New housing plans across Orange County are often caught in a debate about whether cities should overhaul their landscapes or stick with how they already look.

It’s another point of contention in the ongoing battle to combat the worsening housing crisis, with two separate housing projects in two north OC cities that have played out differently in recent months. 

It also comes as cities across OC wrestle with updating their housing plans to meet home numbers set by the state. 

[Read: OC Cities Adopt New Housing Plans After Fight Against State’s Home Building Mandates]

While Fullerton moves forward with some student housing near Cal State Fullerton in an effort to produce a “college town” look, Brea faces pushback from residents who argue replacing an old movie theater with housing will dramatically alter the city’s small town look and worsen traffic. 

Brea Housing Development Faces Increasing Pushback From Residents 

Brea residents have rallied against a proposed housing development that made it through the planning commission Jan. 25.

The project is slated for 161 units — with three stories of parking and five stories of housing — and would replace an out-of-business movie theater right off the 57 freeway in Brea.

[Read: Orange County’s Housing Shortage Debate Flares in Brea]

The project was first introduced to the commission in October and has since undergone a few changes.

This new version includes 28 less units than originally proposed and eliminates the “co-living” aspect of the building — which was defined as multi-bedroom apartments for different people to live in the same unit, each with their own bedroom and bathroom. 

The square footage has also dropped by approximately 7,500 — bringing the plan to 13,800 square feet — and the design of the eighth story has been drawn back to only cover about 48% of the area.

Ted Gribble, a Brea resident who started a Facebook group against the proposed development last August, said these changes aren’t enough.

“The right course of action for us is to try and get some face time with the city council members and let them know our concerns,” Gribble said in a Jan. 26 phone interview. “Apparently the applicant spent the last three months revising the project to address the concerns of the residents. It doesn’t seem like he did much addressing of the concerns.”

The biggest community concern about the Brea housing development is traffic. 

Residents of the nearby Glenbrook neighborhood say traffic is already a major problem in the shopping center and surrounding areas, and the new building would only make it worse.

Although the project applicants have repeatedly voiced that a traffic study shows the project will not worsen, residents don’t trust the study or these promises.

Traffic is a concern echoed by residents throughout Orange County when cities debate on where to build new housing.

Since the project would replace a movie theater, the study stated traffic in the afternoons would actually be reduced.

However, the theater has been closed for nearly two years, and residents say that traffic and parking issues exist even without the theater in operation.

“The traffic studies, for instance, are specious to the degree that they rely on comparison with a theater … [that] has been gone for many many years,” Doug Matthews, 45-year resident said at the Jan. 25 planning commission meeting.

Gribble said many residents worry about the city growing too large, but his biggest fear is the effect on nearby schools.

“[The schools] can’t even afford to get the facilities up to working order now, and if you add hundreds of students, it’s only going to exacerbate the issue,” said Gribble, who has two young children himself.

Waad Nadhir, the applicant of the design, said the project will produce over $800,000 in school impact fees. Nadhir said they will also offer an additional $75,000 contribution to three local schools.

“We looked at traffic, we looked at parking [and] we looked at school impact,” Nadhir said at the meeting. “We looked at addressing an acute housing need of a younger generation, and we looked at addressing a housing demand of empty-nesters.”

Although a large number of Brea residents spoke against the project at the meeting, some people also spoke in favor.

“As a community member of Brea, I am in support of this project,” Anna Robb, a 6-year Brea resident, said at the meeting. “I would be someone who would definitely move to this property.”

City council members have yet to make a final decision on the development.

Fullerton Moves to Make Area Near CSUF Look Like a College Town

Right next to Brea, Fullerton is moving to make the area around Cal State Fullerton into more of a college town, with the approval of a new five-story apartment building — at the northeast corner of Chapman Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue —  for student housing. 

The campus has long been known as a commuter college among local university students because it has very limited on-campus student housing, with some rental opportunities in the surrounding community.

The Fullerton City Council approved construction of a 377-unit, student-centered development near the campus in order to increase the “college town” atmosphere of the area and provide students more housing opportunities.

Kathleen Savant, Director of Local Community Relations at the Cal State Fullerton, said the Fullerton project is much needed.

“At CSUF only 5% of students currently live on campus, leaving 39,000 to seek housing from the surrounding areas, not because they choose to, but because we haven’t been able to meet the demand of housing on our campus,” Savant said at the meeting. “We rely on the community to provide housing for our students.”

Savant also said that university President Fram Virjee has worked to change the perception that the university is a commuter school since he started the role in 2019.

The project description notes the development can house 1,103 residents with 630 parking spaces at 12,438 square feet. It’s slated to replace an old office building.

The design originally was discussed by Fullerton City Council members in November, but the council referred the plans back to the planning commission to address parking and design concerns.

Parking was the biggest issue with the housing development, and revisions upped the parking spaces from 0.27 per bed to 0.70 per bed, including the overflow parking.

The developers have also been working with the university to lease an overflow parking lot down the street from the project site with approximately 185 spots for residents to use as needed. 

Public commenters at the Jan. 18 meeting were overall supportive of the project and happy to see the university finding more housing options. 

“I see this underutilized aged office building a few times a week, so I welcome a new project and functionable piece of architecture to furnish housing for the students at Cal State,” Fullerton resident Bill Quisenberry said at the meeting.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.


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