Mayors rarely use a state of the city address to delve into harsh truths about their towns. Instead, they usually tout the positives – new development, declining crimes rates and booming economic activity – while glossing over the negatives, painting simple and rose-colored portraits of their cities.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait took a different tack with his state of the city luncheon Tuesday and laid bare a more complex picture.
He talked about the city’s progress, but also dedicated a large part of his speech to the city’s at-risk youth, the plague of gang violence in poor neighborhoods and the need to show children that there is hope of building a better life.
His address quickly transformed into a call to action for businesses to donate their “time, talent and treasure” to the youngest generation.
“I’ve never been more serious in my life,” Tait told the gathering of business leaders at the City National Grove of Anaheim. “We have a generation in need.”
In some ways, Tait came full circle from his state of the city address in 2013, when he validated the sentiment held by many in the city’s Latino working-class neighborhoods that there are two Anaheims.
One city boasts world-class sports venues, Disneyland and the affluent, mostly white Anaheim Hills neighborhood. The other side of Anaheim is a mainly working-class Latino community, scraping by with low-wage jobs, fearful of aggressive police officers and gangs and stunted by a bleak sense that the city's political elite cares little for their plight.
The world witnessed that divide back in the summer of 2012, when mostly Latino youth rioted in the city’s downtown. Back-to-back police shootings of young Latino men and news broadcasts of a police dog toppling a baby stroller in a barrio triggered the mayhem.
That theme left some in the business community bitter. And two years later, negative feelings remain.
Just last month, the Hilton Anaheim hotel's general manager, Shaun Robinson, told the City Council at a public meeting that the “two Anaheims” depiction was a “myth.”
This year, Tait emphasized, “we are all Anaheim,” and being one city means that its community needs to shoulder the responsibility together.
“We can’t drive by these issues like we drive by these neighborhoods on the freeway,” Tait said.
The state of the city address itself was a step toward addressing the problem.
In years past, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce organized the event and used it as a fundraiser for the business lobby.
But this year, Tait partnered with a nonprofit to raise money for groups that assist the underserved youth group.
Phillip Palmer, the event’s master of ceremonies and a news anchor for KABC-TV, told the crowd that the state of the city event had so far raised $70,000.
The money goes 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.
It will also augment a $3 million commitment to the fund 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 city has also implemented programs in response to the study, Tait said.
In a video broadcast at the event, Disneyland President Michael Colglazier also acknowledged the problem.
“Anaheim’s facing a huge challenge. An enormous number of the youth in Anaheim are at-risk. They’re at risk for poverty. And poverty means they’re at risk of being alone at home after school,” Colglazier said. “That puts them at risk for being recruited by gangs, it puts you at risk for drugs, it puts you at risk for teen pregnancy, and all this combined put kids at risk for dropping out of school.”
Tait envisioned an Anaheim free of the plague of gang violence. He urged businesses to donate so that nonprofits and others can get to the root causes that lead to children joining gangs.
He ended the speech with a performance of the song “What a Wonderful World” by singer Nancy Sanchez, an Anaheim native who grew up with peers who joined gangs. She was exposed to a music charity based in the city that helped guide her down a different path.
“Imagine a city where all of our children are nurtured spiritually, intellectually and physically,” Tait said. “And imagine a city where every child, in every neighborhood, sees they can create lives that make them happy, hopeful, and serve the greater good.”