Anaheim Renews Debate On Where New Housing Should Go

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

The Serrano commercial center in Anaheim Hills. Nov. 22, 2019.

Anaheim City Councilmembers this week will decide if 58 condominiums will be built in Anaheim Hills, continuing a debate on where new housing should go in the city. 

Property owner, John Saunders, is appealing a city Planning Commission’s October rejection after dozens of residents protested the development, including Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who represents the area. 

Although Councilmembers were set to vote on the development proposal Jan. 14, the decision was postponed after Councilwoman Lucille Kring said she wanted Councilman Jose Moreno’s input on the issue — Moreno had to leave before the public hearing ended because of work. 

O’Neil recused himself from the Jan. 15 public hearing because he voiced his objection at the Planning Commission meeting. 

The 58 condos, which include 12 priced for moderate income buyers would replace a commercial center on the corner of Nohl Ranch Road and Serrano Avenue, near Anaheim Hills Elementary School. 

Moderate level income for a four-person family in Orange County is $117,500, according to the 2019 U.S. Housing and Urban Development income guidelines

At the Jan. 15 meeting, many Anaheim Hills residents said 58 new condos will worsen traffic, despite a city-commissioned traffic report showing the proposed housing would cut in more than half the existing daily car trips to and from the property. 

The commercial center that would be replaced by the condos currently averages about 1,000 daily car trips, while the housing would be about 440 trips per day, according to the city-commissioned traffic report. Some public commenters at the city council meeting outright dismissed the traffic study.

Others said they didn’t want to lose the commercial center because it has a dance studio, martial arts school, swim school and tutoring center. Nearby residents said the proposed building height would invade their privacy. 

And 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. 

Tuesday’s vote comes against the backdrop of the City Council’s 5-2 decision last March that allowed 39 condos to be built on land half the size in a crowded Downtown Latino 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.

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 last year. 

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.

Sidhu, reading from a prepared statement at a Jan. 15 meeting, said the Anaheim Hills condo proposal isn’t right for the area. 

“I do not believe this site is right for housing at nearly 20 units per acre. Anaheim can still – and will seek to increase our housing supply in all parts of the city, including east Anaheim. But not every site is right for every type of housing,” Sidhu said.

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