Part 11: It is Never too Early or too Late to Plan for the Future

Over the last few months, many friends serving in local governments, in city planning departments, and in the development community have reached out to me asking what they can do to spur economic recovery and growth in their communities.

During my eight years as mayor of Anaheim, I focused a lot of time and energy on economic growth and future development of our city.  I was fortunate to have had great colleagues on the city council and a city staff that understood the importance of planning now for future opportunities.

One place where cities demonstrate their future plans, is through a document known as a ‘general plan,’ a 20 to 40-year plan for a city outlining how land will be used for housing, transportation, development of land for business activities, and more to accommodate population growth.

During my time as mayor, we revised the Anaheim general plan and took a careful look at different ways to spur growth and revitalize neighborhoods, business districts, and move other critical areas of our community progressively forward.  Thankfully our Planning Director, Sheri Vander Dussen, was new to Anaheim and embraced my challenge to look  at new ways of building toward the future.

One  major change was the creation of the Platinum Triangle Specific Plan, an 800-acre area between the 5 freeway, the 57 freeway and the Santa Ana River.  Here, we created a very unique form of zoning.  The Specific Plan included property primarily zoned as industrial (designated for manufacturing and warehousing uses), and placed an ‘overlay zone’ for non-industrial uses on top.

In other words, if property owners wanted to continue to use their land for industrial uses, they could.  But they could also  take advantage of new uses such as, residential, office, and retail under the new designation.

Within the Platinum Triangle overlay zone, the city authorized up to 17,000 residential units and nearly 20 million square feet of office and commercial uses.  And unlike traditional zoning, these development rights were allotted in “districts” where developers could develop up to a maximum designation within that district, with little additional city approvals.

The city also reduced many of the development requirements and empowered developers to bring their plans to the city with minimal land use restrictions.  And further, and most importantly, the city went through the environmental review process for the entire area, thus clearing the way for development opportunities without requiring the builder to start from scratch and subjecting them to intense environmental scrutiny on a project-by-project basis.

These fundamental changes in long-term land-use planning succeeded in stimulating development and housing in the Platinum Triangle.  From 2004 until 2008, nearly 2,000 residential units were authorized and built in this area. While the economic downturn of the late 2000’s slowed development for a number of years, since 2010, another 3,500 residential units have been built or are under construction today.

That’s why last week, I was so excited to see the great development plans around the Honda Center and Angels Stadium released by the city of Anaheim, Angels Baseball and the Honda Center, under the management of H&S Ventures.

Both plans include residential (essential in this time of a severe housing shortage), retail, entertainment, hotel, and office uses taking advantage of the Platinum Triangle overlay and the designation of development uses for the “Stadium district” and the “Arena district,” all environmentally approved as  part of the 2004 plan.

You should look at these spectacular plans on the city’s website at:  and

Congratulations to Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, the Anaheim City Council, and the city staff for working with these two significant Anaheim business leaders in moving forward with these exciting plans.

Planning for a city’s (or a state’s) strong economic future should start before you are in an actual economic crisis.  Long-term plans are often scoffed at by community critics and sometimes ignored by local elected officials.  “We don’t need to worry about that now,” or “Just focus on today” are common mantras.

Thinking about tomorrow today, the name of this blog series, is not just apropos for post-pandemic lessons, but also a good mantra to live by for local policy makers.

It wasn’t easy, but we are fortunate in Anaheim that city leaders accomplished so much of the early planning that laid the foundation for the economic investments that are being made now.   But there are always opportunities, even in the short-term, for cities to start bolstering economic recovery during these uncertain times.

Some of the concepts that we advanced in Anaheim were:

  • Declaring a home improvement holiday, during which building permit fees were waived to encourage people to do home improvements;
  • Providing a sales tax rebate on auto and large appliance sales in our city;
  • Postponing developer fees on projects until the new buildings were allowed to be occupied;
  • Allowing more mixed-use development options, such as allowing residential uses at shopping malls and commercial property and restaurant and retail uses in office buildings;
  • Investing in retail growth; and even
  • Allowing for the expansion of home-based businesses.

Each city has tools that can be used to spur investment, development, and economic growth within their borders.  There is no wrong time for planning for a stronger economic future.


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