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How vote on housing went Disney's way

After campaigns on both sides -- and an unexpected abstention -- the Anaheim council split evenly on plan that included low-cost units.

February 15, 2007|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

In Anaheim, even the tie goes to Disney.

A pitched battle between housing advocates and Disney officials turned into a political convention of sorts Tuesday. Low-wage employees -- a few near tears -- and well-connected business types -- many wearing red "Save the Anaheim Resort District" stickers -- vented over the future of the city's tourist neighborhood.

Although the council indicated last year that it supported the idea of bucking Disney and approving a large residential complex with low-cost units near the gates of Disneyland, that support dissolved into a 2-2 council split by evening's end -- a tie that meant the housing plan was dead.

In its place, the land in the resort district -- adjacent to acreage where Disney has toyed with the idea of a third amusement park -- can now be developed as a hotel-condominium project.

The proposed development had become a sore spot between some city leaders and Disney brass, who said housing would be inappropriate in the tourist-serving quarters around Disneyland and California Adventure. And the hours leading up to the vote underscored the stakes, with last-minute lobbying by Disney officials, calls from lawyers to the city and well-orchestrated campaigns from both fronts.

The council split was created when Councilwoman Lucille Kring suddenly excused herself from the proceedings.

Kring said she had received a phone call from City Manager Dave Morgan that afternoon, asking if a wine shop she planned to open in the nearby GardenWalk retail complex was within 500 feet of the proposed residential project. If so, she would be unable to vote because of a Fair Political Practices Commission ruling.

But after her husband measured the distance, she said she felt assured that there was no violation. It was well beyond 500 feet.

Hours later, after she met with Disney representatives about her intentions on the project, Kring said the city attorney told her she still might have a conflict. She said City Atty. Jack White said he had received a late-hour letter from Disney attorneys, citing a 2001 case in Truckee in which a council member was advised not to vote on a housing development because it was within three miles of his wine and cheese store, the only such specialty store in the scenic Sierra Nevada town.

"He strongly advised me to conflict out or I could face civil or criminal repercussions," Kring said. "I decided not to take that chance."

Councilman Bob Hernandez was startled by the ruling. Hernandez, who along with Lorri Galloway voted for the project, said White's decision might have "chilling implications" on Kring and future council candidates.

"If that stands, Lucille won't be able to vote on anything to do with the resort area or anything to do with the city," Hernandez said. "I think that decision is unreasonable. That means that anybody who owns a business in the city shouldn't run for City Council."

The recently elected Kring, who replaced low-cost-housing advocate Richard Chavez, would have been the swing vote. Kring said she had not decided whether she was going to support the proposed housing development -- a 1,500-unit project on 26 acres at Haster Street and Katella Avenue.

Kring's abstention became significant when Councilman Harry Sidhu changed his stand of six months ago when the council voted 4 to 1 to permit the housing development.

Back in August, Sidhu said the 225 low-cost units and 1,275 condominiums made sense because it would replace about 300 mobile units that had been on the property.

Sidhu was searching for a compromise Tuesday. A day earlier, he had proposed a boutique hotel and restaurants at the front of the parcel and low-cost apartments and condominiums in the back. But with no compromise option available, Sidhu voted against zoning that would allow for the residential project. Mayor Curt Pringle also voted against the housing plan.

He said it was important that the city continue growing in the resort district, "which is where the money to our city comes from."

"We're going to kill our golden goose," he said. "We have to look to the future."

During the council meeting, nearly three dozen business leaders, school district officials and community activists spoke against sprinkling housing in the midst of the resort area.

An official with the Carlsbad-based International Music Products Assn. intimated that he might have to take his 85,000 conventioneers and their spending elsewhere if potential Anaheim hotel sites were used for residential projects.

Kevin Johnstone, director of trade shows for the music association, said his group recently spent $1.2 million at the Anaheim Hilton, not to mention another $53,000 at the hotel's Starbucks.

"We're running out of exhibit space at the Convention Center and hotel space in town," said Johnstone, whose annual convention is the largest in Anaheim. "We need to protect the ability of the resort to grow."

About 75 people who identified themselves as low-wage earners who work in the resort district attended the meeting and spoke in favor of the low-cost-housing element of the project.

Lori Condinus, a 42-year-old switchboard operator at the Anaheim Hilton, was one of the few who spoke. A Riverside resident, Condinus spoke of her four-hour daily commute, necessitated because of the lack of affordable housing in Anaheim.

She said the monthly rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Riverside is $800, about $400 less than the cheapest place she could find in Anaheim.

"All of us have worked hard to make this resort district what it is today," she said.

"If we are good enough to work here in the resort, why aren't we good enough to live here?"

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dave.mckibben@latimes.com

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