A town hall sponsored and televised by Los Angeles-based KABC-TV Monday night in Anaheim turned into another venue for outrage over a $158-million tax subsidy recently granted to a developer of two planned four-star hotels in the GardenWalk district.
It’s the third time that residents have attended in large numbers a public meeting to express their frustration about the issue. Unlike past City Council meetings, however, few supporters of the subsidy spoke out.
The subsidy plan allows a group headed by William O’Connell and Ajesh Patel to build the hotels at the city’s GardenWalk mall and keep up to 80 percent of the hotels’ room-tax revenue for the first 15 years after opening.
The council voted 3-2 last month to grant the subsidy, with Mayor Tom Tait and Councilwoman Lorri Galloway dissenting. Many residents were upset by the way the subsidy grant was rushed through the public approval process and said they didn’t have a chance to voice their opinions on the issue.
Galloway called the subsidy a “gift” that diverts “precious resources” from the city’s general fund, which pays for services like police and graffiti cleanup.
“We have no guarantee for these jobs people are clamoring about. We have no guarantee that these are living wage jobs,” Galloway said.
Council members Kris Murray and Gail Eastman were cautious in their remarks to the more than 300 people who packed St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church. Both said they were there to listen to the community.
Eastman said that she would focus on a few issues – other than the tax subsidy – that residents talked about. “I’ve heard that graffiti is a big issue for people,” she said. “That’s what I was listening for, things I can do something about.”
“The [subsidy] vote’s passed, I would love to be able to move on,” said Eastman, who lives within a mile of the church.
The meeting was billed in some fliers as a town hall specifically regarding the tax subsidy. That claim riled KABC-TV President and General Manager Arnold Kleiner, who said the forum was held to hear a variety of the community’s concerns. He said the fliers were misleading, and he placed the blame squarely on Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
“Nick Berardino, come up to see me anytime, because I have a few things to say to you,” Kleiner said.
— ADAM ELMAHREK