right at Kring, Murray and Brandman’s doorstep. Period.

    And Murray nattering about transparency? That’s go to be the joke of the century.

    Well, done Mr. Faessel, thank you.

    • Vern Pat Nelson

      That’s right, that was the big surprise of the meeting. Faessel, despite all of his SOAR/Disney/police/fire backing, voted along with the Tait majority on, I think, every vote. And it wasn’t automatic – he put a lot of thought, questions, and explanations into each vote. It’s looking like we may have a 5-2 majority on most things, which also makes 2018 a lot less scary.

      I’ll be doing a piece on the meeting called “Faessel Surprises.”

      • Cynthia Ward

        I am proud of all 5 of the New Majority for last night’s meeting. While some wrongs were righted, at no time did it feel like actions were punitive, and what was done (or undone) was limited to what was needed to prevent additional harm moving forward. Our Council showed you CAN wield a majority voting block for the betterment of the people and not have to be nasty about it.

        Vern, your piece should be titled, “The Empire Strikes Out.” Between Tait and Faessel, the investments at Pringle HQ are not panning out as planned. Twice Curtster has backed candidates he (and others, inc,using ME, I admit it) that were supposed to be Pringle Puppets, and twice he failed to send the memo to those who were elected. His stalwarts Eastman and Brandman were booted by their own neighborhood, and the payoff of Murray and Kring couldn’t sustain themselves, as they fail to cloak their disdain for the Mayor, the citizens of Anaheim, the process of open government, and even a minimal appearance of basic ethical standards, making them increasingly easy to ignore. The new seating order is perfect. Let the New Miniority sit in the corner, snarling to each other about how unfair the others are to victimize them. In fact, the ultimate karmic smack down for Murray is not to have been removed from office in 2014, but to spend her last 2 years in office watching the elected Mayor (as opposed to her self-appointed Mayorship) run the city while she kicks the underside of her desk. And good luck running for that County Supe Seat in Spitzers District when she can’t even successfully suck up to the parents and unions of OUSD without having her politically pandering motion rewritten. Her comparison to those pushing a bond measure on an election ballot vs support for the Bros, a non profit group that encourages at-risk youth to seek a better future, is demeaning to those volunteering with the Bros and shows her lack of self-awareness, Failing to discern a non-profit group from political activity. But-but-but the Bros helped Districts get passed and they volunteered for Dr. Moreno’s campaigns! She exclaimed…and when the City recognized the Bros group it was NOT for the political or quasi political activity some of its members engaged in outside of their official actions as the Bros.

        And then…the very height of hypocrisy. The Mayor’s agendizing power. Suddenly the SAME wording the Council tried to force onto Tait on September 30, 2013 that would prevent his putting anything on upcoming agendas by a majority objection, even when waiting for Council Communications, is suddenly draconian and abusive toward them when they are in the minority team. somewhere we have a transcript of that 2013 meeting….

        I nearly felt sorry for Mr. Fiero, but who in their right mind accepts that job in the circumstances That were quite obvious? Lucille missing the irony that they hired a clearly not ready for prime time attorney for lack of qualified applicants because the head hunter could not talk qualified lawyers into app,hung, given the famously toxic environment at Anaheim City Hall thanks to the pettiness triplets. Of course. Nobody wants to apply for what was once one of the most plum jobs in California. The majority fired a competent lawyer for offering fair and unbiased views to the elected Mayor instead of bowing to their magnificence, and then they made life miserable for the crony they had set up and waiting in the wings, despite his lack of experience. Now they have hired someone who was again not ready for the enormity of the job. Every Council meeting to date has shown Fiero admitting his lack of knowledge regarding municipal law issues in the agenda, and while he is excused for not having encountered such issues in the smaller town he was in, lack of research prior to the meetings when he reviews the agendas is inexcusable. Then last night Councilmember Barnes asked Fiero for info he promised to get her and he admitted he didn’t follow through. I feel bad for him, he likely believed Jordan would be there to smooth the edges, and Faessel very wisely worded his own issues, sharing that the Ethics Officer would have a fit if they tried hiring the father of someone’s campaign staff for the MWD, while Murray and Kring argued that Jordan’s removal from office and the absence of Fiero’s kids as Brandman staffers somehow negated the lack of moral compass they exhibited in hiring him in the first place.

        Those two have made Anaheim the punch line to jokes for too long, and Anaheim is indeed NOT a “world class city” as long as we are the poster child for crony capitalism and almost certain negligence or fraud.

        Last night’s Anaheim City Council meeting was more satisfying to watch than anything on prime time TV. Thank you to all 5 who showed the world that Anaheim can conduct herself with dignity and class, finding compromise use solutions and honestly and frankly discussing the issues while showing respect for one another. I was SO proud of my home town last night. Bravo! Here’s to moving the city forward.

        • David Zenger

          I don’t feel sorry for Fiero. He took the job under a cloud of ethical controversy, and comical rationalizations. If he’s too clueless to see that he should be doing family trusts.

          • RyanCantor

            ^^^ Agreed. The guy knew EXACTLY what to expect from a lame duck appointment.

            Some serious crocodile tears from some sore losers last night.

        • David Zenger

          “The new seating order is perfect.”

          Isn’t there a janitor’s closet, or something down the hall?

        • @Dan Chmielewski

          The actions were totally punitive. Kneel before Tait as you always do.

    • Cynthia Ward

      The City did not hire the Chamber to do those events for them, they were not the city’s deal. Those events were Chamber events, and once upon a time funded by the Chamber, with some minimal help from the City. But when Todd Ament and his 6-figure salary came on board, they had to back fill the funding somewhere, so the Chamber became the hammer in the toolbox, able to do the dirty work the Council majority couldn’t have their fingerprints on, and in exchange the Council tossed public funds at their lackeys in thanks. Now for an audit of every nickel of those events. Please, someone start ordering some audits and investigations. Anaheim makes Irvine’s Great Park look like the treasury for a Sunday School group. Open the books! Now!

      • RyanCantor

        Wait a minute . . . you mean every other Chamber of Commerce in the county is wholly capable of acting as a local business interest without a direct city subsidy?

        NOOOOOOOOO. I don’t believe it. Surely, SURELY, a private non-elected lobbying organization cannot be without public monies.

        You’re simply anti-business, Cynthia. Shame.

        • @Dan Chmielewski

          The Irvine Chamber got city support even when they were hostile to the progressive council majority. Chambers do help small business.