Touched by Its Angels, Anaheim Aims High

Times Staff Writer

When former San Francisco Giant Manager Dusty Baker shouted "Beat L.A.!" as his team headed to the World Series to face the Angels, it didn't turn out to be quite the rallying cry he intended: The Angels -- the Anaheim Angels, that is -- went on to win.

But the sting from Baker's slight -- and others like it -- lingers. Anaheim's shortcomings became painfully obvious as journalists from around the country contrasted the city with San Francisco. No downtown, they concluded, and no civic identity. It is a city lost in the long shadow of Los Angeles, known until the World Series for little besides Disneyland.

Anaheim hasn't been able to shake the image that the city is nothing more than, well, a Mickey-Mouse town. The image persists even among longtime residents who complain the city has devoted so many resources to the resort district that neighborhoods and the people who live there have lacked for attention.

But as shortcomings came into focus during the World Series, so, too, did a profile of the place it strives to become -- a nationally recognized city with a reputation as an exciting place to live and work, not just visit.

As the Angels begin their season today, city officials are continuing the drumbeat from the World Series. "We're no longer a minor player," said Mayor Curt Pringle.

But a sports team alone -- even one that wins -- is not enough to transform a city, warns Carnegie Mellon University professor Richard Florida, who has studied cities all over the world for his book "The Rise of the Creative Class."

"Green Bay won the first two Super Bowls. Did it make Green Bay a city that people wanted to live in?" Florida asked. "It's irrelevant."

Don't tell that to Anaheim officials. Still riding high from the victory, city officials believe they have at least another year to capitalize on their championship team.

Angel banners flank Edison Field. Answering-machine messages at City Hall thank people for calling the home of the World Champion Anaheim Angels.

Convention Center staff mailed out World Series baseballs to hundreds of customers to lure business to Anaheim.

And the city is hoping to rename a street near the stadium World Champion Way to keep the victory alive even in the not-so-winning years.

Since the team's dramatic comeback to claim the title, city officials have adopted its unofficial motto: "Yes, we can!"

"We believe we can do anything," City Manager Dave Morgan said. "Their success proves that if you work hard enough, you can get there."

This summer, the City Council will consider a five-year plan to market Anaheim, the state's 10th largest city and 56th in the nation. It will address everything from the city's logo and seal to how to prepare for its 150th birthday in 2007.

But even before that, city officials are trying to gather leaders from the Chamber of Commerce, Disney, and other high-profile organizations to develop a consistent message.

Veteran Councilman Tom Tait said the Angels' victory united Anaheim like nothing else in recent history. For once, Tait said, "it didn't seem like we were second fiddle to Los Angeles."

Fans to the north traded in their Dodger blue and camped for hours for playoff and World Series tickets. They stood in line at the ballclub store for Angel jerseys, Rally Monkeys and Halo caps in red, their new trademark color.

Season ticket sales have increased to more than 20,000, up 7,000 over last year. The Angels sold out today's season opener against Texas, and the second game is expected to sell out as well.

The Angels aren't the only show in town. The Mighty Ducks are playoff bound. Tiger Woods, a graduate of Western High School in Anaheim, next month will launch his first foundation project, a $25-million learning center that will also help introduce golf to underprivileged children.

The city is expecting 100,000 visitors and media from around the world when it hosts the gymnastics World Championship -- a precursor to the 2004 Summer Olympics.

But when choosing a place to live, people look for energy and diversity, Florida said. They're more interested in a city with abundant soccer fields and dog parks than a winning sports team. Street-level culture and a vibrant music scene are more meaningful than the number of concerts at the Arrowhead Pond or the House of Blues.

"If a city really wants to market themselves these days, it's much better off marketing a music scene than a sports team," Florida said.

Austin, Texas, for example, has a thriving music scene. The convention and visitors bureau has promoted itself as a movie-friendly town, attracting Hollywood directors and movie stars who have filmed dozens of movies there. And should anyone forget that every type of person is welcome, the city's slogan is "Keep Austin weird."

In an effort to partner itself with anything cool, Anaheim in November honored its home-grown band No Doubt and singer Gwen Stefani. Then-Mayor Tom Daly gave them the keys to the city, something done only a few times in the past -- not even Walt Disney got one.

The city is also turning its attention to neighborhoods after a decade of focusing on growing and improving the resort district.

Nearly $6 billion in public and private funds was spent on one of the city's major financial engines. The result is a reinvented Anaheim resort almost unrecognizable to those who haven't seen it recently. The Convention Center was expanded, making it one of the most competitive in the country, and Disney opened a second theme park -- California Adventure.

The investment is paying off. The city's bed-tax revenue has skyrocketed: 10 years ago, Anaheim netted $32.1 million; last year, the tax brought in $57.8 million.

The extra cash in part is helping fund an ambitious capital improvement plan that calls for a new police substation and community center, expanded libraries and improvement or development of nearly a dozen parks. More than $211 million has been earmarked for the projects this year.

Many feel that Anaheim is on the brink of something special, fueled in part by the Angels' victory and recent city election in which a new mayor and two political newcomers were elected to the five-member council.

"The tone now is 'Let's do it. We're on our way to making a good city into a great city. Let's not drag our feet,' " said Tait, an eight-year council veteran. "I think there's a new excitement. You can't help but feel good about the city right now."

One of the city's chief cheerleaders is Pringle, who not long ago was the most powerful member of the state Assembly.

In his first 100 days in office, he has taken steps to increase the city's visibility. At his state of the city address he lamented that Anaheim isn't getting its due. Then he vowed to help change that.

One of his first acts as mayor was to reclaim Anaheim's seat at the table next to Willie Brown, James K. Hahn and mayors of the state's "Big-10 cities." Until then, Anaheim had not been active in the monthly caucuses.

He's in Sacramento weekly, mostly for his lobbying and public relations business, though it doesn't hurt to meet old pals and remind them why the state shouldn't cut funding to cities.

Pringle met, too, with leaders from neighboring Yorba Linda and Garden Grove -- cities with which Anaheim has had occasional squabbles.

The optimism has been contagious.

The city is on its way to appeasing two vocal neighborhood groups. Development is underway downtown, with plans for loft apartments, more retail space and restaurants. West Anaheim is also getting a new community center and police substation.

This all pleases resident Steve White, who has complained for years about city government. He resented the "myopic" focus on tourism and Disneyland, seemingly to the exclusion of residents. So it takes a lot for White to say that he's pleased for the first time in years with the direction the city is taking.

"I'm hopeful," White said. "I think the focus is turning back to the neighborhoods where it should have been all along."

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