Angels vs. Anaheim: Back to First Base

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The Angels Friday cancelled their controversial, current stadium lease negotiations with Anaheim, but the mayor said new talks will begin.

The Angels’ action came as it scheduled a closed door meeting Tuesday with the Tustin City Council, signaling it may move to a new stadium on the former Marine Corp base. However, Tustin officials also have questioned whether the city is being used by the Angels to put negotiating pressure on Anaheim.

Irvine’s Great Park also has been mentioned as a possible new home for the Angels if they can’t reach a stadium lease agreement with Anaheim.

In a letter hand delivered Friday to Anaheim City Hall, Angels Legal Affairs Director Alex Winsberg wrote: “Given that more than 12 months have passed since approval of the Stadium MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), and that the parties have been unable to come to an agreement, Angels Baseball is hereby electing to terminate the Stadium MOU, and negotiations pursuant to it… The 30 day termination period will begin as of the date of receipt of this letter.”

Mayor Tom Tait, who long has criticized the now-scrapped lease discussion points as a massive giveaway of a public asset, told Voice of OC the Angels haven’t quit negotiations altogether and that the team only has backed out of talks on the MOU.

The Angel’s letter didn’t detail reasons for the stalled talks or mention a possible future home for the team, but both the Los Angeles Times  and the Orange County Register reported team executives are talking to Tustin city officials.

The Tustin City Council has a special closed property negotiation session scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Tuesday to discuss “price and terms of payment” of unspecified property with Pacific Coast Investors, Angel owner Arte Moreno’s development company. The session is open for public comment before city council members go behind closed doors.

Tustin council members have met in closed session several times to talk about the Angels.

But city council members in February expressed reluctance to approve any kind of agreement that involved public subsidies. “I don’t think in our community that will be acceptable,” said Mayor Al Murray. The Angels talks with Tustin could “be more of a leveraging opportunity (for Moreno) than anything else.”

Here’s the master plan for the former Marine base (click to a view larger version):

The Angels’ stadium lease with Anaheim runs out in 2029. A previous clause in the lease allowed the Angels to leave in 2016. If the owners didn’t use the exit clause, the team was locked in until 2029. But last year, the city council gave the Angels three more years, until 2019, to decide whether to stay in Anaheim or go elsewhere.

Moreno reportedly also is unhappy with Anaheim’s insistence on keeping itself part of the uniquely-named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Los Angeles is 26 miles north of Anaheim City Hall. It’s unknown if Tustin or Irvine have similar naming ambitions.

Stadium negotiations between the Angels and Anaheim have been ongoing for a year as councilmembers and Mayor Tait spar over what constitutes a good lease deal for Anaheim taxpayers.

Last year, council members approved a lease that would grant Moreno over 150 acres of land around the stadium for 66 years at $1 annually. Moreno would, in theory, use revenue from developing the property to finance an estimated $150 million in renovations to the aging stadium, but critics argue that never was spelled out in the lease.

Almost immediately, a chorus of critics, led by Tait, derided the deal as a giveaway of public assets to a billionaire team owner. The mayor has insisted all along the land is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and he says a fair deal would be a 50/50 split in development revenue between the city and Moreno.

Tait also has pointed out that Moreno already is obligated to make the renovations under the current lease. Meanwhile, members of the council majority maintained last year’s discussion framework was just the starting point for negotiations.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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