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Measure to control Disney zoning is nearer to ballot

Los Angeles Times

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August 15, 2007

Dismissed as farfetched by its detractors last month, a proposed initiative that would give Anaheim voters zoning control over Disney's planned third theme park appears to be gaining momentum.

Bob Hernandez became the second Anaheim City Council member to publicly support the initiative, which needs three votes to be placed on the ballot without collecting voter signatures.

If the measure makes the ballot, it could join two Disney-backed ballot measures, an initiative and a referendum, aimed at keeping housing out of the neighborhood surrounding Disneyland and California Adventure.

Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who expressed support for the initiative last month, asked city staff last week to begin a process that would allow the council to vote on it next month. Hernandez said he generally did not approve of ballot measures but saw the logic in an initiative asking voters to approve any new zoning on 53 acres of Disney property, currently strawberry fields and employee parking.

"This whole idea of referring things back to the voters is not the way to do business, but we do need to create a level playing field," he said. "You have to have something to counterbalance the two Disney ballot measures."

The third vote on the proposal could come from Lucille Kring, who was the swing vote in April when the council approved zoning to allow a planned 1,500-unit residential project that would sit across Katella Avenue from a proposed third theme park.

"I don't like doing business like this," she said. "But I haven't made up my mind yet."

Supporters of the initiative are backed by SunCal Cos., developer of the controversial residential project.

The Disney-supported initiative, which supporters say has gathered enough signatures for the ballot, seeks to bar new housing in the resort district unless voters approve it. The measure wouldn't require voter approval for Disney's commercial ventures.

The second Disney-backed ballot measure is a referendum that asks voters to repeal the April council decision that paved the way for the condo and low-cost apartment project. Though the measure has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, the council has twice postponed voting on the issue so that the housing developer and Disney could settle their differences. Last week, Disney announced that a compromise could not be reached.

If the anti-Disney measure wins council approval, it would save supporters the time and expense of collecting some 14,000 petition signatures required to get it on ballot.

"It seems a little disingenuous that we collected over 50,000 signatures for the referendum and the initiative, and they . . . get on the ballot with three council votes," said Annette McCluskey, spokeswoman for Save Our Anaheim Resort, a Disney-funded coalition of business and community leaders. "Before the council does anything, I think they need to move forward in getting the referendum on the ballot."

Todd Ament, co-chairman of the coalition, said the anti-Disney measure is a "pure act of retribution for the referendum and the initiative."

"The public will see this as a dirty campaign trick to confuse the voters," he said. "If this was such an important thing to do, why is it coming now? Why has it not been a part of anyone's campaign speeches?"

But Frank Elfend, a consultant to SunCal, argued that the latest initiative is no different than the two-Disney backed measures.

"It is surprising that Mr. Ament would consider the public's right to vote as retaliatory or retribution," Elfend said. "After all, Mr. Ament, Disney and SOAR have promoted the public's right to vote for other properties in the Anaheim Resort. Why not apply the same standard to the Disney-owned project?"

Councilman Harry Sidhu said he did not have enough information on the initiative over the 53-acre Disney property to decide how he would vote, but said he expected it to pass.

If the initiative wins council and voter approval, the Disney property's zoning -- agricultural and parking -- would be frozen without a citywide vote. Disney bought the farming property nearly 10 years ago, but company officials have not disclosed specific plans for the parcel. It is conceivable that both initiatives could pass, in which case voters would have control over housing in the 2.2-square-mile resort district and over any development on Disney's property.

"Anaheim voters would have to approve of any new use for that property, whether that's a theme park, hotel, motel or a restaurant," White said.

David Koenig, a Disneyland-watcher and author, called the dueling initiatives a "giant, out-of-control game of chicken."

"What they [the developer and Disney] want is so diametrically opposed," he said. "Maybe this being decided out of their hands, by citizen mediators, is the only way to settle this."

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