In what Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait describes as an important symbolic departure, his 2015 state of the city address will not be organized and hosted by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce as it has been for years.
Instead, the city will partner with the nonprofit Orange County Community Foundation to produce the event. Proceeds will go to the Accelerate Change Together for Anaheim (ACT Anaheim) fund, which is making targeted grants to other nonprofits that cater to the city’s older at-risk children.
“The chamber has ample ways to raise money through other means by, my gosh it’s the business community -- these kids in Anaheim are the people that need help," Tait said at the Dec. 23 City Council meeting when the change was approved. “The state of the city belongs to the people, and not the Chamber of Commerce.”
However, the reasons for the change run deeper than a simple desire on Tait's part to redirect taxpayer funds to a worthier cause. It is also an act of retribution against the Chamber and its political arm for, in Tait's words, "divisive" tactics during last year's election season.
Specifically, Tait is referring to a Chamber-financed TV attack ad that featured District Attorney Tony Rackaucaks accusing the mayor of pushing to spend taxpayer money on a gang memorial, and ads published in the Anaheim Bulletin that indicated Tait wanted to demolish Angel Stadium.
Yet the mayor insisted it's not purely about political payback, but a wish to show that the event is about “more than just the business interests.”
Chamber President Todd Ament did not return a call seeking comment.
Tait did get some pushback from certain members of the council majority, who are backed heavily by the Chamber.
Councilwoman Lucille Kring, Tait’s opponent in the mayoral race, questioned whether the Orange County Community Foundation had the wherewithal to produce the event and said ACT Anaheim funneled money to a group that engaged in politicking during the election. She encouraged Tait to be “magnanimous” and have the chamber manage the event.
The Chamber “can make a phone call tomorrow and have all the pieces in place to make [the event] happen,” Kring said.
Tait said the Community Foundation is contracting with an outside firm that has experience managing other state of the city events. Also, the city will maintain a contractual relationship with the Chamber, according to Deputy City Manager Kristine Ridge.
It has in the past promoted other major city events, like the Taste of Anaheim, an OC jobs fair and a business luncheon, and marketed city programs directed at the business community. Ridge said the previous contract with the Chamber has expired, but that staff would bring forward a new services contract for City Council approval at the end of this month.
“We historically have always partnered with the Chamber, and for the past eight years we have had a professional services agreement for the purposes of promoting businesses and the local economy,” Ridge said.
Tait said the state of the city is also a call on the business community to shoulder some responsibility for children in the city’s underserved communities. The money from the state of the city sponsorships will augment a $3 million commitment to ACT Anaheim over three years from Disneyland, the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The businesses donated the money after a 2012 report by the Olin Group found that the city’s youth, particularly teenagers, have limited access to services. The study was commissioned on the heels of a downtown riot of mostly Latino youth sparked by a string of fatal police shootings.
The funding disbursements are partitioned over three years, or “acts,” and the group is now in its second year. Under the first year, ACT Anaheim was able to raise an additional $500,000 – bringing the total for the year to $1.5 million, according to Shelly Hoss, president of the Community Foundation, which administers ACT Anaheim funds.
Those funds were then donated to 10 nonprofits for services that range from mentoring programs to after school leadership development, employment training and more. GOALS Anaheim, Girls Incorporated of Orange County, and the Anaheim Gang Reduction Intervention Program were among the nonprofits and programs funded.
Hoss said she was “thrilled” about the opportunity to fundraise through the state of the city address. She also said it was “exemplary” for three of the city’s largest businesses to set aside their individual brands and come together for the “greater good.”
This year, Hoss said the group’s goal is to reach between $1.5 million and $2 million. And Anaheim needs it, Hoss said, because it doesn’t get the “philanthropic attention they deserve from throughout Orange County.”
The state of the city address is scheduled for Feb. 3 at the City National Grove of Anaheim.