Transit-Oriented Development in the Platinum Triangle Serves as Catalyst for Community Action

December 18, 2009 -- OCCORD

For years, the planning process in Anaheim has excluded the voices of low income, immigrant communities. As a result, Anaheim’s working families find themselves trapped in a perpetual cycle of poverty, as elected officials fail to address their concerns. To break this cycle, OCCORD, working with the Community Benefits Coalition and a committee of neighborhood leaders, has crafted a new, community-based plan to ensure that working families will benefit from economic development in Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle, the city’s largest new development area.

The City of Anaheim envisions the Platinum Triangle as an upscale, high density, mixed-use development unlike anything that has been seen in Orange County. In total, the proposed Platinum Triangle plan will permit 18,909 housing units, 4,909,682 square feet of commercial space, 14,340,522 square feet of office space, and 1,500,000 square feet of institutional space. The development will be compacted into an 820-acre area around a proposed regional transportation hub with connections to high-speed rail, commuter rail, and a local transit system. This would be an excellent opportunity for responsible, transit-oriented development following smart growth principles. Unfortunately, the City’s plan for the area does not include any affordable housing, job quality standards, neighborhood parks, or even a school.

Surrounding the Platinum Triangle are a number of low-income, predominantly immigrant neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are among the most densely populated areas in the city, with more than 8,000 households and an average household size of four individuals. The schools that serve these neighborhoods are overcrowded, and neighborhood parks are over utilized. With resident involvement, development in the Platinum Triangle could address the challenges faced by these neighborhoods, but until now, residents have found themselves on the outside looking in, with the City’s economic development policies failing to address important community needs.

Residential Planning – Becoming the Process

To document these needs, OCCORD conducted a door-to-door survey in the fall of 2008. Key findings include:

  • 69% of respondents feel that housing costs are too high
  • 59% report that jobs created in Anaheim do not pay enough
  • 40% are without any form of healthcare
  • 18% of respondents suffer from diabetes--four times higher than the county average
  • 16% suffer from asthma--nearly double the county average

Spurred on by the survey, residents, trained by OCCORD and the Community Benefits Coalition (which includes more than two dozen community organizations, unions, policy advocates, and faith-based groups), embarked on a community-based planning process to ensure that the Platinum Triangle development would address their needs.

The first step in creating a community plan was to identify and develop community leaders. In addition to gathering data, the survey served as a tool to find residents who wanted to take leadership to improve conditions in their neighborhoods. Assisted by OCCORD’s community organizers and the Community Benefits Coalition, residents participated in leadership trainings that prepared them to canvass, mobilize, identify new potential leaders, and educate their neighbors on the process. Following the trainings, coalition members and neighborhood leaders organized a community forum.

In February 2009, over 200 residents crammed into a local church hall to discuss the Platinum Triangle, its potential impacts, and ways to leverage the development to address their needs. As a result of the forum, four priority topics emerged:

  • Quality jobs with benefits
  • Accessible, affordable housing
  • Sustainable community and environmental health through the built environment
  • Family-oriented, public resources

Platinum Triangle Alternative Plan

With the issues, ideas, and priorities gathered at the community forum, OCCORD staff, the Community Benefits Coalition, neighborhood leaders, and a team of urban planning students from UC Irvine began drafting a community-driven plan for the Platinum Triangle that would follow smart growth principles, address community needs, and maximize the benefits of transit-oriented development. After months of learning sessions, house meetings, neighborhood gatherings, and more, the group just released the first public draft entitled Community Vision for the Platinum Triangle: Embracing a New Plan for All of Anaheim.

The plan seizes on transit-oriented development opportunities to make vital resources more accessible to neighboring residents. The plan calls for grocery stores, child care facilities, community parks, local schools, and other community resources to be located within ½ mile of any proposed transit stop. By making groceries, child care, parks, and schools more accessible, residents believe that they will begin to reduce disparities that exist between their communities and the rest of Anaheim.

The plan also addresses issues of housing affordability and shows how the Platinum Triangle can serve as a prime location for affordable housing. Locating affordable housing near transit increases the utility of public transit, and allows local workers to reside close to their place of employment.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the current economic climate, the plan emphasizes the need for good quality jobs, offering recommendations and rationale for the creation of living wage jobs that can sustain working families, instead of the low-wage, no-benefit jobs that have proliferated in our region.

In the coming months, neighborhood leaders and coalition members will finalize the plan and implement an advocacy strategy for incorporating it into the City’s General Plan. This is the first time that such an in-depth, inclusive community planning process has ever been undertaken in Orange County, and it has resulted in a much broader base of neighborhood leaders and coalition members with a common vision, deeper understanding, and stronger commitment to responsible development.