Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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The irony of Anaheim’s politics is often as thick as the smoke plume that stretches out every night from Disneyland across the city’s residential neighborhoods.

Today, Anaheim city council members are considering banning all neighborhood fireworks, ostensibly due to the health impacts they trigger.

Last week, I listened to Anaheim City Councilwoman Lucille Kring – who represents the district where Disneyland resides – talk about the stress on local residents from the loud sounds coming from neighborhood Fourth of July fireworks.

Since lifting a ban on fireworks a few years back, council members have been weighing the profits earned by community groups that now get to sell fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday against the neighborhood impacts of more illegal fireworks going off.

At last week’s city council meeting, Kring told the public she had been inundated with phone calls about the illegal fireworks that were being set off this past summer.

She described the fireworks as making residents feel under siege, with the ensuing firecracker noises shaking houses, triggering heart attacks in dogs and affecting people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who suffer symptoms when the loud noises from fireworks go off.

“For the health of our residents, it would be better to ban this,” Kring said from her city council dais.

I found it interesting that Kring didn’t mention any complaints from the nightly fireworks shows at Disneyland, which impacts a series of neighborhoods near the resort – also in her district.

They apparently never call Kring.

To better gauge the impact on these neighborhoods, I decided to take a walk –bringing along a photographer and a notebook.

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Every single person I ran into throughout my neighborhood walk along West Vermont Avenue in Anaheim, near the intersection of Ball Road and Harbor Boulevard, told me that the Disneyland fireworks shows are a constant irritant.

In fact, the complaints were eerily similar to what Kring said about the Fourth of July incidents.

Numerous people told me their dogs regularly go crazy when the nightly bombardment from the Magic Kingdom starts.

Others told me the fireworks wake up babies and make it tough to get toddlers to sleep.

Windows rattle and family frames on walls move around on a regular basis.

Yet it’s tough to get a really good sense of the impact — until you stand on a nearby residential balcony nearby when the Disney fireworks show goes off.

YouTube video

What is entertaining above Downtown Disney is jarring out in the surrounding neighborhoods as the booms bounce off freeway retaining walls and back at neighborhoods.

You can truly feel every boom.

And judging from Disney’s own information on the frequency of fireworks shows, it seems residents currently get to enjoy more than an hour of this, every night.

As jarring as the fireworks are each night, many residents told me it’s even tougher on them when they walk out in the morning and find ash all over their cars from the fireworks.

Now, as far as I know, Disneyland doesn’t offer these residents anything for their trouble.

No discounted tickets.

Not even a token to the local car wash.

It’s a very different approach than what I’ve seen at the state-run Orange County Fairgrounds, where the state agency does work to offer neighbors some discounts and even meets with them about noises from the Pacific Amphitheatre.

Now, this week, we are hearing about Disney taking a different tack in its relationship with Anaheim, trying to turn down the heat on their myriad subsidies from the City by turning them back.

We are hearing that Disney executives want to contribute to a different type of local politics than the confrontational style of their chief lobbyist, Carrie Nocella, along with the resort political action committee, Support Our Anaheim Resort (called SOAR), they have funded in years past.

Mayor Tom Tait has already extended an olive branch to Disney, crediting Mouse executives for trying to change the channel.

“What they did was very bold,” said Tait, who has himself battled Disney almost single handedly on the council dais for some time, also pitting him against a resort community hell bent on subsidies.

Note that Tait later this week is headlining a Conversation on Cronyism in Anaheim at the Colony House (with my old boss, Bob Merry from Congressional Quarterly and The American Conservative) where he will likely lay out an ugly story of Disney’s dark money influence in local city council races and the subsidies that followed those campaign investments.

Yet the recent announcement from Disney has seemingly put him in a better mood already toward the resort.

“My sense is there’s a desire by Disney to get along with everybody – the workers, the city, everybody,” Tait told our reporter in Anaheim, Thy Vo.

Yet I remember the sage words of President Ronald Reagan when dealing with the Soviets.

Trust but verify.

Despite the recent announcements about a new tone from Disney, I still notice that the SOAR PAC recently got more than $400,000 from Disney to fuel this year’s city council campaigns.

I doubt that money will go toward publicizing a touchy, feely Disney at city hall.

I hope I’m wrong about that.

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

One thing that Disney and city council members could do to begin ushering in a different tone is walk the neighborhoods around Disneyland and follow the lead of Lucille Kring.

Focus on neighborhood health.

I could recommend several nice neighborhood balconies that Disneyland Resort President Josh D’Amaro could visit at night to get a real sense of where things are at in Anaheim.

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