Disney backers plan referendum on housing

Times Staff Writer

Just one day after suffering a stinging rebuke at the hands of the Anaheim City Council, a coalition of business and community leaders siding with the Disney company announced plans Thursday to pursue a referendum aimed at overturning the city’s decision to allow a controversial housing project near Disneyland.

The council’s 3-2 decision early Wednesday, paving the way for about 1,500 low-cost condos and apartments across the street from where the entertainment giant wants to build a third amusement park, was “an ill-advised move and a dangerous precedent,” Todd Ament, a member of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of Save Our Anaheim Resort District, said in announcing the referendum.

The signatures of about 13,000 registered voters will be needed for the referendum to be placed on a ballot. “We have a large task at hand,” he said.

Speaking at a news conference in front of the chamber’s offices on Center Street, Ament said the coalition hoped to collect those signatures by June, in time to get the citywide referendum on the Feb. 5 ballot -- where it would join an earlier Disney-backed initiative preserving the nonresidential zoning of the resort district around Disney’s two amusement parks and related facilities.

The coalition was joined by several powerful allies, including state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), former Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly and current Mayor Curt Pringle, who opposed the council’s action but, until recently, had been trying to forge a compromise.


“This is a demonstration of community support for doing the right thing,” Pringle said, adding that the proposed housing development is bad for the people of Anaheim.

Some of those favoring the development, who contend that it would provide much-needed low-income housing, especially for Disney employees, were quick to react to the coalition’s action.

“If the mayor is going to take Disney’s side, I take that very seriously,” said Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who led the council majority in supporting the housing plan but is otherwise a political ally of Pringle. “His business is to protect the city’s interest, not Disney’s.”

Frank Elfend, a consultant to the project’s developer, SunCal Cos., agreed.

“It is disappointing that once again the Disney corporation is escalating Disney’s war with the city of Anaheim,” he said. “Disney’s new referendum is just another intimidation and bullying tactic to force their will on Anaheim.”

Disney, which has filed a lawsuit challenging the proposed project on the 26-acre Katella Avenue parcel, contends that a sprawling housing community would jeopardize its vision for the area, which includes boutique hotels and time-share units, as well as the third amusement park.

Some local political and business leaders agree, arguing that the Disney-centered resort district is the city’s “economic engine,” providing nearly 50% of its revenues from just 5% of its land.


Times staff writer Dave McKibben contributed to this report.