A few months ago as part of its fight for a council districts electoral system, the activist group Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development produced a report showing a significant difference in how the city allocated its resources to affluent neighborhoods and low-income neighborhoods.
The packet issued by organization, also known as OCCORD, concluded that from 2004 to 2012 the city spent $170 per person on community resources in affluent Anaheim Hills while only $156 per person went to the rest of the city.
OCCORD’s study also found that Anaheim Hills has 1.8 libraries and 1.8 community centers per 50,000 residents while the flatlands only have 0.8 libraries and one community center per 50,000 residents.
Perhaps the starkest difference, according to OCCORD’s study, was the amount of parkland available to residents in affluent neighborhoods compared to those in working-class areas. Anaheim Hills enjoys 207.5 acres of parkland per 50,000 residents while there are only 59.1 acres for every 50,000 residents in the flatlands.
Last month, the city responded to that report with one of its own that paints quite a different picture.
The city’s calculations include such costs as police and fire calls for service, community services, public utilities, public works and more. They show that the per capita spending is nearly even for each district. For example, the eastern district, which includes Anaheim Hills, has 20.7 percent of the city’s population, and consumes 19 percent of the city’s net expenditure.
The city’s study also shows that between 2005 and 2012 the city’s central district received the most spending per capita on capital projects such as libraries, parks and community centers — $204 per person. The eastern district received only $145 per capita, according to the city’s report.
Planned capital improvements in the south of the city are expected to rise to $313 per capita over the next five years — many times more than planned in other districts — as developer fees from the Platinum Triangle are collected, the report states.
The two reports are not apples-to-apples comparisons. For example, while the OCCORD study bases its study on ZIP codes, the city’s study carved the city into north, west, south and east areas.
The city’s study included two sets of data, the first total general fund spending in each area, the second capital projects such as libraries, parks and community centers.
Finally and perhaps most significantly, the city’s study does not include the resort district.
So which study is to be believed?
Councilwoman Kris Murray said that the city’s calculations of total spending such as police calls for service is more accurate. “It, to me, was the fairest way to talk about everything in an apples-for-apples comparison,” Murray said.
Meanwhile, OCCORD and other activists as well as Mayor Tom Tait, say the city’s study has fatal flaws.
“You can see the disparity in resources just by driving through Anaheim. If someone wants to use numbers to suggest there’s no disparity in resources, that’s just nuts,” said Eric Altman, OCCORD’s executive director.
In presenting the report at the Aug. 13 City Council meeting, the city staff noted that OCCORD’s report was done by ZIP code and excludes 92806, which straddles the eastern and central areas of the city.
The city excluded wildland from parks in its study, which don’t require maintenance, because that skews the numbers much higher for Anaheim Hills. And while OCCORD’s study showed more community centers and libraries for Anaheim Hills residents, that actual spending on services at those amenities is equal across the city, a staffer said at the meeting.
City leaders lauded their report as proof that OCCORD was wrong.
“The allegations that have been made that residents without single-member districts don’t get a voice or see fair allocation of city services is just false based on the report that’s been provided tonight,” Murray said during the meeting.
Those on the other side of the debate said they want to see the data for themselves.
Clara Turner, OCCORD’s policy analyst, said her report’s numbers are based on a spreadsheet generated by the city for the Los Angeles Times about a year ago. She said that the city’s new report changes its methodology in some way, and that the group has requested the information behind the study to vet its conclusions.
Altman questioned whether excluding the resort district makes for a complete study. The sports and entertainment venues can also skew results, he said.
“Suppose somebody goes to the resort, has a great time all day, has a few drinks and gets caught driving home for a DUI [drunken driving] not in the resort. How is that counted?” Altman said.
“If you calculate what amount of money is spent on neighborhoods and you don’t sort of compare what amount of money is being spent on the resort, you’re not really getting a comprehensive analysis.”
Turner noted that including police calls for service will naturally drive up the results in the central district because of it has more traffic, industrial and commercial functions. She said including police in this way was “a little weird.”
Meanwhile, OCCORD is compiling data in a new way that shows city spending is not equal. This time they are taking the information they used in their previous report and tallying distribution by census tract.
Mayor Tom Tait also said that leaving the resort district out is a major flaw in the study.
“Why didn’t they include the resort district?” Tait said. “Compared to the rest of the city the resort district gets massively more in city spending.”
Jose Moreno, president of the grassroots Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County and a plaintiff in the lawsuit alleging a violation of the state’s voting rights act, said he was “surprised” by the study’s conclusions and has asked for a meeting with the city manager to better understand the data.
“You kind of see that and think, am I living in some bizzaro world that we get the most resources, yet we live in such impoverished neighborhoods,” Moreno said. “I don’t think the community as a whole has had a chance to digest it.”
Moreno had other questions about the report: Does it include massive infrastructure investments like a $220-million transit depot? Or a more than $6-million tennis center renovation that doesn’t add more park land or benefit low-income families?
Or perhaps what the report really shows, Moreno said, is that the city’s low-income neighborhoods simply need more resources to flourish. After all, they don’t have homeowners associations or pristine wildlands in their backyards that the residents of Anaheim Hills enjoy.
“You give money to schools that need extra support. I would see the city in the same way,” Moreno said. “They may be doing that, but it’s hard to tell with the data they use.”
Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek
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