Happiness, California 93940
Disney Buys Del Rey Oaks: Tiny ‘city’ will be redeveloped as adult fantasy gated community.
Thursday, April 1, 2004
In a surprise announcement that will be delivered Thursday at a press conference in Burbank, Walt Disney Company chairman Michael Eisner will disclose the purchase of the entire tiny city of Del Rey Oaks, the Weekly has learned.
Disney’s Parks and Resorts division, which owns and manages Disneyland, in Burbank, and Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., will take over ownership and management of the tiny city.
Disney also owns the small community of Celebration, Fla., a gated enclave designed around “New Urbanism” principles [See sidebar]. According to Eisner, Del Rey Oaks will be redeveloped around the model of Celebration, and will be renamed Happiness.
“Like Celebration, Happiness will take the best ideas from the most successful towns of yesterday and the technology of the new millennium, and synthesize them into a close-knit community that meets the needs of today’s families,” Eisner said in an exclusive interview with the Weekly on Wednesday. “Happiness has started down a path of research, study, discovery, and enlightenment that will result in one of the most innovative communities of the 21st century.
“In the spirit of neighborliness, Happiness residents will gather at front porches, park benches, recreational areas, and downtown events celebrating a place they call home. Happiness will be a community built on a foundation of these cornerstones: Community, Education, Health, Technology, and a Sense of Place.”
The $27 billion sale price also gives the entertainment giant access to Del Rey Oaks’ share of the former Fort Ord. The tiny city has long planned to develop these 360 acres as a four-star hotel and golf course, which it hoped would provide enough tax revenue to pay for its police force and other city amenities.
According to confidential communications between Disney, the Army’s Commission on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), and the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA), Disney has obtained preliminary permits to build a 360-room hotel, two golf courses and a “state-of-the-art theme park for adults.”
“It will be like a Disneyland for old people,” Eisner said. “I mean, senior citizens.”
The embattled 58-year-old chairman and CEO of the world’s second-largest media conglomerate (behind Time-Warner) pointed out that Disney’s two theme parks currently draw 14 percent of their revenues from retirees “spending their grandchildren’s inheritance to take a ride on ‘It’s a Small World’ one last time.”
According to details of the agreement, obtained by the Weekly, Disney has also entered into a public-private partnership to extend the Monterey Municipal Wharf another half-mile out into the bay, to allow easier access for the fleet of cruise ships which operate under its Disney Cruises division.
According to the covert plan, a monorail could one day be built along the Rec Trail and above Highway 68 to give cruise-ship visitors access to the new Disney properties at Happiness.
An Old-Fashioned Problem
Del Rey Oaks, which the Monterey County Herald has described as “little more than an insignificant stretch of homes and condominiums wedged between Monterey and Seaside,” has long been proud of its small-town feel. “It’s a sliver of a town, split by Canyon Del Rey Boulevard, that residents consider a slice of paradise,” the Herald reported.
Nevertheless, the happy colony of 1,650 residents has long had a problem it has never been able to shake: money. It has plenty of homes, most dating from the 1950s and 1960s, but no industry and not enough stores to generate much sales taxes to help pay for its 27 police cruisers. Usually the tiny city’s budget is barely enough to pay the city staff of 40, including the 27-member police force.
The old saying about how there isn’t a cop around when you need one isn’t true in Del Rey Oaks, which, not so incidentally, is home to a disproportionate number of police officers. (One in four Del Rey Oaks residents works as a police officer, a corrections officer, or a private security officer in one of the Peninsula’s surrounding cities or in one of the Salinas Valley’s many jails and prisons.)
In March, city leaders asked residents to approve a special public-safety parcel tax of $6 per year to keep the Police Department intact. By a narrow margin, voters declined, despite previous uncorrected reports to the contrary. So, faced with the potential elimination of the department or even annexation by one of the less-prestigious neighboring communities, city leaders decided to put the tiny city up for sale.
Soon-to-be-former Del Rey Oaks City Manager Ron Langford, who doubles as the city’s police chief, tax assessor, judge and dog catcher, praised the Disney deal.
“I’m tired of hearing people compare Del Rey Oaks to ‘Andy of Mayberry,’ and calling this a ‘Mickey Mouse’ city,” he said. “I guess now the joke’s on them.”
Longtime Mayor Jack Barlich echoed Langford’s sentiment.
“I know that people in Monterey and Seaside, when they don’t think I’m listening, have been calling this a ‘Mickey Mouse’ city,” he said. “I guess now the joke’s on them.”
City Councilman Jerry Edelen, who lives in the house he grew up in, said he is thrilled because the Disney sale will protect the tiny city from being annexed by Monterey or, even worse, Seaside.
Edelen and other council members have said that being swallowed up by a neighboring city was the last thing they want to see happen.
“I’d rather die than be annexed,” Edelen said. “But I’d rather live in Happiness than be dead.”
Whiners Whine On and On
The usual critics complained about the deal in interviews with the Weekly.
Mike Ventimiglia, a frequent City Hall critic and former Del Rey Oaks city councilman, who resigned in a snit late last year, called the plan “nuts,” and said it was the council’s ineptitude that forced the sale.
“I’ve sat on the council for 18 years and I can’t tell you what this means,” he said. “That’s pathetic.”
Gary Patton, the officious director of LandWatch Monterey County, decried the sale.
“This is an affront to the people of Monterey County and an attack against the county’s agricultural heritage as well as the natural resources that provide the basis for the hospitality industry—thus it is an attack against the two pillars that provide employment for the people in Monterey and the Salinas Valley, and make this a place worth living,” he boomed. “This just sucks.”
Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith gave the plan a shrug of vague support, expressing regret that Disney didn’t seek out a deal with Seaside first, and called on Del Rey Oaks to use the revenue from the sale to help ease the regional housing crisis.
“Seaside has done its fair share to provide affordable housing for the region,” said Smith, who is running for a seat on the County Board of Supervisors, “and Del Rey Oaks should step up to the plate.”
Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero echoed Smith’s sentiment.
“Salinas has done its fair share to provide affordable housing for the region,” Caballero said, “and Del Rey Oaks should step up to the plate.”
On a similar note, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District called on Del Rey Oaks to contribute some of the $27 billion to bail out the school district, which many Del Rey Oaks residents have been wanting to break away from, to get their kids away from the children who live in Monterey, or, even worse, Seaside.
“The people of Del Rey Oaks now have an opportunity to help solve the regional education crisis,” said MPUSD consultant Rick Heuer. “They could use some of this money to help the children, who represent the future.”
Barich, Langford and Edelen dismissed all of these comments and declined to agree to share one cent of the $27 billion purchase price.
“Yeah,” Langford snorted. “Right.”
Barich, Langford and Edelen then erupted in gales of derisive laughter.
Welcome to Aquariumland
Monterey Mayor Dan Albert lauded the deal as something that “will benefit all of the Monterey Peninsula and its people.”
Although he denied it vehemently, Albert’s support is probably based on a side deal that could see Cannery Row become a sort of “Sea World North,” according to one observer.
According to documents obtained by the Weekly, Disney has entered into a separate agreement with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Cannery Row Company that proposes “a Sea World-type thing” built next to the Aquarium.
The new development, which would take advantage of the Aquarium’s popularity, but not be constrained by the institution’s commitment to politically-correct science and environmental advocacy, would feature Sea World-type shows, such as dancing tuna and scary sharks.
Sea otters, a very popular feature at the Aquarium, would play a prominent role in the new Aquariumland. The secret document reveals that some Aquarium employees, known as aquariaists, have been secretly training the cute little critters to do awesome tricks, like synchronized swimming and such. One aquariumist, who declined to be named (it was Andrea something-or-other), said it is about time the otters do something except play all the time.
“They’re cute, but they’re rather expensive to maintain, and they don’t do anything, except maybe play with the children once a week at the Friday show,” the aquariumininist said.
Wall Street analysts gave an early thumbs up to the sale of tiny city Del Rey Oaks. Charles Schwab, who has a home in Pebble Beach, summed up the investment community’s enthusiasm; “A tiny city on the verge of bankruptcy sold to a company with an outstanding track record in hospitality. It’s a dream come true, and the conversion of this unpolished gem into a world-class resort is sure to put Happiness on the map. It’s a Hollywood movie in the making.”
A representative from the Disney Company will be on hand to show
models of the Happiness, California adult theme park on Thursday, April
1, at the Del Rey Oaks Starbucks Coffee, in the Stone Creek Village
Shopping Center, on the corner of Canyon Del Rey Boulevard and Highway
The View From Celebration
Disney’s massive development project planned for Del Rey Oaks is not the media giant’s first foray into the world of urban planning.
In November 1996, 350 people moved into the new, fully-planned community of Celebration, Fla., a theme town built right next to the company’s Disney World Resort. Five thousand people now live there, with room for another 15,000.
In his welcome speech to those first residents, Walt Disney explained that Celebration would recreate the friendly ambiance of small-town American life in the late 19th century. That meant ice-cream parlors, a downtown everyone can walk to, no garbage on the sidewalks, regular parades, and no minorities.
Town leaders are quick to point out that there are no laws against people of color moving to Celebration; it’s simply that the $250,000 price tag on the average home is beyond what the minimum-wage Hispanic workers at Disney’s World Resort can afford.
“We’re quite happy with the way things are, thank you,” says Hubert Bufford, who lives with his wife Emmeline in a faux Victorian just off Celebration Avenue, the town’s main drag.
A rash of social regulations ensure the preservation of the small-town feel Disney was trying to create in Celebration: no more than two people may sleep in one bedroom; curtains must all be white; lawns must be mowed regularly. Disney spokespeople opine that Peninsula residents will have little trouble accepting similar bylaws in Happiness, since many such laws are already in force in Pacific Grove and Carmel.
People in Celebration seem to like what they’ve got.
“I’m happy,” insists Charlene Winters.
“I’m happy, too,” says her husband Dan. “And I know our neighbors are happy.”
One controversial aspect of Celebration’s New Urbanism is the focus on public space, which means that private homes and backyards are quite small, to encourage people to mingle in the town’s parks and plazas. The average three-bedroom home is only about 400 square feet, which some critics charge has led directly to Celebration’s alarmingly high homicide rate.
“These rich white folks are crawling all over each other,” grumbles Barkley Jones, police chief in the neighboring town of Pine Valley.
And although potential residents are carefully screened for adaptability and suggestiveness, as well as strict moral values, some malcontents manage to sneak in.
In The Celebration Chronicles (Verso, 2000), author Andrew
Ross, who spent a year living in the Disney dream town, quotes one
unhappy housewife as saying, “I’ve had enough of this; I’ve got pixie
dust coming out of my ass!”
Additional reporting by Stephen Glass