The pressure on the baseball diamond will be ratcheted up tonight as the Angels take the field against the Kansas City Royals for their first game of the postseason.
And while the local boys of summer start their October run, Angels owner Arte Moreno and Anaheim's political players are ratcheting up the intensity in their ongoing battle over the Angel Stadium lease.
Moreno threw a high and inside pitch last week when he terminated negotiations over a controversial lease proposal and again brought up the possibility of building a brand new stadium in Tustin.
Tustin City Council members met behind closed doors Tuesday for over two hours to discuss a potential stadium site. But in the end, the city manager called a deal “a long ways off.”
The long shot nature of the Tustin bid hasn't stopped supporters of the now dead lease proposal from lashing out at Mayor Tom Tait – who has led a chorus of critics against the deal – and accusing him of driving the team away from Anaheim with his hardball negotiating tactics.
The framework would have leased 150 acres around the Anaheim’s stadium to an investment firm at $1 annually for 66 years. In theory, Moreno would use revenue from developing the land to make up to $150 million in renovations to the nearly half-century old stadium.
Supporters say the deal would've kept the Angels in Anaheim for decades at no cost to taxpayers and lead to new development. It also provided a revenue source to overhaul the infrastructure of an aging stadium, and was only the starting point of negotiations, they argued.
Tait and other critics decried the deal as a massive giveaway of a public asset to a billionaire team owner that included other unacceptable concessions, like dropping “Anaheim” from the team name. Tait emphasizes that the Angels are already on the hook in the current lease to make the renovations.
Tait’s camp at one point seemed to have the momentum. But they have been on the defensive in recent weeks.
Councilwoman Lucille Kring -- who is challenging Tait this November for the mayoral seat -- issued a statement to the Los Angeles Times saying that the mayor “seems bent on driving the Angels out in order to demolish the stadium and make a quick buck on more generic development.”
And in the weeks running up to Moreno's termination of negotiations, the Keep The Angels group – a project of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce – ran advertisements in the Anaheim Bulletin weekly newspaper claiming Tait ordered an estimate of the cost to demolish the stadium. The ad all but said that the mayor wants to boot the team out of town.
Tait says that the media offensive against him has created a fog of misinformation and blurred the facts. The mayor did request an appraisal of the stadium land, but that was so the public could understand the value of the asset city leaders are negotiating over, he said.
“Implying that I want the Angels to leave is nothing further from the truth,” Tait said.
Tait points out that the Chamber ad was wrong because it was Councilwoman Kris Murray who actually requested the demolition cost. She did so to make sure that an appraisal of the stadium land would have a more precise cost analysis.
“I don’t care what the demolition costs are. I don’t want to demolish the stadium, why would I?” Tait said.
Tait and his supporters also say they're incredulous because he gets all the blame for the deal going sour when the council majority could have long ago approved a deal in a 4-1 vote.
“I’m one of five votes,” Tait said.
When asked why the council majority couldn’t come to a deal without Tait's support, Kring said Moreno was used to dealing with forms of government in other cities whereby the mayor has much greater power at City Hall.
Kring stopped short of saying Moreno had a fundamental misunderstanding of Anaheim’s governing structure, but she said the team owner had developed a strong friendship with Tait and couldn’t get past the fact that the mayor was so vehemently against the deal framework.
Moreno was convinced that Tait – who has been politically isolated for years and lost several 4-1 council votes, including the vote to approve the deal framework -- pulled all the levers of power, Kring said.
“[Moreno] kept telling everyone the mayor is the one that controls everything,” Kring said.
Kring said to get the Angels back to the negotiating table, the first thing to do is hire back Charles Black, the former lead negotiator who clashed publicly with Tait and resigned several months ago.
And Kring said it's been Tait who has peddled misinformation.
For starters, the 153 acres that Tait cites as the focus of the deal is actually at maximum 35 acres of developable land if multi-level parking structures aren’t built, she said, but she acknowledged not knowing how much developable land would be available with parking structures.
And Kring said that leasing the land to Moreno for $1 a year was never set in stone and only a starting point.
“Everybody knew that the $1 a year was hyperbole,” Kring said.
Meanwhile, Angels spokeswoman Marie Garvey said it was unfair to speculate what Moreno was thinking about the negotiations, or to imply that he misunderstood Anaheim’s governing structure.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say how Arte felt, or that he misunderstood anything,” Garvey said.
Garvey pointed out that the deal framework had been approved in September 2013 after three years of discussions with the city. The informal negotiations began when Thomas Wood – who has recently been consulting for the Angels – was city manager.
There have been several management changes since then, Garvey said, pointing out that negotiations occurred under four different city managers.
“Both parties were trying to come up with the details, and ultimately we couldn’t get there,” Garvey said. “We’ve had an MOU for over a year now, and we just feel that it hasn’t resulted in a deal, and it’s time for us to stop spending effort on it.”
Tait has said the termination of the lease proposal was a positive development because it allowed the team and the city to start negotiating with a “clean slate.”
Garvey said the team is keeping its options open.
Meanwhile, a University of Michigan economics professor and expert on stadium negotiations, Mark Rosentraub, said that the Angels moving to Tustin might not be a bad idea.
Orange County fans of the Angels still have their team, and they get a twenty-first century stadium. There would be lots more construction jobs generated by construction of a stadium from scratch.
Rosentraub said cities sometimes go through what he called an “amicable divorce” with their teams. When the Dallas Cowboys football team moved from Irving, Texas and constructed a new stadium in Arlington, it worked out for everyone because the team remained in the community, Rosesntraub said.
“Cowboys are happy, Irving’s happy, the fans are happy. It all worked out,” Rosentraub said.