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Disney happy over deal with Anaheim; mayor, not so much

A few days ago, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait was holding hands with the Dalai Lama on the Tibetan leader’s 80th birthday. Just past midnight Wednesday, Tait was in far from a happy state – let alone the happiest place on Earth—as he tried to get the city to vote down a deal with Disney.

The measure before the council would guarantee that Anaheim’s biggest employer wouldn’t have to pay a ticket gate tax for at least 30 years.

“This just shouldn’t happen,” a plainly angry Tait said around 12:45 a.m after more than five hours of debate and a conga-line of public speakers at the council meeting.

“I think, down the road, people will rue this day,” the mayor added. “Other people will look at us and say that we gave away the people’s right to vote.”

Tait was unsuccessful. The Anaheim City Council voted 3-2 to approve the deal, with the mayor being one of the votes against it.

In exchange for the tax break, Disney has promised to spend $1 billion on their Anaheim parks, building new attractions and a new 5,000-space parking lot. Construction is due to start in 2017.  If Disney spends another $500 million, the agreement would be extended to 45 years.

Councilwoman Kris Murray supported the measure and said the deal would bring economic prosperity to Anaheim residents for years to come.

“I think this will be remembered as a hallmark opportunity for economic development,” Murray said.

But Tait said voters should have had the chance to vote on whether they supported a gate tax or not. If a future city council were to decide to levy such a tax, Anaheim would be required to reimburse Disney for expenses incurred by the Disneyland amusement park in the meantime.

The mayor helped negotiate a similar, 20-year deal with Disney in 1996. On Wednesday, Tait said he regretted the decision.

But a long list of business leaders, trade union representatives and others joined Michael Colglazier, president of Disneyland Resort, to voice their support for the bill. 

“Anaheim has a legacy of city leaders who chose optimism — leaders who knew that the future could be one of growth and opportunity,” said Colglazier. “And Disney has partnered with those leaders for over six decades to create a vibrant and enduring economic engine for the city.”

Much of the opposition centered on how fast officials had moved on the bill. The measure was introduced nine days earlier, shortly before the July 4th holiday weekend.

Tait tried and failed to delay the vote so that residents and elected officials could have more time to study the merits of the proposal.

“This is the people’s right to vote,” said Tait. “It’s ironic that we got nine days notice over the Fourth of July to look at this.”

Disney employs around 28,000 people in Anaheim, and this pact could create $15 million in new tax revenue for the city, according to a report commissioned by Disney. Anaheim already receives a sizable portion of its tax revenue from the park, and in 2013 $44.5 million came into the city’s general fund from Disneyland Resort, according to company officials.  

Twitter: @boreskes

benjamin.oreskes@latimes.com

 

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