For progressives, politics is less about truth than about competing narratives – which makes controlling the narrative imperative. [It’s also a major reason campus leftists try to shut down opposing viewpoints, because competing narratives cannot be allowed to take root.] In Anaheim, Councilman Jose F. Moreno is making a determined effort to enthrone his political narrative of the Resort District and its relationship to the rest of the city.
This effort was on full display at last week’s council meeting, which was superficially a ritual public flogging of Assistant City Manager Kristine Ridge for an inadvertently providing mistaken information at the April 25 council meeting about what was contained in the ballot language of Measure B, which was approved by Anaheim voters in November 1996.
Some context is in order: at the April 25 council meeting, the council engaged in a long discussion of Anaheim Resort revitalization policy decisions of the mid-1990s, including increasing the transient occupancy tax increase from 13% to 15% to fund the revitalization.
The Anaheim City Council voted to approve that 2% hike in October and November 1994. As noted, its explicit reason for doing so was to generate the necessary revenues to fund the obligations the city was taking on. No Anaheim Resort revitalization, no 2% TOT increase.
The increase went into effect in June 1995.
The following year, the likely passage of Prop. 218 – requiring a vote of the people on local tax increases, retroactive to January 1995 – on the November 1996 ballot spurred the city council to place Measure B on the same ballot. Measure B simply asked Anaheim voters if they wanted to continue the city’s transient occupancy tax – including the recent 2% increase. When the council voted to place Measure B on the ballot, Mayor Tom Daly noted the Anaheim Resort revitalization was premised on revenue from the 2% TOT increase.
Fast forward to the April 25, 2017 council meeting where Kristine Ridge mistakenly assured Moreno the Measure B ballot question language stated the revenues from the 2% TOT hike were specifically dedicated to funding the Resort revitalization. A clarification was agendized for the May 9 council meeting, which Moreno used to attack the idea that Anaheim voters in 1996 understood the connection between Measure B and funding the Anaheim Resort revitalization and construct a new but false narrative that since voters were ignorant of that connection, the city was not only legally but morally free to spend that revenue for other purposes.
Moreno’s premise was that the ballot question was all the voters knew about Measure B “absent them getting campaign materials and or reading the ballot arguments themselves.” But that is a false premise, because we know voters got information not only from the ballot arguments, but from media coverage and campaign material. The OC Register and Los Angeles Times were locked in heated competition, and both newspapers devoted significant coverage to Anaheim politics – including Measure B. Coverage of that ballot measure prominently and uniformly stated the 2% TOT increase was enacted to fund the Anaheim Resort revitalization, and that the future of that project depended on Measure B’s passage. Some examples:
Anaheim Hopes to Counter Ballot Measure on Bed Tax
Government: City will put own initiative before voters to preserve levy earmarked for Disneyland, convention area upgrades.
8 Term-Limit Votes Headed to Easy Wins
Without the tax revenue, city officials said, the Disney project would be threatened because Anaheim would lack the funds needed to make a variety of infrastructure improvements required under its agreement with the entertainment giant.
Even the anti-Measure B ballot argument pointed out the reason for the 2% TOT increase was to fund the Resort revitalization.
Moreno’s claim is illogical and disingenuous.
“It’s simply wrong to tell our public, as was said from this dais, that this money was specifically restricted for the revitalization project that was just simply not true” Moreno pontificated on May 9. “We cannot say that we are pledging the money to a particular purpose.”
Moreno misleads the public under the appearance of correcting the record. Yes, the 2% TOT increase revenues aren’t legally restricted for Resort revitalization purposes. But no one is arguing that’s the case. What is true is the 2% TOT increase was pledged to a particular purpose – notwithstanding Moreno’s claim to the contrary. It was a moral and political rather than legal commitment, but a commitment nonetheless – and the clear implication of Moreno’s argument is laying the groundwork for wriggling out of that commitment in order to spend that money on the progressive priorities of Moreno and his allies. This is revisionist history from a devotee of historical revisionism.
The 2% TOT increase and the Resort revitalization to which it was inextricably tied were dominant civic affairs issues in Anaheim for years. The Anaheim City Council approved it in late 1994, after a great deal of public discussion and input, specifically for fund the Anaheim Resort revitalization. The council voted in 1996 to place it on the ballot for the explicit purpose of protecting the funding source for the Anaheim Resort revitalization.
Yet, Councilman Moreno argues that since the Measure B ballot question doesn’t mention the Resort project, the entire context within which the election took place — the multiple public hearings, the council votes, the media coverage, the Measure B ballot arguments and campaign — didn’t exist. We’re asked to believe the Measure B election occurred in an information vacuum. According to Moreno’s logic, the repeated enunciated reasons given by the elected city council for enacting the 2% TOT increase are superseded by a ballot measure that affirmed those reasons.
Let’s look at it another way. In 2014, 70% of Anaheim voters approved Measure L, shifting the city to by-district elections. The ballot question made no mention of creating council districts purposely designed to elect Latino councilmembers. Neither did the ballot argument nor the Yes on L campaign mail. Yet, when the time came, Measure L proponents practically rioted and shut down a council meeting in order to obtain a map with three district drawn to elect Latinos. Would Councilman Moreno characterize that as illegitimate since the ballot question before the voters made no mention of creating ethnically-based council districts?
One cannot review the public record and reasonably, logically claim Anaheim voters were unaware the 2% TOT increase was enacted to fund the Anaheim Resort revitalization and that passage of Measure B was necessary to keep the project moving forward. Moreno is conflating a moral and political commitment with a legally-binding obligation. The 2% TOT increase was not a special tax and its revenues go into the general fund. However, it is equally true that it was enacted for a specific purpose and placed before the voters to protect that purpose. Perhaps most remarkably of all is that for more than 20 years, successive city council have honored a commitment without being legally obligated to do so.
At the end of the day, one must wonder why Councilman Moreno – support by Mayor Tom Tait – devoted so much energy and sophistry into replacing the idea that the city has a commitment to use those revenues to honor its Resort District commitments and can instead spend it on anything it wants? Perhaps that is the better question given the ambitious spending entitlements Moreno has floated.