Councilman Jose F. Moreno: impossible to silence no matter which side of his mouth he’s talking out of.

Councilman Jose F. Moreno is already telegraphing his plan to vote against using $4 million in federal CARES Act funding to extend eviction protection, support for local businesses and COVID-19 testing. His vehicle: cynical alternative ideas for the $4 million which he admits aren’t realistic.

Item 14 on tonight’s council agenda would expand the Anaheim Community and Economic Recovery Plan by:

  • Extending of the eviction moratorium
  • Increasing rental assistance funding
  • Expand the small business grant program
  • Provide waivers, incentives and other measures to support local development projects
  • Increased funding through local non-profits to assist Anaheim residents in need
  • Establish a Buy/Shop/Dine/Hire/Purchase Local program to drive customers to local business and foster long-term resident loyalty Anaheim businesses.
  • Waiving permits, fees and other regulatory obstacles to increased use of outdoor spaces for dining and business operations
  • Increased funding for COVID-19 testing and PPE

Restaurants have been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants accounted for more than 20% of local small business closures between March 1 and July 25, according to data from Yelp.  Governor Newsom’s renewed order banning indoor dining is a death-knell to many restaurants unless they can create a significant outdoor dining space.  The Recovery Plan’s proposal to empower restaurants to maximize outdoor dining operations could make the difference between restaurants surviving or closing for good.

Another innovative element of the Recovery Plan is establishing a Buy/Shop/Dine/Hire/Purchase Local program in Anaheim. According to multiple studies, the multiplier effect of such programs keeps a greater share of every dollar in the local economy, increase local hiring and employee retention, and boosts locally-owned supply chains. Buy/Shop/Dine/Hire/Purchase Local programs obviously benefit locally-owned businesses, which are linked to higher income growth, lower levels of poverty and greater social capital.

Under the Recovery Plan, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce is being tasked with implementing the program.

Unhealthy Obsession
During his pre-council meeting Zoom briefing – which can be seen here – Councilman Moreno basically announced ahead of time his intention to vote against the Recovery Plan. Brushing aside the Plan’s benefits for local Anaheim businesses, Moreno can’t get past partnering with the Chamber.

Instead, Moreno rolled out his own plans for spending the $4 million in federal CARES Act funds.

“What Can Our City do with $4,000,000?” Moreno’s slide asks. One of Moreno’s answers: “Launch a program for Anaheim residents to provide Free Wifi in our efforts to help thousands of families struggling with remote-learning and working from home.”

When a participant asked if $4 million was enough to build such a system, Moreno acknowledged it wasn’t.

“No, it’s not enough,” Moreno admitted, and speculated on the possibility of persuading telecom providers would fund a free wifi system.

In other words, it wasn’t a serious idea but gamesmanship intended to paint Mayor Sidhu in a poor light.

Moreno Rewrites Anaheim History
Moreno then gave an erroneous account of an attempt to build a citywide WiFi network under Mayor Curt Pringle. Moreno claimed Pringle and the city council cut the franchise fee in order to incentive telcom companies to invest in building a citywide WiFi system.

“That didn’t pan out,” states Moreno with a grin, “the fee was cut, we don’t have a WiFi system in the city of Anaheim.”

“I think at the very least we can approach the telcom companies that serve Anaheim and say, ‘Look, you haven’t paid fees in 10-12 years. You’ve saved a lot of dollars for yourself. Can you invest some of that into the city in this time of need.”

The problem with Moreno’s history is it is false.  The elimination of the franchise fee had nothing to do with building a citywide WiFi system.

In 2006, the city struck an agreement with Earthlink and Tropos Networks to build a citywide WiFi network that residents could access for a monthly fee. At the time, there was a push in major cities to erect such networks. At the end of the day, it didn’t pan out for technical and economic reasons, and the agreement was canceled in 2008.

But it had nothing to do with the franchise fee. And judging by his plan to enlist telcom companies in a free WiFi system, Moreno doesn’t understand who pays that fee.

Mayor Pringle and the City Council – also in 2006 – did do away with the franchise, for reasons that had nothing to do with WiFi. The intent was to foster greater competition in the emerging market for in-demand video services.  Providers like cable companies were subject to franchise fees, while satellite dish providers were not. Since the fees is paid by the consumer, public policy gave some providers an unfair advantage.

Mayor Pringle wanted to eliminate the franchise fee because it was anti-competitive and undermined consumer choice. It was and is good public policy – and totally unrelated to building a citywide WiFi system.

Moreno is fond of opining “History. Matters.”And it absolutely does. But in his case, the left-wing university professor takes two separate events and conflates them into an imaginary corporate giveaway narrative trotted out in support of a half-baked idea for free WiFi . He also fails to grasp the people “saving a lot of dollars” for the last 14 years aren’t the telcom companies, but Anaheim residents.

College-bound high school sophomores and juniors in Anaheim at the time could apply for two years of free WiFi and a free laptop via the Mayor’s TechScholar Program:  by submitting a 500-word essay on how, if they were mayor, they would provide Anaheim residents with more freedom. Not a topic of interest to the Moreno clique.

Moreno throws other ideas for spending the $4 million in CARES Act funding against the wall, such as giving $1,000 to 4,000 families, or giving a one-time rent relief voucher to 15,000 or 7,500 households.  But like his free WiFi scheme, these aren’t serious policy ideas – they’re political ploys.

There are more than 100,000 households in Anaheim. How would Councilman Moreno choose which 4,000 get a $1000 check? Which 15,000 get a one-time rent subsidy? Moreno doesn’t bother with those questions because they are beside his point – which advancing his campaign narrative.