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Councilwoman defying Disney with her push for housing in resort district

April 12, 2007|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Election day is 18 months away, but Anaheim Councilwoman Lorri Galloway can already see the attack ads coming.

"They're going to say I'm anti-business, a left-wing liberal nut case, a communist and that I'm going to make small businesses give 50% of their revenue to pay for illegal aliens' housing."

While she says she's none of those things, Galloway's lead role in the high-profile battle over a proposed large residential project in Anaheim's resort district has made her an easy and even willing target.

The debate over the resort district has mushroomed into a full-scale political dispute, pitting the entertainment giant against low-cost-housing advocates, who've chosen to make a stand on a chunk of land across the street from where Disney plans to build a third amusement park.

Galloway, testing her business and political relationships, has put herself at odds with Disney, Anaheim's powerful tourist community and the city's best-known politician, Mayor Curt Pringle.

While Disney and tourism officials believe the neighborhood near Disneyland should be dedicated to tourism and the enormous tax windfall it yields, Galloway says it should include housing, especially for lower-paid workers at the resort's hotels and theme parks.

As the debate boiled, Disney responded aggressively, filing a lawsuit and backing plans for a citywide vote on a measure to block developers from building homes in the resort. Disney executives say they support low-cost housing but that the 2.2-square-mile resort district is the wrong place for homes.

But Galloway keeps on pushing.

"I believe the cause is right, the time is right, the reasons are right," said Galloway, who has talked about a counter ballot measure that would impose a surcharge on Disney's admission price to help fund low-cost housing for its workforce.

Councilman Harry Sidhu, for one, thinks his colleague is committing political suicide.

"Business is the driving force in running the city," he said. "Asking them for help to provide housing is not a real smart political move. If we'd like to start taxing our businesses to provide housing, we might as well move to China and become communists."

Galloway's stance puts her in a challenging position. Disney has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Eli Home, a shelter she directs in Anaheim Hills for abused children. Pringle has been a political ally and recently hosted a fundraiser that kicked off her 2008 reelection campaign.

"Personally, all this is very conflicting for me," she said. "But it's not about self-interest."

Galloway was elected in 2004 and has been a longtime advocate of workforce housing. During a recent council meeting, she used a short break to step outside and thank dozens of resort employees for coming to City Hall and putting a face on the affordable-housing issue. As workers gathered around her and applauded, Galloway began to cry.

"They were so grateful someone was standing up for them," she said. "They'd not seen that before, that's what brought me to tears. They felt someone cared about what was important to them and their families."

Bill Taormina, who owns a trash-hauling business, said he saw sense in both Galloway's and Disney's arguments.

"We desperately need more housing that's dignified and reasonably priced for our workforce, but the resort needs to remain pure and a tax-generating engine for Anaheim," said Taormina, who is on the board of directors of the Eli Home. "I'm frustrated because they've been shuffled together and each issue is diluted."

Eric Altman, who represents a coalition of labor unions and community groups, said he admired Galloway for tackling a topic as divisive as low-cost housing.

"It's easy to just talk about popular things, but it's a lot harder to be a voice for the voiceless and take on issues that have risks attached," he said. "She is one of these rare people who can walk on both sides of the street ... make a lot of progress and get somewhere."

It is early, but so far Galloway's stance has not taken an obvious toll on her hopes for a second term. She kicked off her 2008 campaign last week with a YouTube video and a Moroccan-themed fundraiser at a trendy Anaheim restaurant.

The $250-per-person event raised more than $100,000 and featured belly dancers and hookahs. Attendees included officials from Disney and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the drive for the housing-ban ballot initiative.

Pringle is endorsing Galloway for a second term despite opposing her on residential development in the resort.

"I'd much rather deal with people I trust and I've built friendships with," Pringle said. "I feel comfortable with Lorri. Of course, issues politically may strain some of those relationships."

Last month, Pringle tried to play peacemaker by floating a compromise proposal that would allow for limited low-cost units in the tourist-friendly district.

"When you have a good relationship," he said, "there are opportunities to resolve the differences, and I still have hope we can do that."

In 2004, Pringle helped raise money for Galloway's campaign through an independent expenditure committee. Pringle, a former Assembly speaker who raised $500,000 in his 2006 mayoral campaign, said he hadn't decided what kind of role he would play this time around.

As for Disney officials, so far they've been coy about their intentions for the 2008 council race, saying it was too early to discuss their possible involvement.

Disney officials say that a single issue -- even one as divisive as the housing proposal -- does not define their relationship with the city.

"Overall, we have a good relationship with the city and we will continue to foster that relationship, even when we don't agree," said Rob Doughty, a communications vice president with Disneyland Resorts. "Anaheim is our home."

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