Daily 49er

Money in Disneyheim

The theme park continues to cast a bleak shadow over its hometown.

The+Disneyland+Monorail+passes+by+as+people+walk+under+the+Disneyland+sign+at+the+East+Shuttle+Area+in+Anaheim%2C+Calif.%2C+on+September+6%2C+2017.+%28Allen+J.+Schaben%2FLos+Angeles+Times%2FTNS%29
The Disneyland Monorail passes by as people walk under the Disneyland sign at the East Shuttle Area in Anaheim, Calif., on September 6, 2017. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The Disneyland Monorail passes by as people walk under the Disneyland sign at the East Shuttle Area in Anaheim, Calif., on September 6, 2017. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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The Disneyland Monorail passes by as people walk under the Disneyland sign at the East Shuttle Area in Anaheim, Calif., on September 6, 2017. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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For Southern California natives, there are only two responses to Disneyland: it’s a magical place where dreams come true, or it’s the mecca of capitalism, whiny children and overpriced yet average tasting food. According to my Snapchat friends, I “visit Disneyland too much.” As if such a notion exists. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my brother likes to refer to our old pal Mickey as “The Communist Mouse.”

While we both have our opposing views of the parks, there’s another way to analyze Disneyland, and it’s one that SoCal locals don’t consider as often. To those like Los Angeles Times writer Daniel Miller, Disneyland is a politically powerful, money-hungry corporation whose only interest is its own, regardless of how it hurts its home city of Anaheim.

Miller wrote a couple of articles earlier in September detailing how Disneyland has cut deals with the city of Anaheim for decades and another questioning whether the Mouse was truly giving back to the community. After Miller’s article was published, Disney barred entertainment writers from the LA Times from attending its media content preview event, claiming the publication had unfairly covered its business ties with Anaheim.

The six-year-old inside of me is begging me to shut up, lest I ruin my chances of ever becoming a Disney princess, but it’s my love of everything Disney that makes me want to hold it to a higher standard. And it is with love I say that Disney’s response to the articles rival the brattiness and petulance of the kids behind its green gates. Rather than owning up to the glaring economic advantages Disney receives from the city of Anaheim, they later cited in a press release that, “the L.A. Times showed a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards.”

This childish behavior is what I’d expect from our Commander-in-Chief, but not from Mickey. Despite their best efforts to backtrack, the Disneyland vs. LA Times debacle has put a much-needed spotlight on Disneyland’s suspicious business dealings in Anaheim. Or, as some residents apparently call it, “Disneyheim.”

My love for Disney borders an obsession. I’ve seen documentaries and YouTube videos, I frequently engage in heated discussions regarding the animated films, and I serve as the unofficial Disney Tour Guide of my friend group. Despite my love for Disneyland, we need to begin to consider it as something other than a theme park, but for what it truly is: a multinational corporation with billions of dollars and a lot of friends in high places, helping them cut self-serving deals that do not serve the city it’s based in.

If, like me, you found this hard to believe, let me redirect you to Miller’s article, “Is Disney paying its share in Anaheim?” Regarding the Mickey and Friends Parking structure, he states that “Even if the parking garage fills just half its spaces, it would still generate more than $35 million in annual revenue and easily hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the structure. That money all goes to Walt Disney Co. The city of Anaheim, which owns the garage and spent $108.2 million to build it, charges the company just $1 a year for the lease.”

I wonder what kind of “magic” Disneyland is using to get a deal that sweet. Maybe some of that magic comes from the $1.22 million Disney contributed to PACs, as Miller mentioned. It’s sweet enough that the city paid for the 108.2 million dollar parking structure, but add in the $1 annual lease and the over $35 million annual revenue and this “sweet” starts to smell saccharine. A deal this sweet can only be cooked up by a rat, and I’m not referring to dear Remy, the rat chef from “Ratatouille.”

Even without the shocking numbers, a drive through Anaheim tells you enough to understand that at least some of Miller’s words ring true: Disneyland is not paying its share. Anaheim itself is a dichotomy: in part,  a city with gang violence and a high homelessness rate and in part, a city that houses the “Happiest Place on Earth” and shiny utopian ideals.

On my route to Disneyland, I pass by street after street of dingy apartment buildings that rival ‘60s movie sets as well as transients in baggy clothing. As soon as I begin to see those iconic green streetlamps, everything changes. The buildings are new, the restaurants are fancier and the hotels are the picture of bourgeoisie luxury. And based on my experiences working with the Anaheim Union High School District a few years ago, Disneyland’s absence from meaningful community engagement was a well-known fact, whispered in between meetings and community events. You would never guess that Anaheim-based schools Magnolia High School and Ball Junior High are only 10 minutes away from a parking structure that brings in over $35 million annually. Surrounded by dingy apartment buildings, the schools themselves are a mess. Despite the proximity, and the obvious need, Disneyland has almost zero involvement in the local schools.

Instead of acting like a child and telling the LA Times their journalism is substandard, Disneyland needs to focus on owning up to its shady dealings. They need to take $1.22 million they gave to PACs and maybe some of the money they saved from an actual lease and use it to find solutions to the city’s homelessness, which was just recently declared a state of emergency. Or to go towards the city’s safety fund, so that walking alone at night in Anaheim isn’t terrifying. Or maybe even contribute to the schools in Anaheim with something a bit more substantial than the one-time Dreamers & Doers scholarship. Even if they do none of that, we as citizens need to accept once and for all that Disneyland is not just a theme park, but a major political player that requires the same scrutiny we give every other interest group.

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