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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: Breans Sue Raising Cane's, City Over Location Planned by School

Brea residents are raising hell over Raising Cane's.

The Baton Rouge chain known for chicken fingers and long lines at the drive-thru has faced stiff opposition to its plan to open a location near Laurel Elementary, the former oil town's century-old school site. The tiff has nothing to do with Cane's sauce and everything to do with safety.

Many Breans welcome a Raising Cane's in town, a would-be first for the franchise, just not 20 feet from a local school.

Before Brea city council gave the fast-food joint the go-ahead by a narrow 3-2 vote on Feb. 16, critics raised concerns about the potential hazards posed to schoolchildren walking home during lunch rush hours. Residents formed Safer Avenues for Everyone (SAFE) and made their complaints known before a community meeting, the Brea city council, the city's planning commission and the Brea-Olinda Unified School District.

Rod Conwi, a Brea resident, also started an online petition opposed to the Raising Cane's project. The effort rallied 900 signatures, including more than 200 from the surrounding neighborhood. Conwi also penned an open letter to city council imploring them to choose children over chicken.

"We’re not doing this because we hate Raising Cane’s or fried chicken, we’re standing up for student safety over putting our kids in danger," he wrote. "We’re advocating for responsible development versus reckless capitalism."

To bolster his point, Conwi noted that the Brea-Olinda school board officially opposed the project as did the Laurel Parent Teacher Association. The petition and its pleas went unheeded, anyway.

Residents responded by taking Brea and Raising Cane's to court. In filing the March 24 lawsuit, members of SAFE did what few Breans have dared to do: openly challenge Dwight Manley, the mighty real estate mogul who stands to profit from Raising Cane's opening in the Gaslight Square retail strip where he owns property.

Manley's One Berry company is named in the suit, as well.

Mary Martinez, Kari Windes, Diane and Max Stites, plaintiffs with SAFE, claim that Brea violated its own city code, planning and zoning law, and the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the Raising Cane's location. The four are described as school site volunteers and neighbors; Windes is a Laurel Elementary librarian.

"Once schools fully reopen following the current COVID-19 pandemic, significant numbers of schoolchildren will resume their daily walks to and from Laurel Elementary School," the suit on their behalf reads. "The city prepared studies showing that these pedestrians would be met by hazardous traffic from the project. Despite this knowledge, the city declined to give the project's traffic or safety impacts any further consideration."

And when Brea councilmembers approved Raising Cane's, it exempted the project from CEQA altogether.

According to city studies, roughly a quarter of Laurel Elementary students cross Imperial Highway to and from school. As a magnet, it services students district-wide. When Raising Cane's went before the planning commission, a "Focused Transportation Assessment" estimated that those popular chicken fingers would attract more than a thousand additional car trips per day to side streets by the school.

But the suit claims the assessment suffered from its fair share of flaws, including failing to consider post-pandemic pedestrian traffic in the area as well as not sizing up midday traffic.

During the planning commission phase, Raising Cane's also requested an amendment to a 1988 conditional use permit for Gaslight Square. SAFE is also challenging that in court on the basis that the project's approval was improper and "inconsistent with the site's zoning and General Plan designation."

With community considerations in mind, the '88 CUP barred the development of "[f]ast food and sit-down restaurants." Yet, plans are readying to demolish two buildings in Gaslight Square in order to raise up Raising Cane's.

Only, SAFE and its suit say "not so fast!" especially if the courts overturn Brea's approval of the project in their favor. In the meantime, there's always La Habra for when those Cane's cravings hit!

- Gabriel San Román

This independent newsletter in OC depends on readers like YOU! To keep the Slingshot! flinging the truth Venmo: @Gabriel-SanRoman-2. PayPal: @gabrielsanroman2

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

Disneyland Forward, the latest Mouse House expansion dream, has everybody talking.

Coming out of a pandemic that cost the company upwards of $2.6 billion (and counting), the artistic renderings released late last month caught many by surprise. Eyeing parcels for the future development of attractions, shops and restaurants, Disneyland Forward could forever change the resort as we once knew it.

The Simba parking lot behind the Disneyland Hotel may be transformed into a theme park expansion across the way from California Adventure. The same is true for the parking lots between Downtown Disney and the resort's gargantuan garages. And the Toy Story parking lot across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center could morph into a separate park--or at least a shopping and dining destination.

Yes, it's part of the Disney story that Walt's masterpiece was said to be a perpetual work in progress, so long as imagination soared in the minds of its makers. It's also well known that Walt wished he'd bought up more land in Anaheim, as was later done in Orlando.

But before any movement begins on Disneyland Forward, now seems as good a time as any to take two steps back.

The pandemic put Anaheim in a pinch, for sure. Having the core of the city's economy revolve around tourism made it especially vulnerable. When the resort last expanded in the late 1990s, Anaheim's diversified economy was becoming a thing of the past. Manufacturing, defense and aerospace industries shrank as the city doubled down on the Mouse House.

If Anaheim emerges from the pandemic with more Disney and little else to show for it, they'll be all the more pendejo by it!

The biggest howl from Disneyland Forward, though, comes from the same boosters who, once upon a time, claimed Anaheim's resort-area living wage law was a "job killer." Passed by voters in 2018, Measure L ensures that hospitality workers are paid a higher minimum wage than the state provides if their workplace received tax breaks from the city.

Let's recall what Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament said at the time.

"This measure is a job killer with severe unintended consequences on the working families of Anaheim. If enacted, this policy would immediately kill 4,000 jobs and would cost the City of Anaheim hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue over the next 30 years. It lays the groundwork for sweeping financial impacts to our City’s businesses, putting future jobs and investment at risk."

The law passed, but not before Disney weaseled out of it by having Anaheim's city council shred two previous tax rebate agreements; the company also negotiated contracts with various unions that boosted pay near what the measure demanded--and, at times, exceeded it.

Measure L still applies to subsidized resort hotels.

Its legacy lives on beyond that, as evidenced by a statement made by Disneyland claiming that the company wouldn't be seeking any public funding (the 1996 resort expansion public-private partnership is currently being litigated on the question of whether or not it legally qualifies as a tax rebate subsidy).

But so does the spirit of Walt's enduring ambition.

Somehow, a once-in-a-century pandemic hasn't deterred Disneyland's expansive imagination, but a little living wage law was going to do just that, right? Such a silly notion deserves to be remembered right where it belongs, in the "laughing place!"

By the Bylines

With the death of OC Weekly, subculture lost a vital sounding board. Who spills any ink on the latest band or rapper making noise, anymore? Filling that gap, at least for a moment's notice, I dedicated my latest "Off the Page" column for LibroMobile to Frosty, a promising young emcee, vocalist and activist. She found a creative base in downtown Santa Ana, where she continues to evolve as an artist!

Also, the goth homies over at Creepy Kingdom did your boy a solid by republishing my piece on Imagineer and animator X Atencio. Check it out, ICYMI!

Lead photo: It ain't easy being greasy/ Asphaze, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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