The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Anaheim hard, socially for sure but especially economically. It is a situation that calls for practical, experience elected leadership focused on doing the most good where the city can act most effectively.
What we have seen from the two factions on the Anaheim City Council during this crisis is a stark contrast in leadership styles and focus.
Councilman Jose F. Moreno Mayor is playing politics. For the last two weeks, abetted by his Greek chorus of left-wing activists and supine media, he has waged hypocritical, disinformation campaign to mislead the public regarding the circumstances of City Manager Chris Zapata’s resignation. It has been day after day of political finger-pointing and attacking the leadership of others while providing no real plans for recovery. By volume of time, the self-styled “community” Council Member has done little for the community.
In contrast, Mayor Harry Sidhu has worked calmly and deliberately, in conjunction with the council majority, to lead Anaheim through its worst crisis in almost a century. From the start of the crisis, Sidhu led the fight to focus on community recovery – getting immediate relief and assistance to Anaheim’s hard-hit residents – and then later, turning an eye to economic recovery.
Five weeks ago, Sidhu, Mayor Pro Tem Lucille Kring and Councilmembers Jordan Brandman, Steve Faessel and Trevor O’Neil approved a Community and Economic Recovery Program to assist residents in need and lay the groundwork for a rapid economic rebound when economic circumstances permit.
Mayor Sidhu and the council majority are focused on providing relief in the present and planning economic recovery in the future, while Moreno and Barnes play politics with an eye on the November election.
That contrast is thrown into sharp relief by the release of next week’s council meeting agenda. Mayor Sidhu proposes building on the Community & Economic Recovery Program as follows:
- Extending the emergency residential and commercial eviction moratorium an additional 30 days, until the end of June 2020.
- Allocating an additional $1 million to bolster the successful Rapid Response Grant Program being administered by the Anaheim Community Foundation.
- Utilizing up to $3 million in the remaining community relief monies to fund rental assistance assist distressed Anaheim residents in meet their rent obligations when the temporary eviction moratorium expires. These expanded grants are possible in part because of the city’s success in getting federal and state grants to assist with homelessness and housing programs.
- A temporary waiver of interest payments on deferred Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) payments. On March 26, the council approved allowing TOT-generating businesses to defer payment of those tax revenues, and waiving associated fees and penalties, a program that echoes similar measures put in place at the state to allow businesses to defer sales tax payments.
This expanded program is designed the strengthen the recovery program’s ability to provide economically vulnerable Anaheim residents with more financial certainty and stability as the phased re-opening of the state’s economy proceeds.
Building On Momentum of Community & Economic Recovery Program
The original $15 million Community & Economic Recovery Program the city council approved on March 26, with the goal of assisting residents and spurring a local economic recovery:
- A $2,000,000 grant to the Anaheim Community Foundation (ACF) for direct assistance to residents and community non-profits that are helping Anaheim residents in need.
- Up to $6,000,000 for housing assistance programs, city workforce continuity and homeless assistance.
- A grant of up to $6,500,000 to Visit Anaheim, Anaheim to tourists, conventions, conferences and other events.
Within days, the ACF launched a Rapid Response Grant Program to provide immediate financial support to nonprofits helping kids, families, seniors and others coping with the COVID-19 crisis. The Foundation, working the Community Service Department and the Emergency Operations Center, has awarded $1.4 million in community assistance grants to 35 non-profits – including Higher Ground, Illumination Foundation, Grandma’s House of Hope, Radiant Health Services, Pathways of Hope, Mirage Manor Homecare, Alana Club of Orange County, Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, Miracles for Kids, Emilio Nares Foundation, Giving Children Hope and Mercy House.
Program Already Bringing In Future Business To Anaheim
The shutdown of Disneyland and the larger Anaheim Resort is a body blow to Anaheim’s convention and tourism-centered economy. Each month the Resort is shut down, almost 50,000 people aren’t able to work, and the city loses $20 million in tax revenue.
As the phased re-opening of the economy unfolds, it critical to get a jump on other destinations now and grab convention business for Anaheim and expand tourism market share.
Visit Anaheim is responsible for promoting the Resort and books conventions for the Anaheim Convention Center. As the pandemic shuttered the Resort, Visit Anaheim reduced staff by 60% and enacted 20% and 50% pay cuts for the remaining staff and senior executives, respectively. $6.5 million was allotted from Anaheim Convention Center reserves to keep Visit Anaheim at work bringing future business to Anaheim. Within two weeks, the core Visit Anaheim staff had already signed at least eight new Convention Center bookings and re-booked two cancellations stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
These represent more than 200,000 visitors to Anaheim and will generate nearly $500 million in local spending in hotels, restaurants and other businesses. That translates into desperately needed jobs and $9.2 million in transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue for the city. That is a significant return on the $6.5 million the city invested to keep Visit Anaheim at work – and in less than a month.
In addition, Visit Anaheim is actively tracking down and pursuing multiple leads valued at nearly $60 million. Clearly, Visit Anaheim’s ability to continue marketing the Resort and booking business is critical to the Anaheim economy’s ability to bounce back as quickly as possible.
Leadership Instead Of Politics
Anaheim’s road to recovery will be long and difficult. There are limits to what any municipality can do, and the main work of economic assistance and recovery necessarily lies with the federal and state government and comparatively larger resources and powers.
However, the aim of the Community & Economic Recovery Program is to act where the City of Anaheim can act with impact. The city can provide assistance to residents and business owners that supplements direct aid and liquidity programs enacted by Washington and Sacramento. At the same time, positioning the economies of particular localities isn’t necessarily high on the priorities of the state and federal governments. And that is where Community & Economic Recovery Program has a vital and direct impact on ensuring Anaheim’s local economy can be re-started as quickly and robustly as possible.
Mayor Sidhu and the council majority are governing, while Councilmembers Moreno and Barnes agitate. Mayor Sidhu and the council majority are providing sound, steady leadership, while Councilmembers Moreno and Barnes offer only dissension for dissension’s sake in Anaheim – the very opposite of us “all being in this together.”