Sidhu Majority buries the Pauline neighborhood with “Downtown Anaheim 39”


 Powered by Max Banner Ads 

.

.

.

You gotta hand it to Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu – he has a wicked sense of irony.  A mere six hours after delivering a State of the City address last week, filled with lines like “It is not enough to say that we are going to invest in Anaheim neighborhoods. We need to partner with Anaheim residents so that they drive that investment.  That starts with listening,” he and his four loyal klepto-henchmen set right into destroying an old neighborhood and pointedly NOT listening to the residents, cutting down their speaking time from ten minutes to two, scolding them not to repeat each other, and stubbornly doing exactly what the residents begged them not to do.

Nah, I don’t really think Harry has any sense of irony, wicked or otherwise.  It’s impossible to tell what’s going on behind that “death-rictus grimace,” but the best guess is he says what he’s told to say, and does what he’s told to do, and lacks the self-awareness or curiosity to notice the contradictions between the two.

And more than that, when he talks about listening to residents, the residents he and his gang consider worth listening to are not the working-class residents who’ve been living and struggling in a neglected neighborhood for generations, but the well-connected La Habra “DEVELOPER” resident Greg McCafferty who’s intent on making millions off plopping an imposing 39-unit, 3-story edifice (“Downtown Anaheim 39”) on the one undeveloped sliver of this old distinguished community.   Let’s fill you in on the details, as this snuck right up on most of us:

THIS went up at the LAST MINUTE, when the project was practically a fait accompli.

Can they squeeze $15+ million profit out of this skinny undeveloped strip? They believe so! (Click for larger view)

What’s variously called the “Northeastern Colony” or “Pauline Street neighborhood” is one of the classic neglected neighborhoods of Anaheim that were supposed to be helped by the heightened representation of district elections.  A world away from the upscale Colony of Mitch Caldwell, Michelle Lieberman, and Meghan Shigo (on the west side of Anaheim Blvd) they voted heavily for reform Democrat Jose Moreno. 

Like many other barrios and apartment neighborhoods in town, the area is packed solid with working class people, has a perpetual parking crisis, and is way overdue for infrastructure repairs.  They are bordered on the east side by a railroad track, regularly and rattlingly traveled by Metrolink, Amtrak, and long freight trains. 

Squeezed between this neighborhood and that railroad track is the long skinny (60 ft) strip of land you see to the right, currently occupied by a mobile home storage facility (and some say, a place where otherwise homeless RV owners stay the nights discreetly to keep off the streets.)  In a city not starved for funds by kleptocratic councils, this could conceivably be a park, in an area otherwise deprived of open space..

But “developer” Greg McCafferty of Sagecrest Planning had a different vision of what could be shoehorned into this scrawny strip:  a line of seven towering buildings containing 39 $500,000 town-houses overlooking the yards of Pauline Street residents. 

I use quotation marks when I call McCafferty a developer, since as far as I can tell he’s not planning to build or develop anything himself, but to buy the property with a plan in mind, and sell it for a profit to the actual developer/builder, which would be KB Home.  Realtors I know hazard a guess McCafferty would buy the property from the current owner for a cool million they couldn’t refuse, then pass it on to KB for maybe 3 or 4 million for a healthy profit, which KB should be happy to do if they really hope to sell all the units at $500k for a $15 million-plus profit.  To my mind, that makes McCafferty more of a “speculator.”  .

They want 39 of these, overlooking the neighbors, shoehorned between the alley and the tracks.

But it won’t be happening if McCafferty can’t guarantee several generous considerations from the city council – a negative mitigated declaration, a reclassification in the place’s zoning (from industrial to residential), a general plan amendment (from low to higher density), and a conditional use permit.  Needless to say, there were good reasons for all these existing rules and codes, having to do with residents’ quality of life, and there is no compelling reason to change them, except the profiteering of McCafferty and KB Home.  (Unless the reason is “gentrification.”)

The always-development-besotted city staff loves the project, and it sailed through the Council-appointed Planning Commission, opposed only by old-school real estate sage Steve White.  Steve attempted to AT LEAST get McCafferty to agree to making the top-floor windows OPAQUE to preserve some privacy for the neighbors, but the speculator refused, claiming incredibly that his “profit margin was already going to be SO DAMN THIN.”

Typical afternoon on busy Pauline Street.

Council March 5

The days of councilmen like James Vanderbilt, sitting up on the dais, listening to both sides, asking probing questions and agonizing for 20 minutes before arriving at what he thinks is the right decision, are so over.  Now it’s just like it was before the 2016 election – the majority walks in with their minds all made up, their instructions digested, their statements already composed by either themselves or their handlers.  And the five-member majority KNEW it was going to back McCafferty’s project, no matter what any residents or other critics said.

In the alley… that ivy wall on the left is where the 39 units would go.

It was taken for granted that McCafferty, after a friendly staff introduction, would have as long as he wanted to hawk his proposal, power-point and all, both before and after public comments.  But what to do about all the critical residents who showed up, dying to speak against it, and having been promised ten minutes each??  Mayor Harry REALLY didn’t want to have to hear them, so he immediately decreed their comment time be cut from TEN minutes to TWO minutes each.  (And no it was NOT getting late, it was not even EIGHT yet.) 

When Moreno had a chance, he protested this radical abridgement of residents’ free speech, but Harry insisted that “I’m pretty sure the rest of the council wants a two-minute limit.”  (Huh?  How would he know that?  We sure hadn’t heard them discuss the question.)   With a surprise (unintentional) assist from Trevor O’Neil, and with the help of Denise Barnes and Jordan Brandman, Jose at least managed to get the limit up to THREE minutes.  An irritated Lucille Kring scolded the residents to at least not REPEAT each other’s points, so as not to bore her.

McCafferty pooh-poohs some concerns; pliant Anaheim staff at left.

But first of course, the highly-favored McCafferty, having already enjoyed unlimited time meeting with each councilmember over the past couple years, was granted even more unlimited time to make his case.  Some of his assertions:

  • He needs permission to reduce the “setbacks” – the distance between the front of his buildings and the existing apartments – from the traditional 150 feet to FORTY feet – and why?  Because, obviously, this is a “very very constrained site” he is compelled to work in!  (THIS is an argument for the project’s necessity??)  Reminds me of how he also complains that he’s already spent hundreds of thousands planning, studying and selling the project.  (Hey, isn’t that the “sunk cost fallacy” that kept us in Vietnam?)   Furthermore he boasted that all his projects sell real well.  (Wait, that’s an argument we should care about too?)  
  • The parking issue, he feels, shouldn’t be held against him.  “The parking problem is city-wide, we didn’t cause it, and we are not going to exacerbate it.”  Well, we beg to disagree.  He does provide two parking spots for each unit, and a few extra.  But he refuses to guarantee these units will only contain single families, and we highly doubt, at their high price, that they’ll be single families with no more than two cars, or that they’ll never have guests or PARTIES.  In short, the project is GUARANTEED to exacerbate the neighborhood’s parking.
  • Privacy.  The current residents are really creeped out by the idea of their new neighbors gazing down into their yards, at their playing children, from their third-story windows.  McCafferty says not to worry, some of those windows will be facing SIDEWAYS, not directly at them.  The residents aren’t buying that.
  • Under repeated questioning from Moreno about how the project addresses Anaheim’s desperate need for AFFORDABLE housing, both McCafferty and the staff stammered their way to a new word, a substitute for “affordable” – “We feel that these units are … ATTAINABLE.”  One pictures a couple, a family, scrimping, saving, working their fingers to the bone, hoping for good fortune, and just BARELY “attaining” a loan for a half-million dollar townhouse squeezed between a barrio and a railroad.  And thence, embarking on a lifetime of going without.  McCafferty makes a fetish of the typical purchaser being “a teacher from Anaheim High School who could walk to work.”  Really, at $500K?  NO.  As his patience wore thin, he allowed as to how, “I’m not a creator of affordable housing, that’s a different skill set.”
  • He claims “the majority of residents we talked to,” and the “[six] ones we got letters from,” supported the project!  The six who wrote in support actually signed a form letter McCafferty had given them, “but they signed it of their own free will, we didn’t compel them to!”  (LOL, notice how he didn’t deny paying them to?)  In any case it’s very hard to find anyone in the neighborhood who actually heard about the project and supports it; in fact there are a couple who claim they just said “yes” so that McCafferty and his Spanish-speaking sister would go away.  While 106 close neighbors signed a petition against it.
  • He flattered the Council as “visionaries” and tried to portray his 39 units as a “visionary” project akin to visionary achievements in Anaheim’s past.  Conversely, he excused his project’s many shortcomings by pointing out that Anaheim has at some points greenlit other projects with at least as many problems.  So why not now?
  • When questioned what sorts of benefits the project would have for Anaheim (besides the vague “people can walk to work!”) he mentioned sewage improvements that will also be helpful for “future projects in the neighborhood.”  Jose immediately thought, like most of us, “What future projects?”  So, this is apparently the first of several such projects envisioned for the area, the tip of the spear of what’s called GENTRIFICATION – whose endgame is the displacement of the neighborhood’s lifelong working-class residents either to Corona or onto the streets.  No wonder they are resisting.
  • Knowing the fussiness, indeed the allergy, of Mayor Sidhu and Mayor Pro-tem Kring to public displays of enthusiasm or disagreement, McCafferty pledged that “I have plenty of supporters here… but MY supporters won’t clap!

Next it was the turn of seven or eight critical residents to speak, making points (as did the two People’s Councilmembers Moreno and Barnes) that I’ve already made here, since I agree with them.  The painful part was watching them each try to squeeze 10 minutes of good prepared points into an unexpected three minutes.

After that came a few “shills” – I mean, McCafferty’s promised supporters.  These folks, apparently tipped off to Mayor Harry’s drastic time reduction, read brief supportive statements off their phones.  Bizarrely, two or three of them praised the “wisdom and courage” of “city leaders” for backing the project – it was a little 1984.  (One supporter who spoke extemporaneously was Grant Henninger, a Kring-appointed former Planning Commissioner who ran for Council in the Hills last year AS A DEMOCRAT –  except he lost a lot of us Anaheim Democrats’ votes to Patti Gaby, with his overly strident developer cheerleading.  THIS time, Grant tried the impossible task of presenting these half-million-dollar townhouses as a partial solution to the homelessness crisis!)

And the vote, as foreordained, was 5-2, with only the People’s Councilmembers Moreno and Barnes dissenting.  Mayor Harry laboriously recited a pre-written statement, comically including the line “We have heard all your concerns here tonight.”  Mayor Pro Tem Lucille Kring, who seems to just get rougher around the edges every year, had already insulted neighborhood organizer Maritza Bermudez, dismissing the 106 anti-development signatures on her petition: “We have no idea where those really came from.”  (They all came from within a block of the project and had addresses provided.)  It turns out Lucille is an OLD friend of McCafferty, and she made sure to say, “I hate the word gentrification” while launching into a spirited defense of gentrification.

(Trevor in the middle.)

Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who looks like he could be married to a ‘60’s sitcom genie, expressed puzzlement over what an ALLEY is – he wanted us to know that they don’t have “alleys” in his upscale Hills district.  He also made the unasked point that he hadn’t discussed the project with his colleagues.  That was strange because it wasn’t true.  Perhaps it had slipped his mind, but he had discussed it with Moreno, and given him the false impression that he’d be opposing the project since “To me, what residents want is most important.”  Granted, Trevor probably had in the back of his mind an affordable housing project that his well-off neighbors didn’t want in the Hills, but shouldn’t the principle be the same here?  I think I’ll ask him that at the meeting tonight.

The pro-gentrification majority was rounded off with Jordan Brandman and Steven Faessel, who dependably voted with their allies without uttering a word why, even though in their own districts they pass as guys who care about their residents.  Would Jordan force an unwanted development like this on his voters in district 2?  Would Steven force an unwanted development like this on his voters in district 5?  Is it only okay because they’re forcing it on Jose’s voters?  I think I will ask THEM THAT, as well, at tonight’s meeting.

Yes, at tonight’s (March 19) council meeting, some of the elements need to be voted on a second time (item 23 on the consent calendar.)  Jose will pull that item for discussion, and we will try to delay and regroup against this unwanted development.  At the least, Jordan, Steven, and Trevor should not be voting for the interests of out-of-town profiteers over the needs and desires of hundreds of lifelong Anaheim residents.  See you there!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.