As America’s sixth most populous region, Orange County is unique. Every U.S. metropolitan region has a city center where half or more of county folks live: The city of Los Angeles in Los Angeles County; Houston in Harris County; Chicago in Cook County; Phoenix in Maricopa County; are a few examples. By contrast, this county’s largest city, Anaheim, is merely 10 percent of O.C.’s population.
But while Anaheim does not dominate in demographics, it has long played a leading part in Orange County politics, economics and culture. Major and minor league professional sports teams, the county’s largest employer, robust diverse business and impactful policy leadership are centered in the home by the Santa Ana River.
So, from a leadership perspective, it troubles me personally, and should concern us all, to see ongoing turmoil in what should be a regional powerhouse. Anaheim is seeking its sixth city manager in seven years. Key professional staff members are labeled “interim.” More importantly, the rhetoric surrounding the recent termination of city manager Paul Emery paints the picture of dysfunctional politics that reflect poorly on the county as a whole.
In Anaheim, policy direction comes from elected city council members and mayor; day-to-day operations are run by a professional, council-appointed city manager, who manages city staff. By any reasonable measure, Anaheim is thriving with a recent infusion of $6 billion in private investment. Tax revenues are way up, despite not having a local utility users’ tax and no sales tax increases as recently passed by four other local cities. Tourism is strong as are other industry sectors.
Is Anaheim without problems? Of course not. One need only drive the 57 freeway to see the ever-growing homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River — no one shelter can solve everything. And throughout the U.S., growing income inequality, squeezing and shrinking of the middle class are real concerns that must be…