Petition Drive to Revoke Anaheim Luxury Hotel Agreements Successful—But What's Next?

At long last, Anaheim voters may finally have a chance to decide on controversial hotel deals at the ballot—sort of. A petition drive by Citizens for a Better Anaheim gathered enough valid signatures aimed at revokingtwo of three resort-area luxury hotel developer agreements approved by council in July. The Anabella and Anaheim Plaza hotels are set to receive 70 percent in tax breaks over 20 years in exchange for luxury expansion plans. But getting there just got a lot harder.

UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers in the Disneyland resort area, put together a coalition of union activists and residents, but got off to a late start when they began their referendum drive in early August. They had a little less than a month's time to deliver more than 12,000 signatures to city hall on August 25. Despite skeptics, Citizens for a Better Anaheim pulled through with the necessary signatures being verified and certified by the City Clerk this week.

“We walked the pavement like we always do!” Ada Briceño, Secretary-Treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 11, tells the Weekly. “It's a big victory for working families and disenfranchised communities in Anaheim.”

According to the City Clerk, three options will be presented before the Anaheim City Council during its meeting on Tuesday. They can vote to revoke the development agreements, put them before the November 2018 general election, or schedule a special election.

What Anaheim voters won't be deciding is on the subsidies themselves. “The covenant agreements with the incentives were not referendized, only the ordinances,” says Anaheim City Clerk Linda Andal. “The covenant agreements were adopted by motion and not subject to referendum,” adds city spokesman Mike Lyster. 

The council granted the tax breaks to the Hong Kong-based Wincome Group projects as part of the Luxury Hotel Incentive program. The operating covenant agreements deliver the subsidies upon completion of the luxury hotels, but if voters should rescind the ordinances, building them will face a new roadblock. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019. 

“We look forward to making the case to the voters of Anaheim,” says Wincome Group spokesman Jeff Flint. He touts the luxury hotels as ones that will allow for job creation and hundreds of millions in new tax revenues for city services.”I'm confident when we make the case, the voters will back the project.”

The Wincome Group hotels negotiated Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with building and construction trade unions. UNITE HERE Local 11 tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a card-check neutrality agreement with them and organized the referendum afterward. A third luxury hotel subsidy approved back in July gave $200 million in tax breaks to Disney, the most for a hotel in the city's history, but without a developer agreement to be put on a referendum drive, even if UNITE HERE had wanted to do so.

“We are not anti-subsidy, that is definitely not the case that we have,” says Briceño. “We need to make sure if there's any subsidies that the community benefits from them, and poverty jobs are not what they should expect.”

In 2012, a ballot push by Take Back Anaheim failed in getting enough qualifying signatures to put all hotel subsidies before a general vote. During an emergency council meeting called after the Anaheim riots that year, Mayor Tom Tait also sought support for his “Let the People Vote” charter amendment aimed at accomplishing the same goal, but was the sole vote in favor of it.

“It's a shame that the people weren't given a say on the luxury hotel giveaways” says Mayor Tait. “If they were given a say, they clearly would have said no and everybody knows that.”

Citizens for a Better Anaheim plans to push the council to revoke the development agreements as soon as Tuesday's meeting. “It would be a slap in the face to the 18,000 people who signed if they do anything but that,” Briceño says. “If they put it on the ballot, we want it for the 2018 general election because a special election will not be tolerated.”

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