LONG BEACH — A plan that would guarantee local residents a voice in the Walt Disney Co.'s contentious proposal to build a $2-billion theme park downtown arrived at City Hall this week with brakes screeching.
So thorny are the issues surrounding the mammoth park plan that the city has decided it needs two months--not to study the size and shape of the park, but to study the size and shape of the citizens committee that will study the size and shape of the park.
"It'll be like herding grasshoppers if it gets too big," Long Beach businessman Lloyd Ikerd told the Harbor Liaison Committee, which began to tackle the issue of citizen input Tuesday afternoon.
How many citizens is too many? Should they be allowed to look at records? Should they be allowed to sit at the table? Should the neighborhoods closest to the proposed park have a greater say on the committee than the ones, say, on the north end of town? If so, is Long Beach headed for a war between its north and its south?
Ever since Disney unveiled its ambitious ideas for Port Disney on July 31, citizens have been organizing to ensure that they have a say in a project that could draw 13 million tourists yearly and change their town's very character.
A few residents promptly put together a proposal to put a citizen representative on the team of Long Beach negotiators, and the idea was promptly trounced by other citizens who decided one resident could not be trusted to represent the conflicting wants of some 50 neighborhoods.
Some neighborhood division is almost certain considering that a few parts of town stand to suffer the most from traffic and congestion the resort could cause, while other parts of town could enjoy the vast tax profits without ever bumping into a Disney tourist.
Then Councilman Tom Clark came up with an idea for a committee made up of nine residents--one appointed by each councilman--10 members nominated by recognized community groups and two appointed by Mayor Ernie Kell.
That was sent to the Harbor Liaison Committee for study, which voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of still more study, sending the idea to the city staff for a thorough going-over. City leaders hope to have some sort of proposal in front of the full City Council by January.
"The wheels of justice move very slowly," attorney Randolph Linehan, who spoke out in favor of a citizen group, said afterward.
City Councilman Wallace Edgerton contends there is no hurry to form a committee, since it could be a year before Disney and Long Beach even decide they want to be partners. Disney has also approached Anaheim with a similar deal.
But Clark was pushing to get the committee up and running, lest the citizens feel left out. Already, he noted, the city and Disney have begun hiring consultants and preparing for negotiations that could begin within several weeks, although no date is set.
Moderation won out. When the city staff asked for one month to look over the plan, Edgerton offered two.
"The potential I am seeing out there for naysayers is significant," he said, noting that a little caution now could save a lawsuit later.
The report is due back Dec. 10.
BACKGROUND On July 31, the Walt Disney Co. presented a master plan for Port Disney, a beachside resort and hotel complex in Long Beach. The city and Disney are now preparing to negotiate the terms of building the $2-billion project, a process that could take years to iron out. Despite the detailed sketches drawn up by Disney, the company has made no promises to build the resort, and could opt to put its fortune into a separate theme park near Disneyland in Anaheim.