How might DisneylandForward update Anaheim’s magic kingdom and economy?

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Disney wants to change how its surrounding properties, such as Downtown Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, are used. Photo by Laura Kondourajian.

A new plan called “DisneylandForward” will change how Disneyland’s Anaheim grounds are used. The Walt Disney company hopes to work with Anaheim city leaders for the project and give a much needed economic boost to the region following COVID-19. LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano talks to KCRW about the proposal and what it would mean for the city.

KCRW: What is Disney looking to do with the park?

Gustavo Arellano: “Well, it's not so much what they're looking to do with the park itself, but rather the properties that they own around [it] — Downtown Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. 

They've actually held thousands of acres in and around that area, like parking structures, parking lots, an old strawberry farm that they've owned since the 90s that's currently employee parking, and they just want to fill it in.”

One Disney official said, “We’re not changing the size of a toast, we're just spreading the peanut butter around.”

“That's a funny way of putting it, but yeah, they're not going to expand anything. It's property that they already own. And they're looking to open up a possible third theme park — a smaller park with a couple of rides, some hotels, some more retail. [It’s] typical [of what] Disney has done with its properties in Anaheim over the past 25 years.”

The plan was announced late last month by Walt Disney executive Jeanette Lomboy. She said, ‘We're not announcing anything specific today as part of DisneylandForward. These kinds of projects should give you a flavor of the types of industry-defining integrated experiences and story-rich lands that we want to bring to Anaheim.’ What does she mean by flavor?

“They're basically going to bring in stuff that has either been inspired by rides in other Disney theme parks around the world — or just based on their franchises like Frozen, like Avengers, all the different things that Disney owns, and then just put it into Anaheim. 

The reason this is being done right now is because Disney is about to open on a limited basis at the end of this month. The DisNerds — the Disney fanatics, that's what they call themselves, DisNerds — they are desperate to come back. They want some excitement and excitement for the future. 

So Disney's giving it to them. And also Disney's pointing out to everyone like, ‘Look, we're not trying to put a bigger footprint in Anaheim on one hand, because we're only going to be working with what we have. But on the other hand, hey, Anaheim, do you want more Disney? Then let's work together towards something.’”

Disney wants the city of Anaheim to remove some restrictions on how they use parts of the land. What kind of restrictions are there now?

“The usual restrictions that you have in most cities, so single use zoning. So for instance, right now, you can't have a hotel at the same place as a theme park as the same place as other things. 

This is something that conservatives or libertarians have wanted forever. It's like just free zoning all over the place. But what Disney's telling the public is: ‘We're not asking for money, we're not asking for public subsidies the way we did back in the 90s, or for the city of Anaheim to change the zoning around Disneyland in terms of architecture and look to benefit us. No, all we're looking for is for zoning to be changed on our properties. And that's all we want.’” 

The relationship between Anaheim and Disney hasn't always been easy, right?

“Historically, it has been. Only for a couple of years in the last decade when you had a Republican Mayor, Tom Tate, asking, ‘Why is Anaheim so helpful towards Disney and Disney is not giving enough money?’ 

But it was literally a speck in the long love affair between Disney and Anaheim. Right now, you have a super majority City Council that just wants to do anything for Disney, is more than happy to put more of Anaheim's financial future in the hands of Disney.”

The people who live around the park and those 500 acres — what are they saying?

“Does it even matter? These are people that have to deal with fireworks every single night, 365 days a year, when Disney is open to the point of car alarms going off and smoke going into neighborhoods sometimes and dogs barking. 

It doesn't matter what the residents of Anaheim want. It's what the City Council wants. And the City Council sees a multimillion dollar maker in Disney, saying, ‘Hey we want to do more business in this town. Can you help us out a little bit with lifting some of these zoning restrictions?’ Anaheim's got to do it as fast as possible. 

… As long as Disneyland doesn't ask for more public subsidies like they've done in the past, [the DisneylandForward proposal] shouldn't be a problem. Of course, the other thing, and we see this whenever Disneyland is open for 24 hours, [there’s the issue of] traffic going off the 5 freeway. So we'll see how Disney proposes to mitigate all the extra traffic that's going to happen — if this in fact happens. This is not Orlando, in other words, this is Anaheim.”

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