Backer of low-income housing in Anaheim says she won’t give up

Times Staff Writer

Lori Condinus already knows which way Tuesday night’s Anaheim City Council meeting will go, and it won’t be her way. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be there to lobby for a doomed housing project in Anaheim’s resort district.

“We’ve been there supporting this project all the way,” said Condinus, 42, a switchboard operator at the Anaheim Hilton. “We’ll have our voice there . . . win, lose or tie.”

Condinus’ voice has been no louder than others in this fierce yearlong debate over whether housing belongs in the city’s tourist district.


But her words at a February council meeting -- “If we are good enough to work here in the resort, why aren’t we good enough to live here?” -- became a rallying cry for low-wage earners who pressed the Walt Disney Co., the City Council and other business leaders to approve the condominium and low-cost apartment plan.

“It just came from the heart,” she said. “I didn’t know so many people would pick up on it.”

Plans for the housing project near Disneyland unraveled last month when the deal between SunCal Cos. and the owners of the 26-acre parcel near Disneyland fell through. That news prompted Councilwoman Lucille Kring earlier this month to withdraw her support of the proposal. Kring cast the tiebreaking vote in a 3-2 decision seven months ago that approved the 1,500-unit project -- sparking three ballot initiatives, two lawsuits and regular City Hall protests.

There are few details about what might replace the massive housing project, but Councilman Harry Sidhu said new potential buyers want to build a hotel on the land, currently occupied by two mobile home parks.

Condinus said she was still “digesting” the sudden collapse of the housing plan.

“I’m just hugely disappointed in the whole process the way it turned out,” she said. “We fought the hard fight, but by no means are we packing up our bags and giving up. Nothing that’s worthwhile is easy.”

Even if the council votes as expected to overturn a zoning decision that had allowed the project, Condinus believes she and hundreds of other religious and union leaders and community officials have made their point.


“We have put Disney and other big corporations on notice,” she said. “We want more than a paycheck. We want social responsibility and accountability. We’ve told them, ‘You’re making a lot of money, so how do you put it back into the community that’s working for you?’ ”

Over the last year, Disney officials have argued that the lack of low-income housing is a problem that needs to be solved. But Disney and many others involved in tourism worried that the more than $6 billion in public and private funds poured into the resort district since 1994 would be wasted if new housing began invading the area. They feared that the resort district would return to its former self: an area marked by a prevalence of seedy motels, tacky shops and neon signs.

“The lack of affordable housing is a national problem and it needs to be addressed in a thoughtful and meaningful way,” said Rob Doughty, a Disney spokesman. “It’s not going to be resolved by one entity but in partnership with a lot of entities.”

To that end, a Disney executive is leading a 12-member task force that is working on creative ways to build additional housing units for families of all income levels.

“We’re looking at how to bring more federal and state dollars to Anaheim for affordable housing,” said Todd Ament, president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and a member of the housing committee. “We’re working with developers to make them aware of sites in Anaheim that are available for affordable housing.”

Though Condinus believes strongly in the SunCal project -- which proposed building 225 low-cost apartments -- she said she would have been happy to support a compromise plan.


“Had other options been proposed,” she said, “I’m sure there would have been people to get behind it.”

Condinus said she would continue to push for more affordable housing, but from a different platform. She has taken a leave of absence from the hotel to work full time in Garden Grove as vice president for Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers union that represents about 5,000 laborers, many of whom work in the resort district.

Although her job status has changed, Condinus said her plight and her long commute were unchanged. She still lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Upland because she can’t afford to live in Anaheim.

“The business owners in the resort district have spoken loudly; they don’t want us there,” she said. “But if you don’t want us in the resort district, then where can we live so we don’t have to spend hours on the freeway just to make a living?”

Sidhu, who agreed with Disney and tourist officials that housing is inappropriate in the 2.2-square-mile resort district, said he would join Kring and Mayor Curt Pringle on Tuesday in voting to repeal zoning that allowed the project. But Sidhu said the demise of SunCal’s proposal won’t end the housing debate in Anaheim.

“I sympathize with these housing advocates,” he said. “As a free market guy, if there’s another development that comes along outside of the resort district, I’ll support it. We need more affordable housing in this city. It will continue to be a problem. And if there’s a way we can provide more, we will.”