Anger boils over near happiest place on Earth
There have always been divides in Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, where Disneyland and professional hockey and baseball teams bring in millions of visitors each year. Few of them ever see the poor neighborhoods just beyond Disneyland Drive.
The New York Times
ANAHEIM, Calif. —
Visitors to Disneyland pull off the freeway in Anaheim and drive along dense rows of palm trees on pristine streets, past dozens of hotels beckoning them to stay. It is, the park's marketing says, "The Happiest Place on Earth."
Just a few blocks away, though, fury has boiled over. There have been days of protests, at times violent, with the police responding in combat gear and placing sharpshooters to guard their headquarters. The mayor says he has never seen such a high level of mistrust and anger in his nearly 20 years in the city.
The latest frustrations initially stemmed from a police shooting last month, when officers shot a 25-year-old unarmed man and another man a day later. An Anaheim neighborhood, five miles north of Disneyland, erupted.
Protests continued. A community meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday. It is expected to draw about 1,000 residents.
There have always been divides in this city south of Los Angeles, where Disneyland and professional hockey and baseball teams bring in millions of visitors each year. The money generated by the resort area makes up roughly one-third of the city's income each year.
But few visitors ever see the poor neighborhoods just beyond Disneyland Drive. As the protests exploded last week, the park's nightly fireworks continued just a few miles away.
There is another divide. While most of the city's population lives on the west side of the bow-tied-shape city, in recent decades a wealthy enclave known as Anaheim Hills has flourished to the east. The hills are about 15 miles from downtown, more like a separate town than a part of this mostly working-class and largely Latino city. There, household income is roughly twice as much as in the flatlands, as the rest of the city is known.
Like most City Council members, Mayor Tom Tait lives in Anaheim Hills. Last week, he asked federal investigators to look into the police department's practices. This week, trying to deal with how the city could move on, he called a meeting with executives from Disney, the Los Angeles Angels and the Anaheim Ducks, asking them to help come up with programs to help the city's most struggling neighborhoods.
In those places, residents have coped with unemployment, poverty, crime and gangs for years. Now, suddenly, those long-standing problems are being forced into public view.
"The problem is in that in some of these neighborhoods, there's really a lack of hope from people and they turn to gangs and crime," said Tait, who has lived in the city since 1988. "We need people to go into the areas that lack hope and find ways to help."
Spokesmen for each of the organizations declined to comment about the meeting.
Across much of the flatlands, there is a widespread suspicion of the city's elite.
Young men complain about being unfairly targeted by the police. Mothers worry that their children are not getting enough support in schools to stay out of trouble.
Activists claim city officials have focused on development around Disneyland and in Anaheim Hills at the expense of the rest of the city.
For more than a generation, Disney has been the power center of the city that has grown to nearly 350,000. The park draws millions of visitors each year and is the city's largest property-tax payer and employer.
In 2007, when one developer proposed creating a high-rise with affordable housing, Disney spent more than $2 million to back a group, Save Our Anaheim Resort Area, which persuaded the city to abandon the idea.
The group changed the verb in its name from "save" to "support" and created a political-action committee that has funneled millions of dollars to candidates, largely money collected from Disney and other businesses surrounding the resort.
Disney officials point out that they also donate millions of dollars to local nonprofits every year.
"Our political-action committee is focused on electing resort-district-friendly officials, not just at City Hall but also county supervisors and state senators, anyone voting on matters that would affect the district," said Jill Kanzler, executive director of the group.
Tensions flared earlier in the year when the City Council approved a tax incentive to a developer for a $283 million project to build two luxury hotels across from Disneyland.
Typically, the city collects a 15 percent tax for every stay in the city. The incentive plan will allow the developers to keep the money from the tax for the next 15 years, an amount estimated to be $158 million.
"There is the basic question of why is it in a city with those kind of resources can we have such extreme poverty," said Eric Altman, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, an advocacy group critical of city government.
He said the most recent tax deal is "essentially the city printing money" for investors in the resort area.
Harry Sidhu, the mayor pro tem, said that without such subsidies, developers would build in other cities, costing Anaheim jobs and tax dollars. He dismisses charges that other parts of Anaheim have suffered and that the current election system, which elects members citywide rather than from geographic districts, is unfair.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on the process, saying it underrepresents Latinos.
"If they don't elect their own people, you can't say we are at fault," Sidhu said. "We look at the city as one place, we all get the same police services and community services."
Sidhu and other city officials frequently say Anaheim is one of the safest cities of its size. And yet last year, as crime dropped nationally, the city had one of the biggest spikes in violent crime in the state. Few of those incidents were in Anaheim Hills.
Sgt. Juan Reveles has been with the department's gang unit for nearly a decade. The unit has grown to 11 officers, more than double the size it was two years ago.
Now, the city has roughly 30 active gangs and all but one are Latino, he said, with about half made up of more recent immigrants.
During a community meeting after a police shooting this year, Reveles called the gangs "a failure of the Hispanic community."
"You would have thought I threw a grenade in the crowd," he said in an interview. "But I am going to call it what it is, not pretend it's different."