If a kids’ television channel gets its way, there will be 500 new hotel rooms in Garden Grove’s resort district.
The proposed Nickelodeon Hotel would stand at 330 feet and 23 floors on Harbor Boulevard. Tens of thousands of square footage would go to ballroom, restaurant, retail, and arcade space.
The sixth floor would have a water slide and lazy rizer transferring across a Spongebob Squarepants themed pool deck.
There would be something called a Kid’s Lounge, and the current arrangement is to feature a fine dining restaurant called The Odeon.
Yet there are questions about whether Garden Grove really needs another hotel as opposed to, say, housing in the midst of a critical regional and statewide housing shortage.
On top of that, those questions – and much of the project’s opposition – are coming from the very people you’d least expect. Those who rely on projects like the Nickelodeon Hotel for their livelihoods:
“Why is the city not considering a housing proposal or at least a housing component on this site, which includes six city parcels designated under the city’s general plan for higher density and residential housing?” asked Bridget McConaughy of UNITE HERE Local 11, in public comments, when the project came up at council members’ regular meeting last week.
City officials’ answer: The project’s surrounding area has an entirely different use.
And the project has City Council members excited for how the proposed serpentine, glass-facade building can enhance the city’s resort hotel offerings near Disneyland – a market in which much city investment is tied up.
Council members unanimously approved a zoning ordinance and new project site plan last Tuesday. A development agreement with Nickelodeon’s real estate partner on the project, the Kam Sang Company, will have to come back for future consideration.
And with that decision, council members also rejected a formal opposition to the project filed by UNITE HERE Local 11, the local hospitality worker union that’s taken a more vocal role in housing construction advocacy across Orange County.
And accordingly, several of the union’s members showed up on Tuesday, calling for housing instead.
It’s an issue that cities like Anaheim and Garden Grove uniquely face:
Meeting state-required housing construction goals to combat a regional and statewide housing shortage, all while a considerable chunk of town’s devoted to resort visitor tourism.
Areas designed for transience, not residence.
The issue caused political furor for Anaheim in the mid-aughts, and possibly kicked off a new era for corporate political influence in town, when Disney formed the Support our Anaheim Resort (S.O.A.R.) committee to oppose housing in the resort district.
Housing has also taken focus across the Pomona Freeway, in the Anaheim Ducks owners’ proposal for a 95-acre master planned campus around the Honda Center: OC Vibe. The idea is to achieve an attraction akin to L.A. Live up north, with shopping, dining, sports, entertainment, open space, and housing.
The project plays into City of Anaheim officials’ vision of a fully-fledged urban hotspot village called the Platinum Triangle, which includes Angel Stadium and its nearby apartments, sports bars and breweries.
The project plans for 1,500 apartments, 195 of those units being affordable, and is set to go before the Anaheim Planning Commission on Aug. 29.
Then it goes to the City Council in either late September or early October.
“Amidst a statewide and regional housing crisis, hotel developments with zero housing are inappropriate,” McConaughy said in public comment.
Allison Vo, a community organizer at VietRISE, questioned the city’s public outreach: “Many residents are not currently aware of plans to build a 3.72-acre hotel resort with 500 hotel rooms on what is currently still city-owned land.”
City staff say one neighborhood meeting was held in April, and reported 16 people in attendance, who asked about the hotel’s construction timeframe, water usage, traffic, noise, and community benefits.
“And it is crucial to conduct outreach and allow residents to give their full input on the project beyond a single neighborhood meeting in April, 2022 that only had 16 people in attendance,” Vo said.
UNITE filed an appeal of the Garden Grove Planning Commission’s July 7 recommendation to approve the project. Union members raised land use issues under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and called for a study into the hotel’s environmental harms.
City staff, in their report attached to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, said that planning commission recommendations aren’t appealable and rejected UNITE’s environmental review concerns.
“Respectfully the city needs housing, not a bigger hotel with a potentially greater environmental impact,” McConaughy said.
Other union workers – mostly from the construction trades – who are supportive of the project, argue the development would create local jobs in their sectors.
Councilmember Phat Bui recounted the “impatience” of waiting on a fenced-off project site which sat vacant for years to bring an economic return. Now?
“I’m really glad we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” Bui said.
And despite critics’ argument that the area was zoned for a mix of uses, Councilmember George Breitigam rejected the residential vision.
“Basically the city has said, ‘This is where we want our hotels, our tourism, this is what we want to focus on.’ And I think the city has reaped a lot of benefit of that over the last 25 years, and this continues that same process,” he said before the vote.
“To say we’re not doing our part for housing is – not two miles from this location, there’s a 200-plus senior living facility being opened up in the next, what month? In the old Rusty Skeleton,” he said.
“We got projects underway throughout the community of Garden Grove with housing. We’re not neglecting our housing. We’re looking at everything equally.”