Disney sues Anaheim over plan

Times Staff Writer

Maintaining its aggressive posture, Disney officials filed suit Monday against the city of Anaheim as part of the entertainment giant’s continuing efforts to thwart a residential development in the resort district.

The suit comes as the Anaheim City Council ponders whether to reopen debate on a controversial proposal to build 1,500 condominiums and apartments, including 225 units for lower-income residents, near Disney’s amusement parks. The project was killed this month on a split council vote.

Disney says its action is the first time it has sued the city where Disneyland was born more than 50 years ago. The city and Disney have historically enjoyed a close-knit, fight-free relationship.

Anaheim is also locked in a legal fight with one of the city’s other icons, the Angels, over the team’s name.

Disney’s legal challenge signals a new, hardened approach to maintaining the tourist-friendly environment of the resort district. Disney has spent years trying to buff up the resort area, going back to the days when Walt Disney expressed revulsion at the cheap motels and tacky retail outlets that had taken root outside the gates to Disneyland.


In addition to Disneyland and California Adventure, the resort area now includes Downtown Disney, new hotels and more upscale restaurants.

Disney officials say the 8,000 or so people who would be living in the proposed units would be out of place in a district designed for round-the-clock tourist-friendly uses. Disneyland President Ed Grier said allowing the project would set a “dangerous precedent.” Disney prefers that the 26-acre parcel be developed as an upscale hotel-condominium project.

Housing advocates and some council members favored the apartment-condo proposal’s inclusion of lower-cost units because it would replace a mobile home park and be convenient for entertainment workers making modest wages.

In its lawsuit, Disney demands that the city nullify the environmental analysis it approved for the large residential project, next to an area where Disney may build a third theme park.

“This lawsuit speaks to how important we view this Anaheim resort area and that we make sure the vision sticks,” said Disneyland spokesman Rob Doughty.

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle said he was not surprised Disney officials decided to challenge the residential project on legal grounds.

“There’s no question this is a very significant issue to them and they are using all the means by which they can express that concern,” he said. “They’ve told me there have been a lot of concerns in the past, but they felt they could work through those.”

Disney’s action comes less than a week after the project’s developer, SunCal Cos., appealed a 2-2 council split that ultimately doomed the plan. SunCal argued that Councilwoman Lucille Kring, who would have been the swing vote, should have been cleared to vote on the proposal even though she had a possible conflict of interest.

In a letter delivered minutes before the council meeting, Disney attorneys argued that a wine bar Kring planned to open nearby could create a conflict of interest. City Atty. Jack White then told Kring she might face criminal or civil penalties if she voted, which prompted Kring to abstain.

Disney’s letter noted that in a similar case, a councilman in Truckee, Calif., was advised not to vote on a housing project because it was determined that he could gain financially from an influx of new residents.

If three Anaheim council members agree to reconsider the project next month, it could come back to the council in April.

Pringle, who is opposed to residential development in the resort area, said he finds himself in “an awkward” place.

“I support Disney’s position,” he said, “yet I certainly don’t want to put the city and taxpayers in an improper place if we’re being sued.”