Opponents of the GardenWalk agreement — the 15-year, 80-20 Transient Occupancy Tax revenue split with the project’s developers — are doing a victory dance over yesterday’s Superior Court decision. And that’s to be expected. But it’s important to be clear about what this decision is, and what it isn’t. Let’s take the latter, first. The court was not making a judgment on the merits of the agreement. Indeed, the agreement was really beside the point — it could have been about garage sales or ice cream vendors. The ruling really came down to the language of the January 24, 2012 council agenda item regarding the GardenWalk project:
“Discussion to consider an amendment to an existing economic assistance agreement and provide direction to staff to develop an agreement with the developer (GardenWalk Hotel Project).”
Given that language, I believe another judge could have reasonably decided the other way and upheld the vote (admittedly, I haven’t seen the decision, so I may have to revise that belief). It seems very clear to me from the phrase “discussion to consider” that it is was very possible to council would vote on the matter than evening; after all, “to consider” means “to think carefully about, especially in order to make a decision.” However, that’s now a moot point (unless the city appeals the decision).
This decision is also an opportunity to revisit the oft-repeated complaint by GardenWalk opponents that they were “denied the opportunity” to speak at the January 24 council meeting because they did not know there would be a vote that evening.
That’s a tough one to swallow, for several reasons. For starters, it’s not like OCCORD, Los Amigos or any other similar pressure group only show to speak at Anaheim City Council when there is definitely going to be a vote on an issue they care about. On the contrary.
Secondly, the amended GardenWalk agreement had been working its way through the city for months – it didn’t suddenly burst from obscurity. And it is important to remember it is an amended agreement — a TOT split was already in place.
Let’s face it: OCCORD, Los Amigos and other elements of what became the “Take Back Anaheim” coalition were asleep at the switch. The GardenWalk agreement was on the agenda. It was clear from the language that a vote might very well take place, and veteran council watchers like the above groups should have known that.
I’m sure we’ll now have plenty of opportunities to re-hash and re-hear the arguments for and against the project in the weeks ahead.