Anaheim Gives Angels More Time to Opt Out of Lease

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The Anaheim City Council Tuesday night extended by nearly three years the escape clause in the city’s lease with the Angels baseball team, an action team supporters say will prevent “impulsive” decisions by owner Arte Moreno but critics say gives Moreno more time to establish a credible threat of moving the team should the city not give him what he wants in a new lease.

The Angels’ current lease had allowed the team to terminate its contract within a four-month window, beginning in 2016. If Moreno had not exercised that clause, the team would be committed to stay until at least 2029.

The approved lease extension gives Moreno until 2019 to quit the stadium before that option expires.

Mayor Tom Tait and other critics argue that by giving the Angels more time to leave, the city handed over its negotiating leverage to Moreno. He now has more time to find a stadium site in another city and put the city’s negotiators in a defensive position as the larger deal is worked out.

“Why would we open the door? Here’s three more years you can leave. That makes no sense,” Tait said. “If they do leave, you can trace it back to this action tonight.”

Charles Black, the former president of the San Diego Padres who was brought in to help the city negotiate its stadium deal with the Angels, said he believed the Angels already had enough time to find a new location, so the threat already exists. Also, Moreno claims to have the money to build a new stadium without public subsidies, city officials say.

Black acknowledged, however, that it takes at least 42 months to design and build a stadium, plus more time to push through environmental and land-use approvals. By this measure, the team apparently does not have enough time to move to its own stadium by the start of the 2017 baseball season, which is in approximately 42 months.

Nonetheless, Black argued, extending the current lease to 2019 doesn’t hand over city leverage but puts Moreno in a position where he can more thoughtfully consider the negotiations.

“All of us make better decisions when not under pressure. … With that sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, they’re going to be potentially impulsive and difficult to negotiate with,” Black said.

In a display rare for local government, most of the policy debate was among the mayor, bureaucrats and Black.

Councilman Jordan Brandman at one point asked the consultant and staff to rebut a mayor’s presentation on the issue point-by-point. Typically, staffers are loathe to spar publicly with their elected bosses.

But the dynamics of Anaheim politics these days are not typical. Tait has been isolated on the City Council since December, when Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, usually his only ally in policy debates, was forced off the council by term limits. This isolation has emboldened bureaucrats to challenge the mayor.

Tait and Assistant City Manager Paul Emery had a brief but tense debate about the stadium and surrounding land.

After Tait made a presentation showing what each side gets in the deal, Emery accused Tait of taking language from the agreement out of context and leaving out significant benefits to the city, such as the Angels picking up the responsibility for stadium maintenance and repairs.

Tait noted that the maintenance under the current lease is already the Angels’ responsibility.

Emery countered that if the Angels leave, then the economic benefit of having the stadium there will go with them, and the stadium would likely be razed.

“We’ve had 50 acres for 17 years that’s been undeveloped. Are we going to have another 150 acres for 20 years that’s undeveloped?” Emery asked, referring to the undeveloped Stadium District land. “We have an economic engine, sir. With all due respect, we have an economic engine.”

According to a city-commissioned study, the stadium’s economic impact to the city totals $204 million. Tait cast doubt on those conclusions, saying that most families don’t spend money outside of the stadium when they go to baseball games.

There was also debate over what the council was voting on, whether it was the first vote on a settled deal or just the beginning of negotiations.

“This is day one of a framework to start negotiations,” said Councilwoman Kris Murray. “We haven’t come out of the clubhouse. We haven’t taken the field yet.”

Said Tait: “It is far far from the beginning of the negotiations. It is an agreement on the basic terms. To say it’s the starting of the negotiations is just not true.”

Under the preliminary terms the council approved — which city officials said are still negotiable and were made public only to give residents time to weigh the issue – Moreno would lease more than 150 acres of land at $1 annually for 66 years. The parcel known as the Stadium District is part of the Platinum Triangle development, which is behind schedule.

As the terms stand now, Moreno could vacate his stadium lease and still have the land for decades, an arrangement that Tait criticized. Black said that issue has not been decided.

Moreno could develop the area and use its revenue to make an estimated $130 million to $150 million in renovations to the 47-year-old stadium. He could also keep the development’s tax revenue.

Under that arrangement, the city would be freed from spending about $600,000 annually for stadium upkeep, according to a staff report.

Another crucial point is the team name. Under a current lease proposal, the team could drop “Anaheim” from its name. Tait said the name is worth $300 million to the city, according to the city’s lawsuit against Moreno to exclude “Los Angeles” from the team’s name. Black said it was misleading to use that figure, because the city lost the lawsuit.

The deal points, staff reports and subsequent defense of them by staff had some residents asking who is the city negotiating for?

“I started asking myself, who is negotiating for me? Who is negotiating for the taxpayers?” said David Zenger, a former staffer to Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

Others, such as business owners and representatives, favored giving Moreno whatever he needs to keep the team in Anaheim.

“I don’t want to open a newspaper when these guys leave town,” said Joe Manzella, owner of The Catch restaurant, which Manzella said derives at least 40 percent of its business from stadium patrons.

Murray, other council members and Black said that residents like Zenger had been badly misinformed by the media. Murray also said that Tait spread such misinformation in an attempt to undermine the negotiations.

The current lease, signed in 1996, had Disney, then the team’s owner, contribute $80 million toward stadium renovations. The city chipped in $20 million, plus another $10 million with the transfer of a large billboard along the Route 57 freeway.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring — who said her only sticking point was getting an additional city suite so the tickets could be doled out to nonprofits — noted that in 1996 residents didn’t object to the city’s $30-million contribution.

Tait, who voted against the 1996 deal during his previous stint on council, said residents didn’t oppose it because the city was supposed to recoup that money from sale of the Stadium District parcel.

“Now we’re giving it away for free,” Tait said. “Our job is to be stewards of the assets of the people of Anaheim. That’s how I’m doing my job.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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