Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait: Let’s Meet Any Future Austerity with Kindness

Mayor Tom Tait continues his quest to transform Anaheim into “AnaKind.” Ever since becoming mayor in 2010, Tait has always preached a civic culture of kindness and his State of the City address yesterday proved no different. “I come to you more optimistic and excited about our great city than ever before,” Tait began his speech at the City National Grove of Anaheim. He has good reason; November’s district elections gave him a council majority for the first time since being on the losing end of hotel subsidy policy battles.

The mayor singled out an emotional Bruno Serato, whose Anaheim White House restaurant burned down over the weekend, for his kindness in serving meals to motel kids. “We’re going to rebuild that place,” Tait said. The audience gave Serato a standing applause. Tait’s kindness crusade isn’t for the cynical at heart. “This just doesn’t feel good,” he said. “It’s serious stuff. It changes us.”

The mayor posited himself as “pro-business” pointing to the city’s proactive stance towards helping entrepreneurs with building code requirements and a commitment to deregulation in order to foster economic growth. He continued couching major civic issues into his “kindness” frame including a new job program for the homeless, “Drug Free Anaheim” and community policing. “Our police are building a lasting culture of kindness,” he said. The contentious issue of the city’s anti-homeless camping ban and four deaths last year at the hands of the Anaheim Police Department went without mention.

Despite Anaheimers being in for another season of losses piling up while coach Mike Scioscia stoically spits sunflower seeds in the dugout,  Tait proved too kind to the Angels, citing reasons to be optimistic. 

For all the cheery disposition of the State of the City Luncheon, the tone turned foreboding when Tait talked pension liabilities and debt obligations, slamming major subsidies for causing the latter. Always a stickler for public employee pensions, the mayor flashed a graph on the big screens showing a figure of $580 million. “Ten years from now, this annual cost will be $128 million,” he said.  “We owe it. It’s a contract. We have to pay it.” The statements came as a not so subtle jab at the previous council majority which approved the agreement with public employees.Tait flashed another big number on screen: $876 million. “This is our general fund bond debt,” he said. “Now we have to pay it back on an annual basis out of our general fund. It’s like a mortgage. Another graphic showed $65 million for subsidized Anaheim Resort expansion in the 90’s (which Tait voted for as a councilman at the time), $16 million for Anaheim Convention Center expansions (which Tait voted against), and just a million owed for neighborhood improvements.

But the graphic offered only an incomplete picture according to the mayor. He criticized the massive subsidies granted last year for three luxury hotel resorts as well as the infamous $158 million GardenWalk deal in 2013 for potentially adding to future debt burdens. “Some people have suggested that strong economic growth will offset the increasing costs of these obligations,” Tait said, parroting the pro-subsidy rationale. “I hope they’re right. But let’s face it. That’s a big and risky bet, one I didn’t believe we should have taken.”

And if it doesn’t work out, Anaheim will be faced with two choices to balance the books: raising taxes or cutting city services. The mayor criticized the council again for giving Disney a 45-year moratorium on admission and parking taxes while stating Anaheim voters wouldn’t elect to raise taxes in town. (Councilwoman Kris Murray’s “Anaheim Taxpayer Protection Act” passed by an overwhelming margin on November’s ballot, hinging future tax measures coming from council on a 5-2 super majority.)

To prepare, Tait promised an end to subsidies granted for the city’s biggest businesses. “Those days are over,” he said. “We simply don’t have the resources to continue down the old path.” A decent applause sounded inside the Grove. If city hall is to shrink, the mayor places faith in the kindness capital of Anaheimers. “If reduction in government resources means government will do less, then we all have to do more,” he pledged. As the State of the City came to a close, the curtains raised with Los Sanchez mariachis joining the Broadway Knights choir for a bilingual rendition of Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Hearts.”

Austerity never sounded so syrupy.

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