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Disney's Real Agenda Was Outside Big A

Stadium: The deal with Anaheim seemed to have less to do with sports than with Sportstown.

April 21, 1996|STEPHEN C. SMITH | Stephen C. Smith is a public policy consultant. He was a management intern in the Anaheim City Manager's office from 1984-85

The Mouse has roared.

The Anaheim City Council approved an agreement that gives the Walt Disney Co. control over taxpayer-owned Anaheim Stadium, as well as neutering the city's Sportstown plans.

As a lifelong Angel fan, I'm glad to be rid of the inept Autry regime. But as someone who once worked in the Anaheim city manager's office, I know that Disney and the Angels are not the "white hats" portrayed in the popular press.

After the American League approved the Angels' sale, Disney unilaterally imposed a 60-day deadline on stadium negotiations with Anaheim. Why? They claimed it was to ensure that a new stadium lease be quickly reached. But Disney's true motives, I believe, were different.

Back in 1991, Disney announced plans to tear up the Disneyland parking lot and replace it with a West Coast version of Epcot, called Westcot. The lost parking spaces would be replaced by the self-proclaimed "nation's largest parking garages." Isn't this hypocritical?

If Disney wants to reduce Anaheim Stadium's seating capacity by one-third, as planned, it follows that parking can also be reduced by one-third.

How often do the Angels draw crowds that use all those parking spaces? Rarely. The Angels seldom draw more than 30,000 to a game, even on promotion dates.

Obviously, the parking space issue was a ruse. So if parking wasn't the issue, what was?

I suspect that Disney's real motivation was to stop Sportstown. After all, a scaled-back Westcot project still lurks just a few blocks down Katella Avenue. Sportstown could be prime competition for Westcot. Disney's goal became either to control Sportstown revenue--without contributing a penny to its construction--or to kill Sportstown outright.

The final settlement scales back Sportstown and gives Disney an escape clause in 23 years. Disney also gets virtually all revenue from stadium operations.

Disney has already secured more than $200 million of federal, state and county tax money to pay for transportation improvements around Westcot--including those infamous parking garages. The Times reported that in 1990, the year before Westcot was announced, Disney contributed $472,000 to politicians.

The merits of the Sportstown project are certainly debatable. But that's not the issue. The issue is that, once again, Disney has managed to make a buck off the taxpayer. Anaheim citizens should watch out when Westcot comes before the City Council. I smell a rat.

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