At the center of Anaheim’s recent political upheaval, which started with protests over police shootings four years ago and continues today with the transition to district-based elections, is the hotly debated question of whether city leaders prioritize Disneyland and other resort district businesses at the expense of resort workers and working-class neighborhoods.
Nowhere is the contrast between the Anaheim enjoyed by tourists and the reality lived by residents more evident than District 3, a north-central portion of Anaheim where half of all residents live on an annual household income of $50,000 or less, according to 2014 U.S. Census data.
Latino residents have the greatest concentration in District 3, making up 72 percent of the total population and 49 percent of those eligible to vote.
It is against this backdrop that incumbent Democratic Councilman Jordan Brandman, who is the protégé of former Republican Mayor Curt Pringle and backed by the city’s business establishment, faces two challengers in the November election who say the city’s investments in the resort district have not trickled down to neighborhoods.
They are Democrat Jose F. Moreno, president of the community group Los Amigos of Orange County, and Robert Nelson, a Republican aircraft mechanic who ran for council in 2010.
Moreno, the plaintiff in the voting rights lawsuit that triggered the switch to district elections, is the greater threat to Brandman. In 2014, Moreno placed fourth in the at-large election for two open council seats, garnering 14.7 percent of the vote, and would have been the top vote-getter in what is now District 3.
If Moreno is elected, he is likely to be an ally to Mayor Tom Tait, a Republican strongly opposed to tax subsidies that the city council majority has handed out to Disneyland and other hoteliers.
Brandman is also trying to recover from the fallout from his vote to delay the election of a District 3 representative until 2018, a move that many activists viewed as an attempt to disenfranchise Latino voters and ensure Moreno could not be elected until Tait is termed out in 2018.
Although the City Council ultimately backtracked on that vote, Brandman was formally condemned by the county Democratic Party and has since been alienated from many party leaders.
Still, Brandman has the support of high-ranking Democrats like Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and Assemblyman Tom Daly and several unions, including the city police and fire unions, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 47, and others.
Brandman is also ahead in fundraising, raising $172,246 so far this year, according to his most recent campaign finance disclosures. That includes a $30,000 loan to himself and $26,725 transferred from his congressional campaign account.
Brandman has also benefited from independent expenditures of at least $117,000, including $81,704 from a political action committee backed by Disney and OC Tax PAC called Moving Orange County Forward; $17,880 from the Disney-backed Save Our Anaheim Resort; and expenditures by the city police and fire unions.
Meanwhile, Moreno has raised $36,695 this year while Nelson is running a self-funded campaign and has thus far loaned himself $5,999, according to campaign disclosures.
Among Brandman’s more controversial council votes is his support for tax breaks worth more than $500 million to three luxury hotel projects. UNITE HERE, a union representing hotel and resort workers, is attempting to place a referendum on the November ballot that would ask voters to revoke the subsidies for two hotels.
The city’s focus on the resort and its partnership with Disney is what enables the city to provide its current, and future, services, Brandman argues.
“Money is going exactly where [my opponents] contend it’s not – code enforcement, park renovation, expanding libraries, building community centers,” Brandman said. “We are able to do all these things because of the revenues being brought in from the decisions the council is making.”
Brandman also pointed to a project labor agreement that would guarantee the use of union labor in the construction of Disney’s proposed luxury hotel as a positive development for Anaheim families.
“No better way do you improve quality of life than making sure that [jobs for] the biggest project involving municipal dollars are guaranteed to go to union labor,” Brandman said. “That was not happening until this liberal Democrat was on the council.”
Moreno questioned the value of a tourist economy that primarily produces low wage jobs, if those wages can’t support a reasonable quality of life for workers and residents.
“Only a pocket of [the city] is well-maintained and well taken care of because it produces so many resources,” said Moreno. “but the other parts of town, they say, ‘don’t visit it, don’t go past this particular street.’”
Moreno sees the subsidies as another example of pay-to-play politics and proposes an ordinance to prohibit businesses or that receive city subsidies from spending money on local elections through contributions or independent expenditures.
Nelson said the city should invest directly in neighborhoods rather than waiting for the benefits to trickle-down from the resort.
“What they’re doing is taking future revenue that could go to neighborhoods, and giving it back to the developers that would have built something anyway, if there was a market for it,” Nelson said.
Nelson also proposes creating a neighborhood improvement task force to address public works and blight issues.
Brandman rejects the accusation from his opponents and others that he is not a “neighborhood candidate,” pointing to the recent purchase of properties in West Anaheim for a revitalization project as an example of actions the city – with his support — has been taking to improve blighted neighborhoods.
“What [residents] want is libraries open, good parks, they want strong public safety…their streets lit, good schools,” said Brandman said. “And that is what we have been delivering…since the day I took office in December 2012, this council’s philosophy has become much more progressive in providing for resident needs.
Affordable housing is another major issue in District 3, where 65 percent of households are renters, more than any other district in the city, according to 2014 Census data. Citywide, 62 percent of renters, most of them low income, spend more than a third of their income on housing.
Although he believes the city has already done an “incredibly good job” of planning and building affordable housing, Brandman said the city should build new housing “as fast as we can,” projects which he said should continue to be funded by a combination of local funds and state grants.
Moreno said the city should push for more affordable units in new projects, and questioned whether new high-end apartments developments, like the Broadway Arms in downtown Anaheim, would further gentrify District 3 and push out low-income residents.
He circled back to his frustrations with those who emphasize the new jobs generated by the subsidized hotel projects.
“You mention bringing in thousands of jobs, but you don’t mention where those jobs are going to live,” Moreno said, referring to Brandman.
Nelson said he supports new affordable housing that is built strategically – not clustered together – and with consideration to parking impacts and the strain on public safety.
Like neighboring Santa Ana, Anaheim suffers from a severe lack of trust between residents and police, which boiled over in the summer of 2012 when residents rioted outside City Hall following a string police shootings.
Brandman, who supports hiring new police officers, said the city is on the right track, citing the establishment of a police advisory board and hiring of a new police chief.
“I’m very proud of leading the effort to hire a progressive police chief…can we do better, to make sure no lives are ever lost? Of course we can, we can always do better,” said Brandman at a recent forum sponsored by the Islamic Society of Orange County. “Community policing is coming back and the community is being included.”
Moreno rejects the argument that adding more police officers would solve the city’s crime problems.
“This whole idea that…restoring police officers is going to create safety, it’s just not borne out of history,” said Moreno, arguing that even at full capacity, the city still faced serious crime issues.
Instead, he argues the city should invest in community centers and youth-oriented programs to keep young people on a positive trajectory.
Nelson contends that increasing the number of police officers is a higher priority than funding community programs. But as the vice chair of a citizen Public Safety Board that monitors police misconduct and city policies related to public safety, he said he would also push to give the board access to internal complaints and investigations into police misconduct.
“You cannot have civilian oversight without access to those investigations,” said Nelson.
Two other candidates, community volunteer Linda Lobatos and legal assistant Jennifer Rivera, have not raised money or actively campaigned.
This post was updated 10/10/16 at 2:39 p.m. to include more information about groups backing the political action committee Moving Orange County Forward. An earlier version of this article also stated that Robert Nelson ran for City Council in 2010 and 2012. Nelson ran in 2010, but was not a candidate in 2012.
Contact Thy Vo at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.