April 2020

Anaheim City Council reinstates General Plan

By Stephanie Lesinski

Siding with hundreds of Anaheim Hills residents who opposed a proposed 54-condominium development, Anaheim City Council voted, 4-3, to repeal a change to the General Plan that would have meant an end to a popular retail center.
The owner of the Serrano Center, John Saunders, was seeking to level the center at the corner of Serrano and Nohl Ranch Road to make way for condos up to three stories high. Before voting to restore the General Plan and commercial zoning, Mayor Harry Sidhu said, “It is clear that the Serrano center still has strong support. While the center has its challenges, it is still serving the community.” Councilmembers Jose Moreno, Denise Barnes and Trevor O’Neil followed Sidhu in voting in favor; Jordan Brandman, Lucille Kring and Mayor Pro Tem Stephen Faessel voted against it.
The city attorney cleared Councilmember O’Neil, Anaheim Hills’ representative to vote, stating that this was a “legislative action.” O’Neil had previously recused himself, citing a conflict of interest regarding his public opposition to the project.

Listening ears
Councilmember Barnes commended Anaheim Hills residents for their participation and encouraged others to get involved. “We’re not here to warm the seats, we want you to know we’re engaged with you … if we can’t make this community better, then it’s just going to be on us.”
Barnes is credited with stopping the project. The council upheld the property owner’s appeal on Jan. 28, giving the green light to the development. However, rezoning requires a second reading, typically, just a procedural move. However, at the March 4 meeting, Barnes said she needed more information to vote, and requested a continuance. Her fellow councilmembers obliged.
On Feb. 11, Barnes was the swing vote in denying the zone change. When the residents continued to show up and voice their concerns, it convinced her that the retail center was an asset to the nearby elementary school and surrounding neighborhoods. She heart that many students walk across the street to the center for after-school activities. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) claimed the center was “underutilized.”  

A united front
Speaking on behalf of the newly-formed nonprofit group Citizen Advocates for Responsible Development (CARD), Tim Graham thanked councilmembers for stopping the development. The group was founded when hundreds of Anaheim Hills residents came together to oppose it. Graham said, “There’s a real problem in Anaheim, and it’s not restricted to the hills; it’s the problem of neighborhoods not having an effective way to engage with developers and city council to be able to shape what’s proposed in their neighborhoods.”
While the city council reinstated the General Plan and commercial zoning, the EIR remains certified following the Jan. 28 initial approval of the project. In a message to CARD members, Graham stated that legal counsel for the group warned that because the council certified the EIR, the property owner could use it to apply for a new project. Graham urged members to contribute to CARD’s legal fund. In four days, the group raised more than $11,000 to put toward a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit against the city.

And finally
In that lawsuit filed Feb. 28 in Orange County Superior Court, CARD maintains, “despite receiving over a hundred comments to the Draft EIR … the city declined to recirculate the Draft EIR for further comment and evaluation despite the existence of significant deficiencies.” According to the lawsuit, those deficiencies include: failure to analyze all potentially significant traffic impacts; insufficient analysis of aesthetic impacts; failure to sufficiently analyze impacts of proposed building heights (up to three stories); inadequate analysis of the potential presence of asbestos and lead-based paint and the resulting impacts of demolition; and failure to establish mitigation measures for emergency access and evacuation conditions, especially due to the fact that the project is located in a high-risk fire zone.
An indemnity agreement with the city makes the property owner responsible for legal challenges to the project. A settlement meeting is scheduled for April 10.