Anaheim Mayor Wants to Dump Stadium Lease Negotiator

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Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is proposing that prominent local trial attorney Wylie Aitken be the city’s outside negotiator as officials gear up to restart talks with the Angels baseball team over a new stadium lease.

Under Tait’s proposal, which he outlined during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Aitken would replace Charles Black, who led a previous round of negotiations that ended in controversy and gridlock.

The mayor described Aitken, who is also Voice of OC’s board chairman, as a “better option” than Black and an Anaheim resident who has the interests of the city at heart.

Aitken, one of Orange County’s most influential Democrats and an Angels Baseball season ticket holder, said Wednesday that he brings to the negotiations his experience brokering high-level deals in legal cases and a talent for bringing people together.

“I care about the city. I care about the Angels. I’m flattered that my name is being considered. I’m willing to take a serious look at it,” Aitken said.

City Manager Paul Emery and City Attorney Michael Houston in recent weeks hired Black, a former president of the San Diego Padres who later went on to lead development of the land surrounding PETCO Park, in an effort to rekindle stadium lease negotiations.

Talks broke down last year after months of public backlash to a deal framework that critics said amounted to a huge giveaway to Angels owner Arte Moreno.

Under the prior terms, which supporters argued were only preliminary, an investment group involving Moreno would lease 155 acres of publicly-owned land around the stadium at $1 annually for 66 years. The proposed agreement also allowed Moreno to drop “Anaheim” from the official Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim team name.

The argument for the land deal was that Moreno could use revenue from developing the property to finance an estimated $150 million in renovations for the aging stadium.

Tait led the chorus of criticism that was credited with scuttling the deal last year. The mayor says he wants an agreement that is fair to the taxpayers and has proposed a compromise whereby Moreno and the city split revenue from any potential development.

During the previous round of negotiations, Tait and Black publicly clashed over the fine points of the proposed agreement, and Black, some critics said, argued too much from the Angels’ side of the bargaining table.

“Most in attendance in the council chambers and many news reporters thought that Black was the attorney representing Arte Moreno and the Angels, not Anaheim,” Wally Courtney, a real estate agent and vocal critic of the previous deal framework, wrote in a blast email. “If I went on TV to argue with my boss… I would be fired before the first commercial break!”

As negotiations began to stall, Black, who could not be reached for comment for this article, left the city’s negotiating team.

Yet, despite criticism of his abrasive behavior, Emery and Houston entered into a new contract with Black. It is because of this and other reasons that Tait’s proposal isn’t a sure thing.

First, there’s a vetting process that Aitken would have to go through to check for conflicts of interest related to his law practice. Then there is the fact that Houston worked under Black at the real estate department of a law firm several years ago.

In a March 10 memo to the council, Emery and Houston argued that Black is invaluable because he has strong relationships with the upper ranks of the team’s management.

“Mr. Black’s unique professional and legal reputation and skill set provides us the crucial ability to directly engage with the ultimate decision makers and do so in a credible manner,” the memo reads.

Tait disagrees. He says hiring back the consultant who helped negotiate the last time is a step in the wrong direction.

“Why would you hire the person who negotiated the last deal, that everyone now agrees was a bad deal?” Tait said. “If we want a fresh start, why would we do this?”

It’s unclear whether Tait has the votes he needs on the council to get his proposal passed. However, his choice of Aitken was shrewd given that the swing vote could very well be Democrat Jordan Brandman.

A logical scenario would have Tait and his council ally James Vanderbilt voting for Aitken, while councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring side with Black.

This would leave Brandman in the position of having to choose between Anaheim’s business establishment and Aitken, one of the local Democratic Party’s most powerful players.

Aitken won’t comment on what he thought about the previous deal, or what he thinks a good deal might look like. Just like in a lawsuit, he said, “you don’t negotiate in the press.”

He added that he has a “cordial” relationship with Moreno and believes he could get a fair deal for both sides accomplished.

“I do think I have that kind of skill, hopefully with a little charm and a little sense of humor, and a whole lot of preparation,” Aitken said.

But he was careful to not be critical of Black. “To me its not about Charles Black, it’s about the city and whether Wylie Aitken can help or not,” he said.

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

  • Steve W.

    Nothing against shrewd negotiator Wiley Aitken. He might negotiate a great deal. But who made Tait king of Anaheim? Where is it written his will must be obeyed? He’s one of five votes. Anaheim has a council-city manager form of government. The city manager works for the entire council, not just the mayor, who presides over council meetings and governs with his colleagues. The CM decided to hire Black; the council approved it, but Tait cannot lose gracefully.

    Tait says: “Why would you hire the person who negotiated the last deal, that everyone now agrees was a bad deal?” When did “everyone” come to that agreement? Not only is that not true, but it indicates Tait isn’t open to points of view that differ from his.

    Thanks for disclosing Aitken is a chairman of the Voice of OC board, but shouldn’t you also disclose how much money he has donated to the Voice? According to your financial disclosures, he’s gave the Voice $145,000 between 2010 and 2012. How much has he donated since then? How does that not influence the coverage?

    And why hasn’t the Voice published a financial disclosure in over two years, since 2012?

    • David Zenger

      “The CM decided to hire Black; the council approved it, but Tait cannot lose gracefully.”

      Read the article again. The Council did not approve hiring Black it was done behind the scenes.

      The last deal was not a bad deal. It was a complete dereliction of responsibility to the public. And any time you want to actually the debate the the issue in person, in a public forum with me based on the facts I will be more than happy to accommodate you.

      • Steve W.

        “Behind the scenes” Did the CM or City Attorney exceed their authority? No. You’re trying to make it sound sinister and illegitimate.

        The last deal was a good one. You disagree. Fine. You’re not omniscient or infallible. Prone to hyperbole? Definitely.

        I’ll take a pass on your weird invitation to debate this in a public forum. It’s not like either of us is an opinion leader, but you do seem to spend an awful lot of time commenting here.

        • David Zenger

          Mr. W., nobody claimed the city manager exceeded his authority by rehiring Black. Tait just pointed out the mess Black made of it last time. Wally Courtney is correct: Black gave every appearance of working for the guy he was negotiating with.

          The last Angels scam was not a “good deal” unless your name is Arte Moreno, and that’s only a matter of “opinion” if you are on Pringle’s payroll. And if the deal was so good, then how come the council majority never ratified it? Why were they so afraid to approve such a good deal? Those questionsrequire neither infallibility (odd choice of words, by the way) or omniscience to answer.

          In any case, outside the framework of the longer series of council derelictions, the Angels MOUs are mostly irrelevant now – except that Black is Back.

          Fortunately this time lots of people are watching.

          So why is my challenge to debate you “weird?” Gee, it would just be two average citizens debating public policy, and none of your “opinion leaders” in the way to spread their special brand of fertilizer, What a great idea. I bet Voice of OC can arrange it at their office if you change you mind.

          • Steve W.

            Nobody said you said the CM acted illegally. You way you describe the re-hiring of Black is intended to make it seem shady and duplicitous in and of itself.

            Wally Courtney isn’t “correct.” He voiced an opinion, You agree with it. Two guys sharing an opinion doesn’t make it a fact.

            I can tell you’re intelligent, but it’s hard to take you seriously when you think anyone who disagrees with you is “on Pringle’s payroll.” Judging from the comments you make, that seems to be your answer to anyone who disagrees with you. Not the mark of a serious person.

            And yeah – your debate invite is still weird.

          • David Zenger

            Jesus H., nobody said you said I said the CM acted illegally.

            You said I said he exceeded his authority. Oh my God, am I here all alone?

            If you are willing to stand behind your statement that it was a “good deal” you should be willing to defend your position. I’ve been waiting for 20 months for somebody behind the Pringle Curtain to explain why or how their “opinion” is worth a tinker’s damn. And I don’t mean by trotting out a bunch of seven-year olds in Angels’ uniforms and parading them around the council chambers.

            You use (abuse) the standard retort of the Kleptocracy: you are weird, tin-foil hatted, paranoid, omniscient. One might think you were Cunningham himself!

            And oh, I’m a serious person serious, alright.

            So let’s do it. Let’s debate. What do you have to lose? A paltry life of not being an opinion leader? I

  • astar2b

    Sometimes a sports team owner has more power than a mayor or other elected city council… Drama over stadiums in San Diego / Carson City / Inglewood / Oakland / St Louis to name a few… It could happen in baseball…

  • Cynthia Ward

    “The argument for the land deal was that Moreno could use revenue from developing the property to finance an estimated $150 million in renovations for the aging stadium.”

    Well that may have been the argument, but it was not in any way recorded in the MOUs, which as an attorney Black would have been involved in drafting. When the combination of Black and Michael Houston fails to make a legal contractual connection between the MOU giving Moreno the land for $1 and obligating it for the Angels responsibility to repair or maintain the Stadium, we have a problem. When the combination of those two legal minds failed to quantify $1 a year as a nominal fee used as a placeholder for purposes of discussion and subject to negotiation, they leave Anaheim in a place where Moreno is able to enforce the written document, NOT someone’s unspoken intent. When what Charles Black shows the public on a power point screen has no legal connection to the information in the MOUs themselves, HOW is that adequate representation of the taxpayer? The idiots who brought him in should be fired, they are still employed, one being considered for promotion, and are granted leave to bring the arrogant SOB back again.

    And wait-wasn’t it BLACK who brought in CSL, when he should have known their parent company Legends was simultaneously negotiating with the Angels for the contract for concessions at the Stadium? Who in their right minds would bring this guy back? Personally I want a refund for what we already paid him!

    • David Zenger

      “Who in their right minds would bring this guy back?”

      Rhetorical question.

  • Jeffrey Dickman

    Mr. Aitken is a good choice. Let’s get a good deal for the city and its residents.

    • David Zenger

      Jeff, Aitken is a great choice. A stroke of political genius. Let’s see Brandman wriggle off this hook.

  • David Zenger

    “During the previous round of negotiations, Tait and Black publicly clashed over
    the fine points of the proposed agreement, and Black, some critics
    said, argued too much from the Angels’ side of the bargaining table.”

    Incorrect. Tait and Black clashed over MAJOR points of the MOUs. So did some of us in the public who saw that the MOUs were NOT the starting points of negotiation as deliberately mischaracterized by the Giveaway Council, but rather, as the virtual end point. The deal had been worked out over the Summer of 2013 by Black and Moreno although nobody knew about it; unless, of course the City violated the Brown Act and discussed it in closed session – a possibility, even probability, impossible to ignore. Subsequent behavior by the Angels indicates that they though they had a deal before September 3, 2013.

    The most egregious of Charlie Black’s “negotiationg” was the absolutely ludicrous suggestion that the City give Moreno ANOTHER THREE YEARS in which to find somewhere else to move, an action that was probably the worst case of dereliction of fiduciary duty I have ever seen in government – and that’s saying a lot.

    Rehiring this man is an act of arrogance and hubris. It was NOT the decision of any bureaucrat. No, the decision was made by the same string puller who got Black hired the first time around.

    Wally Courtney is 100% dead on. An outside observer would have concluded that Black gave every indication of working for the Angels in 2013. The idea that the re-employment of Black will open the door to new negotiations with Moreno makes perfect sense and is alarming. Who better to give away the store? Again.

    Finally, this new episode in Anaheim’s kleptocratic fire sale begs the most obvious question: what is the City’s God almighty rush to start negotiations at all? We have 12 years more on the lease.