Community Editorial: How to Keep the Angels in Anaheim

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Transparency.

That was among the first words mentioned by Anaheim’s stadium consultant Charles Black about how city officials want to handle the Angel’s desire for a new stadium, as he sat down last week with the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

“This process and this discussion this morning is indicative of the benefits of the process that the council majority adopted to put these issues out before the public and discussion them as we begin the negotiation process,” Black said.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, who openly clashed with Black at the editorial board gathering on the future of the stadium, said the process unveiled publicly for the first time for taxpayers on the Friday before Labor Day is anything but transparent.

In a 4-1 vote earlier this month, the City Council approved a framework for negotiations that grants Angels owner Arte Moreno 155 acres of land around the stadium for 66 years at $1 per year. The council majority also gave Moreno nearly three more years to decide whether to quit the stadium and move to another city.

The idea is that Moreno could use revenue from development of the property — which is entitled for more than 5,100 residential units, 3 million square feet for office space and 3 million square feet for commercial space — to finance up to $150 million in improvements for the stadium. And Moreno would be allowed to drop “Anaheim” from the team’s current name, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

“I think the public is skeptical, because if you are interested in transparency, that’s something you would not do,” said Tait, referring to the Labor Day weekend debut of the stadium deal. “You would give weeks of notice,” he added.

Tait goes as far as calling the current approach “reckless.”

He is openly critical of the ensuing lease deal approved earlier this month, arguing that it gave away key leverage.

Black; Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce; and Tom Morton, who heads the Anaheim Convention Center, clashed with Tait at the editorial meeting. Black accused Tait himself of being reckless by describing the council’s recent action as a giveaway.

Black argued that by taking those dicey issues off the table (extending the outclause trigger), city leaders helped themselves in their negotiation with billionaire team owner Artie Moreno, noting that the city essentially bought itself Moreno’s focus for the next six months on crafting a deal with Anaheim and nothing else.

And that’s important, Black said, because Moreno could move the team.

Tait, already at odds with the council majority over their staunch support of tax subsidies for a hotel developer,  said such concessions to Moreno lay the groundwork for an uneven lease agreement.

He argued that the Angels don’t have a credible threat to move to another city within the next two years, so taxpayers should have stayed firm and not allowed the team to extend its out clause.

Noting that there is significant “community pride” in sponsoring a sports franchise, Tait also severely criticized dropping the requirement that the Angels acknowledge Anaheim in its name.

Tait notes that under their current lease, the Angels would either have to explore leaving altogether immediately or stay for the duration of the contract, with the obligation that they fund up to $150 million in future stadium upkeep.

It’s against that backdrop that Anaheim should have been negotiating a future arrangement, not the other way around, Tait argued.

Tait openly worried that the latest stadium proposal, championed by the City Council majority and the Chamber of Commerce, will cheat Anaheim taxpayers worse than the 1996 Disney deal, which allowed the team to keep virtually all stadium revenues, keep their net rent at zero and put off key maintenance upgrades until after a key out clause, which is now under negotiation.

At the editorial board meeting, Black countered that Moreno could easily move his team to a number of alternatives across the Southern California area, including a return as co-tenant with the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine while a new stadium was built elsewhere.

He bristled when Tait described the changes to the memorandum of understanding and general deal points, such as a $1-a-year land lease for the team, as a final point instead of the starting point that he stresses they are.

Black, who played an influential role in the drive to establish San Diego’s largely successful downtown ballpark development consortium, said he expects many more public meetings and strong discussions, arguing that’s what the city’s negotiating team needs to hear to craft an effective deal.

“It’s a laudable process,” Black said, referring to the process associated with the creation of Petco Park. “This panel discussion this morning, this roundtable, is further evidence that it’s going to be an open and transparent process. Having said that, I don’t want to go over the negotiation points. I think there does need to be a private negotiation with the Angels. At some point, and sooner rather than later, those points need to be fully vetted before the public.”

There’s already a Facebook page called “Keep the Angels in Anaheim.” And Tuesday, Anaheim residents have a chance to head to City Hall for the continuing discussion about the condition of Angel Stadium and what kind of lease terms city leaders should consider that would entice team leaders to remain for the long term.

As the debate moves forward, two key questions will dominate the debate.

There are questions about the current condition of the stadium as well as the investments required to keep it a competitive venue for a major league sports team and other events. City leaders say the Angels are on the hook for up to $150 million in upgrades. A city-commissioned study is expected to be released soon.

The central challenge facing the public is, can city leaders craft a deal that could potentially develop the 150 acres around the stadium allowing the ensuing economic buzz to pay for its upgrades over the next few decades as well as spur overall economic development?

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