Anaheim Hires Influential Democrat as Angel Stadium Lease Negotiator

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Anaheim City Council members Tuesday night unanimously decided to appoint local trial attorney Wylie Aitken as a lead negotiator as the city aims to restart talks on a new stadium lease with the Angels baseball team.

Aitken, an Anaheim resident for nearly 40 years and an Angels season ticket holder, will replace outside attorney and developer Charles Black, a controversial figure who clashed with Mayor Tom Tait during the previous round of negotiations.

Those talks collapsed late last year amid public uproar over the proposed lease framework, which critics said was one-sided and a massive giveaway of public land to team owner Arte Moreno.

WylieAitkenPhotoAitken, who is also Voice of OC’s board chairman, said he was “humbled” by the council’s decision to bring him into the process and thanked council members for supporting his appointment.

“I’m very honored that the mayor put my name forth,” Aitken said. “I thought it was a great compliment.”

In an interview last month, Aitken, arguably the county’s most influential Democrat, touted his experience brokering high-level deals in legal cases and a talent for bringing people together. Tuesday, he said he walked onto the scene with “eyes wide open” and that it’s “important to take a fresh look” at the potential for a new deal.

Under the terms of the now scuttled framework, the city would lease over 150 acres of land around the stadium at $1 annually for 66 years. An investment firm belonging to Moreno would develop the area and ostensibly use the revenue to make $150 million worth of improvements to the aging stadium.

Moreno would also be able to drop “Anaheim” from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim team name.

Also, Black was behind a decision to allow the Angels to extend the time period they can exit their current lease from 2016 to 2019, Tait said Tuesday. Previously, Black had said the extension was needed to keep the Angels from making a hasty decision to leave town. Critics, meanwhile, argue that the city gave up crucial leverage in the negotiations by allowing the extension.

Last month, City Attorney Michael Houston and Interim City Manager Paul Emery argued in a memo to City Council members that Black was invaluable and should be rehired because of his strong relationships with the upper ranks of the team’s management.

Tuesday Tait said Black is too close to team officials, and pointed to an article in a baseball publication that mistook Black as a representative of the Angels as evidence that he took positions that were overly team friendly.

“Now we’re bringing him back? I think that’s insane to bring that person back,” Tait said.

Hiring Aitken represents a rare political victory for Tait, who has been politically isolated on the Council for years as he has increasingly come out against subsidies and other city spending that favors the city’s business establishment.

But even this victory didn’t come without a hitch.

Early in Tuesday’s discussion, Councilwoman Lucille Kring proposed hiring Aitken in addition to Black, arguing that Aitken doesn’t know enough about the business of baseball to be an effective negotiator.

But Tait’s choice of Aitken made Kring’s proposal essentially dead on arrival because it put Councilman Jordan Brandman, the Council’s only Democrat and logical swing vote on the issue, in the position of potentially voting against one of the county’s largest Democratic donors.

The vote was at first 4-1, with only Kring voting no, but she changed her vote to a yes after seeing that the tally didn’t go her way.

Aitken, in his remarks after the vote, made a point of thanking Brandman for his support.

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

  • lakerstyle

    Whatever the deal that gets done Anaheim must remain in the name. That’s worth millions alone to the city. People around the world know Brooklyn and Green Bay…everyone knows or should know that the Angels (and Disneyland ) reside in this great city in Orange County.

  • Pingback: Former City Manager: Angels Need to Show Anaheim ‘Respect’ |()

  • Philmore

    Now that Black is leading the parade out the door, perhaps its time to add the two guys who re-hired him. If the council majority is going to LOOK TO Staff to do all the thinking and policy formation, instead of the reverse AS IT SHOULD BE, at least we should have those spots filled with builders of communication and trust with the RESIDENTS, instead of closed door builders of INSIDE DEALS. The “public input” rests in an un-named landfill, and the MOU’s AUTHOR is STILL hidden in a sea of finger pointing. Dirty hands are NO HELP on a “clean slate”.

    • David Zenger

      Well said, Phil. But before they go they should let us know who told them to re-hire the dismal Black. Was it even somebody in City Hall?

      • RyanCantor

        I’d love to see the Procurement policy on that bid for services.

        • David Zenger

          Sole source because of his intimate relationship with Angel’s upper management. Or so went the tale…sounds about right.

          • Philmore

            Read the stuff on the City Clerk’s (web) Bookshelf. There are effectively few if any purchasing limits on the City Attorney’s office, and the Council Majority can always vote to smooth those out.

          • David Zenger

            True. No one is disputing the City Manager or Attorney’s ability to re-hire Black – just the complete lack of judgment in doing it, and behind closed doors. There is no way these two acted without instructions from someone they consider a higher authority.

            The real issue is that a policy decision was taken to start negotiations again, a policy with tremendous import, because, like last time Moreno’s clock had effectively run out giving the City tons of leverage and very little incentive to act immediately. The same holds true, again. And that’s not city staff’s job; that’s an issue for the public to know about. More Brown Act problems it seems to me.

            As Cynthia Ward has asked: what’s the Big Emergency for the City?

  • astar2b

    Good luck, Anaheim City Council. Seems cities in California can’t move fast enough to please sports team owners with new stadiums and other sweetheart deals… I wish our elected officials moved that fast with street / sidewalk repair…

  • Cynthia Ward

    By the way, what kind of attorney is Black that he browbeats his client, while publicly calling him “reckless” during a televised meeting, because his client doesn’t want to sign agreements worth hundreds of millions without taking more than an hour for due diligence, since his own staff has refused to answer his questions about how they got their findings? I thought attorneys were bound by some measure of ethics? Thank GOD we scored someone who understands Anaheim and our our values when it comes to the Stadium. Welcome aboard the crazy train Mr. Aitken. We will be praying for you.

  • Cynthia Ward

    Mr. Aitken is a resident of Anaheim, so I trust he will head home for dinner, where Charles Black not only charged us for the cost of his dinner at the Ranch Restaurant the night of September 3, 2013 he charged us $350 an hour for his time to eat it. The City Attorney then redacted the name of Black’s dining companion from the receipt as “attorney client privilege.” Nope, nothing to see here, folks.

    What “business of baseball” does Charles Black know? The guy is a land developer, THAT is what the Council majority clearly brought him on board for, to push the land lease because they want the Stadium parking lot developed, one suspects by one of their special friends.

    Now the only question is WHY do we want to talk to Moreno at all? The longer he refuses to speak to us, the longer that insane extension on his opt-out window goes ticking by, and we get closer to him going nowhere ( we would be there already if our Council majority and Charles Black hadn’t needed to cover for their back room deal making)

    • RyanCantor

      Attorney my foot. The guy was hired as a negotiator, not legal council. In any event, privilege only extends to you know– YOUR CLIENT– which in this case happens to be a matter of public record. Redacting that name is an embarassment.

      • Cynthia Ward

        Mr, Cantor,as it turns out redacting that name also is a matter for litigation.

      • David Zenger

        Maybe Black had more than one client at the time.

        • RyanCantor

          Bingo.

  • David Zenger

    Brilliant move by Tait.

    Of course Aitken’s predecessor set the bar so low that Knucklehead Smith could have pulled himself over it.

    Now maybe we can get somebody working for us.

    Heckuva job, Blackie!