The stretch of Lincoln Avenue in downtown Anaheim flows through the heart of the city. Anaheim High School, St. Boniface Catholic Church, and Visser's Florist are institutions woven into the city's identity over generations. But Anaheim is growing, and planners expect the corridor to become congested with traffic within a few years. They want to expand Lincoln Avenue from four to six lanes and place a median in between, a plan that could spell the end of Anaheim's legendary flower shop and change up the city's look.
During a Wednesday night town hall, Anaheim's Principal Civil Engineer Carlos Castellanos tried to reassure skeptical residents that the proposed widening would be beneficial. "When you bring a project like this, it [doesn't just] improve the safety of the roads, " Castellanos said. "We know that this project would improve that curb appeal."
Lincoln Avenue is definitely in need of some tender love and care, with a walkability audit finding uneven sidewalks, cars turning into pedestrian walkways, a lack of a drop-off area for Anaheim High School kids and landscaping woes. Castellanos cited 118 car accidents happening in the affected area between 2011 and 2015, with one fatal incident. Widening Lincoln Avenue by 16.5 feet would solve all of that, he promised.
The civil engineer worked through slides before zeroing in on what's being called the North Alignment Plan. Only 2 private property owners would be approached for a negotiated buyout by the city through the plan while going with other project maps would affect many more small businesses in the area. Castellanos boosted the benefits of improved traffic flow, a better "pedestrian experience," and more greenery. "The Colony District has a lot of pride and this would only improve that," he said.
Next, a 17-year-old Anaheim High School Student offered a rebuttal about why the plan is bad for the area, focusing on the potential loss of Visser's Florist, where my pops has bought wedding anniversary and Valentine's Day arrangements for my mom since the 1970's! "It would be heartbreaking for the owners and for the people who've been buying flowers for years," Aaron Segovia told the town hall during his presentation. The Anaheim Transportation Academy spoketeen cautioned that traffic predictions for 2025 could be wrong, citing the recent presidential election as a folly in forecasting. "It would be heartbreaking to see a piece of history torn down just for a new road." Castellanos followed by trying to direct the one-hour town hall into a 15-minute breakout session with his staff, a move met with resistance from the crowd. "So this isn't going to be an open forum?" asked one man. "I feel like I'm being railroaded here," added another woman. The civil engineer accommodated the anxious questions from the crowd, especially about Anaheim High School and St. Boniface. Castellanos noted that the proposed widening would encroach on the school's lawn and cause the front entrance marquee to move. Planners hope to taper the street to allow for a decent gathering area outside the church. The city is looking to acquire property early next year and begin construction sometime in 2018.
"I'm extremely worried about putting a highway in front of my high school," said Jose Moreno, an Anaheim council candidate locked in a downtown district race still too close to call. Two of his daughters attend Anaheim High School. "Can a city take property from another public entity?" he asked. The Anaheim Union High School District owns land that figures into city plans. Castellanos's staff didn't have an answer to the legal question about possible eminent domain use. "It's not a take," Castellanos argued. "We're negotiating the acquisition of the property." Moreno encouraged residents to ask AUHSD school board members to oppose any land sales.
Business owners didn't attend the town hall, but the Weekly reached them for comment. "We were founded in 1956, the same year that Disneyland started," says Ted Robinson, President of Visser's Florist. He first learned of the project over the summer. "We've been here a long time and we don't want to move. There's a couple of options close by but until we really know what the city's concrete plans are it's hard for us to do anything."
Anaheim stresses its plan is the least disruptive way forward. "Our goal is to keep all businesses and others in place during the widening," says city spokesman Mike Lyster. "These types of projects are always a balance between enhancing safety on a major street and minimizing impact on those in the area."
Visser's Florist isn't the only business that slated to be bought out by the city. Economy Income Tax falls within its map's dreaded shade of yellow. "It's been a great location for me," business owner Jesus Aguirre Sr. tells the Weekly. He didn't know of the city's timeline for property buyouts, expressing shock that the process is going to begin as soon as next year. "Income tax is a very sensitive business and this is going to affect me greatly."
The Lincoln Avenue widening project could go before city council as early as December 20. Buy your flowers now while you can—and maybe give council members a red rose or two next month.