Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Surreal Politics of Orange County: Anaheim's Disney Dilemma

What is the Anaheim City Council to do? What are the council members to do about developing an open plot of land in the "Anaheim Resort District", the tourist-themed area surrounding Disneyland? Should they build new homes here, or stick to the original plan of tourist-themed destinations?On one hand, they have workers who come here to do their jobs in keeping the resort district, yet they cannot afford any nearby housing. These workers are crying for homes to live in, but at a reasonable price. (From LA Times)

Tonight, the council is expected to choose sides and vote whether to permit 225 apartments and 1,275 condominiums in the resort district. The area, directly across the street from where Disney may build a third amusement park, includes a site recently rezoned for upscale hotel-condominium projects, to which Disney has not objected.

The debate has left council members in an awkward position: whether to please Anaheim's biggest employer and biggest tourist draw or create housing, including low-cost residences for the resort district's workforce.

OK, so what's the problem? Why not just build the homes? The workers need somewhere to live, AND somewhere they can afford to live...

But wait! Could this really be a crazy boondoggle in disguise? Is this "affordable housing plan" actually disrupt the entire urban plan for the resort district? Jaque Robertson, the original lead planner for the Anaheim Resort District, thinks so. (From OC Register)

Piecemeal residential development within this tourist-serving area was clearly deemed an incompatible use within the Anaheim Resort area. There is a reason for the term "incompatible use" in responsible urban planning. Certain uses in certain places don't belong together. No matter how good an idea or how well designed, some things will not peacefully co-exist. Anaheim understood this when they approved their vision for this important tourism area in 1994. Their sound reasoning is still valid today.

OK, so this residential development is an "incompatible use". What's the big deal? Well, Jaque Robertson predicts that there could be serious consequences if this development deal goes through.

Even more dangerous now is SunCal's disregard for the Anaheim Resort area and the precedent their scheme will set for every other property in the district. Once the common interests are sacrificed for one developer's self-interests they can not be undone. If the city indulges the self-interests of this developer, they will send a message to all developers that that the original plan for the Anaheim Resort area is null and void. No more smart planning. No more cohesive vision. No more foresight.

As it considers its next move, Anaheim must remember that a secure revenue stream is worth protecting, that good planning cannot be done parcel by parcel, project by project. Smart planning has always been about long-term vision and the vigilance to stick with what works.

So would Anaheim's "secure revenue stream" from the tourist area be worth protecting? Would Anaheim even be where it is today if it weren't for the Disneyland Resort? Well, the workers' unions and community activists insist that Anaheim has a dire shortage of affordable housing, and that the old plan must be put aside to make way for a new plan that takes into consideration the workers who keep the resort district running. (LA Times)

Lower-cost-housing advocates have argued that the plan for the resort district is antiquated and that building more hotels would exacerbate the city's shortage of cheaper housing. The project, developed by SunCal Cos., would replace about 300 mobile homes. Hundreds of apartments are also nearby.

"This whole issue about what's compatible doesn't make sense," said Eric Altman, who represents a coalition of labor unions and community groups. "There're people living on that site now, and I don't think there's any glaring incompatibility with people living there and other functions that go on."

So what's the answer here? Is there an easy answer? Everyone seems to agree that Anaheim, as well as the rest of Orange County, needs more affordable housing. However, Disney and the business groups do not want this housing in the resort district. But then again, labor and community activists do want the housing in the resort district. And they both make good points.

Is there an easy answer here?

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

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