Inside Revolutionary Anaheim

People power turns city redevelopment project upside-down

Photo by Jack GouldFor a moment, it looked as if the city of Anaheim's highly controversial plan to "revitalize" the notorious Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood might be no match for the moral economy of the crowd. At a July 8 meeting to sell the Jeffrey-Lynne redevelopment project to a group of middle-class Anaheim residents, the city's redevelopment chief, Elisa Stipkovich, found herself confronted by dozens of angry Jeffrey-Lynne residents and property owners. Finally, Stipkovich, who at one point seemed near tears, abruptly ended the meeting.

The city's plan might have died right there; city officials have shown themselves reluctant to ram the project down the throats of increasingly well-organized—and vocal—residents. But five days later, under far more agreeable circumstances, Stipkovich got exactly what she wanted when the Anaheim City Council (which doubles as the city's redevelopment agency and housing authority) voted 3-2 to go forward with the Jeffrey-Lynne Revitalization Plan. The reason for the change: a last-minute, behind-the-scenes deal that may ultimately provide a model for how the county's aging cities pursue redevelopment projects—by democratizing them.

The breakthrough came during weekend meetings between the city and activists arranged by Stipkovich after her disastrous July 8 presentation. In those meetings, city officials agreed to add to the city's plan several guarantees for Jeffrey-Lynne's roughly 3,820 tenants, who will now be directly involved in the project through a 10-member advisory committee, seven of whom will be tenants.

"This will not be a rubber-stamp committee," Anaheim activist Josie Montoya told the Weekly. "For the first time, tenants of Jeffrey-Lynne will be involved in the decision making that affects them."

Besides agreeing to form the tenant-dominated committee, City Hall also agreed to a controversial plan to pay relocation assistance to all tenants forced out of Jeffrey-Lynne. Under its previous proposal, the city had claimed it could only make such payments to legal immigrants and U.S. citizens; the new plan binds the city to pay Jeffrey-Lynne residents regardless of their citizenship status. And those payments? Under the new plan, they're liklely to be far more generous. The city had planned to offer residents what it called a standard $5,200 relocation payment. But United Neighborhoods, Montoya's Anaheim-based community group, researched federal housing laws and found that Anaheim must waive that payment cap because it is the city—and not a tornado or flash flood—that will push tenants from their homes.

In a July 20 interview, Stipkovich told the Weekly that Anaheim never had any intention of limiting its relocation assistance to $5,200. Either way, Anaheim will now provide all families forced out of the neighborhood by the city project with 42 months of payments equal to the difference between their old and new rents—even if that amount turns out to be higher than $5,200. Residents who have a decent credit record will also have the option of taking the city's relocation payment in a lump sum they can use as a down payment for a new home. Those who remain in Jeffrey-Lynne during the anticipated three-year construction period will likely appreciate the fact that the city has now agreed to build its highly vaunted, state-of-the-art community center first—before embarking on the rest of the project. Anaheim has also promised to reverse its unpopular ban on parking along several streets in Jeffrey-Lynne—whether or not the project ultimately goes through.

But the most crucial aspect of the city's last-minute deal with tenants is clearly the new advisory committee. The city has agreed that the committee may help write the criteria to be used in deciding which residents will be eligible for the new apartments. Although the city's plan still states that applicants must pass a vaguely defined clean-housekeeping inspection and criminal-background check, Montoya hopes the advisory committee can modify those requirements in the months ahead.

The operative word here is "hope"; it's unclear whether the tenants' majority on the advisory committee will translate into real political power.

One reason for optimism is that the city needs the tenants on its side, said Bill Witte, president of the city's hand-chosen developer, the Related Companies of California. Witte told the Weekly that despite opposition by many landlords in Jeffrey-Lynne, he and the city are prepared to go forward—as long as they can count on the tenants' support.

"We knew we wouldn't get the owners, but we knew this project was not going to go forward if the tenants were unanimously opposed," Witte said. "The tenants are the key."

Witte has the difficult task of winning over property owners. He hopes to quickly enter into negotiations with them over a city offer to buy their properties. Hanging over the landlords' heads is the knowledge that the city may use eminent domain to seize the apartment buildings of reluctant owners. If that happens, one landlord told the City Council on July 13, he and other property owners won't hesitate to sue the city.

For their part, residents of Jeffrey-Lynne remain wary about the city's intentions. "The tenants are pretty happy at this point," said Montoya. "But we're not giving the project our blessing. We're going to be watching this project every step of the way."

 
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