Anaheim Ends Tax Subsidy Deals for Disneyland

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Anaheim City Hall.

Anaheim city officials say they want to hit the “reset” button on a contentious political relationship with the Disneyland Resort, after voting unanimously Tuesday to rescind two major tax subsidy deals benefiting the corporation.

Council members formally voted to cancel the subsidies Tuesday, following a surprising request from the Disneyland Resort last week to end the deals that resort President Josh D’Amaro described as “a flashpoint for controversy and dissention [sic] in our community.”

Mayor Tom Tait framed the move as an olive branch from a corporation he has battled bitterly for years over the taxpayer-funded economic incentives.

“I believe it was a serious act of goodwill toward the city of Anaheim, and I think it’s a rare opportunity in our city to hit the reset button,” said Tait.

The two deals include a $267 million tax rebate to build a new, 700-bed luxury hotel project and a separate deal where, in the event that the city or voters try to introduce a tax Disneyland admission tickets, the city would route that money back to Disney for 45 years.

The 45-year tax deal also comes with a promise by Disney to spend at least $1 billion to build a “Star Wars” themed expansion of the park, which is still scheduled to open next year.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring called the cancellation of the subsidies “sad,” citing jobs that won’t be created without the construction of a new luxury hotel.

“Disney is not going to have any problems, but for the workers – I feel for the people whose jobs have been immediately taken away,” Kring said.

Although Disney has long enjoyed the support of the Anaheim City Council, it’s only in recent years that a majority of council members, led by Tait, have challenged the city’s use of taxpayer dollars to support Disneyland and other businesses in the Anaheim Resort.

Councilman Jose Moreno said he believes D’Amaro and Disney are sincere, but called on them to step back from influencing the city’s elections.

“Mr. D’Amaro seemed to be authentic. It’s my hope we can take the Disney Corporation at its word…and hit the reset button on the vital relationship between the city and the Disneyland Resort,” Moreno said. “But it is my hope Disney will cease to take part in the toxic body politic that is Anaheim elections.”

The cancellation of the subsidies comes just a few months before another key election. With Tait termed out, and another three seats on the council up for election, Disney and the city’s other business interests have an opportunity to change the political balance of the city council.

Disney poured $1.22 million into various political action committees in 2016 to back a slate of city council candidates.

According to July campaign filings, in 2018 Disney has contributed at least $425,000 to Support Our Anaheim Resort, a political action committee funding the opposition campaign against the wage initiative and which has spent heavily in past council races.

Canceling the deals could have another major impact: exempt Disney from a ballot initiative which, if passed by voters in November, would require businesses receiving a tax rebate from the city to pay a minimum wage of up to $18 an hour by 2022.

Although the company has said their request is an attempt to improve relations with the city, not avoid the wage initiative, the vote brought out a couple dozen Disneyland Resort employees, hotel workers and other supporters of the initiative who criticized the move as a legal tactic to avoid paying higher wages.

“They come up with so many obstacles and problems to just [avoid] giving a living wage to workers,” said Maria Ortiz, a single mother and housekeeper at the resort for 13 years who says the wages she earn aren’t enough to pay for basic needs for her family.

Disney recently reached a deal with four unions representing less than a third of their employees to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 by January 2019, and includes a 3% raise for employees that earn a wage at or above that threshold. The wage initiative would affect all employees regardless of whether they’re represented by a union.

Councilwoman Kris Murray said the call to “reset” relations needs to be met by all parties, not just Disney, calling efforts by local labor unions to promote their wage initiative, which focused largely on Disneyland workers, a “misinformation campaign.”

“I don’t hear a call for them to divorce themselves [from the election],” Murray said. “If we’re asking people not to participate in Anaheim [politics] it should not be pointed at one organization.”

Tait urged his colleagues to put the last two years of political tension behind them, noting that he has just a few months left as mayor.

“This bickering – I don’t think anyone wants to see this fighting,” Tait said. “Let the past be the past, we’ve certainly had strong disagreements on this…but we have staff that is looking to move us forward.”

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.