When Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis penned a letter to the Anaheim City Council backing elections by council districts, news outlets reported that the declaration was tacit approval of Mayor Tom Tait’s plan to place the change on the November ballot.
It was a startling turn of events for City Hall observers, who assumed Disney would resist the change because it would dilute the resort’s influence over the city’s political system. The reasoning was that under a council district system, in which council members must live in the district they represent, candidates would not need to raise large sums of campaign cash to win election.
But if Kalogridis’ announcement wasn’t surprising enough, the Disney-backed council majority — Kris Murray, Harry Sidhu and Gail Eastman — voted against Tait’s proposal Wednesday night, seemingly shattering the perception that the three council members vote in lock step with the company's wishes.
However, a thorough examination of the letter reveals that the council majority had not defied the mega-resort when they voted for Murray’s proposals to delay a citywide vote for nearly two years and form a citizens review committee to study the issue.
On the contrary, majority voted for a Disney-endorsed blueprint.
While Disney in the letter explicitly backs the change to districts, the resort also supports an “independent, unbiased and equitably distributed group of Anaheim residents and employers to determine the number of seats, district boundaries and a new governance structure for the city.”
A Disney spokeswoman laid out the resort's position in even clearer terms. “We feel that’s a necessary part of the process to have a citizens committee or commission, however you want to term it, study the boundaries and make that determination,” said Suzi Brown, director of media relations and external communications at Disneyland.
Murray and the council majority say the citizens committee is needed to include the comments of a broad swath of residents. Critics of Murray’s idea say the review committee is actually a thinly veiled move to bury the issue.
But the push for council districts is unlikely to subside.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a group of activists have sued the city, arguing that the at-large council elections violate the 2001 California Voting Rights Act, because Latinos, who constitute more than half of the city’s population, can’t elect the council candidates of their choice.
Four of the five current council members live in Anaheim Hills, the affluent eastern quarter of the city. Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, whose ancestry is half Spanish and half Filipina, claims Latina heritage.
Focus on the divide between Anaheim Hills and the “flatlands” was sharpened after police shot and killed two young Latino men last month. Protests of the shootings turned into a downtown riot after protesters were denied admittance to a July 24 City Council meeting.
Many Latinos have connected the police shootings and poverty to their community’s disenfranchisement under the city’s current power structure. While city leaders nurture the resort district, the community has not gotten quality jobs and city services in return, they argue.