In a heart-rending display of trust and loyalty to their financial corporate backers, Mayor Daly and Anaheim's City Council have left the Walt Disney Co. to make Anaheim's Edison Field earthquake-safe -- as they see fit. As of this writing, the only complete earthquake safety study that has been conducted on the aging stadium hasn’t even been reviewed (or requested) by any city officials.
Mayor Daly and Anaheim's City Council have never asked Disney for a copy of the report, 1.) despite the fact that it was paid for in part at taxpayer expense, 2.) despite the fact that the city is pumping $20 million into the project, and 3.) despite the fact that it is Anaheim’s legal responsibility should anyone be injured due to earthquake-caused damage to the facility.
And just in case you thought that the City of Anaheim was trusting Disney due to their extensive testing of the building, it’s also a fact that the only scheduled test to determine the safety of a new batch of seating tiers was postponed (and never rescheduled) without the knowledge of building officials -- whose job it is to oversee the construction of this project.
The unfounded trust that the city has put in Disney amounts to basically turning a blind eye to the construction project and simply believing whatever Disney says. But why would responsible city council members put their faith in a huge corporate conglomerate like Disney, anyway? Could it have anything to do with the $250,000 in free stadium perks that Disney has sent their way -- each and every year?
The fact that the city remains liable for any damages or injuries incurred during an earthquake would certainly seem to warrant some city oversight of the project, but there has been virtually none. They’ve accepted Disney’s safety assurances at face value, never questioning the pure motives of this monolithic corporate entity.
City councilman Lou Lopez perfectly sums up city officials’ 'what-me-worry?' attitude towards this public safety matter. “As far as I know, everything is going fine,” he has been quoted as saying. But Lou, how would you know if everything’s fine or not if no one has bothered to even check out what Disney is doing at the Stadium? By just accepting the word of Disney, plus $250,000.00 per year in perks, plus campaign contributions, that’s how!
Timur Galen, general manager for Walt Disney Imagineering in California, the division of Disney in charge of the renovation, claims that “Walt Disney and (its engineers) put an absolute premium on safety.” Disney has been unwilling to back up that statement, though, by releasing the results of the earthquake-safety study that they commissioned.
“As a matter of policy, Disney does not release private documents,” Galen says. But isn’t an earthquake-safety report that has been partially (20%) paid for by taxpayer funds in fact a public document?
And despite the assurances from Disney that everything is A-Okay, many experts are still worried. Theodore Anvick, the engineer that the city hired to repair damage after a previous earthquake, is among those calling for a thorough (and public) review. “I am really concerned about an earthquake with a lot of vertical acceleration like the Northridge earthquake,” he said after seeing the work that Disney is doing.
The $100 million stadium renovation project is being partially financed by Anaheim taxpayers, who are kicking in $20 million. And although Disney has leased the stadium form the city for the next 33 years, they are still not liable when an earthquake actually does occur. Anaheim taxpayers would have to pay for any damage, injuries, burial expenses, etc., even if they are caused by Disney negligence!
And it’s not as if the stadium hasn’t had its share of structural problems in the past. In both 1975 and 1980, fans at large concerts there caused the club level of the stadium to noticeably bounce and wobble. That was when the city hired Avnick to make the structure sturdier. He recommended installing steel supports for the level -- but much of what he had requested was, in fact, never added.
During the 1994 Northridge quake, a huge Jumbotron scoreboard crashed into the empty stands, taking a portion of the roof with it. The stadium was the only public structure in Orange County to suffer damage from that quake. That fact alone points to a serious structural defect in the construction of the stadium that desperately needs to be addreessed.
In 1996, Disney and the city paid for an “in-depth evaluation” of the stadium’s seismic weaknesses. The findings of that study, though, have never been made public or even requested by any members of the city council. Disney booster and Anaheim mayor Tom Daly has claimed that he has no oversight responsibility, laying his share of the blame at the feet of the city manager.
City Engineer Gary Johnson has also said that he doesn’t need to see any reports, and instead relies on briefings from Disney and its engineers. Such trust brings tears to my eyes in these days of corporate corner-cutting, but shouldn’t the City of Anaheim, whose taxpayers are liable in case of damage, be a little more responsible? Couldn’t a major earthquake and it’s ensuing lawsuits bring even more fiscal hardship to a region whose officials have already raided the public trough into bankruptcy once too often?
There’s one more disturbing tidbit to add to this sordid tale. Disney is installing a series of plush new luxury boxes, but before they would begin building, engineers ordered a “load test” to be performed. The test involves slowly filling up water barrels that are strategically placed on the proper level. The test is meant to insure that the level can withstand the extra weight of the new structures.
But when testing was about to begin, the testing firm became concerned about some visible cracks and rust on the level. A structural engineer was called in and the test was postponed. That’s when Disney’s chosen engineering firm (Thornton-Thomasetti Engineers) came out. Their response? They determined (by sight) that the cracks and rust were nothing to worry about, and in fact, that they didn’t even need to perform the load test, either. Construction commenced, even though the construction plans themselves indicate that no building should be done until all load testing is completed.
So why hasn’t the Anaheim City Council exercised more (or any!) oversight on this costly and taxpayer-funded enterprise? Could it be because of the expensive gifts of luxury boxes, tickets, VIP parking, and complementary dinners that Disney has lavished on them? Or is it just because Mike Eisner and company are such good guys that they would never go ahead with anything that was less than 100% above-board?
As long as the Mayor Daly and Anaheim's City Council can be ‘perked off’ by their rich corporate sponsors, public safety and fiscal responsibility will continue to take a back seat to honest democratic representation. Once again, Mayor Daly and Anaheim's City Council has shown itself to be a Mickey Mouse organization -- in more ways than one!
Update: Anaheim's Edison Field Yellow Tagged Unsafe!
Safety Inspectors yellow tagged 5 unsafe areas of Anaheim's Edison Field, which is presently undergoing a $100 million renovation financed by the City of Anaheim and the Disney Company. “They did find some deficiencies,” admitted David Seastrom, regional manager for Turner Construction. A yellow tag stops all work in the area until the unsafe conditions are rectified.
OSHA began investigating the stadium construction just this past week following numerous articles and complaints noting the existence of unsafe conditions and secretive practices on the part of Turner Construction Company, the City of Anaheim and the Disney Company.