"There is no better city than Anaheim, period!" Mayor Tom Tait declared in the beginning of his 2015 State of the City speech yesterday.
Fresh off his overwhelming victory last year in an ugly re-election battle, Tait laid out a vision for his second term at the annual luncheon, held again at The City National Grove of Anaheim. In a break from the past, the mayor sidestepped his Anaheim Chamber of Commerce enemies, partnering instead with the Orange County Community Foundation.
Tait centered his message on the city's at-risk youth, highlighting and benefiting the work of Accelerate Change Together (ACT) Anaheim.
"Led by the Disneyland Resort, the Anaheim Ducks, and Angels Baseball, these three giants of our community have stepped up to the challenge," Tait said. Following the July 2012 riots in the city, the corporate trio signed on to ACT, a 3-year, $3 million effort aimed at Anaheim's youth.
The response came after an Olin Group study funded by the Disneyland Resort that year spelled out the challenges facing the next generation of Anaheimers: The city has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in OC, 85% of Anaheim City School District (ACSD) students qualify for free or reduced lunches and 35 gangs roam the streets. (Though an Anaheim police spokesman reported 25 truly active clikas when asked by the Weekly last year.)
Tait extolled the virtues of ACT, calling it a "simple but revolutionary" idea. "The business community has created a collective fund that will send resources to our nonprofit programs and agencies that are successfully bringing opportunities to our children throughout the city," the mayor said. "Every business needs to be a part of this."
He invoked the tragic murder of 9-year-old Ximena Meza by gang gunfire to underscore a sense of urgency. "We need to get to the root causes of gang violence. We can't drive by these issues like we drive by these neighborhoods on the freeway," Tait said. "If we do nothing different, it's logical to conclude that what happened to Ximena will happen to another child. We must act and act now."
He then introduced Anaheim-raised singer-songwriter Nancy Sanchez, who the Weekly profiled back in 2010, as a success story on how programs change lives. Growing up in immigrant working-class neighborhoods, Sanchez literally found her voice at Rhythmo Mariachi Academy before going on to sing jazz tunes and releasing her pop-flavored Ruby in L.A. debut. She performed Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
Now, if rallying the private sector to invest time, interest and money back into a riot-torched community sounds familiar, it's because it is! After the 1992 LA riots, then-Mayor Tom Bradley helped launch the "Rebuild L.A." program. The effort, initially headed by 1984 Olympics mastermind (and longtime OCer) Peter Ueberroth had youth programs woven into its broader mission. Rebuild L.A., though, is largely seen as an overall failure in retrospect.
Near the end of his State of the City speech, Tait asked Anaheim to envision change. "Imagine our great city free of gangs, drugs, and fear," he said. Will ACT Anaheim be transformational in that regard or suffer the same fate as Rebuild L.A.? The State of the City luncheon raised $70,000 alone that day.
"I've never been more serious in my life," Tait said. "We have a generation in need."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2