We’re Going to Disneyland!

ANAHEIM—The Building Trades were the first workforce at Disneyland, and under an ambitious new plan called DisneylandForward, will be doing even more at the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. Inc. is seeking a zoning change from the city of Anaheim that would set the stage for the multi-decade expansion and modernization of Disneyland, which opened in 1955 and is the eldest of its 12 world-famous theme parks.

     At stake for the Building Trades are thousands of future construction jobs and the potential of codifying their longtime working partnership with Disney through Project Labor Agreements.

The entertainment giant has committed to spend up to $2.5 billion on the project in the first 10 years. 

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Disneyland plans 40 years of growth.
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This is the concept for the east side of the Disneyland property.
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Disneyland’s west side could house attractions, shops, restaurants and hotels.
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Disney plans a 17,000-space parking structure, to be built under an all-union Project Labor Agreement.
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In this 1933 cartoon, Mickey Mouse operates a steam shovel.
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     Up until now, Disney and the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council worked all-union on a “handshake” basis. The Council recently negotiated a PLA for construction of a parking structure which will be early in the development of DisneylandForward, a 40-year growth plan for Disneyland Resort.

 “We appreciate our longtime relationship with Disney, which has brought great jobs and a thriving economy to Southern California,” said Ernesto Medrano, Council Executive Secretary. “DisneylandForward will be the huge next chapter.”

The parking structure would have the first PLA for a project built by Disney in Anaheim and could set a precedent for other DisneylandForward projects. 

It will be massive, holding 17,000 parking spots on seven stories. It will be slightly bigger than two current structures—Mickey and Friends, and Pixar Pals—which, combined, can host 16,298 vehicles. 

Neal Lauzon, Business Manager for IBEW Local 441 based in Orange, called the PLA “a monumental step for our partnership with Disney.” 

First, Disney must obtain Anaheim’s permission to allow theme park development to flow beyond the current boundaries of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure onto other land Disney owns. 

The space is currently zoned on a narrow basis for specific uses such as hotels and parking. Allowing more flexible mixed use on those properties, Disney says, would serve a new generation of families and attract more visitors.

2024 will be a busy year for the Anaheim Planning Commission and City Council, which will review and vote on Disney’s requests for the zoning changes and an accompanying Environmental Impact Report. The company will propose measures to deal with various community concerns such as noise and traffic.

That’s where the Building Trades will play a crucial role. With many Anaheim residents belonging to Building Trades unions, and many thousands more living in nearby cities, they will have a strong voice in supporting DisneylandForward at public hearings.

Andrew Gonzales, Council Representative for Orange County, will help organize the Building Trades union turnout. He said the PLA “is very significant. It codifies our relationship with Disney and reinforces their commitment to local hiring and family-sustaining wages and benefits. We would hope that this PLA would lead to other PLAs for DisneylandForward in the future.” 

A decades-long Disney development in Anaheim will be a showplace for union skills that could attract youth looking for careers, Gonzales said.

“This will be a great organizing opportunity to bring Orange County residents into the Trades, to show them what we do every day on projects close to home.”

So What’s New?

The revised zoning would make way for possible development of a new immersive theme park—inspired by new attractions such as the “World of Frozen” in Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland’s Zootopia expansion—just west of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.  

In addition, a new kind of Disney entertainment area that could include a theme park, hotel, retail and dining would be allowed near the Convention Center on what is now the Toy Story parking area. 

“The main goal of DisneylandForward is to modernize and update the existing entitlements in the Disneyland Resort specific plan and set us up for the next 40 years of development in Anaheim,” said Joe Haupt, a Disney consultant on the project.

Disney is a major economic engine. In September 2023, Disney executives told investors that the Walt Disney Company is developing plans to nearly double its spending over 10 years to roughly $60 billion, to expand and enhance its domestic and international theme parks. 

Later, at a virtual Disney staff town meeting, Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, talked about the potential of investing in development of acreage that Disney already owns. According to “The Hollywood Reporter,” D’Amaro said that at Disneyland “we will have enough room to build another Disneyland…if we choose to do that.”

Ideas for theme park expansion in Anaheim, Haupt said in an interview with “Building Trades News,” will be fleshed out after the necessary zoning is approved. Zoning, he explained, “is the rule book by which you can design and do things.” 

Haupt noted that Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are currently extremely cramped for space. And Disney has built only about 49 percent of the square footage permitted by the city for Disney theme parks. Proposed zoning changes, he said, would provide other places for theme park development within the 490 acres Disney owns.

By attracting more visitors for longer stays, DisneylandForward is expected to provide a boon for Anaheim hotels and other local businesses, boosting city tax revenue and jobs. 

According to the Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting at Cal State Fullerton, every $1 billion that Disney invests in the Disneyland Resort over four years will generate 4,480 construction jobs in Anaheim. It will also generate annually in Anaheim 2,293 permanent jobs, $253 million in economic output and $15 million in additional tax revenue. 

Building Trades Impact

Since Disneyland opened in 1955, the Building Trades have constructed major land additions like Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney District, which were designed to help transform Disneyland into Disneyland Resort, and new attractions within the parks like “Cars Land” that opened in 2012 and “Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge” that opened in 2019.

“The Trades have been deeply involved in building Disneyland’s most significant and amazing projects really for the last 60-plus years and it is a relationship that has worked and will continue to work in the future,” Haupt said. 

Haupt said Disney’s partnership with unions guarantees readily available workers for the “huge projects” contemplated by DisneylandForward. “You need large numbers of well-trained craftsmen to bring these things to life in a safe and organized manner.  And that’s a major role that unions play,” he said. 

 “Anaheim is also a great partner of the Building Trades and it is great to see this will benefit the city as well,” Gonzales said. “The tax revenue it generates will be used for community benefits like repaving city roads, building city parks and adding public safety resources.” Much of that work, in turn, is under a Community Workforce Agreement with the Building Trades.

So, the roads to Disneyland Forward will be built by the Trades—once it wins approval.

“The biggest hurdle of projects like this is building consensus,” Haupt said. Since unveiling DisneylandForward more than two years ago, Disney officials have made certain every stakeholder— the city, neighborhood residents and businesses—have had their concerns addressed. They care about “kitchen table issues” like traffic and noise.

“I am really pleased,” Haupt said. “We have enjoyed support from the community. But that has not come without a lot of hard work.”Haupt said that after taking public comments on its environmental impact report for DisneylandForward, the city of Anaheim is preparing the final draft that will go to the Anaheim Planning Commission for a hearing. “Our goal is to have this all wrapped up with final City Council approvals (of a specific plan amendment) in the middle of the summer,” he said.

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