Both Los Angeles and Las Vegas have major issues regarding their cities’ infrastructure: lack of decent public transit; massive traffic jams; no affordable hotels, restaurants or supermarkets within walking distance of their convention centers; and the costumed attendees lying about on the ground either from the heat (over 110* in Las Vegas) or the gang bangers/muggers in Los Angeles (their center is in a high crime area with little nighttime infrastructure). And if they can’t match the amenities and access currently being offered by San Diego, what is the incentive to move to these places?
And then there is Anaheim. It can’t be bad if Disneyland loves it, can it?
Well, it’s not bad… for Disneyland.
It’s no secret that Anaheim has been stumping for Comic-Con to make its new home under the shadow of the Mouse. Previous Disney conventions have practically been dry-runs for it. And the lure of the millions of dollars generated over those five days every July when the tribe converges in San Diego has not gone unnoticed. But with this year’s WonderCon being transferred down South from its San Francisco home, one question became glaringly obvious…
If they can’t handle 50,000 attendees, how in heaven could they handle 150,000?
Or to quote a CCI staffer on late Sunday afternoon, “The way they’re treating us, this is how they show how much they want us?”
After driving down from Los Angeles on Friday, we ended up stuck in a ¼ mile line to get into parking from West Street (westside of the Convention Center). We were warned early and often that once the attached lots filled up we would have to go to the Anaheim Stadium and take shuttles to and from. We saw two cops on every corner just standing around, none directing traffic. As it was raining and I have a handicapped parking placard (only good thing about having a messed up knee), we were able to park in Lot 4, which had lots of empty, non-handicapped spaces.
However, on Saturday, the same lots were quickly filled and we were told we had to park at the satellite lot (aka the Anaheim stadium) and be shuttled back to the Convention Center. There are still 2 cops at each corner, but none are directing traffic, and now I see all the right turn lanes are blocked off as a mile of cars attempts to turn and head to the Stadium… down Katella… on a Saturday morning. The locals and Disneyland visitors must have lost their minds as Convention Center attendees took up 50% of the two traffic lanes (and there are only two lanes to begin with). Luckily for my group, we found a nice cop who waves us in to pay and park. Guess where we were directed? Back to Lot 4… which was 75% empty!!
And then we came to Sunday…
Based on the traffic direction alone this day, I have the epiphany that no matter how close this event is to me I will never attend another WonderCon if it’s in Anaheim. We arrive about the same time. Same traffic and cop issues. None of the onsite lots are taking in cars, even though I can see empty sections of lots. Cops won’t talk to me and say we must go to the stadium. So after 30 minutes in line, I let everyone out and I continue looking for parking. I give up after 30 more minutes and search for a supermarket to get supplies. It’s now about noon (2.5 hours after I first arrived). I get back in the end of the line and have a flash on Crowley’s new version of Hell from the TV series Supernatural. I turn the corner from West to Katella and drive halfway down the block (another 20 minutes) wondering if I’ll reach the stadium before the event is over when an attendant opens the sawhorse blocking a driveway to wave in the car ahead of me into an onsite parking lot, as spaces have opened as attendees from other events have left for the day.
While Wondercon has traditionally been a smaller (but growing) version of Comic-Con, it has always had the same main draws on the Exhibition floor: Vendors, Small Press and Artist Alley combined. In a masterpiece of counterprogramming or bad planning, Wondercon (Hall D) was set-up against the Orange County high school volleyball and cheerleading competitions (Halls A-C) (No, dear, they aren’t all from Heroes). And the only people madder than the WonderCon attendees were these moms who bitched about not finding parking.
Look at the floor plan of the convention center . See Hall D all the way to the left? Now see the escalators to levels 2 and 3 all the way to the right? This meant everyone had to intersect in the main lobby. You may ask how security was handling this. Not too well. The Security at the up escalators were pleasant, but the Staff at the entrances to the main floor rooms were just too overwhelmed.
Now the mommies are furious as the Arena outside is being used on the weekend (more bodies and cars) and all the WonderCon attendees are converging. Yellow shirt security doesn’t know what to do or where anyone goes. I see people asking Security where to buy tickets for WonderCon and where certain rooms are and security says they don’t know. That’s it. No offering to call a supervisor, no taking out a map of the venue. Just I Don’t Know. Made the Red Shirts of past Comic Cons look competent in comparison.
Anaheim lives to serve Disneyland. Yes, you can get an apple for $5.00 in the Convention Center or the Hilton outside the Center, but the main draw is Disneyland. You will find nothing affordable for dinner within three miles.
During my Sunday parking odyssey, the closest supermarket I found was a Von’s 3.4 miles away. Ralph’s is 5 blocks from the San Diego CC. And there are mom-and-pop stores servicing the Gaslamp all over.
And what happened to the poor folks who had to park at the stadium? As we left the Center around 5:30pm, we saw a massively long line to which I joked about “the line for Ballroom 20 is starting.”&nb
sp; A bit of laughter and then we’re told that this non-moving line is for the returning shuttles. Which didn’t pick up people where they dropped attendees off at the Convention Center (nor told the attendees this), and when they dropped people off at the stadium they did so on the opposite side of the lot.
Imagine taking the shuttle in San Diego and getting dropped off at the Convention. Then when it comes time to go back to your hotel or parking lot, that same shuttle will only pick up in back of the Convention Center… but no one will tell you this. How long do you think that would fly?
So let’s see, this was less than 50,000 bodies including staff and talent, about 1/3 of the present Comic Con attendance. The City of Anaheim couldn’t handle the traffic, there was no public transportation close by, and no support system in walking distance, as this isn’t a real downtown, it’s all geared towards Disneyland as the major player.
Outside, there was nothing to do other than Disneyland.
Inside the Convention Center, the staff was overwhelmed, and Center management over-booked the venue to make every nickel they could have without concern for any of the events and their attendees. Even if you merge all the downstairs sections into one area, that still wouldn’t give enough panel rooms to match the existing San Diego Convention Center. Match, not even exceed. And if a new venue can’t exceed, why even bother to relocate?
Yes, San Diego has parking issues. Yes, they have hotel issues. Yes, they have vendor issues inside the Convention center itself. But do you know what? They address them. Shuttles service multiple off-site parking lots and multiple hotels, all the way up to Mission Valley. It has a light-rail system that can get people in and out quickly. The city has forced Hotels to release more rooms. And after having studied this for years… after seeing the issues that arise from the influx of such a large group into a small space… after trumpeting that they know what is needed to support such a large endeavor, what does Anaheim do?
In sports vernacular: Anaheim dropped the ball.
They showed that all their talk about wanting to woo Comic Con to their city is just that… talk. When given the chance to prove themselves with a smaller, calmer version they couldn’t handle us. They treated WonderCon staff and attendees as if they were a bother. I say, let’s stay with the city that wants us, is willing to adapt themselves to what we need and loves us unconditionally. And this July, I will be smiling and thanking every cop I see for their pleasant attitude and competence handling us en mass.
San Diego, I Am In You!