It’s a bad deal. Thanks to the work of the Mayor, activists and media (eventually), it has been established that the framework for the new deal between Angels owner Arte Moreno and Anaheim is an unnecessary hit to the taxpayer. But here is the problem: the new deal was approved by a 4-1 vote and support for the framework remains solid. The majority voting block on the Anaheim City Council is not known to bow to public pressure and all among them have good reasons to feel secure in their positions.
Council member Brandman is not up for reelection until 2016 and has survived worse criticism. He was confidant enough after the vote to hold a retire the debt fundraiser. Council members Eastman and Murray are up for reelection next year, but we can expect them to easily hold on in the at-large system with the benefits of name ID and fundraising muscle; in Anaheim, incumbents win. Councilwoman Lucille Kring is not up for reelection and her mayoral ambition is not likely to persuade her to change her position on the deal. If she flips, again, she will have nowhere to look for the support she needs to take on Mayor Tate. In any event, 3-2 is just as good as 4-1 and the majority could sacrifice one vote so as to aid Ms. Kring in her campaign.
All is not lost in 2014. There are a number of wild cards out there capable of changing the game and stopping the deal, in addition to curbing the propensity for crony capitalism and corporate welfare:
1. The Feds– In July, it was announced that the FBI, IRS, DA and U.S. attorney’s office had formed a task force to investigate reports of political corruption in Orange County. So far, the task force has been silent. Any day we could wake up to news of a myriad of indictments against Anaheim council members and power-brokers. Alternatively, corruption allegations could come down in Santa Ana, both cities, or none at all. I am skeptical because word on the street is that Anaheim’s power brokers are sophisticated in getting close to, but nonetheless not crossing, the line into criminality.
2. CATER- Greg Diamond (OC Democrat Party insider) and Cynthia Ward (a very insistent person) recently launched a group to fight the majority bloc in the courts. The group has filed a substantive complaint alleging Brown Act violations in connection to the vote amending the lease with Moreno. Last year, a judge voided a $158-million subsidy vote, backed by the same majority, because it violated the Brown Act. So maybe they have a shot, or maybe the majority has since learned how to be more careful. Nonetheless, I’m not convinced CATER has the money, backing, and/or expertise needed to win in court. Lastly, Brown Act violations are shallow hits and even if CATER succeeded, the majority, and what it represents, would remain intact.
3. ACLU- Anaheim officials are negotiating with the ACLU to settle a voting rights lawsuit that alleges Latinos are disadvantaged by the city’s at-large electoral system. In a similar suit, the city of Palmdale was ordered to change over to districts and hold new elections. There is also talk about how the process, if allowed to proceed, could lead to damaging admissions among council members and power brokers. (And while nothing would surprise people reading this, the statements could support the Feds and CATER.) District elections will provide a better opportunity to challenge the majority’s hold on power, but just that. It is not clear to me why the forces that put the current members in place can’t put a similar group in place in a district system. In any event, the settlement talks with the ACLU will likely outlast Moreno’s lease renegotiation, leaving the city with a contract that can’t be breached. The anticipated change over to districts could very well be the impetus behind the move to renegotiate the lease now, which was a curious and voluntary move by the city.
In sum, it’s hard to see how the momentum behind the new stadium land lease can be stopped. The wider problems that face the city, however, can be rectified over time. The struggle for a fair and fiscally responsible Anaheim will be fought-out over a series of election cycles, and ultimately a new generation of leaders will usher in reform. There is no magic bullet. As such, politicians and activists should extend their efforts to building-up potential candidates, in both parties, with the intellect and spirit to be agents for change in Anaheim.