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Is the Anaheim City Council now sticking it to Mickey because too few tourist dollars are making it off property these days ?

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Is the Anaheim City Council now sticking it to Mickey because too few tourist dollars are making it off property these days ?

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How did it ever come to this?

That has to be the question that Disney officials are asking themselves this week. Particularly after Tuesday night's meeting where the Anaheim City Council voted 4 to 1 to place the proposed zoning change to the Resort District on the June 3rd, 2008 ballot. Should the public actually approve this proposed zoning change ... Well, that would throw a huge monkey wrench in Mickey's future plans for the Disneyland Resort.

Mouse House officials just can't fathom why the Anaheim City Council is suddenly being so combative. Don't they realize that the Walt Disney Company employees thousands of people in the Orange County area? And because of the millions of people who regularly visit the Disneyland Resort, Mickey is directly responsible for those hundreds of millions of tourist dollars that pour into the local economy every year.


Anaheim City Hall.
Image courtesy of the City of Anaheim

Well, as one unnamed city official recently explained the situation to me, this isn't really about the amount of money (be it tax revenues or tourist dollars) that the Disneyland Resort helps generate for Anaheim. But -- rather -- the moola that no longer makes it out into the local economy.

To explain: Do you remember what Disneyland was like back in the late 1980s and early 1990s? With all of those restaurants, hotels, motels, gift shops and fast food joints that used to line Harbor & Katella ? As tacky as this part of Anaheim may have looked, thanks to the fact that most motorists had to make their final approach to Disneyland by traveling on surface streets ... Well, everyone got a taste of those tourism dollars.

But then -- as part of the Disneyland Resort expansion plan that the Anaheim City Council approved back in 1993 (Which called for the establishment of a lush garden district around the resort, not to mention limiting the size of the signage that the hotels, motels, restaurants and gift shops that were in the area that was directly adjacent to "The Happiest Place on Earth" were allowed to use) -- the Mouse also got a flyover from the southbound lane of the 5 built. Which then uses speed ramps to load over 10,000 cars into the resort's brand-new six level parking garage every day.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As my Anaheim insider explained it to me:

We went along with the Garden District plan because Disney assured us that the expanded resort would have this huge impact on the local economy. What they failed to mention is that -- once this expansion was complete -- that Disneyland would then, in effect, become a walled city. With all of that additional tourists who came down Anaheim to sample California Adventure, the Grand Californian and Downtown Disney never making it off property anymore.

And when you think about it, this unnamed Anaheim official really does have a point. I mean, think about how the typical tourist who's driving south on the 5 experiences Disneyland. They first exit the highway via that flyover ramp. Then -- after paying an $11 fee -- they park their car in the "Mickey and Friends" garage.


 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And after locking their vehicle and then riding the escalator down to the tram loading area, these tourists are driven straight over Disneyland Plaza. Where -- after buying an admission pass at one of those ticket booths -- they then head into Disneyland or DCA for a full day of fun at the parks.

Once the parks close for the day, these same tourists have the option of shopping or dining at Downtown Disney or just grabbing the tram back to the "Mickey and Friends" garage. Where -- because the Disneyland Resort reverses the flow of traffic leading from its massive parking structure back out to the highway late every afternoon -- they're on the 5 again within moments. Heading home again, having seen little if any of the real Anaheim during their day at DLR.

Mind you, the folks who are traveling north on the 5 to visit Disneyland have a somewhat different experience. But thanks to all of the highway & surface street improvements that taxpayers paid for back in the mid-1990s, these tourists still zoom in and out of the resort. With few real opportunities to sample any of Anaheim's shops & restaurants as they hurry to "The Happiest Place on Earth."


Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

So for the Disneyland Resort to become, in effect, this walled city -- where the tourists really have to hike if they want to get out to Harbor Boulevard and grab a meal at Millie's ... Well, is it any wonder that the Anaheim City Council is now actively looking for ways to stick to the Mouse?

As my Anaheim insider put it:

They made us jump through hoops back in the early 1990s. All because Disney was supposedly going to build that resort in Long Beach. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if we had just called their bluff. If city officials had just had the b*lls to say "Okay. Go build your brand-new theme park next to the Queen Mary. We'll do just fine with plain old Disneyland."


Copyright 1990 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

At least then we'd still have a lot of those shops & restaurants that you used to find around the parking lot. People would still be making money. Nowadays it's only Disney that's making any real money off of the resort. The rest of us have to settle for whatever foot traffic trickles out onto Harbor & Katella.

So what do you folks think? Is it fair for the Anaheim City Council to, in effect, try & punish the Walt Disney Company now because there's a belief among city offcials that Disneyland's no longer a good neighbor? Because too much money stays on property these days, and not enough equivalent tourist dollars then make it out into the local community?

Your thoughts?

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  • I agree with Anaheim on this one, based on what's written in this article.  I hate it when I hear about a Walmart that comes into a small town and makes life harder for the little mom and pop stores that used to thrive there.  Sounds like Disney was doing the same to Anaheim.  The city has the right to fight back and try to get a piece of that action.

  • Jim!  WHAT A CROCK!!  Did you ever bother to check this "source" out before you mounted this attack on Mickey?? "Nobody ever visits the Mom & Pop stores anymore?"  GIVE ME A BREAK!  I used to live out there before, during and after the construction!  Have you ever tried to get into the McDonald's located across the street from the Magic Kingdom during breakfast, lunch or dinner?  Has anyone ever seen that 7-11 on the corner of Katella and Harbor boulevard ever empty?? No, because they are all doing very, very good business thanks to the DLR.  People will stream out of DLR and visit those eateries on Harbor and Katella simply because of the high price and often low quality of the food found inside the parks.  It has always been this way.  Your "source" used you to twist this story completely around.  The City Council has been wrong from the beginning on this!  Why would any thinking person put low-income housing right next to a bustling, noisy, thriving theme Park tourist destination.  You know that in a few months or years these very same "home owners" will be suing Disney, Anaheim or both to quite the noise around their new property.  It's like buying a house near an airport and then getting ticked off at the noise and traffic and the expansion the airport has to have to service all those new flyers.  DID THESE PEOPLE NOT KNOW THAT THEY WHERE PUTTING THEMSELVES IN A SITUATION THAT WOULD EVENTUALLY BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS THE CITY COFFERS?  I cannot understand how your story ever got published.  It is so biased against DLR!  But that is how your stories seem to be lately.

  • I want to know - where am I suppossed to go?

    The surrounding area has always been a bit dicey. Today there are new plants and a fresh coat of paint in the immediate vicinity, but mostly it's still lipstick on a pig. I would not want mom, sis, wife walking on those streets alone, especially after dark. Alright , so there's no wife, but you get the idea.

    There used to be several restaurants that were always on the Disney trip list. One was on the corner of Chapman and Harbor (can't remember the name) and as soon as you walked in you saw their huge desserts. One was a fancy place with dancing in the evenings on Ball Rd north of the park. One was a great Italian restaurant. All these places, and probably more that I never discovered, closed several years ago. This wasn't due to the "walled" Disney property holding tourists against their wills. Usually, the founders had passed away and their kids didn't want to continue the business, or it made better financial sense to sell the property.

    Today, I either stay at the Disney Californian, or an all-suites off site, depending on what the purpose of the trip is. I enjoy the restaurants in Downtown Disney, but don't go there every night, regardless of where I am staying. Once off Disney property, there are very few unique restarants anymore. Some folks want the familiarity of a chain, but when I travel, I usually want to try something besides a chain restaurant available 5 minutes from my house. Now, I'm driving into L.A., or Long Beach, or Irvine for the unique restaurants that used to be around the park.

    Same story with shopping - many of the unique gift stores are gone. They started to go, as in many towns, when the internet provided more affordable collectibles.

    The city seems content to cater to chain restaurants, chain hotels, and chain stores. Everytime I drive Harbor, I see people waiting in line to get into these establishments, so if tax revenue is decreasing, that looks like an area of potential investigation for the city leaders.

    As far as Disney Co goes, that strawberry patch was quite a large purchase, saddled with unknown variables, that doesn't seem to be recouping its costs any time soon. Hope those pesky analysts don't hear about it - they might stop focusing on the acquisitions that are actually making money for the company.

  • I'm a resident of Anaheim.  This story makes absolutely no sense to me.  First of all, it lacks the crucial component of any issue that would concern a City Council: numbers.  Specifically, is the "walled city" hurting tax revenues?  Are the tax receipts from DCA mitigating any decreased revenues that we're seeing as a result of less patronage of the surrounding businesses?  Is this decreased patronage a reality, or have the traditional visual representations of it (read: garish paint and neon signs) just been mitigated?  L.A., with its dense population and uneven demographics, has limited tourism appeal to many non-locals -- has improving the aesthetic appeal of the resort area overall made Anaheim a more attractive / less hostile place to visit?

    If you think the City Council is out to "get" its largest source of tax revenue you're out of your mind.  First and foremost, council members have budgets to fund, sewers to build, constituents to appease, and so on.  In the end, Mickey's dollar speaks for itself.

  • I wonder if the people in Orlando feel the same about their "Walled City" Walt Disney World?

  • Jim, I am a big fan of your site, but I really have to disagree with you here.  Are you really saying that there are Anaheim business leaders that actually believe this?!!  Look at the Anaheim skyline.  See all the craines?  Why would Billion dollar corporations like Hilton, Marriot, and all of the retailers and dinning establishments be building in the Resort district?  Gardenwalk alone is a multi million dollar venture.  Do you honestly think that a bank would fund this venture if there were not the numbers to back it up! All large commercial projects require site and demographic studies before they are funded.  What do you think these studies reveal? Look at the pedestrian traffic on a Friday night on Harbor.  All of those people are not parked in the parking structure.  You must have had to look long and hard for the person you are quoting. (They weren't by chance pushing a shopping cart down Katella were they?)

  • I can see Anaheim's point here, may not completely agree, but can see it.

    I'm sure Disney expressed to the city how much tax revenues would increase as a result of all the new infrfastructure put in for Disneyland's expansions. I'm sure they expressed it as new people visiting, having a direct economic impact on the surrounding community. But, with the enclosed nature of the resort, many of those people don't visit the surrounding area. I know when I went there about 5 years ago, I spent 3 days at DLR and never left the grounds (much like how I visit Orlando). But this was probably not the story they heard from TDA management at the time.

    So, Anaheim is trying to make up for some of that lost revenue by putting housing in the area. Housing equals people who need to shop, eat, and purchase goods and services. This would help pay off the improvements and allow for expansion of that part of the city. My guess is that if Disney truely wanted to be the "gated community" that they feel it has become, then no one will even notice what's outside the berm.

    So, is Anaheim hurting from the expansion...no.

    Are they seeing all the benefits that they were told would happen back 15 years ago when the expansion started...no.

    Do they not have any trust in TDA...yes.

    Looks like some fence-mending may have to take place as a result of past business practices before this one can be settled.

  • Wow.  This is the most insane thing I have ever read on your site.  And that is saying a lot.  Harbor and Katella around Disneyland are not places I would ever shop.  The little stores there are sketchy looking.  I do not stay on Disney property when I drive down from Salt Lake City, UT so I see plenty of Anaheim.  I usually visit the Block at Orange and shop there.  I would eat off property more if there were a little better restaurants nearby.  I have a Mimi's Cafe and a Tony Roma's within minutes of my house.  I am not going there on vacation.  

    As soon as the Gardenwalk opens they will see my money too.  I love Bubba Gump and I also look forward to having some nice shops available.  Downtown Disney is nice but I don't eat or shop there much.  We pretty much hit the World of Disney then we will walk up and down.  They certainly don't stop me from spending money off property.  The fact that there is nothing but junky shops and common restaurants does.

  • curmudgeon said: Alright , so there's no wife, but you get the idea.

    ;)

  • Jim, if the city council was really looking to stick it to Disney, they would have voted to put the SunCal backed measure that would have required voter authorization of any zoning change to the strawberry field (which is currently zoned for farming and parking) on the same ballot. That did NOT happen.

  • This is all about the nuts on the Anaheim City Council.  I have heard through a friend that the City planning staff (along with the mayor) think they've lost their heads.

    What's happened is the developer and two "property rights" Republicans ("I can do anything I like with my property") persuaded a loony Democrat to join them with a promise of low-cost housing.  It's a proposed 1,500 unit complex with only 225 low-cost units.

    Disney invested $1 billion in Anaheim based on establishing a tourist zone with no residential housing.  That was the deal.  Anaheim should honor it.

    If the businesses in the area want more tourist traffic, they should ask for a hotel on that site (which Disney would not oppose).  They'd do a lot better in that regard if there was a 1,500 room hotel instead.

  • This story makes absolutely no sense. First of all the people driving in from the 5 are not tourists, they are locals. Locals don't tend to spend as much money off property because they can pack their own lunches and go home if they want. The tourists stay at hotels in the area and eat and shop at restaurants near their hotel. Secondly Downtown Disney generates a huge amount of tax revenue for the city. The tax dollars aren't disappearing, they are simply getting shifted from Harbor and Ball to Downtown Disney. The amount of tax money getting generated is the same. This official's explanation makes no sense whatsoever.

  • 1.  Anaheim in the resort district is doing business just fine.  All you have to do is walk up along Harbor Blvd. and see the number of people parked at the various hotels, eating at the sundry restaurants, getting gas at the local stations...it has nothing to do with business count.  Plus, you don't even go into the new Garden Walk complex being built on the East Side of the Disneyland Resort area across from the Pumba parking area and down to Katella behind Clementine Street - a second "downtown Disney" without the Disney name on it - with cinemas, restaurtants, specialty shops, and, privatized time shares for vacationers to the Anaheim area...which is going to also bring money to the coffers of Anaheim in the near future as well.

    What this is about is fair priced and equitable housing in the region.  And, more of it.  What bothers the business folk in the area is that it is lower income based housing...and, what they don't acknowleldge is that such housing is still too darned expensive for the people who work at the resort and surrounding businesses to afford to live in! So you wind up with multiple family usage of one unit (in order to afford the monthly cost of living near the place you work) and higher number of lower income based dwellers and their children in the area...people who have to focus upon paying their rent and making their food and bills over the luxuries of being a local citizen and supporting the local businesses with their income...which they don't have. The obvious solution of Disney and the local resort oriented businesses giving their people a livable wage (Without having to work a 60 hour week for the required overtime to make the ends meet) with appropriate benefits to care for themselves and their families is so repulsive to corporate and private enterprise mentality that you can bet your bottom dollar it will never happen!

    The land-locking and housing issue around the resort district of Anaheim has been a growing problem for years.  The need to house people is a reality, and, the need to affordably house people even more so.  With this matter and the way it is progressing, Disney is going to lose their political toehold on the realm of Anaheim.  Let it go.  

    You briefly, Jim, mentioned the Long Beach 'Port Disney' project and forerunner of the 'DisneySea' Theme Park line.   Rather than focus on further development of the Anaheim area (Save for, perhaps, the considered water-park based resort that is on the "highly considered" list of options for the next phase of development post DCA repairs...), maybe it is time for the Corporate to return their considerations to the sea side resort complex...with an American version of 'DisneySeas' (long over due), as well as a central port of call to operate the Disney Cruise Line outlet on the West Coast from.  And, yes, even that venue will have limitations of space and growth potential, but, it will give a needed plus to the Disney presence in Southern California, and, develop new growth for higherend tourism (cruise line fans) who wish to indulge higher expenditures for their pleasure at a Disney property in California.

    I have talked with several people who have been long-term cast members in California, and, some of them are speculating that the Magic Kingdom may not even exist here in California in another 10-20 years.  That corporate will no longer see a profitable reason to keep the California resort open and turning money day to day...all due to the constraints of the local area housing needs, and, the fact that they (the corporate) refuse to pay worthy wages and benefit compensation to retain a level of worker they desperately need inhouse to keep the resort property running.  Of course, this is all well and good as the corporate has the Florida based resort to make their money from should California fail to continue to produce the way they want it to.  And, as most have noted, the emphasis is on Florida over California any given day of the week, any way.

    Had Disney wanted to truly protect their California investment then, several years ago, when the Irivine military base complex went up for public land grab (now the "Great Park") the speculative rumor that Disney was going to buy that parcel and rebuild the west coast Disney Resort Property in totality should have been followed through upon.  But, they didn't have the desire to take the financial risk and follow through with such a major plan.  And, now the dice have rolled and they are trapped in their corner of Anaheim with the needs of the people who live there outweighing the needs of the company that builds there.   And, once again, the corporate empire refuses to admit to the needs of the people it uses  in order to secure it's control and financial wealth to the mouse's private empire.

  • Curmudgeon - the eatery with the amazing deserts and sumptiously large serving meals was Belisle's.  They were originally built to give the construction workers building Disneyland back in the early 1950's a reasonably priced establishment to get their meals at and easily get back to work.  The expansion of the resort district took them out of buisness.  Even though they were offered restaurant space with one of the newer hotels going up, the family decided that they had a good run and it was as good enough time to retire as any.

  • Looks like you are being played a bit Jim.

    Cars directly to parking a problem......if this didn't happen, people would be up in arms about the traffic on the public streets (which is already plenty busy enough!)

    Seems that your "source" is part of the SunCal crew looking to change the zoning to put residential property in the resort district. As residential property is worth more than commercial property on a per acre basis, they have are very motivated to flip this property.

    Whether it was Disney or not, residential development does not belong in a business/resort district. As soon as you let home owners in, the complaints will begin about noise and other services and the next thing you know the economic engine for Anaheim is crippled.

    Dig deeper Jim. Look into this SunCal deal. Find out why some City Council members want to ignore the rules. This is an interesting story but I think you have the wrong bad guy identified.

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