Access California Services, an acclaimed nonprofit, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Anaheim with an uncertain future. Two years ago, the city drew up a lease agreement for the organization focused on health-and-human services to develop an ambitious family resource center on about an acre’s worth of land at Brookhurst Park on the west side. Suddenly, on the eve on an election, the project got pulled from the Nov. 1, 2016 city council agenda never to return again. Discussion about the AccessCal plan resurfaced this past June with council members telling city staff to locate alternate sites.
“If we absolutely cannot find a suitable site for the services, then I would be open to then looking at this site,” councilman Jose Moreno said of Brookhurst Park at the June 19 council meeting. “I would support using the space if there really is no other space and it means losing the services.”
With the search around town now complete, there’s only one problem before this evening’s Anaheim city council meeting picks up the discussion again.
“We did take a look at the three designated areas,” says Nahla Kayali, AccessCal’s executive director and founder. “None of them are suitable.”
Staff couldn’t find any city-owned or controlled buildings to house AccessCal, but they did identify three vacant lots. One parcel in Anaheim Hills lot is too far from the nonprofit’s west side client base, especially with no public transportation around. And for AccessCal, whose mission is to “serve the underserved,” being behind million-dollar homes in Orange isn’t exactly a good fit.
Another possible plan is to stick AccessCal by the 5 freeway on the west side. The city deems the alternative site a viable option, but the nonprofit disagrees. “It’s not safe for recreation,” says Kayali. The nearest bus stop, she also notes, is closer to Brookhurst Park than the proposed parcel. The last of the three options is unused land from a past street widening on Katella Avenue, but it would have to be sold at fair market value with payments going back to the Orange County Transportation Authority before any construction could begin. None of the parcels are immediately surrounded by crowded working-class apartment neighborhoods that AccessCal culls its clientele from for its refugee-assistance, citizenship and mental health programs, to name a few.
AccessCal’s family resource center park plan continues to face stiff opposition. Esther Wallace, chair of the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development (WAND) council and Magnolia School District board member, deemed the project’s dollar-a-year rent for 35 years lease agreement a “giveaway,” and not just in financial terms, when first proposed. “We do not have enough park space in West Anaheim,” Wallace reiterated to the Weekly last month. “We have thousands of school-age children living in crowded apartments and motels, especially in West Anaheim, who need space to run and play as well as adults who need to get away from crowded conditions in their living areas.”
The Anaheim Parks and Recreation commission also voted down the family resource center plan earlier this year.
Ten days after council directed staff to search for potential AccessCal sites, a new Anaheim Family YMCA facility and outdoor complex broke ground on city-owned land. The two projects share similarities with regards to lease and land, though the YMCA agreement is far more generous on both accounts. In Dec. 2013, council conveyed the four-acre plot next to Betsy Ross Park in central Anaheim for a dollar-a-year rent for 55 years. A common criticism of the previously proposed AccessCal plan was that the lease was favorable to one nonprofit and that the parcel wasn’t opened up for a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Two years prior to the YMCA deal, though, the city entered in an exclusive negotiation agreement with that organization. The project faced no real opposition at the time. Wallace, who now decries AccessCal’s Brookhurst Park plan as a giveaway, is even listed as a financial contributor to Anaheim Family YMCA.
“I’ve heard from many friends, neighbors and first district residents,” councilwoman Denise Barnes said during the June meeting. “They not only oppose the lease agreement but they’ve asked me to vigilantly fight and protect precious park land.” Which residents? Middle-class homeowners or working-class renters in apartments near Brookhurst Park?
Kayali has spent the last month making the case for her original proposal stronger by knocking on doors to find out for herself.
“Since the last council meeting, AccessCal decided to do a survey within a one-mile radius of the park,” Kayali says. “People are really eager to have services and a family resource center in the area.” The nonprofit knocked on 800 doors and found community support for the proposed family resource center in the densely-populated apartment complexes nearest to it in District 1 and District 2. The survey results showed that, of those who answered the door, 425 people favored the project as opposed to two who did not.
By comparison, an online petition started by Tracy Urueta opposed to the project and its potential lease agreement only gathered 244 signatures from Anaheim residents.
In addition to the city-owned parcels, staff also looked at private office spaces that house the Dayle McIntosh Center and the Braille Institute of Orange County, both of which have no vacancies. The last option came by way of a former Dearden’s Furniture store near John Marshall Park. But for Kayali, being at a park, not near one, is key to her organization’s future.
“The whole point of being at a park is to expand the services for recreation,” Kayali says. “All our activities are indoors. We can’t do anything outdoors with the children, elderly and the community. We need to be out of our office by next year. We are really in a bad situation at this time. We really want to collaborate with the city. We would be a model.”
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.