Last week, Voice of OC published a disappointing article praising a new "business friendly" plan created by a task force of well-connected political insiders and consultants in Anaheim.
Touted as promoting "economic freedom," the plan includes eliminating a slew of city regulations designed to protect residents from corporate gouging. And it advocates for cutting developer fees that support our libraries and parks.
The gushing article is surprising for its lack of skepticism of the Anaheim City Council, top-ranking city officials and the business interests on the plan's task force. Some of those same people have been called out in a string of recent Voice of OC stories for their conflicts of interest — and in one case, a violation of the city's charter.
This plan certainly provides a roadmap for economic freedom for the well-connected task force members. The group is a who's who directory of political appointees, developers and corporate consultants who stand to directly profit by bulldozing through permitting requirements, reducing building safety standards, and dramatically scaling back what developers pay the city to offset their impact to the surrounding community.
What's even more telling is who is not included on the task force. There's no neighborhood group or community activist. No teacher or any voice representing the interests of Anaheim's kids. Nobody who could provide insight about why some of these regulations and fees might benefit the community and how eliminating them could put the community at risk.
A look at campaign contribution reports could provide a reason for the one-sided task force. According to research by the nonprofit OCCORD, five out of the 12 private-sector members of the task force represent companies that made direct campaign contributions to current members of the Anaheim City Council (including the mayor) from 2004 to 2010.
A total of $12,450 was donated directly to these elected officials by task force members, the companies they work for and other employees of those companies. And that's not including any independent expenditures or contributions made in 2010 but reported in 2011.
It's also no surprise that task force members are part of a small, connected circle who stand to gain from changing these regulations.
For example, task force members include:
- Chairman, Dr. Thomas Turk, a consultant who has worked for Tait & Associates (Mayor Tom Tait's business), Koch Industries and Countrywide Property Management, according to his resume from Chapman University.
- Scott Fazekas, who recently resigned as the head of Anaheim's building department after a Voice of OC story revealed that his firm, Scott Fazekas & Associates, received thousands of dollars in city plan review work while he was in charge.
- Several real estate developers, builders and contractors, including Jim Ivory, vice president of Sares Regis Group; Ben Seybold, senior vice president at CBRE; and Brian Starr, the executive director of Orange County's Building Industry Association, representing the interests of more than 1,000 building executives in Orange County.
I am not saying that this task force is a bad idea. Certainly, responsible governance includes regularly evaluating how government conducts its business, identifying ways to eliminate bureaucracy and finding opportunities to help cities operate more efficiently.
But stacking the task force with special interests at the expense of soliciting input from a wide range of community members is irresponsible and a huge disservice to the majority of Anaheim residents. And it could have some serious consequences for families who live and work in Anaheim.
For example, the task force's plan recommends reducing developer fees that help fund libraries. Yet just months ago, the city cut more than $1 million from the city library budget, crippling early literacy programs and reducing access to library resources that are so greatly needed in the community.
While this might provide some "economic freedom" for members of the task force, it's just another example of "economic injustice" for everyone else.
Jennifer Muir is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board member and communications director for the Orange County Employees Association.