Anaheim Council Denies Disney Gate Tax Discussion, Approves Budget with $75 Million Shortfall

Protestors in front of the Anaheim City Hall on June 1, 2020. Some demanded Anaheim reallocate portions of police the police budget to community services and parks.

Anaheim City Councilmembers this week again refused calls for a $1 ticket tax for Disneyland, Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, while approving a budget that’s projected to face at least a $75 million shortfall. 

“Today we discussed our general fund budget shortfall and that gap spans between Anaheim City Hall and the ability to provide world class services that residents, business partners and visitors have come to expect from us,” Councilwoman Denise Barnes said at Tuesday’s meeting. 

“We no longer have any options left to us but to at least talk about every potential revenue. Our employee unions know we have no other choice, our community groups know we have no other choice,” Barnes said. 

She tried to get her council colleagues to place the item on a future agenda for debate, but only got support from Councilman Jose Moreno. 

Barnes needed a third Councilmember to support her motion, due to a series of procedural changes spearheaded by Mayor Harry Sidhu early last year, shortly after taking office

“I think we owe it to our taxpayers. Who else will step up?” Barnes said

Although Sidhu kept trying to cut her off, Barnes ran down the list of Councilmembers 

“Mr. (Steve) Faessel, what about your district, you represent them? Do they not have a fighting chance with at least a third to discuss? Or Trevor (O’Neil). Lucille (Kring) I know you might be going out (of office), but for god sake do something people will remember you by,” Barnes said. “It’s not just my district, it’s the whole city. We can’t even give them a life raft.” 

“Mr. Mayor, what about you, you’re the leader of the ship.” 

Sidhu responded, “Can you please finish your comments.” 

“I’m trying to, I need to have cooperation to discuss and bring this forward,” Barnes said. 

“It’s not there, Councilmember Barnes,” said Sidhu. “Your five minutes is up is Councilmember Barnes.”  

Sidhu also instituted a five-minute speaking rule on the Council for all items last year, except for public hearings. 

“Well, I pray for our city leaders because not one of you has a backbone to show you really care about our employees let alone our residents,” Barnes said. 

Meanwhile, the budget deficit is causing every department in the city to face a 20 percent cut in the budget, which interim City Manager Greg Garcia classified as a “placeholder budget.” 

The Council majority said the budget outlook will improve once the Disneyland-area resort industry reopens next month, including the surrounding hotels and shops. 

“As I’ve said before, the best way to rectify our budget hole to get us back on track is to get our tourism and resort economy ramped up as quickly and safely as possible,” O’Neil said. 

Sidhu also said the city will recover once Disneyland reopens. 

“This would be the 60th anniversary of the original opening of Disneyland right here in Anaheim,” Sidhu said Tuesday. “Close to 50,000 people will have their jobs back and the city will start to see our budget recover as hotel taxes begin again.” 

But Disneyland won’t open July 17, the original date, following a Wednesday announcement from Disney delaying the reopening indefinitely. Its two resort hotel reopenings are also indefinitely delayed. 

The city’s unrestricted general fund is expected to take a roughly $100 million hit due to the Disneyland-area resort industry shutting down from the pandemic, on top of the loss of hotel tax revenues and restaurant closures. And 20 percent of that hotel tax goes to pay off 1997 resort bonds, while all of Disney’s incremental sales, hotel and property tax pays down the bonds. 

Numerous Disneyland resort employees have raised concerns about going back to work as the coronavirus continues to spread. 

Over 50,000 people — and counting — have signed an online petition urging Disney to delay the reopening of its two Anaheim theme parks. 

A dozen unions representing 17,000 employees in Disneyland and the surrounding resort area sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom last Wednesday, urging him to not approve Disney’s reopening plans. The unions are concerned about the lack of virus testing and other safety measures. 

Theme parks, convention centers and nightclubs are still not allowed to reopen and Newsom hasn’t indicated when he may lift those restrictions. 

State officials aren’t expected to consider reopening guidelines until after July 4, according to the OC Register

Anaheim, the county’s biggest city, has nearly 20 percent of all countywide cases, yet only 11 percent of OC’s population. 

Most of the city’s cases are in West Anaheim, which straddles the resort area. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio