Tuesday night’s Anaheim City Council meeting featured another round in the increasingly heated debate over the Angel Stadium lease deal, with Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait again clashing with City Council majority and staff over preliminary terms of the pending agreement.
The discussion was largely a repeat of previous exchanges. Tait again challenged whether the deal framework approved by the council just after Labor Day weekend was the starting point for negotiations that Councilwoman Kris Murray said will take several years or, as Tait contends, the foundation of a deal that the city must work toward in good faith.
Staffers and city-hired consultant Charles Black took a less aggressive tone than they had in other discussions as they countered Tait’s claims. This was in contrast to a battle between Tait and Black at a Voice of OC Community Editorial board meeting last week became so heated that they accused each other of “reckless” misstatements on the issue.
On Sept. 3, the council voted 4-1 with Tait dissenting to give the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim nearly three more years to quit the stadium under the lease’s temporary out clause, starting in 2016, or be locked in until 2029.
Tait and other critics have said the decision gave team owner Arte Moreno time to establish a credible threat of moving the team to another city, thus giving up city leverage in the negotiations on the long-term lease. Black claimed that the extension was necessary to take pressure off Moreno so he could act rationally and give his full attention to the deal.
As it stands now, the proposed lease grants Moreno 155 acres of land around the stadium for 66 years at $1 per year. More than 5,100 residential units, 3 million square feet for office space and 3 million square feet for commercial space could be built on the land.
The premise is that Moreno could use revenue from development of the property to finance up to $150 million in improvements to the stadium. Moreno is already obliged to make those improvements under the current lease, a fact that Tait cited when he argued that the city would get next to nothing in return for such a massive land grant.
Moreno would also be allowed to drop “Anaheim” from the team’s name.
Members of the council majority, Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament and Black accused Tait of engaging in a misinformation campaign intended to subvert the deal by meeting with groups such as the Rotary Club and distributing a presentation with deal points that are inaccurate and misleading, primarily because they don’t include projected economic benefits of having the Angels.
“Mr. Mayor we ask you not to be reckless with some of your comments,” Ament said.
The Chamber of Commerce financed and organized a “Keep the Angels” campaign that attracted dozens of residents wearing red Angels T-shirts to City Hall to support the council majority, an effort designed to counter Tait’s campaign on the issue.
City officials also cited other omissions from Tait’s characterization of the deal, such as the city no longer having to make its $600,000 capital contribution to the stadium and the improvements to the stadium financed by the land development. The Angels now have rights to 1,200 parking spaces around the property, making it difficult to bring in another developer, they argued.
If the Angels left, the city would likely have to raze the stadium and be left with fallow land, city officials say.
Tait says he is merely providing accurate information taken directly from the lease framework.
“You say somehow I’m not supposed to discuss this, this is the people’s asset. This is to be discussed in public. … Am I supposed to sit here and be a cheerleader?”
These arguments aside, the lack of information regarding the dollars the city would be giving up or getting in the deal has made it nearly impossible for the public to get a sense of whether it is a good deal for taxpayers.
The reason is current estimates of the land value around the stadium range from $30 million to $380 million. Tax revenue the city could reap from Moreno’s development around the stadium is not yet known, though the deal framework contemplates allowing Moreno to keep some, if not all, of the generated taxes as rebates.
In order to begin answering this question, Tait asked at the council meeting that the city commission an appraisal of the land, including replacement value of the stadium and surrounding parking lot improvements.
A study already commissioned by the city concluded that direct and indirect economic impacts to the city would be as much as $204 million. However, most mainstream economists are dubious of rosy projections for economic impacts attributed to sports stadiums, arguing that they invariably fall considerably short of initial projections.
At the council meeting Tait called the study “embarrassing” and said it makes assumptions that defy common sense and are mathematically impossible. His main objection was that the study conducted by Convention Sports & Leisure or CS&L claims that 88 percent of the stadium’s 37,799 attendees per game are not city residents and spend on average $14.25 per person outside the stadium.
Tait argued that most people drive to games at Angel Stadium and drive back home without spending money outside the stadium.
John Kaatz, a principal with CS&L, said that the company used very conservative projections. He acknowledged that perhaps more than 50 percent of game attendees don’t spend money outside of the stadium but said the spending average cited in the study took that into account.
However, Kaatz also acknowledged that the company did not conduct its survey in Anaheim, but rather applied models used in other big cities.
“I share your skepticism of these studies,” Kaatz said. “You’ve got rosy assumption multiplied by rosy assumption multiplied by rosy assumption.”
Councilwoman Kris Murray said the study was better than Tait’s approach, which she compared to throwing darts at a dart board. She described it as a comprehensive study that looked across the nation.
“Well-researched report? The gentleman just said they didn’t do any research in Anaheim,” Tait replied.
Tait said his goal is to get a fair deal for taxpayers, which he said must include, first, the city and Moreno receiving something close to equal shares in the property development revenues — under the present framework Moreno would keep it all — and second, a team name that is mutually agreeable, such California Angels, rather than name that includes a rival city.
“Arte Moreno is an excellent owner of a team, and he’s a very good businessman. I’m just asking this council to also be good business people, to be good stewards of the asset,” Tait said.
Murray countered, “The facts are there will be an exhaustive public process. The facts are we are just beginning this process.”
At times, members of the council majority appeared fatigued and irritated by the debate.
“We really do need to work together in good faith at some point,” Murray said.
“Of course,” said Tait.
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