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Disney Project's Effects on Traffic, Air Outlined : Expansion: Environmental report raises seven major problems, which park officials say can be overcome.

November 13, 1992|MATT LAIT and KEVIN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ANAHEIM — The proposed $3-billion Disneyland Resort project in Anaheim would snarl traffic during construction, add thousands of cars to local freeways, worsen air quality and require massive spending on public works, according to a city report released Thursday.

Yet despite at least seven major problems identified in a 500-page draft environmental impact report, Walt Disney Co. officials said none is severe enough to scrap the ambitious project, which promises to generate thousands of jobs, revitalize Anaheim's public works systems and boost the local economy.

"Now, we want to keep ourselves focused, keep our eyes on the prize and make this happen," said Kerry Hunnewell, Disney Development Co. vice president in charge of the expansion, in acknowledging that the report's release launches an extensive review process.

The document also stated that the project and surrounding development would probably overburden all current utilities and public safety resources in the city. Needs would be created for widened streets, expanded sewer systems, additional fire equipment and the hiring of 22 new police officers before the park's opening in 1998, according to the report.

But perhaps the most ominous obstacle facing the expansion was not required to be addressed in the report: How the $3-billion cost will be divided between the city and Disney. Earlier estimates had pegged Disney's need for public money at near $1 billion.

Disney and city officials both said Thursday that they expect the public cost of the project to be returned through increased commerce and the property, hotel and sales taxes it would generate.

Both company and city officials promised that current city revenues would not be touched to finance the expansion.

"The cardinal rule is that the (city's) general fund will have no risk," Hunnewell said.

Mayor-elect Tom Daly said there has been "an informal commitment by the city leadership to avoid using any of the city's existing revenues to finance future improvements in the tourism area."

"This project from the standpoint of economic development is the biggest and best project to come along in the history of Anaheim, as well as the history of Orange County," Daly said. "The economic benefits should be enormous."

Councilman Irv Pickler also supported the Disney project. "It's going to be a good thing all the way around," he said, adding that paying for public works and safety projects should not be a problem.

"When this thing is bringing in $35 million into our general fund, with the revenues from sales tax and bed tax and such, it's not going to be a problem," he said.

Ultimate approval of the environmental report rests with the City Council, where a clear majority supports Disney's plan. A vote on the environmental feasibility of the project is expected by summer.

The expansion would include three new hotels with a total of 5,600 rooms, a second theme park called Westcot Center, a 5,000-seat amphitheater, a retail district ringing a six-acre lake, and lush pedestrian walkways throughout. Also key are proposals for two of the nation's largest parking structures, with direct access from the Santa Ana Freeway.

The release of the draft environmental impact report culminates about 18 months of work by the city and Disney. A completed report is mandated by state law for large developments. Disney paid the report's costs, put at $5 million to $10 million.

Before the report can be finalized, however, there must be a 45-day period for public comment.

At least one neighboring city, Garden Grove, has already asked Anaheim officials to extend the review process so it can fully assess the impacts. Anaheim has denied Garden Grove's request.

Additionally, county, state and federal agencies are expected to comment on the report's findings, and possibly request that more research be done on such things as traffic and air quality estimates.

Connie Day of the South Coast Air Quality Management District said her agency will "make comments on (the report). Our concern is primarily traffic and that (Disney officials) reduce their emissions to the greatest extent possible."

The most vocal group on the report may be the Anaheim residents who live near Disneyland and who are concerned about the congested streets, noise and air pollution that will be generated by the new theme park.

Disney officials say they have gone to great lengths to consult with residents. For example, Disney officials said they redesigned the west parking structure so that there was no guest or employee access to residential Walnut Street.

But Disney's efforts have not satisfied all residents.

"I don't know that (Disney officials) have listened to us at all," said Curtis Stricker, president of Anaheim Home. "There are still a lot of problems to be solved. Hell, we don't know anything."

Stricker's group of homeowners, who live primarily in neighborhoods bordering on the park, have been Disney's harshest public critics, and Stricker said the group opposes the project.

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