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Kenversations: A Modest Proposal…For Anaheim
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by Ken Pellman (archives)
May 18, 2007
Ken looks at the situation with Disneyland and Anaheim and gives his modest proposal for solving it.

A Modest Proposal…For Anaheim

All is not well in Anaheim

A majority of the City Council is at odds with Disney and other Anaheim Resort tourism-focused businesses. Disney has countered the City Council’s vote to change zoning with legal action. Disney, other tourist businesses, and the Chamber of Commerce are gathering signatures for petitions for ballot measures restore the Anaheim Resort zoning. The people siding with a housing developer who wants to build permanent housing in an area that had been zoned for tourism are gathering signatures and bashing Disney. There are mailers and phone calls. News reports are documenting it all, newspaper columnists are ruminating on how this all relates to employment and housing issues, the lemur population, and the social commentary exhibited in the monologues of James Trimobius Kirk. The Daily Show is parodying it all.

The Disneyland Resort is not the Walt Disney World Resort and never will be. Nor is Anaheim going to be another Orlando.

Anaheim Resort employees are so miserable in their jobs that they actually complain to the news media and show up at City Council meetings to speak on behalf of the home developer, as if any of them will directly benefit from the home developers “benevolent? plan to replace mobile homes with more expensive permanent housing. Oh sure, there would be some “affordable? units, but not as many as the mobile homes that are currently there.

It is currently fashionable to create “mixed? housing, where people buying more expensive housing pay even more so that a few of the units in the development can be sold under market value. This means that people who paid the full price-plus-more will live with the very people they are subsidizing. We used to call the recipients of such subsidized housing “children living at home.? But now we expect people to subsidize people they don’t even know.

Bet let me get back to the employees. Yes, the employees are miserable and apparently quitting isn’t an option.

Back when I was a Disneyland Cast Member, though the benefits were good for a job that only required a high school diploma (if that), I knew I couldn’t live off of what I earned there, pay dues to the union that was unable to negotiate higher pay rates, save for the future, buy a home, get married, and raise a family. Some of the old-timers had been able to do just that, because once upon a time Cast Member pay was better than it is now in comparison to the cost of living. I was working there for other reasons. That’s why I got a professional position elsewhere, and eventually, when I could no longer meet Disney’s scheduling demands, I quit.

Apparently, that isn’t possible anymore. I guess with the high turnover rate, they must have run out of termination forms, because these unhappy employees are clearly unable to quit jobs that don’t meet their needs. It must be so, because why else would they complain to the media and the City Council about their employer if they actually had the ability to quit?

It never occurred to me to demand Disney house me because the pay was too low.

But, things are different now.

Just how did Anaheim get to this point, anyway?

Back in the early 1990s, Disney wowed Anaheim movers and shakers with an ambitious expansion plan. A theme park modeled largely on EPCOT Center. Multiple new hotels. And down the line, a third theme park.

In exchange, Disney wanted the area around the “resort? cleaned up and upgraded to handle more tourists. The Anaheim Resort was born.

Like much of life, though, things didn’t go according to plan. The Walt Disney Company President and Chief Operating Officer Frank Wells, still at the top of his game, was killed in an accident, upsetting the leadership balance at Disney.

Then, faced with economic concerns and organized opposition from some Anaheim residents who lined up at hearings, contacted the media, bought advertisements, and shouted from the rooftops that they were “tormented? with free fireworks shows and having a really successful world-famous tourist destination in their backyard where their kids could work, Disney scaled back plans. Instead of an EPCOT Center variation, we got an attempt at a “sample platter? version of California - a beach boardwalk (you know, the kind of place Walt Disney was trying to NOT to duplicate) without the beach; a small taste of a “Hollywood/studio park? that really didn’t show you a working studio nor immerse you in a fantasy version of Hollywood; the California wilderness in the shadow of a hotel; a blink-and-you-miss-it tribute to San Francisco - stuff like that.

I know there are people who love California Adventure, but you can find people who love pain and self-mutilation, too. But the reality, as acknowledged even by Disney’s corporate management, is that the park wasn’t the home run for which the people of Anaheim – at least the ones who hadn’t fought Disney tooth and nail - had hoped. While Harbor Boulevard had never looked better, a lot of people in Anaheim were disappointed. A lot of investors were disappointed. A lot of Disney enthusiasts were disappointed. A lot of tourists were disappointed. Even animated TV characters were disappointed. And thanks to that reality and things like evil men crashing airliners into skyscrapers full of businesspeople, a third theme park was put off from immediate consideration.

Since California Adventured opened in 2001, Disney has followed it up with a disappointing second gate in France, and yet another Magic Kingdom, though a modest one, in Hong Kong. (DisneySea doesn’t count, since that was built entirely with non-Disney money and then most of the people involved with it were subsequently let got from Imagineering.)

Those parks haven’t exactly inspired confidence that Disney is still into building the kind of theme parks that will prompt families to jump into airliners and travel around the world or jump into minivans and drive across the country to stay for a week. The kind of parks with elaborate, unique, innovative family attractions that hard to imitate, ingrain themselves in the popular consciousness, and inspire insanely successful major motion picture series.

According to their votes, a majority of the Anaheim City Council is tired if waiting for Disney to wow them again and would rather have more housing, even though that sort of thing necessitates costly supporting projects like more schools. Even though Disney management has changed and is no longer the same as the management that bought California Adventure to the city, the City Council has given up on the Anaheim Resort in such a way that they are willing to change zoning to get housing in the District, even though there are plenty of other places to build housing in Anaheim.

Disney, not wanting to lose and have to deal with yet more whiny residents - some of whom would be living in the District despite not being able to afford it – when Disney does try to move ahead with new projects in Anaheim, is taking legal action to enforce the zoning. They want tourists to find the amenities they need. They don’t want more residents showing up at city meetings complaining about how Disney’s proposed development would ruin their lives. Also, Disney is joining other Anaheim Resort businesses to take the matter to voters – Anaheim voters. That means all of those people working at the Resort who commute from outside of Anaheim wouldn’t get a say, nor would anyone who isn’t a citizen.

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