Barnes and Moreno: An Opportunity for Recovery in Anaheim

Like many communities, Anaheim is dealing with a shortfall in our City budget due to the economic disruption of Covid-19. A gap of $75MM to $100MM stands between Anaheim City Hall and the ability to provide the world-class services that residents, business partners, and visitors have come to expect from us. Cutting services is not acceptable. On the other hand, Anaheim does not raise money on the backs of our taxpayers.  We just don’t.

Unlike other communities, Anaheim is uniquely positioned to face the challenge.

We are uniquely positioned to overcome our budget crisis thanks to the economic strength of millions of visitors who enjoy Anaheim’s warm hospitality every year, visitors who will return when it is safe to do so. We enjoy the skills of highly qualified professional staff searching every municipal couch cushion for loose change as we speak. Anaheim also enjoys a legendary partnership with the private business sector, combining the strength of City Hall with the creativity of entrepreneurs. Most importantly, Anaheim is also led by 7 elected officials that we feel certain are able to set aside the issues that have divided us so far, and work together for the greater good of Anaheim’s people.

Thinking outside the box is what Anaheim does best. We call it, “The Anaheim Way.”

For decades, Anaheim has hosted tens of millions of visitors every year, with hotel taxes paid by those visitors providing about one fourth of our General Fund revenues, after expenses reflecting long-term investments in the Resort made by Anaheim taxpayers.

Until now, those visitors have offered a huge return on our investment, helping to cover some of our daily expenses, in addition to funding bond payments covering past Resort improvements.

Industry experts tell us that long-distance visitors will not be returning in great numbers for some time, and our Resort patrons will be coming from the surrounding region for day-trips. This means Anaheim will support visitors with the same services and amenities, as well as our obligation for Resort improvements, while collecting far less in taxes without hotel stays.

The ideal solution seems to be devising a way for those day trips to translate to revenue, covering the loss of overnight stays without reaching into the pockets of our residents and local businesses. This has been discussed in the past, with news media reporting an “admission fee” for entertainment tickets, including theme parks and sports venues, has shown to be very popular with residents. These proposals have always been rejected by the City Council for a variety of reasons before voters could weigh in.

In the early 1990s an admissions tax of $1 per person was considered, to prevent cutting core services during a $20MM budget shortfall. Instead, City leaders imposed a tax on utility bills, burdening Anaheim residents through an essential service rather than ask a minimal contribution based on a luxury expenditure. That choice cost leaders their seats in elected office.

We owe it to Anaheim stakeholders to consider every opportunity to correct the budget deficit we face, while preserving services provided by City staff. Those services translate directly to quality of life for our residents, and property values for those who invest in Anaheim.

If the City Council does not work with business partners to create an agreeable solution, it is certain that an outside group will force the issue through a citizen initiative and special election, likely without the input of those whose patrons will be contributing the fee.

As Council members, we often disagree, sometimes passionately. We are likely to disagree about whether to place a new “Local Services Premium” of minimal cost on entertainment admission prices onto the November ballot. Even if we agree to this purpose, we are likely to have different views regarding which entities might be exempted from such an effort, to protect those who would be harmed by increased cost to their patrons, and we are certain to disagree on how the funds may be spent. It is also possible that voters may reject such a proposition.

What is certain is that the idea merits consideration, which can only be done in an open and public meeting of your elected leaders. On Tuesday, June 23rd, we expect to raise this subject during the Council Communications portion of our meeting, where we trust our colleagues will step up with the support needed to place an item on an upcoming agenda for discussion.

We hope we can bring all stakeholders in for a lively debate, to craft a revenue stream that is agreeable to all involved, rather than imposing a measure on the private sector from the ballot box. We want to invite discussion with residents, businesses, our non-profit groups, educators, and our professional staff, to identify the expenditures you feel are most important to preserve and direct funds to those key areas. We want to find tools to protect new revenue streams from being diverted to special interests, and ensure fair and equitable distribution of funds, so that all 6 Council districts enjoy the benefits of funding, with the leaders you have chosen to represent your area having the last word on projects and programs in each area.

Most of all, we need to hear from you.

Councilmember Denise Barnes was elected in 2016 by voters of West Anaheim to represent Council District 1 in Anaheim’s first by-district elections. Councilmember Barnes has focused on improving the quality of life for this long-neglected section of Anaheim, by directing resources for parks, homelessness, senior citizens, and the revitalization of commercial corridors. She championed the critical approval of the Beach Blvd Specific Plan, and development to see that vision to reality. DBarnes@Anaheim.net

Councilmember Jose Moreno was elected as the first by-district representative for north-central Anaheim’s Council District 3, and re-elected to the office in 2018. Representing the oldest section of Anaheim, Moreno’s focus balances the need to invest in aging infrastructure, with a vision for social and economic prosperity for all residents and businesses.

Dr. Moreno is an associate professor in the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at CSULB. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from UCI, and earned his Master’s and Doctorate in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from Harvard University. JMoreno@Anaheim.net

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