Anaheim Mayor Backs Admissions Tax at Disneyland : Revenue: Fred Hunter makes an about-face on surcharge plan, which company says would threaten $3-billion park expansion. Under the proposal, other entertainment venues would also be affected.
Despite opposition from the Walt Disney Co., Mayor Fred Hunter has suggested that the City Council consider imposing an “admissions tax” at Disneyland to finance a portion of the $3-billion expansion project at and around the theme park.
Hunter’s position, taken at a debate Thursday night, places him at odds with Disney, which has repeatedly said that such a tax would kill the project.
It also drew immediate criticism from his mayoral opponent, City Councilman Tom Daly. “I don’t think killing the goose that lays the golden egg makes sense,” Daly said.
The mayor’s position reflects an about-face from his stance last December, when Disney chose Anaheim over Long Beach for its expansion plans for Southern California.
But a Disney spokeswoman on Friday expressed disapproval of the tax.
“Disneyland has historically been opposed to any admissions tax,” the spokeswoman said. “Our position hasn’t changed.”
Hunter made his comments during a mayoral debate with Daly, as he answered a resident’s question about the city’s financial role in Disney’s $3-billion project.
Disney officials have asked for public support for about a third of the project’s costs, including the construction of two parking structures estimated to cost $500 million.
“Not one dollar of taxpayers’ money will be used to build the Disney parking structure,” Hunter told the resident. “It’s Disney’s project, and it’s Disney’s parking structure to build.”
Hunter then suggested that the council “look at” imposing an admissions tax at the theme park, which would mostly come out of the wallets of tourists, as “an option” in financing the project.
After the debate, Hunter elaborated on his comments slightly by saying: “Let’s put a buck on everyone that’s going into the park . . . it’s an option. I don’t think it’s going to be a deal breaker.”
Currently, adult admission into the park is $28.75.
Councilman Daly, noting that Disney is the single-largest revenue source in the city, said he was “uncomfortable about an admissions tax.”
When Councilman Irv Pickler heard of Hunter’s statements, he said: “Holy Toledo, I can’t believe he said that.”
Pickler, who ran for mayor against Hunter in two previous elections, added that he wouldn’t vote for such a proposal and accused the incumbent of pandering for votes.
“It’s absurd,” he said.
The two other councilmen could not be reached for comment.
Disney officials have vehemently opposed such a levy, which would tax admissions not only at Disneyland but also at all entertainment venues in the city.
Back in December, before the project was awarded to Anaheim, city officials had revived the issue of an admissions tax, saying that the revenue could be used to help finance the expansion. At the time, Jack Lindquist, the president of the theme park, threatened to kill the project if an admissions tax was imposed.
“If there was an admissions tax, for all intents and purposes, we would not go ahead with the project,” Lindquist said in September, 1991. He could not be reached Friday for comment.
A short time after Lindquist’s statements, Hunter said the city would drop the idea of a tax.
Hunter’s apparent reversal comes in the midst of a heated mayoral campaign and while the city is in need of money. A decline in tourism caused by the recession forced city officials last year to cut the municipal work force to eliminate a $20-million deficit from its $550-million budget.
That deficit, and the specter of another one this year, prompted the creation of a 2% tax on household utilities to prevent layoffs of police and firefighters.
The city’s financial situation could also worsen by as much as $2.5 million annually if there is no major league basketball or hockey team committed to its new $100-million Anaheim Arena scheduled to open in mid-1993.
Despite Disney opposition to an admissions tax, there is support for it in the city.
According to a recent poll conducted by The Times, slightly more than half of Anaheim residents favor the imposition of a tax on admission to entertainment venues, including Disneyland, stadium sports events and local movie theaters, in order to keep its tourist-based economy running.
Without an admissions tax, however, it is unclear how the city would raise funds to finance improvements near the theme park.
Disney has indicated that it would need about $1 billion in public money for the construction of streets and parking structures, as well as beefed-up public services, including expanded sewer services and public safety needs.
The Disney expansion project would include a new theme park called Westcot, a seven-acre man-made lake, three new hotels and a 5,000-seat amphitheater. Construction is to begin in 1993 and be completed by 1999.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.