The ever-aspiring muckraker Steve Lopez, in his Points West column in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, pokes his finger in Disney’s chest. He writes about the seeming contradiction between the low wages of Disneyland cast members and Disney fighting "affordable" housing in the Anaheim Resort area.
But at the end of the workday, many of the people who work at the "Happiest Place on Earth" sleep on air mattresses, in by-the-week motel rooms and in apartments shared with other families.
"I’ve been at this motel since 1997," said Derrick, a Disney security guard who pays $209 a week rent. He spoke to me Thursday night while standing in the doorway of the room he shares with two elderly aunts at Arena Inn and Suites in Anaheim, about a mile from his job.
When I was working full-time as a Disneyland cast member, which wasn’t all that long ago, I was able to afford a bachelor apartment by myself within 15 minutes of the Resort.
First, Disney challenged the right of a council member to cast a vote on the housing because she intends to open a wine bar in the area and might have a conflict of interest.
More after the jump – be forewarned that I get politically opinionated.
Lopez himself is usually very suspicious when elected officials votes
on matters in which they might have a direct financial stake.
The big cheeses insist that having several thousand of
their own employees — or anyone else’s — live in the Anaheim Resort
Area would dim the prospects for generating more business, jobs and
I have to wonder if Lopez really doubts that, once residents are in
place, any further commercial development will be challenged as a
threat to their quality of life.
To be fair, I think Disney has some reasonable arguments, despite the odious attempts to make City Hall do its bidding.
So Disney is wrong for trying to get the vote it wants? Isn’t this
what EVERYONE does, including people who go to make a public comment at
council meetings? Just when is it right and when is it wrong to use
the power of government to get what we want?
But instead of trying to torpedo housing proposals,
Disney could earn a few PR points by leading the way in making sure
that working stiffs like the ones it employs have decent places to live.
Yes, Disney could do this – by paying more. An employer’s obligation
to an employee is to pay them the agreed-to wage and benefits. If
housing isn’t part of the deal, it is up to the employee to find their
own housing with the wages to which they’ve agreed. Is Lopez calling
for Disney to get into the permanent housing business in Anaheim?
That’s a bucket of worms. Maybe if developing new housing wasn’t so
difficult, supply would exceed demand enough to lower the costs to the
Do I think Disney should pay cast members more? YES. But all of those
cast members are working at the Disneyland Resort by choice. Many
don’t stay long, and turnover is way too high, in no small part due to the low wages. Do I think
property owners should be able to do what they want with their property (including
building housing)? YES. But if you’re going to have zoning and things like "Resort districts", then stick to them. I’m sure if Disney could be confident that they would be allowed to develop their own property as they want if this other parcel became permanent housing, then Disney wouldn’t be fighting it. But once you allow people to tell each other what to do with their property, this kind of maneuvering is inevitable.
Disney dealt with a seemingly endless amount of opposition to their Disneyland Resort expansion plans in the early and mid 1990s from neighboring residents, most of whom moved in the area after Disneyland was built. Why would they want MORE residents living in the Resort district, bringing a potential for more opposition for any future development plans?
Housing costs in Orange County are very high. Housing costs in the outlying areas are a little better, but then the commute is bad because traffic is horrible. It isn’t easy to work as a front-line Disneyland cast member and support yourself – let alone a family. But each person has a choice of whether or not to work as a Disneyland cast member. I want to see the wages higher because I believe the Resort will be able to attract and retain more good cast members that way. But I do not fault Disney for fighting permanent housing being built in an area zoned for tourism.