Anaheim Housing Debate Creates Unlikely Partnership Between Two Foes

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The Anaheim City Council at their Oct. 29, 2019 meeting.

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and Councilman Jose Moreno have crossed swords for most of the last year.

Until this past week.

So what put them on the same page?

Housing. 

Moreno and Sidhu, who are regularly at odds with each other over various issues like Angel Stadium, agreed that 54 condominiums shouldn’t replace an existing Anaheim Hills three-acre commercial center, which is used by local families because it has a swim school, dance studio and a daycare center. 

“When I think about that value and I think about 600 kids learning how to dance together in a community — that’s what builds community,” Moreno said. “It’s about space, place and people and we should not be forced into exchanging the value of affordable housing for community space.”

The two are also on opposite ends of the political spectrum: Moreno is a Democrat and Sidhu is a Republican. 

The 54-condominium development, which will include 11 affordable units, will replace the existing commercial center on the corner of Nohl Ranch Road and Serrano Avenue. 

Sidhu, reading from a prepared statement said, “What is clear is that this center still has a strong support from the community … The time may well come to consider other uses for the site, but that time is not today.”

Despite the rare unity between Moreno and Sidhu, the City Council approved the development Tuesday on a 4-2 vote, with Moreno and Sidhu dissenting. Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who represents Anaheim Hills, recused himself because he voiced his objection to the project at the October Planning Commission meeting. 

“We are under immense pressure to have additional housing,” Councilman Steve Faessel said. “District 5 is doing more than its part in terms of housing and [homeless] shelters in Anaheim. The information that I’ve been shown is that we tend to have the most dense, most intense housing … and it tends to be a little less intense as we move east.” 

Faessel represents District 5. 

The property owner, John Saunders, first appealed the Planning Commission’s October denial Jan. 14, but Councilmembers decided to continue to Tuesday’s meeting because Moreno had to leave the public hearing early for work

Although the development originally called for 58 condos, Councilmembers got the number reduced to 54 in an effort to protect the privacy of the homes bordering the site after numerous homeowners said future residents in the three-story condos would be able to see in their backyards. 

Moreno reminded his Council colleagues about a difference in treatment for Anaheim Hills residents and residents near downtown. 

The City Council voted 5-2 last March to allow 39 condos on land half the size in a crowded, Downtown neighborhood, known as the Colony District, near city hall. Councilwoman Denise Barnes and Moreno dissented. 

Affordable housing isn’t part of the 39 condos in a City Council district where nearly 70 percent of households make less than $76,000 a year, according to the 2016 voting district census. Nearly 70 percent of Anaheim Hills households make at least $75,000 a year.

Sidhu cut down the speaking time on the roughly 20 Colony District residents at the March 5 meeting. 

Under the city’s public hearing rules, residents who live next to a proposed project are supposed to have 10 minutes each to make their case to the Council. All of the Colony District residents’ time was reduced to three minutes, including residents who live next to the project.

In contrast, Sidhu let everyone who lives next to the proposed Anaheim Hills development speak for the full 10 minutes each at the Jan. 15 meeting.

“Our mayor reduced their public comment time from 10 minutes to three minutes … 24 of you got 10 minutes, if you wanted to use them,” Moreno said. 

He called Sidhu’s move “fundamentally classist.” 

“We’re stuck here and saying do we feed the divide?” Moreno said. 

“The [Colony District] community came out and begged and pleaded. 127 petitions from that small neighborhood … Unfortunately, the developer was not asked by this Council for any conditions,” Moreno said. 

Sidhu addressed the Colony District condo vote, but didn’t mention the difference in speaking time. 

“I know some of you will bring up the Pauline Street project,” Sidhu said. “There is a big difference. New housing on Pauline Street replaced an industrial site … that site did not support the community.” 

The Colony District land where the 39 condos are being built was a former RV storage park. 

Moreno also ran through a host of recent housing developments — all of them dense projects outside of Anaheim Hills with no affordable housing. “Overall, that’s 740 units built here in the flatlands.” 

But, Moreno said, his anger shouldn’t be used to guide his vote. 

“My anger, my frustration … I hope you can feel it. But that said my anger should not be taken out on another community because of bad policy decisions by previous Councils,” he said. 

During this week’s public comment, many Anaheim Hills residents said they didn’t want the condos because the three-story buildings would invade their privacy. 

“All of our homes are actually going to be severely and directly impacted by this project. Our quality of life … is going to be impacted by this development,” said resident Dana Cisneros, who lives behind the commercial center.  

Residents from different parts of the city were at odds with each other during the public comment period. 

“The only people you’ve heard from today that support this project is people who do not live in Anaheim Hills,” said resident Leila Heydari. 

West Anaheim resident Ken Batiste said new housing needs to be spread evenly throughout the city. 

“First off, let’s get it straight. Stop kicking the can down the road,” Batiste told Councilmembers. “We need a shared responsibility of all districts … I’m not saying this needs to be done at that facility, but [Anaheim Hills] needs to step up.” 

Another West Anaheim resident, David Klawe, said the Anaheim Hills community should hold more community meetings with Anaheim’s Planning Department to help map out where future housing projects could go. 

“Look to the zoning maps and talk to city staff and figure out where their share of the affordable housing should go,” Klawe said. “We are willing to take our share, but not the whole thing.” 

Brandon Clements said he lives in Anaheim Hill and supported the project, drawing some jeers from residents. He was upset by some of the comments made leading up to the meeting, he said. 

“I’ve never been so sad to hear the comments I hear from my community. We’re talking about a project that’s not bringing in somebody working at 7-Eleven. We’re talking about moderate income housing that needs to happen,” Clements said. “If we don’t allow the younger generations the same opportunity to move in our community and bring it up, then our community will die off.”

At the Jan. 14 meeting, some Anaheim Hills residents criticized the affordable housing part of the proposal, arguing people shouldn’t move to the area if they can’t afford Anaheim Hills. 

The 11 condos considered affordable housing is priced for moderate income buyers. The moderate income level for a four-person family in Orange County is $117,500, according to the 2019 U.S. Housing and Urban Development income guidelines

Some residents said the increased housing in the area will worsen wildfire evacuations in the area and they cited the hours-long evacuation from the Canyon and Canyon II fires. 

Moreno asked Anaheim Fire Chief Pat Russell to address residents’ evacuation concerns. 

Russell said there wasn’t an evacuation plan during that time and the Anaheim Fire Department has since worked one out with the Anaheim Police Department, Orange Police Department and the California Highway Patrol. 

“At best, I’ll be honest with you, large scale evacuations are very challenging and very complex,” Russell told the Council. But the plan “will meet the needs of our canyon and adding an additional 100 vehicles, or whatever that may be, won’t be too impactful to the program or strain it.” 

Moreno tried to simplify Anaheim’s affordable housing process when he proposed a policy for a future agenda that would’ve required a set amount affordable housing in all new housing developments, but failed to get enough support at the end of the meeting. Only Barnes supported the proposal, he needed one more Councilmember’s support in order to schedule it on an agenda. 

Saunders, the property owner, faced controversy last year when he announced rent increases of up to 80 percent over five years after buying the Rancho La Paz senior mobile home park on the border of Anaheim and Fullerton.

Rancho La Paz seniors there began lobbying both city councils for rent control after Saunders told residents he needed to increase monthly rents because of the increased property tax bill. 

A majority of Anaheim council members declined to adopt a mobile home rent control ordinance. Fullerton was set to vote for such an ordinance, until Saunders met with them. 

Fullerton created a mobile home rent subsidy in August and Anaheim followed suit in October. 

Rancho La Paz residents saw their rents go up 19 percent in November, and face a series of rent increases totaling 80 percent by 2024.

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