Disney’s New Ride: “Great Moments with Tony Soprano”

It wasn’t long before the “Mouse House” started to flex its political muscle and the smoke coming out of City Hall wasn’t the smoke from Fantasmic!

Disney and the City of Anaheim have a long political relationship, that sometimes ends well and sometimes ends in disaster. When Disney owned the Anaheim Angels, the City bent over backwards to approve renovations to aging Anaheim Stadium. Disney responded by renaming the California Angels to the Anaheim Angels (and then it all went down hill later due to Arte Moreno’s geographically challenged naming scheme). When Michael Eisner had an idea to continue to profit off of Disney’s Mighty Ducks Movies, the Walt Disney Corporation was granted an expansion team by the NHL and Anaheim moved to annex additional land bordering the City of Orange to build the Anaheim Arena (later renamed to the Arrowhead Pond, and now the Honda Center under the Samueli’s). At one time three professional sports teams played within the city limits of Anaheim, but the Rams left for St. Louis and for the Rams the rest was history.

As for the theme park, Disney and Anaheim have made a long list of concessions to each other. During the initial planning for Disney’s California Adventure Park, Anaheim developed and zoned the area bordered by the 5 Freeway, Walnut Street, Anaheim Boulevard, and terminating past the Anaheim Convention Center as the Anaheim Resort District. This special district has special use regulations for items such as appearance, signs, zoning, and other items to make the area friendly to tourists. A similar district in Anaheim is the Platinum Triangle, a new high-rise residence area with shops and restaurants, a quasi-downtown, which is currently underdevelopment but far from the grasp of Disney. It’s the Anaheim Resort District, and the prospect of housing along with a possible “Third Gate” (the term that is thrown around when a new theme park is rumored to be in the planning stage), that is causing the biggest riff between the City and Disney that residents have ever seen.

There have been issues in the past in the Resort District, from the fallout from fireworks in neighborhoods north of Disneyland, the land grab from a local Anaheim family that grew strawberries for generations before eminent domain took their farmland for “the largest parking structure in the United States,” the organizations of unions (or the unions splitting due to disagreement), and traffic flow. Each of these issues only affect those living to the north, or are the ones who barely make ends meet in the few remaining motels that border the resort district to the east, residents who need help and affordable housing the most.

Disney believes they are acting in the best interest of Anaheim residents by creating SOAR (Save Our Resort Area), a Disney supported political group with the support of local businesses and Tourism Officials in the Resort District. Disneyland Resort President Ed Grier, in a press conference to reporters, stated that Disney’s introduction of a ballot measure was “a permanent solution to protect the resort.” All 2.2 square miles of it, the City of Anaheim stretches out far beyond 2.2 square miles.

Meanwhile, the company that is looking to build 1,500 condos on 26 acres zoned for a hotel or similar use, SunCal Co, is making a major push into the Resort District and they are even willing to pay Anaheim’s legal bills during the fight with Disney according to the Orange County Business Journal (OCBJ). OCBJ may have called the ballot iniative a little early, but their prediction was accurate. On the same day that Disney launched SOAR; the State of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission announced that City Council Woman Lucille Kring had no conflict of interests if she proceeded to vote on the housing issue. The company that raised an 11th hour objection to her vote was Disney, thus forcing the previous vote into a 2-2 deadlock. A new vote on this matter has been rescheduled for April 24th, with the expectation that the vote will be 3-2 in favor of the project. The issue raised by Disney was Kring’s apparent intent to open a Wine Bar in the new Anaheim GardenWalk project close to the Disneyland Resort. The FPPC ruled that since no money or physical work has occurred Kring is free from a conflict of interest. If she does move forward with her project prior to the vote then the FPPC will have to reconsider their decision.

The “Third Gate” seems to be the main reason for the pre-emptive strike by Walt Disney Co. rumors have been increasing that the company wants to bring the Cruise Line to the West Coast on a permanent basis, build large blocks of time shares, and zero in on high-end consumers with specialty hotels. According to the Los Angeles Times, Disney’s posturing is backed by a rebound in post 9/11 travel and a 30% revenue increase after a successful 50th anniversary celebration. In my honest opinion, I’m surprised Disney would move this quickly with plans for a “third-gate” when Disney’s California Adventure still gets the following monikers from locals: “Dirt Cheap Attractions” and “DOA” (Dead on Arrival). Disney has purchased a 46 acre area just Southeast of the current Theme Parks for a “future project” and according to local business and landowners, many have been approached to sell their land. To whom and for what still remains unknown.

SunCal Co may get their project, Disney may get their political victory, and all of the residents of Anaheim will end up with a deeply divided Anaheim City Council. Councilman Harry Sidhu and Mayor Curt Pringle have repeatedly both voted against the SunCo project. Sidhu recently announced he would be running for the 33rd California State Senate seat, this brings to question if his votes are politically motivated. Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who was subjected to some really nasty attack ads from certain residents in Anaheim Hills during the last City Council election, along with Councilman Hernandez have repeatedly voted to approve the project. Councilwoman Kring is the only one who can vote to move this project forward and will no doubt be subjected to negative campaigning and attack ads prior to the April 24th City Council meeting.

Disney’s bigger picture is void of the low-income workers that trek from Los Angeles and Riverside Counties to work their near minimum wage jobs and the residents that surround the Resort District. From the city border to the West to the residents of Anaheim Hills in the East, placing a ballot measure for changes that affects 2.2 square miles will only lead to increased political pressure from the mouse house and that’s far from being “the happiest place on earth.”

4 Comments so far

  1. Matt (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 3:22 pm

    The developer is actually SunCal not SunCo, but I’m sure all of your other facts are right?!?!?!

    (look at the OCBJ blog you linked to.)

    P.S. I love saying OCBJ.

  2. Mike Randall (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

    The rest of the facts are accurate (the sources have been the articles in the press), the one glitch was the SunCo/SunCal glitch.

    Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Matt (unregistered) on March 27th, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

    No problem with the error (I think Sun Co. is a better name than SunCal Co. anyhow). I was in a pissy mood so I had to cast dispersions on your whole, otherwise well written, article.

    I don’t know if you read Al Lutz’s columns over at miceage.com but he dishes juicy Disneyland gossip. His latest column discusses the whole SunCal/Anahiem rigamarole. http://www.miceage.com/allutz/al032707a.htm apparently Disney sees this as a very important issue and is, apparently, willing to do pretty much anything to stop the housing.

    I thought I pretty much agreed with Disney, putting housing next to property that will ultimately become another theme park would be a bad thing. But I just looked at google maps and there are homes on the west side of Haster adjacent to the Disney remote parking lots/strawberrry fields/future 3rd gate while this project would be located across Haster and is currently residential (mobile homes). For me that negates a lot of not putting future residents in a bad situation because Disney would need to not impact the existing residences with a third gate. Perhaps Disney plans to buy the homes on the west side of Haster, as suggested in the LA Dog Trainer article. But there are still existing homes across Haster to the south of the SunCal project.

    The more I think of this the more I wonder why Disney has their undies in such a bundle.

  4. Mike Randall (unregistered) on March 27th, 2007 @ 6:03 pm

    Al was quoted by the LA Times in reference to the whole situation. He was the one that mentioned why Disney has become so pushy towards the City Council and he citied the Time Shares/Third Gate as the reason.

    I don’t see this going away quietly, as Mayor Pringle wants. The City Council Elections are in 2008 and the re-election kick-off’s of a few members have already begun. Disney could stack the City Council if they pick their own candidates, thus giving them run of the city. That would be a very bad thing to happen to Anaheim.

    Thanks for reading the post and your input.

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