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Touched by Its Angels, Anaheim Aims High

March 30, 2003|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

In an effort to partner itself with anything cool, Anaheim in November honored its home-grown band No Doubt and singer Gwen Stefani. Then-Mayor Tom Daly gave them the keys to the city, something done only a few times in the past -- not even Walt Disney got one.

The city is also turning its attention to neighborhoods after a decade of focusing on growing and improving the resort district.

Nearly $6 billion in public and private funds was spent on one of the city's major financial engines. The result is a reinvented Anaheim resort almost unrecognizable to those who haven't seen it recently. The Convention Center was expanded, making it one of the most competitive in the country, and Disney opened a second theme park -- California Adventure.

The investment is paying off. The city's bed-tax revenue has skyrocketed: 10 years ago, Anaheim netted $32.1 million; last year, the tax brought in $57.8 million.

The extra cash in part is helping fund an ambitious capital improvement plan that calls for a new police substation and community center, expanded libraries and improvement or development of nearly a dozen parks. More than $211 million has been earmarked for the projects this year.

Many feel that Anaheim is on the brink of something special, fueled in part by the Angels' victory and recent city election in which a new mayor and two political newcomers were elected to the five-member council.

"The tone now is 'Let's do it. We're on our way to making a good city into a great city. Let's not drag our feet,' " said Tait, an eight-year council veteran. "I think there's a new excitement. You can't help but feel good about the city right now."

One of the city's chief cheerleaders is Pringle, who not long ago was the most powerful member of the state Assembly.

In his first 100 days in office, he has taken steps to increase the city's visibility. At his state of the city address he lamented that Anaheim isn't getting its due. Then he vowed to help change that.

One of his first acts as mayor was to reclaim Anaheim's seat at the table next to Willie Brown, James K. Hahn and mayors of the state's "Big-10 cities." Until then, Anaheim had not been active in the monthly caucuses.

He's in Sacramento weekly, mostly for his lobbying and public relations business, though it doesn't hurt to meet old pals and remind them why the state shouldn't cut funding to cities.

Pringle met, too, with leaders from neighboring Yorba Linda and Garden Grove -- cities with which Anaheim has had occasional squabbles.

The optimism has been contagious.

The city is on its way to appeasing two vocal neighborhood groups. Development is underway downtown, with plans for loft apartments, more retail space and restaurants. West Anaheim is also getting a new community center and police substation.

This all pleases resident Steve White, who has complained for years about city government. He resented the "myopic" focus on tourism and Disneyland, seemingly to the exclusion of residents. So it takes a lot for White to say that he's pleased for the first time in years with the direction the city is taking.

"I'm hopeful," White said. "I think the focus is turning back to the neighborhoods where it should have been all along."

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