Raising Cane’s lands approval for Brea location; community members protest decision

Gaslight+Square+and+Laurel+Elementary+on+the+corner+of+Flower+Avenue+off+Imperial+Highway+in+Brea.+Gaslight+Square+is+slated+to+be+demolished+to+make+space+for+a+Raising+Cane%27s+restaurant+and+drive-thru.+

Diana Lee

Gaslight Square and Laurel Elementary on the corner of Flower Avenue off Imperial Highway in Brea. Gaslight Square is slated to be demolished to make space for a Raising Cane’s restaurant and drive-thru.

Despite protests, petitions, and picketing from a contingent of Brea citizens, a Raising Cane’s restaurant will be built at the northwest corner of Imperial Highway and Flower Avenue, across the street from Laurel Elementary Magnet School.

The 3,267-square-feet restaurant, with two drive-thru lanes and enough parking space for 22 cars, will be constructed following the demolition of 9,588 square feet of retail and medical offices at Gaslight Square.

Brea resident and property owner Dwight Manley (‘84) approved and oversaw the proposal for the construction of the restaurant. He said of the project, “Once I met the [Raising] Cane’s family, I knew they were a great fit [for] Brea.”

Raising Cane’s, best known for its “chicken finger meals,” is a fast-food franchise founded in Baton Rouge, La. in 1996. The chain has about 400 locations around the world, including eight in Orange County.

The construction area for the future Raising Cane’s — Gaslight Square — has a Conditional Use Permit which stipulates that the land is for professional businesses only, not restaurants. In order to place the restaurant in Gaslight Square, the Brea City Council required additional permits to allow construction.

Secure Gaslight Neighborhood at a demonstration against the construction of a Raising Cane’s across from Laurel Elementary on Feb. 13. (Isabella Abalos)

Some residents of the city are unhappy with the restaurant’s location. Secure Gaslight Neighborhood, an organization of Brea residents who oppose the building of the Raising Cane’s, stated on a Change.org petition that the chain restaurant “wasn’t a good fit” for the city. Their primary concerns: the safety of Laurel Elementary students, increased traffic on Imperial Highway, and pollution.

“More than 450 kids are dropped off and released throughout the day, coinciding with the busy lunch rush,” Kari Windes (‘02), Laurel Elementary librarian, said. “Building a Raising Cane’s with its entrance and exit across from the pickup zone of an elementary school is a terrible idea.”

Roderick Conwi, parent of two Laurel Elementary students, and creator of the petition, encouraged Laurel Elementary parents and Brea residents to sign the petition and email city council members letters of opposition to the construction. (The petition ultimately netted 892 signatures.)

“Laurel is the only school in Brea that has student drop off and pick up on public streets,” Conwi said. “Having a Raising Cane’s in Gaslight Square would be chaotic for Laurel students, parents, and staff, and anyone driving by on Imperial Highway.”

To spread awareness of their opposition to the construction, Secure Gaslight Neighborhood held a two-hour demonstration on Feb. 13 in front of the Gaslight Square complex.

Also in opposition to the location of the restaurant is the Brea Olinda Unified School District (BOUSD). On Jan. 28, the school board voted 3 to 2 to oppose the proposal to construct a Raising Cane’s in front of Laurel Elementary. The board’s position was sent to the Brea City Council, where a formal decision was made on Feb. 17.

Nicole Colon, BOUSD Board of Education member, was one of the three votes against the building of the fast food restaurant at the Gaslight Square location. “As a school board member my number one focus in making decisions is students,” Colon said. “Personally, I would love Raising Cane’s in Brea; however, I was elected to be a voice for student safety. The location of this Raising Cane’s is not safe, nor what the majority of the community wants.”

On Feb. 17, the day of the council’s decision, the city received 56 emails opposing, and one email supporting, the building of the Raising Cane’s. Despite the opposition, the council voted 3 to 2 to deny Windes’s Jan. 14 appeal and to reject BOUSD’s recommendation.

Manley addressed the community’s concerns about traffic safety: “Safety is always important, and as a former Laurel Leopard, I understand the issues. Fortunately, the council and staff have come up with great ideas to help and we, as neighbors, are helping with those.” .

In order to ensure vehicle and pedestrian safety around the Raising Cane’s, a “pork chop” island will be constructed on Flower Avenue in order to prevent left turns onto Imperial Highway.  

Heidi Gallegos, CEO of the Brea Chamber of Commerce, is confident that, through collaboration, the community’s concerns about traffic and safety will be resolved.  “We have full confidence in the Brea City Council, city staff, the Brea Olinda Unified Board of Trustees, and Brea Olinda Unified staff to have meaningful conversations to mitigate the traffic concerns that have long existed at Laurel Magnet school,” Gallegos said. 

For now, some community members, like Brenna Reis, senior, welcome the addition of Raising Cane’s to Brea.

“I am very excited for the Raising Cane’s and I know that it will be a go-to spot for me once it’s built. I am sure that Brea will quickly adjust to a new, delicious restaurant,” Reis said.