ANAHEIM, Calif. (May 23, 2023) — Anaheim neighborhoods are seeing renewal and a focus on services touching the daily lives of residents as the city’s record economic recovery continues and with major investment planned in years to come, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said Tuesday in her first annual State of the City address.
“I am focused on issues that matter to our residents,” Mayor Aitken said. “For them, keeping up roads and streetlights, being able to visit a library and feeling safe in their neighborhood are what they need from their city government.”
Anaheim’s renewed focus on residents and neighborhoods comes with an expanding recovery as the city’s visitor economy and small businesses return to pre-pandemic levels.
“We can focus on our neighborhoods because our economy is strong,” Aitken said.
“Our recovery from the devastation of the pandemic is amazing. It speaks to the strength and resiliency of Anaheim.”
For the 2023 Anaheim State of the City, Aitken addressed an audience of 650 people at the City National Grove of Anaheim theater next to Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
The event marked Aitken’s first State of the City since becoming mayor in December.
Aitken also touched on making history as the first woman mayor in Anaheim’s 165-year history.
“As an Anaheim kid, this has been an incredible journey,” she said. “I’m thrilled and honored to give back to my city and to be part of history.”
With the theme of “We are Anaheim,” Aitken talked about a renewed sense of hope and optimism in the city.
“It is a new day in our city,” she said. “Without reservation, I can tell you the state of our city is strong.”
One of Aitken’s first initiatives was to work with her City Council colleagues on plans to expand library days and hours for kids and families.
“Libraries hold a special place in our city,” she said. “Where most cities are lucky to have one library, Anaheim has seven. Now, starting this summer, everyone in Anaheim will be able to visit a nearby library every single day of the week.”
Aitken also highlighted major initiatives across the city:
- District 1: The multiyear rebuilding of Beach Boulevard in west Anaheim with recent motel acquisitions and demolitions to make way for new townhomes and affordable apartments.
- District 2: Planning for the multiyear revitalization of Brookhurst Street in west Anaheim, built around the businesses of Little Arabia and longstanding community favorites including Linbrook Bowl, Cortina's Italian Market, Momma Cozza’s and new businesses and residents to come.
- District 3: The transformation of the first Northgate González Market site as a downtown incubator for aspiring chefs, cottage bakers and restaurateurs, as a training center for dining and hospitality careers and as a place for community health with organic produce and healthy cooking classes, all set to open in early 2025.
- District 4: The expansion and updating of Boysen Park — known to many as airplane park for its restored playground jet — with a skate park, dog park, basketball courts, fitness equipment, water play areas and an obstacle course, as well as updated baseball, softball and soccer fields by 2026.
- District 5: The big thinking of OC River Walk, a long-term plan being explored to create permanent water in the Santa Ana River alongside Honda Center and Angel Stadium of Anaheim to create the type of riverfronts seen in other cities.
- District 6: Bringing kids from across the city to east Anaheim to enjoy the unspoiled nature of the Oak Canyon Nature Park along with Anaheim’s work with Orange County and California to serve as home to the county’s first and only veterans cemetery in years to come.
Anaheim’s economy continues a record turnaround from the unprecedented pandemic shutdown with recovery of hard-hit small businesses and continued growth for theme parks, conventions and sports and entertainment.
The city is back to 25 million yearly visitors, including a return to 1 million annual attendees at the Anaheim Convention Center.
That is helping drive a record $184 million in visitor hotel revenue forecast for the 12 months through June.
“Our recovery from the devastation of the pandemic is amazing,” Aitken said. “It speaks to the strength and resiliency of Anaheim.”
In a sign of the city’s small-business recovery, the mayor highlighted Subway franchisee Rick Cerney, whose sandwich shop across from Disneyland went from the highest performing in Orange County to the worst with the 13-month shutdown of the theme parks and convention center in 2020-21.
Today, Aitken shared, Cerney’s Subway is again the strongest in Orange County and recognized him in attendance at State of the City.
Anaheim’s economy is set to get stronger, Aitken said, citing:
- Nearly 350 new vacation club hotel rooms opening at the Disneyland Hotel in September and a Porto’s Bakery, Din Tai Fung Chinese restaurant and other improvements coming to Downtown Disney.
- The return of Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend in January, bringing visitors whose spending on hotels, shopping and dining will add new revenue Anaheim will use to serve its community.
- The start of work on OCVibe, a $4 billion, multiyear project to turn 95 acres around Honda Center into a mix of entertainment, dining, offices, hotels and apartments, all built around Anaheim Ducks hockey, open spaces and public transit.
Honda Center, Ducks, Angels
2023 also marks the 30th anniversary of Honda Center, which opened in June 1993 with a Barry Manilow concert, Aitken said, while also marking the 30th anniversary of the Anaheim Ducks.
The mayor recognized the international and national attention on baseball in Anaheim with the historic pairing of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout as the Angels mark their 57th season in Anaheim.
More than 127 million fans have passed through the gates of the Big A since 1966.
Homelessness, affordable housing
Anaheim is leading Orange County in addressing homelessness and affordable housing, Aitken said.
Since 2019, homelessness in Anaheim has declined by 30 percent to just below 500 with the city’s 325-bed shelter and daily social worker outreach and case management.
Anaheim is now working to address the advanced stages of homelessness, including those living along freeways and railways and with programs and services for those struggling with mental health and substance abuse disorders.
On affordable housing, the mayor shared that more than 6,000 households are supported with rent assistance through the city, including at nearly 4,000 affordable apartments in Anaheim and nearly 40 entirely affordable communities with more on the way.
The city’s newest affordable community, Finamore Place, a partnership with Irvine-based nonprofit Jamboree Housing Corp., opened in January and now is home to more than 150 residents.
New affordable communities are set to open this year and in 2024, Aitken said, at The Salvation Army’s Anaheim campus, at a newly built community in downtown and at a recently acquired State College Boulevard motel that will be converted to affordable apartments.
Inspirational Anaheim stories
State of the City concluded with inspirational video messages from two Anaheim natives.
Jillian Albayati made history as the first girl to pitch in a high school baseball CIF championship game in 2022.
Joseph Acaba grew up in Anaheim and now serves as chief of the astronaut office for NASA after spending 306 days in space himself as an astronaut earlier in his career.
A copy of the speech can be found here.
A copy of the event's livestream can be found here.
You can see more about the 2023 State of the City at Anaheim.net/StateoftheCity.