Larry Larsen, one of Anaheim’s Sister City Commissioners, has been vocal about not wanting a sister city relationship with Pudong, China.
“It’s called the China virus. The City of Anaheim is in the tank and we’re going to invite them into our house?” Larsen said at a commission meeting back in February. “I am stunned that anybody in Anaheim would even consider such a thing.”
Larsen continued to question why the commission — which is intended to create and maintain international relationships with other cities — would want to consider such a partnership with Pudong at their meeting in March.
Now city council members want to kick Larsen off their Sister City Commission when they publicly meet at 5 p.m. today. The meeting can be watched live through the city’s website.
Larsen was appointed to the commission by Councilman Jose Moreno.
And Larsen might not be the only person to lose his seat on the 15-member commission tonight.
The situation is making council members also consider restructuring the Sister City Commission, which they will take up right after they vote to remove Larsen or not.
It’s unclear what a restructuring could look like.
Councilman Jordan Brandman requested the item to remove Larsen the same night council members voted to reaffirm a resolution denouncing discrimination against Asian Americans a couple weeks ago.
Anaheim is part of Sister Cities International, a nonprofit organization and global network that connects towns in the U.S. with others abroad.
The nonprofit was formed in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower during the Cold War, with hopes that such partnerships could lower the chance of conflicts by creating a greater understanding between people of different cultures.
Anaheim’s Sister City Commission was formed in 2009 to revitalize their partnerships with the cities of Mito, Japan and Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.
In Anaheim, sister city relationships are not just about people; they’re also about providing local businesses and the local tourism industry opportunities to explore international markets.
These types of partnerships allow for student exchange programs between cities, as well as programs for adults to travel to their sister city and explore the culture.
Alison Edwards, CEO of the Orange County Human Relations Council, doesn’t know how effective Sister Cities are, but said programs that strive to humanize people to foster better relationships is a good practice.
“We do quite a bit of our work based on contact theory that basically says the more you have contact with people who are different than you, you tend to have a more favorable opinion of them and that opinion can grow more favorable over time through interaction,” Edwards said.
Edwards also said that using language like the “China virus” has a huge impact on communities living in the county.
“People are sometimes afraid in their own homes even of being targeted by their own neighbors in their own neighborhood. Everybody deserves to feel safe,” she said.
Larsen’s comments come at a time where cities, school districts and the sister city commission itself have denouced hate and violence towards the Asian American community.
Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who is often in opposition to Moreno, called out Larsen and his remarks at the last council meeting.
“It was entirely inappropriate, particularly in that forum, where the group’s mission is forging positive relationships primarily in Asian countries,” O’Neil said at the meeting earlier this month.
Any changes to the commission’s structure will require amendments to the city’s municipal code and depending on what the council decides staff will return to them with a proposed ordinance of changes.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.