Anaheim Leaders To Keep Public Out of The Loop on Stadium Meetings With Angels

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

Anaheim taxpayers will remain officially in the dark about their stadium lease negotiations between Anaheim and the Angels baseball team for the foreseeable future, following action by city leaders earlier this week to end a public monthly stadium update for council members and taxpayers.

Council members have ordered City Manager Chris Zapata report back in public only when there’s “relevant information.”

“We are embarking down a road of a very sensitive negotiation and this is not something that I believe should played out in the public eye. And I trust our City Manager (Zapata) to report to us when there’s relevant information that warrants discussion and I stand behind my motion,” said Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who proposed nixing the monthly update during this week’s city council meeting.

Mayor Harry Sidhu, reacting to O’Neil, said, “I actually support that.”

Keeping the update as a standing item on the agenda could lead the public to think the City Council is hiding aspects of the negotiation, Councilwoman Lucille Kring said.  

“I agree with my colleague Trevor O’Neil, and I think putting this on every meeting kind of gives the impression to the public that things are moving on and we’re keeping things from them,” Kring said. “We tried this years ago and there was nothing to report and it was just something that was taking a lot of staff time to do and nothing was happening.”

O’Neil’s move was supported by the majority of the Council, while Councilmen Jordan Brandman and Jose Moreno urged to keep the monthly update. O’Neil said public updates would be needed when things like the land appraisal are ready.

“An update can simply be that there’s no update. That’s okay. But we have to make sure that the residents trust the council is being apprised of this information. In the last iteration, that was one of the problems that ended up really making the negotiation very difficult. It was being done in the dark,” Moreno.

Kring quickly refuted Moreno’s claim.

“That’s not the reason,” Kring interjected.

During the last round of negotiations in 2014, the City Council voted to withhold cost estimates of developing the stadium from the public.

Zapata, during this week’s update report, said Sidhu met with Angels President John Carpino and Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament, along with other top officials from the Angels and Anaheim.

“Mayor Sidhu requested and asked for a meeting with the Angels, which they complied with. That meeting happened yesterday (March 18). The meeting was to get an update from them on where they were and what they were thinking in terms of their hiring of their (development) consultant,” Zapata said.

Leading up to the 2014’s breakdown in negotiations, the Chamber of Commerce formed a group — Keep the Angels — and paid for advertisements attacking former Mayor Tom Tait that ran in the community newspaper, the Anaheim Bulletin. Tait led a group of critics against the 2014 lease because he considered the proposed annual $1 rent for 66 years was a giveaway of taxpayer resources.

Moreno said the city should learn from 2014’s surprise lease and be more transparent with the public.

“The framework was disclosed on a Friday of Labor Day weekend to be voted on, on a Tuesday — the public had no idea there was any framework coming forth. So, to learn from our previous mistakes as a city, it behooves us to just simply once a month to ask the city manager what inning are we in. Is it time for us to do a seventh inning stretch? … I don’t know why this does us any harm,” Moreno said.

Zapata said negotiations are still in the first inning.  

“This is very early in the game, but, you know,  the home team is batting now. So we are waiting to see what the proposal from he Angels may be and that should come within two, to three to four months,” he said.

Moreno said city staff lacks framework to guide the negotiations and cited the January 15 meeting, when the Council voted to extend the current lease until the end of 2020.

“We still haven’t discussed, as a Council, what is the framework that’s going to guide our staff. Mr. Brandman laid out some key points on the night we voted on the extension the lease (Jan. 15). The lease agenda item came to us without any discussion with the council. You went off and negotiated with the Angels, without discussing with the council. So, I am worried Mr. Mayor, that you’ll be representing our council without checking in with us,” Moreno said.

Moreno and Brandman expressed disappointment with the team’s negotiations with Long Beach.

“I voted on Jan. 15 in favor of opening negotiations and my vote was in good faith, expecting the absolute good faith of the people we were negotiating with,” Brandman said. “Long Beach was tough. We voted Jan. 15 — Long Beach City Council heard this in closed session Feb. 5. That was stunning to me. Now, I still believe in good faith — I think it’s there.”   

Moreno, who attempted to get an exclusive negotiation agreement with the Angels Jan. 15, said the Angels played the City Council.

“Which is why I asked for the amendment that we do exclusive negotiations, which unfortunately we did not get. Little did we know that during that process, Long Beach had already reached out to the Angels. I don’t know if they informed you of that, Mr. Mayor, because they were negotiating with Long Beach as they were telling you they wanted to stay here when you voted against exclusive negotiations,” Moreno said, adding the Long Beach move is a ploy and urged staff and the public not to panic.

According to a copy of Sidhu’s March 5 state of the city speech uploaded to Anaheim’s website, he spoke with the Angels about potential uses of land surrounding the stadium during the initial meeting.

“I reached out to the team’s owner, Arte Moreno (unrelated to Councilman Jose Moreno), to see what we could do to keep the team here, unlock the potential of the land around the stadium and craft a plan that benefits our city and our residents. Arte and I sat down and discussed the need to extend the team’s option for one year in order to work out a long-term deal,” reads Sidhu’s speech.

During council deliberations, Moreno said residents should come first.

“Let’s not be fooled into believing we’re negotiating against another city. We may very well be, but let’s not reduce our offer or our work to make sure our residents are first, Mr. Mayor — our residents are first,” he said.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.