NBC4's Patrick Healy takes a look at a tumultuous time in Anaheim politics, contemplating what an upcoming election could mean for the city's future.
After a tumultuous year of protest and controversy in the home to the "happiest place on earth," Anaheim voters will have the chance in November to elect two new City Council members, and potentially adjust the balance of power that has repeatedly held firm against changes demanded by activist groups.
Termed out are council members Harry Sidhu, who has frequently voted with the majority, and Lorri Galloway, who has allied herself with Mayor Tom Tait on positions that often have been voted down.
In fact, Galloway held the title of Mayor Pro Tem until April, when the council majority voted to take it away.
The alternate visions for Anaheim's future had begun clashing long before the week of agitated and at times violent protest late in July that followed police use of deadly force against a suspect who turned out to have been unarmed.
The national and even international attention those events attracted has waned. But Anaheim still remains deeply split by sometimes competing demands from its upscale resort district, and from the struggling neighborhoods the tourists rarely see.
One emerging force is the Take Back Anaheim movement that began last January in a backlash against the council approving tax subsidies to the developer of two proposed hotels for the Garden Walk entertainment mall, east of the Disney Resort.
Critics call that subsidy a giveaway, and it is still being debated.
An explanation for the arrangement remains posted on the city's website, with a prominent link on the homepage. A Take Back Anaheim demonstration outside City Hall before Tuesday's council meeting attracted a dozen and a half protestors..
"We have years and layers of folks in poverty stricken areas -- disenfranchised areas -- that are tired of having our electeds go into office and promise to take care of these issues, and they're not addressed," said Take Back Anaheim founder Joanne Sosa, who works for a community development nonprofit in Anaheim's lower income East Street corridor.
But those who voted for the subsidy defend it as a proven way to encourage development, expand Anaheim's economy, and create jobs. The resort district, which stretches from the Disney property to Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, generates more than half of the city's revenue, according to Council member Kris Murray.
"To grow that area and allow it to prosper means that level of revenue will increase," Murray said.
She emphasized that the subsidy would come only from income generated by the new hotels. Under the arrangment, they would keep three-fourths of the usual 15% bed tax, up to a maximum of $158,000.
Take Back Anahem contends the revenue is needed elsewhere in the city. It launched a petition drive for charter amendment to require a public vote on future subsidy agreements with hotel developers.
The initiative got the public backing of Mayor Tait and Councilwoman Galloway.
Sosa and Galloway have a workplace connection that goes back several years. Galloway is founder and executive director of The Eli Home non-profit organization that created the ESCRI program for which Sosa works.
The initiative collected some 15,000 signatures, according to Sosa, but not enough by the deadline to qualify for the November ballot. She blamed misinformation about the deadline. At the August 8 council meeting, Galloway and Tait urged their colleagues to use the council's power to put the measure on the ballot, but were defeated 3-2.
Tait, Galloway and Sosa also took up the call for Anaheim to change the way it elects council members, and adopt the method proposed in a lawsuit filed against the city in June by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU contends Anaheim's electing all council members "at large" has effectively deprived predominately Latino neighborhoods of representation. The ACLU contends Anaheim should instead divide the city into districts from which council members would be elected, as is done in most California cities as large as Anaheim.
Tait and Galloway proposed putting the issue on the ballot, but again lost 3-2 at that same Aug. 8 meeting. The majority instead voted to set up a citizens advisory committee to study the issue for a possible vote in 2014.
It was to protest those outcomes that Take Back Anaheim held its Tuesday rally at City Hall.
Sosa rejects the notion that Tuesday's small turnout reflects a fading of the reform movement, explaining that activism comes in waves.
"There are pounding waves coming politically for this city if things don't change," Sosa said.
Meanwhile, construction has yet to begin on the Garden Walk hotels to be developed by O'Connell Hotels & Hospitality.
The subsidy agreement specified ground must be broken next year. But that may be delayed by a lawsuit seeking to to stop the project, according to William O'Connell, Chairman of the OHH Group. O'Connell said he remains confident the project will prevail against the legal challenge and will be built.