Twelve more police officers.

Using middle schools for park space. 

More than $149 million going toward the Disneyland resort. 

Orange County’s largest city has a new budget. 

And this year, elected officials in Anaheim continue a regional trend for taxpayer funding priorities across Southern California:

A lion’s share of public money for the police and tourism, and a more marginal slice for community services. 

Marisol Ramirez, director of Programs & Development for the nonprofit Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, said in a Thursday phone interview her group typically looks for investments in community services and housing in the budget.

“We need communities to be able to rely on these types of services provided by their city in order for them to be in a recuperative state. We’re still post pandemic,” she said.

“The budget is a very good way to be able to see what are the actual priorities of the leadership within the city.”

City Council members approved their overall $2.1 billion budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year in a unanimous vote on June 27. 

Officials allocated over $181 million in general fund dollars to the police department. They are spending $3 million to hire 12 more police officers and $600,000 to hire 6 more police officers at schools.

Police spending accounts for roughly 41% of the $441.2 million general fund.

Meanwhile, council members are allocating about 10% of the general fund or $45.4 million towards community services like libraries and parks. Over a million is going towards extending library hours.

The city is also expecting a $50 million increase in their hotel tax revenue next year, despite concerns from some economists that a recession could be on the horizon. 

City spokesman Mike Lyster said while they were keeping an eye on a potential recession, it wasn’t something the city had serious concerns about. 

“While recessions inevitably bring some impact, Anaheim’s visitor economy historically has held up relatively well in economic downturns,” Lyster said in a Thursday email. 

“Should we see trends change, we would adjust our forecast in a regular mid-year budget update.” 

View Anaheim’s 2023-24 fiscal year budget here. 

Public Safety

Funds for public safety have been a huge chunk of the general fund year after year – even during the COVID-19 pandemic when tourism revenue dried up – while money for community services have remained around 10% annually.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year prior to the pandemic and in the years that followed, police spending has hovered around 40% of the general fund with hundreds of millions of dollars going to law enforcement year after year.

The money is going to a police department that has faced legal claims that range from a minor losing a testicle and wrongful death.

Meanwhile, the department has spent at least $20 million over roughly the last decade to settle these types of lawsuits.

[Read: Lost Body Part and Wrongful Death in Custody Are Among Recent Claims Against Anaheim Police]

It also comes nearly two years after Anaheim shot and killed Brandon Lopez, the cousin of a Santa City Councilmember, after forcing him out of his car with a flashbang grenade and determining that a water bottle in his hand was a gun.

[Read: Why Did Santa Ana Police Hand Over Scene to Anaheim PD the Night of Brandon Lopez Shooting?]

Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava said at a June 13 workshop that there has been an increase in crime in her district near city hall and across the city. 

She called for more police officers to be added on top of the proposed 12 and said 50 officers are expected to retire in the next year.

“We’ve had businesses who have been robbed in broad daylight. One business in particular has been hit seven times in one month,” she said.

“I’m tired of being called Anacrime.”

At that same workshop, Councilman Jose Diaz said while crime may have increased in the district Rubalcava represents, it’s down overall in the city.

He pushed back on adding even more police officers worrying about eating into reserves, adding they’ve been increasing officer staffing levels year after year and they are now in a “good” economical time.

“If the bad times hit us and we’re spending more than what we should then we’re going to have to layoff the same police officers we’re pushing to hire,” Diaz said.

Ramirez said Rubalcava’s request to increase police officers didn’t surprise her and that in order for communities to thrive, there needs to be investments in programs that benefit residents.

“If we increased our budget for community services then we actually wouldn’t have to need more funds that are allocated to police because that could potentially decrease crime rate,” she said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue has been allocated about 24% of the general fund – more than $105 million.

About $2.4 million is going towards 9 new firefighter positions in the city.

Initially only six firefighters were proposed, but council members added three more positions after Fire Chief Pat Russell said staffing levels were the same as 2008 but there were tens of thousands more calls a year now.

This is despite city staff recommending holding off on adding three more firefighters.

Both the firefighter association and the city’s police association helped finance the campaigns of city council members including Rubalcava, Diaz, Councilman Stephen Faessel and Mayor Ashleigh Aitken.

Parks & Libraries

While public safety gets almost two thirds of the general fund every year, parks and libraries are getting a much smaller slice.

In this year’s budget, about $77.6 million were allocated towards community services – about 3.7% of the overall budget.

Of that overall community service spending, $45.4 million of it is from general fund dollars – about 10% of general fund spending. 

City council members allocated about $16 million for the city’s libraries.

Earlier this year, city council members voted to allocate roughly $1.3 million dollars in the 2023-24 budget to keep local libraries open up a day longer a week except for the Euclid Branch.

[Read: A Weekend for The Books: Five Anaheim Libraries May Soon Open up For an Extra Day]

At the June 27 council meeting, Councilman Carlos Leon called for a future discussion on extending hours at the Euclid library – something that city staff said in the past would cost $250,000.

Officials have allocated about $13 million for maintaining the city’s 67 parks.

It includes a $265,000 agreement with the Anaheim Union High School District for the athletic fields at Trident Education Center, South Junior High School and Sycamore Junior High School for youth sports.

Sycamore Junior High’s field will also be used for general park space.

Council members also allocated $100,000 for Paul Revere Park improvements.

Out of the Capital Improvement budget, $16.5 million is going towards Recreation, Library and Park renovations.

Of that $16.5 million spending, about $2.2 million is being used for the OC River Walk project, a proposal to turn a portion of the Santa Ana River into a new public waterfront. 

About $1 million is allocated for the creation of Little Pine Park and $500,000 for River Park.

And $800,000 have been allocated for various park improvements.

An additional $400,000 will be used at Boysen Park to bring and update basketball courts, play areas, shaded picnic areas, refurbished baseball fields, skate park, dog park, soccer fields and more.

Ramirez said Anaheim is heavily dependent on grants to fund their parks.

“Our city could have certainly improved in regards to budgeting and allocating funds for that internally, rather than being solely dependent on federal dollars,” she said.

Special Election

Meanwhile, city council members have also allocated about $1.5 million for a special election in October where voters are expected to decide if hotel workers should get a $25 dollar an hour minimum wage and additional workplace safety measures like panic buttons.

Officials opted to call for a special election rather than spending $233,000 to put forth a union backed ballot measure to voters in the November 2024 general election after local hoteliers and Disneyland resort interests pushed back on the proposed minimum wage bump.

Those very resort interests have heavily financed city council campaigns through independent expenditures – the same interests the FBI alleged in sworn affidavits last year had undue influence over city hall.

[Read: Anaheim Voters To Decide if Hotel Workers Get $25 Minimum Wage in October]

According to the budget, the city is expected to rake in roughly $236 million in hotel tax revenue this fiscal year.

But every year 20% of the hotel tax revenue is used towards paying down $510 in bond debt for resort area projects, floated by the city in 1997. 

All of Disney’s incremental hotel, sales and property taxes – that would otherwise go to the general fund – are used to pay down the bonds.

A city commissioned study conducted in less than a month’s time found that the minimum wage increase would suppress hotel tax revenue in the long term and resort backed city councilmembers are expected to write arguments against the measure.

Meanwhile, hotel workers argue the measure is needed to help address the rising cost of housing and keep people out of homelessness.

And efforts to get officials to impose a 2% gate tax on Disneyland and other large entertainment venues like Angel Stadium and the Honda Center have been shut down, despite the city borrowing money in previous years to balance their budget.

Brandon Pho & Noah Biesiada contributed to this article.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


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