The King of Garden Grove

Photo by Daniel C. TsangBruce Broadwater has a vision for his city: it's a town of the developers, by the developers and for the developers.

Four years ago, the Garden Grove mayor declared nearly 20 percent of his city blighted and made it part of a redevelopment area. That allowed him to purge neighborhoods of unprofitable mobile homes inhabited by senior citizens and hand the land over—free of charge—to hotel developers eager to cash in on tourists headed for Anaheim's Disney Resort.

So far, those developers have built three new hotels; at least two more are under construction. But with many other new hotels being built in Anaheim itself, Disneyland tourists haven't made it to Garden Grove in sufficient numbers—a problem that could bankrupt the city's redevelopment agency.

Broadwater's response? He wants to use eminent domain to add 264 more acres of land to the redevelopment zone and give that to theme park developers, believing that what Garden Grove really needs is carnival rides.

A deputy labor commissioner for the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, Broadwater doesn't keep regular business hours at City Hall. Through his secretary, he said he "didn't think he had time" to be interviewed—ever.

Critics say Broadwater, who joined the council in 1992 and became mayor two years later, runs the city like a business. They don't mean it as a compliment.

"The main object of redevelopment in Garden Grove has been to increase revenue for the city, not to help the residents or anything else," said Bob Dinsen, a former city councilman. "The average person doesn't understand what's going on. They see new hotels and think that everything's really booming in Garden Grove."

What about the above-average person?

"They know the city spent millions to buy the land for these hotels, then just gave the land to those developers and agreed to keep giving them millions of dollars each year for years and years thereafter," he said.

Dinsen, who became a councilman in 1980, left city politics in 1998, the same year Broadwater led the council in a 4-1 vote to seize property for Garden Grove's redevelopment agency. Dinsen provided the only opposing vote.

Soon after, the city began providing hotel developers with free land and taxpayer-funded subsidies. Crowne Plaza Resort opened for business in 2000 on land the city had purchased with $17.7 million in federal housing funds. Similar deals were arranged for the Hampton Inn & Suites, the Hilton Garden Inn, and the Homewood Suites.

Garden Grove officials say their city will earn millions of dollars per year from the hotels in bed and sales taxes. But that's unlikely to happen any time soon. To lure developers to Garden Grove, the city agreed to refund much of that money for the first eight years.

So far, few have criticized Broadwater's vision of city government as a clearinghouse for new hotel construction. It certainly hasn't hurt Broadwater's political career: he has been re-elected three times. A nominally pro-labor Democrat, Broadwater has also received financial support from several local labor organizations, including the LA/OC Building & Construction Trades Council and the Anaheim-based Local 681 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union.

But the bulk of Broadwater's political money comes from developers and tourism-dependent businesses. Since 1998, Broadwater has taken in more than $170,000 in campaign contributions, more than half of that from developers and other special interests tied to the city's redevelopment effort. During one week in October 2001, Broadwater received numerous checks from several Colorado-based hotel partnerships—Garden Grove Lodging LLC, Harbor Suites LLC and West Coast Lodging LP—that have received millions in free land and other city subsidies.

Just as Broadwater raises huge amounts of political money, so does he spend. "In his last election, Broadwater spent $100,000," Dinsen said. "Now that is just ridiculous. Most of the time when I was running for re-election, I spent maybe $1,000 or $2,000."

Broadwater hasn't been content just being Garden Grove's richest politician. He also agitated to enforce a little-known city law that restricted the use of political billboards during local elections—something that hurt his less-well-financed opponents. "I get the impression the mayor really thinks he's king," Dinsen said. "With all his contributions, he didn't need any signs. It made it a lot easier for him to get re-elected."

Thanks to term limits, passed in 1996, the upcoming November election will be Broadwater's last chance to serve as mayor. At least for a while, that is. "If he wants to come back, he will have to skip two years and serve on the council for a while," said Dinsen. "He tried to get the council to change the term of mayor from two to four years, but they didn't do it. Apparently, there are other members of the council who would like to be mayor someday."


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