Anaheim city government is not genetically coded to say no to projects like Disney's Westcot theme park, so let's assume the bandwagon carrying the $3-billion plan will roll on. The city fathers are proud of their heritage as a place where big things happen, although I don't think I've ever heard the word "Anaheim" used in a sentence outside of Orange County.
No matter how cynical one gets, however, you can't knock Disneyland. Reputation is everything, and if any of us had a personal reputation to match that of Disneyland, we'd walk around all day with a happy glow.
So that, basically, was the question I put to Curtis Stricker this week as he leads a group of Anaheim homeowners against the new theme park and resort: How do you fight the notion that you're just a bunch of grumpy old cusses trying to deprive future generations of more fun from Disney?
Stricker took the question without so much as a sideways glance. "We're not after Walt Disney. We're after the Disney Co., which is run by Michael Eisner. Now, I imagine he's running things with a pretty strong hand. I imagine if you got a $197-million bonus, you'd get pretty strong, too, wouldn't you?"
Stricker's point is that it isn't 1955 anymore, and Uncle Walt isn't looking out over open fields with Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder, imagineering his wondrous park. It's the '90s, and Disney is strictly corporate. Very rich corporate, and well, if truth be told, Stricker thinks the neighbors deserve some of it.
"I've always said this," Stricker said: "I don't have any problem with expansion over here, but take us along financially. Why shouldn't we have some of the benefits? Our property values have gone down 19% in this area in the past year. Why? Because of expansion. Why? Because of traffic. It's not the great neighborhood we had."
What could Disney do? I asked Stricker. "I'll tell you what they could do. They could listen to me, listen to some good ideas, listen to the future. I've had meetings with my homeowners, and they were thoroughly for it. I told them this ground is worth $50 a square foot right now. I said, 'Would any of you move out if you got $50 a square foot?' They said 'You bet' because they're all 10,000-foot lots at least. Now, we've got 100 lots here. What does that cost--$50 million. That's all I'm asking. They kick money around like it's nothing. They say the city spends $700 million for this and that. I'm telling (Disney), let's go back three or four blocks (into the neighborhoods), let's go back and work with the residents. They don't need the residents right away--we'll have some time to move around and get relocated. But let's go around the area and beautify it."
Stricker has lived in his home, easy walking distance to the park, for 25 years. People have raised families in the shadow of the world-famous park. I asked if he thought people were really prepared to sell. "Don't you think I would be somewhat representative of the elderly group of people? I'm 65, OK, and life has changed quite a bit. Our family structures have changed quite a bit. That old homestead ain't what it used to be. I think lots of people want more mobility, condos and things like that. There are some people who would have problems with (the idea of relocating), but generally people have more ideas of mobility and of doing things."
Silly old naive me. I pictured plucky homeowners fighting the Disney giant until the last home fell, like the Texans at the Alamo.
So, you're saying, 'Give us enough dough and we'll go away,' I asked Stricker.
"That's what Disney does every day. They say, 'When I've got you in a crack, fella, you're gonna pay.' They think they've got us in a crack; they've got the politicians in a crack. I say the city has got Disney in a crack."
I asked Stricker if it were true that, at least once upon a time, he loved the idea of living near Disneyland. "That's very true," Stricker said. "I was proud of Disney. I'm not sure I'm not proud now, but I've traveled this country for all these years now and I tell people I'm from Anaheim--they didn't have the slightest idea where that was. I say Disneyland, and they say, 'Oh boy, I'd like to go there sometime.' What that did for me, it made me a reputable person (in their eyes). Sincerely. It's still that way. I tell people I live two blocks from Disneyland and they say, 'Oh boy, I wish I did.' Well, we don't wish we did anymore, because everybody in this (fight against the park) seriously thinks that if they could sell their house and move . . . they'd do it tomorrow."
When was the last time you went to Disneyland? "We never go to Disneyland anymore. We'd rather go to Knott's Berry Farm or Magic Mountain. Knott's has some graciousness to them."
Sounds like it's getting personal, I said.
"Is that bad?" Stricker said. "They're very personal, too, you know."
\o7 Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.\f7