Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu now is part of the lead lease negotiating team on talks with the Angels baseball team, despite objections and transparency concerns voiced by Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno.
Moreno asked Sidhu why it’s important for Sidhu to be on the negotiating team.
“I would like to be on it,” Sidhu said.
“Why?” Moreno asked.
“What do you mean why? I’m the mayor. I would like to represent the City Council,” Sidhu responded.
Moreno kept pressing Sidhu for answers.
“I’m still not hearing why … is it important to have a council representative there?” Moreno asked
Sidhu answered, “It is very simple. As the mayor, I represent the city, just like all of you. And I’d like to appoint myself as a council representative to the negotiating team,” Sidhu said. “There has to be someone from the council because we have a vision for the city … I think we have done enough discussion.”
Barnes said community groups and cities are watching how Anaheim deals with the stadium negotiations.
“Other cities are talking about us, also having the perception that this is not being handled right. And so I want you to hear that. Please, if you would, stand aside and let us all be that ear for this contract (with the Angels),” Barnes said, urging Sidhu and the Council not to appoint anyone and let city staff handle negotiations.
Before that, Moreno tried to get Barnes and himself on the negotiating team, but it was voted down 2-5. Only Barnes and Moreno voted for it.
Sidhu originally attempted to appoint himself to the negotiating team June 18, but Moreno put up a fight and also tried to appoint himself later in that meeting.
The move led to Councilman Trevor O’Neil requesting an agenda item to appoint Sidhu to the negotiating team, which includes City Manager Chris Zapata, City Attorney Robert Fabela and Convention Center Director Tom Morton.
“I recall distinctly that Trevor O’Neil agendized this,” Moreno said.
Fabela said O’Neil withdrew this agenda request.
“I simply felt that this would be a better way to designate an appointee,” O’Neil told Moreno.
Moreno asked O’Neil if he talked to Sidhu about the move and O’Neil said he did not.
Eventually the City Council voted 5-2 to appoint Sidhu to the negotiating team, with Barnes and Moreno dissenting.
In the past, the city hired an outside negotiator to represent the Council to help the city manager with sports team negotiations, Moreno said.
Open government attorney Kelly Aviles said since the negotiating team was voted on by the CIty Council, it is likely subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act, a state transparency law.
“They can redact information about price and terms (of payment), but everything else would probably need to be disclosed,” Aviles told Voice of OC.
Anaheim had leverage over the Angels in negotiations because the ball club exercised its exit clause in October 2018 and would have had to leave the stadium in a year.
But Sidhu spearheaded a lease extension in January, which essentially keeps the team at the stadium until 2020. The City Council voted 5-2 for the extension, with Barnes and Moreno dissenting.
Moreno tried, but failed, to get the Council to push for an exclusive negotiating agreement with the team.
Shortly after the January vote, news broke that the Angels have been talking with Long Beach about a possible move there.
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.
Sports stadium experts previously told Voice of OC the City Council should play hardball in negotiations to get more revenue from the stadium, instead of relying on the presence of the Angels to spur development in the area.
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 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 also has to put roughly $600,000 back into the stadium annually under the lease.
The Angels currently don’t pay rent either because the team made an advanced payment of $87 million in 1996 for stadium upgrades. The city also chipped in $30 million for upgrades during that time.
Meanwhile, public skepticism and concern over the negotiations is growing, especially after the City Council, in March, removed the monthly negotiations update at its meetings.
“It’s very hard for the public to trust any deal that gets struck when the one representative from our Council has taken thousands of dollars from Angels baseball. Our Mayor received $2,000 from the president of Angels baseball on December 19, 2018,” Moreno said. “Five weeks after the election there’s a max check given to our mayor from Angels baseball.”
Councilman Jordan Brandman said Tuesday’s argument wasn’t over the integrity of the negotiations, but whether each councilmember will have their say in the negotiations.
“That’s what the concern is here, the debate, is that not all of our perspectives will be respected,” Brandman told residents.
Moreno said the Council majority — Sidhu, Brandman, O’Neil, Stephen Faessel and Lucille Kring — were trying to twist the negotiating team appointment.
“What you all are doing is distorted. So what I’m actually trying to do is gain the public trust. If you support one representative, why not support three? The mayor was talking to the Angels (in January) without us supporting it,” Moreno said.
Earlier in the meeting, Brandman repeatedly said the negotiation framework would be discussed by the Council in closed session at later meetings.
Fabela, the city attorney, said the Council can’t do that and said closed session should only be for the price and terms of payment of real estate deals.
After Fabela’s clarification, Brandman kept referring to closed session discussions.
“Let’s just formalize it (the negotiating team), let’s just have trust in the system. We’re all going into closed session,” Brandman said. “I’m ready to get the appraisal and get into closed session.”
Echoing what Fabela said, Aviles said the Council should not discuss anything but price and terms of payment in closed session.
“This whole thing is a problem. Because they decided so badly that they want the stadium and they’re willing to do whatever it takes and they don’t care what the public says about it — they know best. That’s exactly what the law prohibits,” Aviles said, referring to the Brown Act.
“The whole intent is not to allow this kind of stuff to happen without the public there.”