A Disney-backed ballot initiative that would essentially strip the Anaheim City Council of the authority to make any land-use decision in the city's Resort District was certified Wednesday by the Orange County registrar of voters.
A Disney-funded coalition turned in more than 31,000 signatures in August for an initiative that would give voters the opportunity to block housing projects in the tourist district, a move that would give Disney an added layer of protection by letting voters -- not elected city leaders -- determine the fate of such projects.
Anaheim City Clerk Linda Nguyen said that the registrar had certified 19,788 signatures -- or 15% of Anaheim's voters, enough to place the initiative on the ballot. The group driving the initiative -- Saving Our Anaheim Resort -- claims more than 4,600 members.
The initiative is among several in Anaheim that were spurred by a developer's proposal to build 1,500 homes, including low-cost units, near a site that Disney has long planned as a third amusement park.
Coalition officials say housing does not belong in the 2.2-square-mile Resort District, which was created in 1994 specifically for tourist uses.
Group leaders tout a study that shows the district covers less than 5% of Anaheim's land but generates 54% of the city's general fund revenue.
"Without this initiative, the citizens of Anaheim will have their precious asset at risk," said Todd Ament, the coalition's co-chair and president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
"We don't think it's wise to leave it in the hands of three people on council. It's important to protect the long-term health of the resort."
The City Council will decide Oct. 23 whether to adopt the ordinance, place it on the ballot or continue the matter.
Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who campaigned for the initiative, said it was a necessary measure. "This resort plan was put in place over 10 years ago, and if you divert from that plan, I think it's an important-enough decision to ask the voters." he said. "To get this amount of signatures to put something new on the ballot shows a keen level of awareness of the voters on this issue."
If the initiative is on the June ballot, it will join a Disney-backed referendum that asks voters to overturn the council's decision to permit the Resort District housing development.
The housing issue has become a flash point in the city, dividing business interests that support Disney and housing advocates and some religious leaders who argue that the city -- and the tourist district in particular -- have a pressing need for low-cost housing for workers.
The two Disney-sponsored ballot measures could join a developer-backed measure -- the Anaheim Voter Empowerment Initiative.
That measure would give voters zoning control over the 53-acre parcel where the third theme park is planned. Last month, the council directed staff to begin a process that would put the initiative on the ballot.
"We fully support the citizens' right to vote on all development in the commercial recreation area, including property owned by the Disney Corp.," said Frank Elfend, a consultant to SunCal Cos., the developer of the controversial housing project.
If the empowerment measure wins council approval, it would save supporters the time and expense of gathering about 14,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.