Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu appointed himself to the lead team negotiating a new deal with the Angels, but the lack of a City Council vote could mean the negotiating team isn’t subject to state transparency law, according to an open government expert.
“For the committee (negotiating team) to be subject to the Brown Act, it would have to be created by the Council itself. If it’s not created by the majority of the Council, then the Brown Act does not apply,” said Voice of OC open government consultant Terry Francke.
The Ralph M. Brown act is a state law establishing transparency and agenda notifications of public agencies, such as the Anaheim City Council.
Francke likened the negotiating team to an ad hoc committee, which isn’t subject to the Brown Act because the committee doesn’t have public meetings. He also said there’s no law governing Sidhu’s move.
Councilman Jose Moreno, during Council comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, which carried over to 3 a.m. Wednesday, attempted to put himself and Councilwoman Denise Barnes on the negotiating team.
“The mayor has added himself to a negotiations with the Angels. I would like to also be a part of that negotiating team and so would Councilwoman Barnes. That’s really important for our public and for all of us. Not sure what the process is for that, because there wasn’t a process for the mayor to be there,” Moreno said.
He continued, “So I would like to be added to that team … we all have the same legislative powers. If there is concern, then I would like it to be agendized … and also to have a workshop on the Angels once the appraisal comes in July” to begin discussion negotiation framework.
Councilman Jordan Brandman seconded Moreno’s request, but he failed to get the required third because Barnes left by then. She asked Sidhu if she could go first in Council comments in order to get home to her ill father. Sidhu denied her request and she immediately left the Council chambers.
“So then I consider myself and Denise Barnes to be on the team, because we didn’t take a vote on yours,” Moreno said.
Sidhu announced the negotiating team at the Council’s June 4 meeting, shortly after the city manager gave an update on the Angels negotiations. The two other members Sidhu appointed are City Attorney Rob Fabela and City Manager Chris Zapata.
It’s unclear if Moreno and Barnes are on the team because Fabela and Zapata would have to hash the issue out first. Councilman Trevor O’Neil successfully scheduled an agenda item for a vote to formally appoint Sidhu, Fabela and Zapata to the team at the Council’s next meeting July 16. If the Council does vote on the negotiating team, it could open it up to transparency law.
“We are still in early stage talks about the future of baseball in Anaheim. But it is critical for us to see progress this year … we must be ready. So, I’m establishing a lead negotiating team for the city. It will be including myself as a Council representative. I’m pleased to have our City Manager Chris Zapata and our City Attorney Rob Fabela join me on behalf of the city administration,” Sidhu said at the June 4 meeting.
There was no discussion about the negotiating team at the meeting.
Moreno, who was out of town during the June 4 meeting for work, said he has transparency concerns about the negotiating team.
“There’s nothing in our charter or the law that says we cannot, so long the City Manager does not object,” Moreno said in an interview Monday, adding that Zapata likely wouldn’t object since Sidhu and the Council can fire him.
“It seems to me, however, the mayor has again moved unilaterally without consultation, without discussion, to take an action that impacts the city,” Moreno said. “So I plan on figuring out how to make sure these negotiations are as transparent as possible.”
According to campaign finance data found on the city’s website, Sidhu received $1,600 in cash contributions from Angels club chairman Dennis Kuhl and $2,000 from team president John Carpino during his 2018 campaign for mayor. Carpino’s contribution is dated Dec. 18, while Kuhl contributed in October, before the Nov. 6 election.
“This is a negotiation with a for-profit entity (the Angels), not a formal part of the city. So that’s where there is a profit motive. That’s what makes it difficult for the public to trust someone who received money directly from a for-profit contributor,” Moreno said.
Shortly after taking office, Sidhu met with the Angels in January and pushed through a lease extension at the Council’s Jan. 15 meeting, effectively giving the team until 2020 to decide if they want to stay in Anaheim at the city-owned ballpark.
News of the Angels negotiating with Long Beach surfaced in February, not long after the Anaheim City Council’s January lease extension vote.
According to a Long Beach Press Telegram article, a new stadium in downtown Long Beach could cost up to $1 billion and the city has been speaking with the Angels as far back as 2017. But an Angels spokeswoman told the Telegram those talks were unrelated to the current negotiations between Long Beach and the Angels.
Many Anaheim residents have been frustrated by the lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations after O’Neil, at the March 19 meeting, moved to nix the regularly scheduled updates at Council meetings.
“We are embarking down a road of a very sensitive negotiation and this is not something that I believe should be 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,” O’Neil said at the March meeting.
Before Sidhu’s June 4 move to create a negotiation team, Zapata said he, along with Fabela and a couple other city staff members met with Angels President John Carpino and other Angels executives May 20th and the team has hired more consultants to “help them with their architectural review, their financial review and their engineering review.”
Zapata also said the Angels told him the team is looking to stay in Anaheim rather than move to Long Beach.
“We started talking about the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room being another city in another county attempting to woo them. And we all know who that is,” Zapata said. “The response we got from Angels President Carpino is exactly this: Anaheim is their focus.”
It’s also time for the city to begin mapping out negotiation parameters, Zapata said.
“It’s a little past early (in stages of negotiations) now. So it’s time, it’s really time for the city to start to put its negotiation team and strategies together,” Zapata said.
Experts on public stadium deals previously told Voice of OC that Anaheim should focus on getting bigger slices of the revenue streams coming out of the ballpark, like ticket sales, advertising and food sales.
According to a five-year expenditure and revenue report on the stadium provided by Anaheim from 2013 to 2018, the highest amount in ticket revenue the city received was $1.26 million in the fiscal year 2014-2015. It was the only time during the report’s five years the city made over $1 million on ticket revenue. The lease stipulates the Angels have to sell 2.6 million tickets in a year before the city starts getting $2 per ticket sold.
The city gets 25 percent of revenue above $2 million generated by other events, like monster truck and motocross shows. The highest amount Anaheim received from other events during the five-year period was $444,000 in fiscal year 2017-2018.
But Anaheim puts, on average, $600,000 back into the stadium annually under the current lease.
At a news conference in February, Angels owner Arte Moreno said he wants Anaheim to help pay for ballpark upgrades before he commits the Angels to stay past 2020, according to an OC Register article.
To pay for stadium upgrades, city officials, including Sidhu, are banking on increased revenue from developments around the stadium in the area known as the Platinum Triangle, which encompasses land around Angel Stadium and the Honda Center.
In a May 24 op-ed published by the OC Register, Sidhu said the team may be looking to build a new stadium and said new Platinum Triangle developments would pay for it.
“In Anaheim, development of restaurants, shops or even a hotel or offices could be the primary way to fund improvements to the Big A or even a new stadium,” Sidhu wrote.
Similar to what city officials say is an indication of development happening in the Platinum Triangle, Sidhu pointed to a brewery that opened across the street from the stadium.
“Just a few years ago, the site housed a 1970s-era warehouse that generated little in the way of property tax revenue for the city. With Golden Road (brewery), we now see additional property tax from the site plus sales tax revenue we never had before,” Sidhu wrote. “It is part of a larger trend. Since 2009, redevelopment in the Platinum Triangle has doubled our sales tax revenue in the area to about $8 million.”
Some apartments also were constructed near the stadium parking lot, known as the Stadium Lofts.
After forming the negotiation team, Sidhu didn’t lay out any type of negotiation parameters the city is going to use.
“We go into this with one goal. An agreement that is good for our residents first and that also works for the team. This is an important issue for our community and I want everyone to know that we are moving forward,” Sidhu said.