A union representing Anaheim Resort district employees is collecting signatures in an attempt to put two luxury hotel development deals before voters on the November ballot or in a future special election, after failed attempts to engage the projects’ developer on a labor deal.

UNITE-HERE Local 11 and a group, Citizens for a Better Anaheim, announced the petition drive at a press conference Thursday morning in front of the site of a four-diamond luxury hotel project by the Hong Kong-based company Wincome Group, which was granted tax breaks for two proposed hotel projects by the city last month.

“[We] contend that development agreements for the proposed Anaheim Plaza and Anabella hotels are government gateways to luxury hotel developers – money that could fund schools, roads or other city services that benefit more of the city’s residents,” the union stated in a press release late Thursday.

The tax breaks, granted as part of the city’s Hotel Incentive policy, would return 70 percent of hotel room taxes generated by the projects each year to the developer for twenty years, and could be worth $300 million to the Wincome Group over that period.

The incentive policy has been controversial. Proponents say the tax rebates will spur projects that otherwise wouldn’t get built and result in a windfall for the city’s general fund.

Others have questioned whether Anaheim has the demand for luxury hotel rooms when many visitors already go to Irvine and Newport Beach for luxury accommodations.

The referendum, however, will not be targeting a third luxury hotel project by Disney that was also granted a tax break, as Disney already had an agreement with UNITE-HERE that was the result of a previous negotiation.

Ada Briceno, secretary-treasurer for the union, said the union has always firmly opposed the hotel subsidies but that the Disney project is an example of how the city can ensure the projects would benefit the public and Anaheim families in some way.

“It’s always been our firm position that we oppose the project and that we have no agreement [with the developer],” said Briceno.

At recent city council meetings, Briceno and other speakers with the labor union have focused their comments on the lack of a labor agreement with the Wincome group rather than the issue of the subsidies themselves.

Both the union and another group affiliated with Briceno, Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), have clashed with the city council majority on a number of key issues in recent years. The union and OCCORD organized political efforts to pass a 2014 ballot measure to implement district elections, and recently organized residents in to pass a ban on short-term rental properties citywide.

The union was publicly criticized by councilwoman Kris Murray, who questioned why the union waited until the week before the council was set to vote on the projects to contact the developer about a labor agreement.

“We are all concerned about making sure our workers have right,” said Murray at the July 27 council meeting. “[But it is] my understanding that UNITE HERE didn’t attempt a negotiation until a couple days before this item, so it’s somewhat disingenuous to say the city didn’t do its part.”

Briceno said the union has since met with the developer and stated their interests but that they have not shown interest coming to an agreement.

Paul Sanford, the owner of the local developer for the Wincome Group projects, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Now, with nearly two weeks before an August 25 deadline to submit their petition, the union is attempting to gather 18,000 signatures to place the item on the ballot.

To qualify for the ballot, 12,651 of those signatures, or ten percent of the city’s total registered voters, will need to be validated, according to City Clerk Linda Andal.

So far, the group has collected 1,000 signatures.

The referendum process can be used to challenge specific projects or legislative acts, and does not apply to future actions by the City Council, Andal said. A referendum petition must be filed within thirty days after July 26, the day the council’s vote went into effect.

Briceno avoided a direct answer to a reporter’s question regarding whether the referendum is a negotiating tactic by the union. She said hotel projects are largely unwanted by residents, who should have the opportunity to vote on the project.

“They should vote on it,” Briceno said. “This was a large amount of money that was given out without benefits to the community.”

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org. Follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo or at Facebook.com/reporterthy. 

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