Leftists Play Hardball, Sue Anaheim Over Imaginary Conflict-of-Interest Allegation

OCCORD LogoThe Voice of OC reports the left-wing political advocacy group known as OCCORD (Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development) is suing the City of Anaheim in an attempt to invalidate the city’s economic assistance agreement with the GardenWalk hotel project developer.

Cory Briggs, a left-wing environmentalist attorney from San Diego, is serving as OCCORD’s counsel on this idiotic lawsuit. Readers will remember that last summer, Briggs and OCCORD asked state and county prosecutors to go after ever member of the council (except Mayor Tom Tait) over the May 2013 GardenWalk vote.  In their fevered imaginations, mere membership on the SOAR advisory board constituted a conflict-of-interest, because they know GardenWalk developer Bill O’Connell, Sr. who is also – gasp! – a member of the SOAR Advisory Board!!

According to the Voice of OC, the lawsuit filed by OCCORD and Briggs alleges that Councilmembers Lucille Kring, Gail Eastman, Kris Murray and Jordan Brandman voted for the May 2013 GardenWalk agreement because Bill O’Connell gave to their campaigns. Never mind that Bill O’Connell Sr. has been one of their political supporters for years. Never mind that Eastman and Murray had already voted for the original GardenWalk agreement, which Brandman had also publicly supported. Never mind that the terms of the 2013 agreement Kring supported differed from the 2012 agreement. Never mind that all four councilmembers have in practice always supported the principle of such economic assistance agreements.

No – in the imaginations of Cory Briggs and OCCORD, the only possible explanation for these councilmembers to cast a vote entirely consistent with their public records is receiving contributions that amount to a small fraction of what their campaign raised.

If GardenWalk developers had struck a deal with OCCORD’s sponsor and funder UNITE-HERE Local 11 for it to organize GardenWalk hotel workers, OCCORD wouldn’t be filing this lawsuit. If the developer struck such a deal now, and threw in a “living wage” provision and some “community benefits”dreamed up by OCCORD, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the lawsuit dropped altogether.

Is that an unfair thing to say? Not according to the “he who pays the piper calls the tune” logic of OCCORD’s lawsuit. OCCORD rents office space in a Garden Grove building owned by UNITE-HERE Local 11, which provided the seed funding for UNITE-HERE organizer Eric Altman to found OCCORD. UNITE-HERE Local 11 sub-commandante Ada Briceno has been chair of the OCCORD Board of Directors since its inception. UNITE-HERE Local 11 has been OCCORD biggest and most faithful funder; from 2009 to 2012 alone, UNITE-HERE Local 11 gave OCCORD at least $217,500 – and the fund transfers more closely resemble payroll than a grant.

So, let’s suppose UNITE-HERE (which also uses Cory Briggs’ legal services for representational services) let it be known the Briggs-OCCORD lawsuit would go away if it was agreed that GardenWalk hotel workers would become dues-paying UNITE-HERE members, along with the provision of sundry “community benefits”. It wouldn’t be a hollow offer. After all, if we’re asked by OCCORD to believe the council majority voted for the GardenWalk agreement in exchange for contributions equaling a fraction of their fundraising, then how can one not believe OCCORD would drop its lawsuit if told to do so by its biggest funder and landlord?

20 comments

  1. Then there is nothing to worry about, right?

    • Grant Henninger

      The unfortunate reality is that this lawsuit, and the other turmoil that Mayor Tait, OCCORD and other opponents of the GardenWalk Hotel Economic Assistance Agreement have caused, has hurt our city. Even if this lawsuit gets dismissed, and I’m not saying it will, it will have hurt Anaheim.

      Developers like certainty in their deals. Real estate development is a risky business, many developers are willing to accept lower returns if they can have more certainty because it lowers their risk. Unfortunately, the continued opposition to GardenWalk, the Angels, and the Anaheim Convention Center expansion has increased that uncertainty and the associated risks of developing in Anaheim. Because of these actions, new development is being driven out of Anaheim and into other cities.

      The simple truth is that we’ve lost far more money in long term general fund revenue because of this continued opposition than the GardenWalk hotel deal would have ever given up.

      The residents of the City of Anaheim would have been better off without a drawn-out fight over these agreements. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the GardenWalk deal goes forward. With or without that deal, we’d be better off without the ongoing fight.

      • That’s a great point, Grant.

        I hope someone at Disney is paying attention. There’s a good chance that when the time comes and Disney needs a favor, the current council majority will have frittered away any chance of getting a subsidy for one of their projects.

        Why they continue to allow their political capital to be spent on projects that aren’t connected to Disney is beyond me. One has to wonder when they’ll intervene and put Murray and Kring on the bench.

        • When all the people or investors with money leave for Texas or New York then have fun complaining over the boarded up properties
          and lost opportunities that you caused with your whining.

        • Grant Henninger

          It wouldn’t surprise me if Disney has already made a decision to hold off on further development in Anaheim until the current fight over development subsidies has played itself out. Disney has plenty of other places to invest their money, such as a second gate in Hong Kong. Disney can play the long game, there is no need for them to jump into the current fight. If that turns out to be the case, Anaheim is far worse off than if we’d just let the GardenWalk deal go forward.

          I’m not saying the City Council should approve Economic Assistant Agreements without debate. There should be a rigourous debate about these issues before they are denied or approved. But once Council has made a decision, the opponents should respect the process enough to concede defeat and move on. In the interest of saving the taxpayers of Anaheim $158 million, they’ve cost the City untold millions more.

          • Matthew Cunningham

            Grant, you make great sense, as usual – and make a point that I have also made, but on that gets lost among those waging guerrilla warfare against GardenWalk and other public-private partnerships, and even against the Angels negotiations. It all sends a very loud signal that Anaheim is a difficult to do business.

            • Grant Henninger

              That’s definitely the signal we’re currently sending, and it’s hurting the City. The signal that we should send is that we’re easy to work with as long as the benefits are shared with the City. The people that are opposing GardenWalk, the Angels renegotiation and the Convention Center expansion have a valid point about the benefits that get spread throughout Anaheim, we need to ensure these deals benefit the City’s residents. As I said above, we need to have a vigorous debate about these issues prior to them going before Council for approval.

              However, once these deals are approved, the people that opposed them should respect the process even if they don’t agree with the outcome. Continuing to fight over an issue that has been decided isn’t democracy, it’s simply rule of the most stubborn.

        • Stand For Anaheim

          Ryan- can you clarify and provide specific example on what you mean by “Why they continue to allow their political capital to be spent on projects that aren’t connected to Disney is beyond me”

          • Gardenwalk.

            That was simply too much for the public to swallow. Every piece of public opposition since that vote has eroded Disney’s ability to maneuver an agenda, should they chose to do so. That vote laid the foundation for organized opposition, broader sympathy for elections by district, as well as general volatility in the community.

            Disney should have never let that happen. There was simply no upside for the company and plenty of cost.

            • Matthew Cunningham

              “That was simply too much for the public to swallow.”

              Really? And you know that how? Now, I know from long experience that groups organized to fight or support this or that issue have a tendency to think of themselves as being “the public” or “the community,” and that disagreement with them is the same as disagreeing with the public.” But there’s little evidence the GW agreement was “too much for the public to swallow” – unless one thinks the public consists of a few dozen OCCORD/UNITE-HERE minions, a gaggle of OJ blogger and Cynthia Ward’s friends.

              In fact, Jordan Brandman was attacked heavily and harshly in the mail for his support of GW, and he was the top vote-getter.

              “Every piece of public opposition since that vote has eroded Disney’s ability to maneuver an agenda, should they chose to do so.”

              GardenWalk isn’t a Disney project.

              “That vote laid the foundation for organized opposition, broader sympathy for elections by district, as well as general volatility in the community.”

              I think you misread the aftermath. The coalition of pressure groups organized against GardenWalk had been in existence for years; they didn’t have a problem with the project per se – but they had goodies (community benefits) they wanted thrown into the deal.

              Can you furnish some evidence the GW controversy “broadened sympathy” for by-district elections? I would agree that the jihad waged against GW created synergy with the already forming campaign by the same groups to force by-district elections on the city. But the ACLU lawsuit was coming independently of GW.

              The “general volatility” you mention shouldn’t be laid on the GW agreement, but on the groups and individuals whose response to losing a council vote is to undo it wage a never-ending Alinskyite battle of attrition, political mayhem and personal attacks. Great message to send to the businesses: “Come to Anaheim, where you can be subjected to unrelenting attacks by “community activists” and no agreement with the city is ever settled.”

              “Disney should have never let that happen. There was simply no upside for the company and plenty of cost.”

              How could they have stopped it? Why would they?

              • I know GardenWalk isn’t a Disney project, Matt. That’s the whole point.

                Pretend for a moment that GardenWalk never happened. What does Anaheim look like?

                . . .

                A bit different . . . no?

                Before that vote there was no amalgamation of groups with dissenting opinions from the governing majority. In fact, the governing majority was more cohesive than it is now. Not that my little mosquito pricks matter in any event– but if that vote never happened, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be writing about Anaheim or commenting here. That vote made allies out of groups who either didn’t care about each other or actively disliked one another.

                What would Disney to do stop it? Well, I would hazard to guess they have fairly high priced political operatives. They can figure that one out for you.

                Why would they? Because the next time Disney wants a public subsidy, they’re going to have to plow through all the noise left behind from the GardenWalk fall out.

                Disney had a business interest in preventing a non-Disney project from jeopardizing their ability to get public support for a future Disney project. I’m sure there are many folks who will argue with me over how big the risk now is that a future subsidy won’t be approved, but I think you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who claims that the GardenWalk vote had no impact at all.

                I expect Disney’s operatives to act in the best interest of the Disney stockholder. Letting that vote go through put their long term interests at risk, which ought not to be acceptable to executives in Burbank. One can’t help but wonder when they’ll decide that enough is enough and it’s time to stop the nonsense.

                • Matthew Cunningham

                  The primary flaw in your counter-factual scenario is it presupposes that “Disney operatives” had and have the supernatural ability to see into the future. There was no reason to assume the mayor would blow up his council colleagues over a single lost vote and thereby jeopardize his ability to lead.

                  • You think the mayor is responsible for the public uproar of GardenWalk? Puh-lease.

                    Matt, it was a $158,000,000 public subsidy to a developer whose loan was nearly double the market rate. They used an 8% loan to justify the tax giveaway in the market study. EIGHT PERCENT! Market was floating around 4.25%. Disney’s cost of capital had a good shot of being below 4%. You mean to tell me it’s the mayor’s fault that people get upset because the numbers don’t speak for themselves?

                    It has nothing to do with looking into the future. It has everything to do with reading the balance sheet. I guarantee you someone over in the House of Mouse had a pool going to see if this was really going to get through. It’s absurd. Who votes to subsidize a project that the market charges almost DOUBLE to fund?

                    Besides, you’re missing the point. You really think Walt would have let someone else get a $158,000,000 subsidy in his town? I don’t. There was no upside for Disney in letting that deal go through. Obviously, there’s plenty of downside. Maybe no one told Burbank– who knows, but a price will be paid all the same.

                    It was a bad deal on paper and it was a bad deal politically. Disney VPs either knew and didn’t care or no one told them. Again, one has to wonder when they’ll start to care.

                  • Also, for the record, it is G&PA’s job to see into the future. You do understand that, right?

  2. BigBoxOfRedWhine

    You bring an interesting counterpoint to perspectives on Anaheim. It certainly sounds attractive that ” many developers are willing to accept lower returns if they can have more certainty, because it lowers their risk. ” However, if by default, or hopefully not by preceding reputation, the recent large deals being brought to Anaheim and DRAWING citizen questioning and opposition, seem to have involved anything BUT that type of developer, as ‘ultimatum’ has seemed to displace ‘negotiation’ as accepted practice. The late (and colorful) Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, in typical unintended humor,remarked to the effect that “Georgia’s prison problems would be fixed if we just had a better type of prisoner”. Perhaps Anaheim could use a better type of Developer? Though not the same scale as GardenWalk, last weeks resolution of the Beach /Ball Hookah Bar /Bank conversion shows that compromise is not a lost art in developing Anaheim projects?

  3. Does Ryan Cantor agree with the OCCORD lawsuit? Does he think the councilmembers had a conflict of interest?

    • Haven’t seen it nor do I care to look.

      • That says a lot.

        But I was wondering because your response to it being posted on Orange Juice was “Happy Tuesday everyone!”

        • Indeed it was. I have yet to see the actual complaint posted anywhere, so I wouldn’t say it says a lot. I’d hazard to guess that it’s long and fairly boring . . . I think that most folks wouldn’t care to read it either.

          You’re welcome to comment over at OJ if you’d like a reply that’s consistent with the piece being discussed. This isn’t the place to do it.

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