Group Presses Fight Against Disney Expansion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Undeterred by the tentative agreement announced this week between the city and the Walt Disney Co., opponents of the proposed $3-billion Disneyland Resort say they plan to step up their efforts to derail the massive project through political pressure.

Representatives of the group, Anaheim Home Owners Maintaining their Environment (HOME), say they are meeting with groups who are opposing Disney's tactics in other cities--such as Orlando, Fla., and the Washington, D.C.-Virginia area--and are readying a petition drive to head off the Anaheim expansion.

Critics are steadfast in opposing any public financing for a project that is being undertaken by one of America's richest corporations.

"They should pay for it themselves," said Anaheim HOME Vice President Steve White, a local real estate broker. "All we are asking is that voters have a say in this."

In the meantime, White and former HOME President Curtis Stricker said the group has been collecting names and surveying residents near the project to gauge opinions and clear the way for a petition drive.

He said an initial canvassing of neighborhoods in central Anaheim shows deep concern over freeway off-ramps due to the project, as well as the diversion of public funds to one of America's richest corporations at a time when the city is reeling from financial pressure.

The city's announcement Monday, that it has reached a tentative agreement with Disney on terms for public financing of the project, came as no surprise, White said. "The deal has been cut for more than a year," he said, adding that the announcement was a mere formality.

But Anaheim HOME is sure to face off against a privately organized group supporting the proposed Disneyland expansion, called Westcot 2000. An Anaheim banker who co-chairs the group applauded the news that Anaheim and Disney had reached a tentative accord.

"I feel excellent about it. I think it is one of the nicest things that has happened in a long time," said Stan Pawlowski, chairman of Corporate Bank. "This is a win-win for Anaheim and Disney combined."

A voter referendum of the deal is unneeded, he said, because there should be faith in the Planning Commission and City Council to represent the public's interests.

Neither side, however, has actually seen the details of the pact, which city officials said will not become public for another two months.

Only then will the public find out all the details that are emerging from a year of negotiations over the massive project, which would transform central Anaheim into a landscaped district centered around an internationally themed amusement park called Westcot. Disney plans to build more than 5,000 hotel rooms and undertake a complete rejuvenation of the streets surrounding Disneyland.

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When details of the deal are announced, residents will get a better idea of how the city will finance millions of dollars in public improvements in direct support of the project, such as building parking structures, making street and sewer changes and burying unsightly utility lines.

It will also lay out a timetable for construction, call for a 2% increase in the hotel-occupancy tax to help pay for some improvements and ensure that the city draws a profit from the endeavor, officials say.

Once reviewed by the Planning Commission, the deal must then be considered for approval by the City Council, which has been generally supportive of Disney's proposal.

Disney officials said they do not expect to make a decision on whether to proceed with the project until some time this summer, after the City Council considers the plan. The new amusement park would not open until at least 1999.

Through it all, Disney has generally remained noncommittal. In December, however, Chairman Michael D. Eisner sounded pessimistic as he questioned whether his company could afford the project and said, "I don't know if there is even going to be a Westcot."

Stock market analysts say that Eisner is known for using the press as a negotiating tool. Privately, he may not be as downbeat on Anaheim as he has sounded.

Disney has certainly not lost interest in Orange County.

Hockey's Mighty Ducks had a successful first season at the Anaheim Arena. A unique mega-ride themed around the Indiana Jones movies is under construction in Disneyland's Adventureland and slated to open next spring. The company also recently announced that it will build a vacation resort village on the Newport coast.

Money is not a sticking point. If Disney wants to build the resort, it still has the ability to borrow plenty of money, said Raymond L. Katz, analyst for Lehman Bros. brokerage in New York.

Harold Vogel, an analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York, said he believes Disney may defer the decision, or try to build the project in stages.

But Paul Marsh, analyst for NatWest Securities Corp. in New York, said that California's troubles have "dampened the positive psychology of investment out there" and could make it harder for Disney to justify spending billions on a new resort.

Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this article.

* TOURISM ISSUES Critics say councilman's new job poses certain conflicts. B4

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