Anaheim City Council members tonight are expected to discuss how their city should grow – taking up what’s known as a strategic plan – while wrestling with fallout from the FBI corruption probe.
Strategic plans are a core guiding document for cities across the nation, often outlining ways to address community issues like housing shortages, park maintenance, new developments and a host of other quality of life issues.
Click here to view the city council’s 5 p.m. meeting.
Councilwoman Natalie Meeks, a former public works director for the city, first floated the idea at the Dec. 6 meeting – the newly elected council’s first public meeting.
Meeks – who got more support than any candidate last year from the resort district with just over $546,000 in campaign support – ordered up a “vision document” followed up by a strategic plan.
“I believe it’s important to know where we’re headed – we all have different ideas. I think that we can collaborate best by creating a vision document … followed by a strategic plan,” Meeks said.
“Once you have that document in hand,” Meeks said, “it’ll be easier for us to rally around those things that could move that vision forward.”
The discussion also comes as city officials grapple with an FBI corruption probe into City Hall, which alleges outsized influence by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and other Disneyland area resort interests.
[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]
Many residents have also been calling for increased transparency and campaign finance reform following revelations in explosive FBI affidavits, which alleged former Mayor Harry Sidhu tried ramming through the Angel Stadium land sale for $1 million in campaign support.
Ely Flores, executive director of Orange County Communities for Responsible Development, previously told Voice of OC the organization is looking to get campaign finance reforms enacted.
“When Mayor Sidhu was asking for the million dollars, he wasn’t asking for it to go directly to his campaign, he was asking for it to go to a PAC (political action committee) that would support his campaign. And that is still a major problem,” Flores said.
He said campaign finance reform is “about strengthening local democracy and for local democracy to work for the people and not for special interest groups and not business groups”
Residents also demanded the city fully fund an independent investigation in an effort to root out any potential corruption lingering at City Hall.
[Read: Anaheim Officials Reverse Course and Fully Fund an Independent City Corruption Probe]
Anaheim is Orange County’s largest city, home to roughly 350,000 people – more than 10% of the county’s roughly 3.2 million residents.
As many as 45,500 residents – representing 13% of the city’s population live in poverty, according to the 2020 Census.
Meanwhile, residents have been increasingly showing up to City Council meetings to push for rent control, more park space, increased library hours, more afterschool programs and a host of other quality of life issues and community services.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken, who was backed by local police and fire unions in the 2022 election, initially pushed back against the increased funding request from investigators to complete the probe – saying the $750,000 expenditure could be used to hire four new firefighters.
Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.
During public comments at the Feb. 28 meeting, residents suggested other funding priorities for the city.
“You’re correct, we do need firefighters. But we also need rent control, mayor,” said resident Mariana Angeles through a Spanish translator.
Council members haven’t publicly weighed in on rent control and it’s unclear if they will during Tuesday’s meeting.
Santa Ana, Orange County’s first city to enact rent control, is facing a lawsuit from the Apartment Association of OC over the law. The lawsuit alleges the city’s rent control ordinance is unconstitutional.
For years, many Anaheim residents have criticized city leaders for giving Disneyland area resort interests massive taxpayer subsidies, like $510 million in bonds floated in 1997 to help expand the Disneyland Resort.
Taxes collected from the resort district make up $226 million of the $482 million general fund revenue, according to the current budget.
But more than half of the resort revenue – $118 million – goes back to the area to pay down the 1997 bonds and other resort services, like nearly $20 million for police in the DIsneyland resort area.
And all of Disney’s incremental taxes are used to pay down the bonds, along with 20% of citywide hotel taxes.
At the Dec. 6 inauguration, Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava said one of her first priorities would be quality of life issues like traffic. Meeks said she’ll prioritize public safety.
[Read: Anaheim Inaugurates Two Reformist, Two Resort-Backed City Councilmembers Following FBI Corruption Probe]
Aitken and Councilmember Carlos Leon identified homelessness as one of the top issues in Anaheim in Voice of OC’s 2022 candidate questionnaire.
Some residents recently identified parking, homeless and safety as top issues amid the recent appointment process for a new council member to represent District 4, the central district that encompasses Disneyland.
Despite the city council shooting down the idea of a gate tax on entertainment venues like Disneyland and Angel Stadium last year, some residents have continued pushing for one.
[Read: Forced to Borrow to Meet Budget Deficits, City of Anaheim Mulls Disneyland Ticket Tax]
Under last year’s proposal, staff estimated a 2% gate tax could produce up to $82 million in new revenue for the city.
Longtime city hall watchdog Cynthia Ward said city leaders need to figure out how to produce revenue outside of the resort district.
“I want you to succeed at diversifying our economy,” Ward told council members at the Feb. 28 meeting. “Bring in new industry beyond the poverty wage jobs of the resort … they’re not coming because our reputation is in tatters.”
Ward said businesses are being scared away from the city because of the corruption alleged in the FBI probe and are worried they’ll “get hit for campaign shakedowns.”
“We don’t have any do-overs in our magic bag of tricks,” Ward said, referring to the local economy. “All of those things begin with a current state assessment which is an honest, hard brutal look at where we are.”
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Reporter Hosam Elattar contributed to this article.
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