Anaheim city officials are fine with allowing 39 condominiums in a poor, cramped neighborhood near the heart of the city, but reject 58 condos in the affluent Anaheim Hills community on a space twice as big. 

Editor’s Note: This story is first in a two-part look at housing approvals in Anaheim and Santa Ana. Click here to read the second story.

The Planning Commission, in October, unanimously denied the Anaheim Hills project, which had 56 condos, including 12 for low-income residents. The Commission ultimately sided with dozens of residents who protested the project, including Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who represents Anaheim Hills. 

Despite pleas from residents to lessen the density of the development or cancel it altogether, the City Council voted for 39 condos to be built in an already crowded, low-income, mostly Latino neighborhood in March. None of those condos will be geared for low-income residents in the project that’s sandwiched between single-family homes and railroad tracks. 

Councilwoman Lucille Kring said the condos would help lift the neighborhood and attract new shops.

“That’s what starts — and I hate the word gentrification, I don’t mean it that way — that’s going to start bringing up the property values of everybody,” Kring said. “I think once its built you will look at it and say I like it, it’s really nice. Maybe I’ll be able to afford that one day.” O’Neil said the development will help cut down housing prices in the area. 

The alleyway homeowners will share with the 39 condominiums that are being built in Central Anaheim. The alley is the only way to get to the incoming condos. Nov. 22, 2019.

“Now we know there’s a housing shortage and that shortage contributes to the rising cost of housing. And I like for-sale projects like this because I believe that homeowners become very invested in their neighborhoods. And quite frankly, buying a home is a huge part of achieving the American Dream and it’s one of the best investments that anyone can ever make,” O’Neil said before the vote.  

Central Anaheim Housing Development 

Central Anaheim residents near the 39 condominiums being built have to contend for parking with heavy machinery and other construction vehicles. Nov. 21, 2019.

Although residents contested 39 condos at Planning Commission and City Council meetings, the Council ultimately gave the Downtown 39 housing development a greenlight March 5. The condos are being built on roughly 1.5 acres and will be wedged between railroad tracks and a mixture of apartments and single-family homes in the working class Latino neighborhood. 

Construction crews, equipment and heavy machinery like bulldozers and drills flooded the neighborhood’s already crowded streets in recent weeks. The development is going in a neighborhood near La Palma Avenue and Anaheim Boulevard and is replacing an old RV storage lot behind homes. 

Both the Council and Commission did not act on residents’ pleas to at least reduce the density of the project, which will be three-stories in an area where most of the houses are single-story homes that line already crowded streets in the area. 

The condos are geared for people who make at least $100,000 a year, according to the project applicant, Greg McCafferty. According to the 2016 voting district census, 50 percent of the District 3 population — where the condos are being built — make less than $50,000 a year. 

McCafferty is a former Anaheim planning department employee, who told the Council there’s enough parking being developed for the incoming condo owners. 

None of the condos are considered affordable housing geared to low-income people. 

Mayor Harry Sidhu also cut down the speaking time on the roughly 20 residents — most of whom spoke against the project — at the March 5 meeting. 

“Due to the number of speakers for public hearing on item number 15, with the consent of the Council, the time limit to speak for those in the noticed area, including those outside the noticed area, will be reduced to two minutes,” Sidhu proposed.

The residents who live next to the project were supposed to have 10 minutes to make their case to the Council and everybody else was supposed to have three minutes to speak. 

“So I don’t think that’s actually an inordinate amount of folks that are interested in speaking on a really difficult neighborhood issue,” Councilman Jose Moreno told Sidhu. 

The Council ended up voting 4-3 to limit everybody’s speaking time to three minutes. 

“You’re doing us a disservice by cutting our time,” resident Lorena Barrios said. “Parking, unsafe streets, unsafe sidewalks, poor lighting — you name it. This project will not give us any benefit whatsoever to the community.” 

The condos will share the same alleyway the single-family homes use to access their garages. And it will be the only way for condo residents to get into the incoming development since railroad tracks sit immediately behind them. 

Hours before the March City Council meeting, Sidhu gave his inaugural state of the city address and said Anaheim residents come first. 

“For all of our districts, all of our neighborhoods and all of our residents, I want them to know that in Anaheim, they are first,” Sidhu said, according to the official transcript on the city’s website.

Moreno asked his Council colleagues if anybody drove through the neighborhood and met with residents. Nobody answered him. 

“What the neighborhood is asking is if we can simply reduce the number of units.”

The City Council ended up voting 5-2 for the Downtown 39 project, with Moreno and Councilwoman Denise Barnes voting no. 

Anaheim Hills Housing Proposal 

The development notice still stands in front of the commercial center on the corner of Nohl Rancho Road and Serrano Avenue almost a month after the Planning Commission denied the project. Nov. 22, 2019

Residents from the affluent Anaheim Hills community urged the Planning Commission to deny a 56-condo development in October, including 12 affordable housing units. The development would’ve replaced a failing commercial center. 

“I have a number of issues with this project I want to address. It’s not the typical traffic which can be refuted or the emotional attachment to the commercial center,” O’Neil said, who represents Anaheim Hills on the Council. 

“First of all, from a commercial perspective, the argument has been made that this is not a viable commercial center and therefore we must ask for a plan amendment and a zone change and convert it to residential,” said O’Neil at the Oct. 28 Planning Commission meeting.

There were dozens of residents backing his opposition to the project in the chambers. 

O’Neil said the project applicant told him the commercial center could be viable if they leased out 80 to 85 percent of the center. He also said if the project came before the City Council, he would have recused himself from the vote since he voiced his opposition at the Planning Commission. 

The proposed Anaheim Hills project, known as The Residences at Nohl Ranch, sits on the corner of Serrano Avenue and Nohl Ranch Road. 

“So this property owner — it’s almost as if it was being set up in the beginning, not investing any money in this center in the 10-plus years that they’ve owned it, so that one day they come before this body and say its no longer viable, we need a plan amendment and a zone change,” O’Neil said. 

He also said the city would have to rezone to allow more housing per acre for the project. 

“We’re looking at a code that requires the project size to be five acres and this is three. And the density — we’re cramming more units in there than our code allows to,” O’Neil said. “The state says if somebody offers building these affordable housing projects, we have to grant them these concessions. Meaning that we have to ignore our code and approve it and allow them to do it.”

The Downtown 39 project required planning and zone amendments in order to build the 39 condos on 1.5 acres of land. The Planning Commission had to grant a zoning amendment allowing for a denser development for that area and the City Council, including O’Neil, ultimately allowed the project. 

“Anaheim Hills is a master-planned community … and we have limited commercial space that shouldn’t go away,” O’Neil said. “It’s a nice project, it looks very nice, but it’s just not appropriate for the area.”

The neighborhood right behind the Serrano commercial center. The Planning Commission denied a plan that called for 56 condominiums. Nov. 22, 2019.

Many residents argued the traffic would increase to unsafe levels if houses were built there, despite a city study showing the traffic would actually decrease if houses were built at the commercial center. 

And some residents alleged the affordable housing would lead to overcrowding in the condos. 

Planning Commissioner John Armstrong took issue with some of the complaints and reminded residents that nearly all affordable housing in the city is located outside of Anaheim Hills. 

“We are a large city, we are the city of Anaheim. not just the city of Anaheim Hills,” Armstrong said. “We have low-income housing in our area where I live in West Anaheim … We all like to have our communities the way they were and not do anything else, but our community has been changing. I think it’s necessary to share.”

Armstrong unsuccessfully tried to continue the item. 

But Chairwoman Michelle Lieberman said once the commercial center is rezoned to residential, it will remain that way for a lifetime. 

“If we do a general plan amendment here to residential … it will be residential for the rest of our lives.” Lieberman said. “We are here to decide what’s best for 50 to 100 years from now.” 

The Planning Commission eventually unanimously voted to deny the project. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

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