Anaheim residents filed into an auditorium at St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church last night for a KABC-TV Channel 7 town hall. The space in the heavily Latino neighborhood is usually situated for bingo nights, but a majority of the capacity crowd attended in order to express anger for a city council approved GardenWalk-area hotel development that already hit the tax break jackpot!
ABC7 President and General Manager Arnold Kleiner was on hand alongside a number of his colleagues seated to his left and right to facilitate the evening's discussion that was not an emergency forum, but had been planned in advance. In his opening spiel, he acknowledged he knew why so many had gathered. "We're not going to talk about this all night because this is not why we came down," Kleiner said in reference to the 3-2 vote last month to approve two new hotels with a $158 million subsidy over 15 years.
"It might be part of why we came down, but we want to hear about everything in your community. We want to hear what's on your mind, but when it starts getting repetitive, when we start hearing the same thing over and over and over, we're not going to hear it anymore."
Kleiner then mentioned a conversation he had with OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino beforehand, who the network president called out for not being in attendance, and later felt that the public employee union leader had co-opted the town hall with flyers, emails and robocalls hammering at the "giveaway three."
As people lined up, council members were first to speak. Lorri Galloway, who cast a dissenting vote alongside Mayor Tom Tait, drew the biggest applause of the night. "It's a gift of taxpayer money," she said of the hotel subsidy. "There is no guarantee that this gift of government money benefits directly the citizens of Anaheim and its communities. Now you can bet that the investors involved will get all of their money paid back completely, plus 16% interest," Galloway continued on. "We have no guarantee that the jobs that people are clamoring about are local jobs and we have no guarantee that these jobs are living wage jobs."
Councilwoman Kris Murray was next to walk up to the microphone and as she did she was greeted with a chorus of boos from the crowd. Her comments were brief and only topically touched upon the prevailing issue noting the number of jobs it would purportedly create. Gail Eastman, the only other council member in attendance as Harry Sidhu was not on hand, was spared the jeers as Kleiner had already stepped in on that front. "I'm very anxious to hear what you all have to say about your concerns other than this particular subject," she said to moans in the crowd. "This one has been voted on, that part is over and done with."
By and large, Anaheim residents and community leaders were very anxious to voice their displeasure with the vote, using all of the one-and-a-half minute they were allotted by the town hall format to do so. "Fifty-two years I've been in the city of Anaheim and I'm really tired of the 1% getting it all," Windflower Ochoa said in the rhetoric of Occupy firing off the first comment of the night. For the next hour-and-a-half, others went on to question the enormity of the tax subsidy in light of public service cuts such as those to libraries and schools. The quality of jobs for future hotel employees was brought up by a woman who had experience working as one. Longtime activist and Los Amigos chair emeritus Amin David stated a need for a referendum allowing for the people to vote.
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Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, was one of the few who spoke against the tide of discontent. "This hotel project, while many have kind of spun it as a tax giveaway, we're actually by this incentive attracting a developer and an investment firm to invest over $280 million dollars," he said while mentioning the thousands of jobs that would result from it. Ament would be later questioned from the microphone by a man asking if the construction work would be from Anaheim or out of state.
The pulse of the outrage was palpable. Recall buttons were worn by some naming the three council members who voted in favor of the development deal, others adorned "Heart of Anaheim" stickers that were passed out and a petition circulated. There was plenty of anger present on this February night in the city. By the end, folks were ready to file out as chairs were stacked up and put away.
Will Anaheimers still remember come November?