Disney Sues City of Anaheim
Monday, February 26, 2007
Disney sues city over development
The Walt Disney World Co. is trying to stop the city from allowing projects without full environmental study into the Anaheim Resort.
By SARAH TULLY and ERIK ORTIZ
The Orange County Register
ANAHEIM – The Walt Disney World Co. filed Monday what is believed to be its first-ever lawsuit against the city of Anaheim, claiming legal action is needed to protect the tourist area from inappropriate development.
The Orange County Superior Court suit came less than two weeks after Disney officials led business leaders in fighting a City Council proposal to allow homes on a plot in the Anaheim Resort. The plan was rejected in a 2-2 vote.
Still, Disney officials said the lawsuit is necessary to ensure that this development and others go through required environmental studies, which they claim were skipped in this proposal. City staffers have said previous reviews were sufficient.
"Our concern is, this could quickly unravel the Anaheim Resort area and the golden egg that it is for Anaheim," said Rob Doughty, a Disneyland Resort spokesman.
Mayor Curt Pringle, who was against the residential plan, said he would leave it to the lawyers to consider the merits of the case.
But he said the lawsuit was a dramatic step on the part of Disney, the city's largest employer that is the center of the resort where much of the local taxes are generated.
"This is a very significant action. This is something that we should not take lightly," Pringle said.
Some council members said they were taken aback by the lawsuit, while others saw it coming.
"It's absolutely a surprise,'' said Councilman Harry Sidhu, who voted against the zoning change. "At the same time, they have a right to defend their position and we'll see what their demands are. I do not like to see any kind of lawsuit. I'm the type of person that wants a settlement, and I would like to give them a chance to present their case."
The lawsuit stems from unusual actions taken by both the council and the Planning Commission.
In August, four of five council members asked the staff for the zoning change to pave the way for SunCal to propose a 1,500-home development, including 200 affordable units.
Affordable-housing advocates praised the plan as a way to build low-cost homes near resort jobs. But business leaders said the proposal went against the long-term vision to put hotels and tourist venues on the 26.7-acre plot.
Last month, the commission went against the council's direction and rejected the residential zoning, agreeing with Disney that homes are incompatible with the resort area.
At the same time, the commission backed the city's recommendation to approve environmental documents, which outline how much development the surrounding roads, sewers and other infrastructure can handle. City staff relied on previous studies, instead of conducting new ones.
Because the council deadlocked on the plan, the commission's vote stands as the final decision.
Disney disagrees with the commission's endorsement of the environmental studies and now is suing to force the city to conduct them.
Frank Elfend, a consultant for SunCal, said he believes the lawsuit is unfounded. SunCal is requesting a council re-hearing on the zoning change.
"We think that this is another intimidation action on Disney's part," Elfend said.
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Source URL: http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister...le_1592045.php
Mayor seeks to end Disney-Anaheim feud
Mayor seeks to end Disney-Anaheim feud
Pringle urges a compromise that would allow lower-income housing to coexist with hotel-condo uses.
By Dave McKibben, Times Staff Writer
March 2, 2007
Finally stepping into the growing fray between Disney and city officials, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle is proposing a holistic review of the city's resort district that includes the possibility of workforce housing.
Until now, Pringle has steadfastly supported Disney's position of keeping certain housing out of the tourist-friendly district. But he floated a compromise plan a day after the entertainment giant sued the city to block a 1,500-unit condo-apartment project near Disneyland from being reconsidered by the City Council.
"Is there a global settlement that will allow the city to step forward with its head held high and build toward the future?" said Pringle, who introduced his proposal at Tuesday's council meeting. Also backing the plan was Councilman Harry Sidhu.
"I'd like to move this beyond an angry, frustrating debate where some people lose and some people win," Pringle said.
Disney seemed unmoved by the overture.
"Compromising the Anaheim Resort Area sets a dangerous precedent that would erode its position as the single largest funding sources for city services such as police and fire protection," said Rob Doughty, a spokesman for the Disneyland Resort.
So far, Disney has been unyielding on the housing issue, arguing that injecting it into an area dedicated to tourists and night revelers would be a huge mistake. While Disney has fought the condo and apartment project, which would include 225 low-cost units, it has favored an upscale hotel-condo use.
Disney officials say they have nothing against low-income housing and that a hotel-condo use is much more compatible with tourist activity.
The housing proposal has become a serious irritant between some city leaders and Disney, which historically has had a cozy relationship with Anaheim. The project area is across the street from where Disney has entertained the notion of building a third amusement park.
The housing plan died when the City Council voted 2 to 2 last month. But the project's would-be developer, SunCal Cos., appealed the vote, which might allow the council's fifth and swing vote, Lucille Kring, to break the tie. She abstained from last month's vote after Disney lawyers argued that her plan to open a cheese shop in the area should prevent her from voting.
In trying to play peacemaker, Pringle stopped short of saying he would vote to reopen debate on the 1,500-unit condominium and apartment project. "If we're going to resolve this problem," Pringle said, "we have to look at more projects than just one."
As part of Pringle and Sidhu's proposal for the resort district, the 26-acre parcel on Katella Avenue and Haster Street and a 4.7-acre site on Harbor Boulevard would each be split into two parts: the street-front portion accommodating hotels, with condominiums and apartments serving lower-income residents to the rear of the property. Pringle and Sidhu also suggested resort-only uses on a 6-acre parcel on Katella. They made no recommendation for a 12-acre site on Harbor and Ball Road where 449 residential units are planned.
Once zoning for the four properties is decided, Pringle and Sidhu suggest, a City Charter amendment should be passed, protecting the 2.2-square-mile resort district from future zoning changes unless approved by Anaheim residents.
"What is the big fear?" Pringle asked. "That zoning on one or two properties changes from hotel use to residential? Or the precedent it sets and that other property owners can do the same thing if their site is underperforming? That begins to erode the base of hotels in the resort."
Officials with SunCal called Pringle's proposal "confusing."
"We've not been contacted on the matter, and it's very unusual for it to be discussed at a City Council meeting without any advance notice," said Frank Elfend, a consultant to SunCal. "We are open to dialogue, but we believe his proposal would dramatically reduce the number of affordable units proposed."
Based on the size of the SunCal property, Elfend said Pringle's proposal would allow for 65 low-cost units, less than a third of the 225 that had been planned. Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who has supported the residential project from the outset, said she wasn't sure how to view the compromise plan.
"It's very premature," she said. "We're in litigation right now. For us to be negotiating something like that, I'm not sure this is the time."
Source URL: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-m...ninav-business
Disney ‘fairy tale’ isn’t for everyone
More from the LA Times:
Disney ‘fairy tale’ isn’t for everyone
Some low-income workers at the resort share motel rooms as the theme park fights efforts to build affordable housing nearby.
March 4, 2007
The job description is simple: Make the customers believe that Disneyland is "a magic kingdom where life is a fairy tale and dreams really do come true."
But at the end of the workday, many of the people who work at the "Happiest Place on Earth" sleep on air mattresses, in by-the-week motel rooms and in apartments shared with other families.
"I've been at this motel since 1997," said Derrick, a Disney security guard who pays $209 a week rent. He spoke to me Thursday night while standing in the doorway of the room he shares with two elderly aunts at Arena Inn and Suites in Anaheim, about a mile from his job.
Derrick said he would jump at a chance to live in a housing development proposed for a site across the street from his motel. As proposed, 15% of the 1,500 condos and apartments would be for low-income tenants such as Derrick, who earns $12 an hour. But his employer is doing everything in its power to crush the project.
First, Disney challenged the right of a council member to cast a vote on the housing because she intends to open a wine bar in the area and might have a conflict of interest. With the council member abstaining, a 2-2 split killed the development. The developer appealed, and last week Disney rolled out the heavy artillery, suing the city over an environmental study that had cleared the way for the project.
"We feel we have no other choice but to pursue this legal action to protect this vital area," said Ed Grier, president of the Disneyland Resort.
The big cheeses insist that having several thousand of their own employees — or anyone else's — live in the Anaheim Resort Area would dim the prospects for generating more business, jobs and taxes. When Mayor Curt Pringle pitched a hybrid of hotel and residential units, some of them for low-income tenants, Disney screamed from the top of the Matterhorn. Allowing people to live so close to the kingdom would set a "dangerous precedent," said a Disney spokesman. Yeah, Mickey could get mugged on his way to Downtown Disney.
Scott Darrell, who runs a nonprofit affordable-housing agency called the Kennedy Commission, can't understand why Disney is so opposed to the project.
"There's already housing there," said Darrell. There's a mobile home park where the 1,500 residential units would be, and just down Haster Street are several dozen apartments.
Disney argues those were built in an earlier era, but new development should be all about tourism. And besides, Disney is thinking of building a third park — oh thank heavens, finally! — and wouldn't want any normal activity in the vicinity, like their own employees walking home from work. Maybe Disney should just lock them all on the premises at night and let them sleep in the Haunted Mansion or the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.
To be fair, I think Disney has some reasonable arguments, despite the odious attempts to make City Hall do its bidding. Maybe a 1,500-unit mini-city, with several thousand residents, should be a few miles down the road. But instead of trying to torpedo housing proposals, Disney could earn a few PR points by leading the way in making sure that working stiffs like the ones it employs have decent places to live.
Disney Resorts gave $11 million to community causes in 2006 (companywide profits were $1.7 billion in the last quarter alone), but none of it was for housing. Why not kick a few bucks over to affordable housing in Orange County?
Among the 100 largest cities in the country, Anaheim was dead last in income growth between 1990 and 2000, according to Eric Altman. He's with the Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, and said the combination of low wages in the hospitality business and extremely high real estate prices help make for widespread poverty in Orange County.
I met Altman and Cesar Covarrubias, of the Kennedy Commission, at the site of the doomed 1,500-unit housing development. At noon Wednesday, four women from the Peacock Suites Hotel's housekeeping department walked by on their way to lunch, and we asked about their living arrangements.
They said they make $7 an hour, and all but one of them shares an apartment with members of another family. In one case, seven people live in a two-bedroom that costs $1,585 a month, and in another, eight people share a two-bedroom at $1,125 a month.
I later spoke by phone to a hotel switchboard operator who said that for 20 years she commuted from Riverside to the Hilton Anaheim, sometimes spending four hours on the road.
"I can tell you, there's nothing cheaper than the Inland Empire," said Lori Condinus, who is on leave from the hotel to work for the union representing hospitality employees.
Her one-bedroom apartment is $750, but the commute has taken years off her life.
"I just find it odd that corporate America will say it's fine that you come and work here and help us prosper, but doggone it, you can't live here. And now they've gone so far as to sue the city to make sure that we don't live here."
On my way to Anaheim on Thursday night, I spoke by phone to a woman who works in security at Disneyland and lives with seven family members — including a nephew who also works at Disney — in two motel rooms.
When I got to town I met up with Eddie, a Disneyland Hotel bellman who lives with his wife and children, and his parents. Eddie took me to see two friends who work at the same hotel.
Pedro and his wife live in a $950 one-bedroom with two teen-agers. He makes about $11 an hour, and his wife makes minimum wage in a cookie factory. Sometimes, Pedro said, he goes without the medicine he needs for a thyroid condition.
A few blocks away, directly across the street from the housing development that's been scuttled, Antonio lives with his wife and 19-year-old son in a $900 one-bedroom. After 15 years working banquets at the Disneyland Hotel, he makes $11.27 an hour and fears he'll lose this apartment if and when Disney builds its third theme park.
"The rent is 70% of my salary," said Antonio, whose wife and son also work. Antonio himself cleans a house in Costa Mesa on one of his two days off. "My wife wants a two-bedroom, but I can't afford it. My son needs privacy. He needs his own room. But I can't afford it."
Eddie asked Antonio to show me his envelopes, and Antonio removed several small white envelopes from his wallet. One had his mother's name on it. One had the name of the bank where he took out a loan to buy his son's computer. One said "Rent." One said "luz" for lights, or electricity. He puts money in each of them throughout the month as it comes in, so he won't come up short.
"I know a house near here where 18 people live," Antonio said. "When am I going to get a house? It's a dream that will never happen."
Source URL: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la...home-headlines
Anaheim set to battle Disney in court
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Anaheim set to battle Disney in court
The City Council agrees Tuesday to join with developer SunCal in lawsuit fight.
By ERIK ORTIZ
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
ANAHEIM - The City Council agreed Tuesday to move forward in its legal battle with the Walt Disney World Co., which filed a lawsuit against the city last week related to building new homes in the Anaheim Resort area.
Disney officials, the city's largest employer, with support from business leaders, say a home-building proposal was a bad fit with the hotels and tourist venues envisioned for the area.
Council members, in closed session, agreed to team up with attorneys representing developer SunCal, which will shoulder all legal costs, said City Attorney Jack White.
The Disney lawsuit came after SunCal's proposal to build 1,500 homes, including 200 affordable units, sank in a 2-2 council vote in February.
Mayor Curt Pringle and Councilman Harry Sidhu, who both sided against the plan, have proposed a number of development compromises for the resort area to assuage Disney and affordable-housing advocates.
The compromises weren't mentioned Tuesday, Sidhu said, although he hopes to discuss them at a future meeting.
In January, the Planning Commission endorsed environmental documents for the area that Disney claims are inadequate and wants the city to modify.
Discussion of SunCal's housing proposal could be resurrected later this month if the council takes a new vote.
Councilwoman Lucille Kring abstained during the February vote because of a possible conflict-of-interest. But the Fair Political Practices Commission is determining whether she needed to abstain.
Disneyland Resort spokesman Rob Doughty said the company remains resolute: "This is about one thing: protecting the resort area."
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Source URL: http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister...le_1600495.php
City gets backing for Disney suit
"A California developer will pay the legal fees for Anaheim, which has been sued by Disney over the developer's plans to build hundreds of low-income housing units near the amusement park's front gates."
Read the full story here: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/finan.../D8NNJA2O0.htm