In the Shadow of the Mouse

Legend has it that after Disneyland's gates closed for the night, Walt Disney sometimes enjoyed a cocktail atop the Matterhorn. On one occasion-perhaps having downed a bit too much-tears welled in his eyes as he looked at the hodgepodge of fleabag motor inns, restaurants and shops ringing the Happiest Place on Earth and sobbed, "God, what have I done?"

Vowing never again to display naive faith in the free market, the Disney Co. went to Orlando and bought damn near everything around its proposed park. Back in Anaheim, however, the battle to reclaim land lost to live-fast-die-young architecture is still fierce.

Today, other than a gas station here or a dinky motel there, Disneyland is surrounded on three sides by the seemingly always-expanding Anaheim Convention Center; that freeway-bound drag strip known as Ball Road; and Disney-owned property, where you'll find the Disneyland Hotel, the Disneyland Pacific Hotel and, sometime soon, a mammoth parking structure.

It's the side across Harbor Boulevard that remains a mess. Enter the non-Disney developers of Pointe Anaheim, a $450 million project that would raze a 29-acre chunk of Walt's Harbor-Katella nightmare and replace it with an outdoor mall: shops, restaurants, live-performance theaters, family-entertainment spots and a hotel complex.

You'd think the company run by the late Disney's cryogenically preserved head (Michael Eisner's clearly just a beard) would be giddy over anything that would blot out the Harbor Boulevard freak show. Think again. Instead of welcoming change along Harbor, Disney officials are exerting pressure, which, if it does not kill Pointe Anaheim, would likely delay and may downsize it enough to ensure that Pointe Anaheim does not detract from Disney's own shopping center, which is coming soon.

The drama began when Disney officials walked into Anaheim City Hall shortly before a 5 p.m. Feb. 22 deadline for public comment on Pointe Anaheim and plopped down a 1-inch-thick binder. Legal objections to the project's supposedly flashy signs, increased traffic, parking problems and potential environmental hazards were evidently inside. Disney compared Pointe Anaheim, which is modeled after a similar non-Disney development outside Disney World in Orlando, to something you'd find on the Las Vegas strip-not consistent with Anaheim's fledgling "garden" resort district.

You read that right: the company that has probably done more than any other in North County to generate flashy signs, snarled traffic, parking catastrophes and pollution suddenly sounds like the Sierra Club-at least when it comes to someone else's development.

To be fair, Disney wasn't the only entity to raise questions about Pointe Anaheim, and a corporation that owns a key parcel of land within the project site is vowing it won't sell. But Disney was the only respondent to file 61 pages of questions about the development.

Pointe Anaheim was supposed to open in 2000, a full year before Downtown Disney-a shopping, dining and hotel complex the Disney Co. wants to shoehorn between Disneyland and California Adventure, the company's second theme park currently under construction in the old Magic Kingdom parking lot.

Disneyland officials thump their chests every year when they give out public-service awards to deserving community groups. But when it comes to someone other than Disney going after the same tourist dollars, the Mouse will show his teeth-the surrounding community be damned. Disney-or his frozen head-can cry his eyes out atop that fake mountain all night about Harbor Boulevard blight if doing something about it stands in the way of the bottom line.

It's a small-minded world after all.

 
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