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A majority of Anaheim City Council members said they knew the January vote wasn’t a temporary stadium lease extension with Angels baseball, but a full reinstatement of the 1996 lease.
But it wasn’t clear to some on the Council and to some key city staff.
Wally Courtney, a resident and 35-year Anaheim real-estate agent, said most people would not realize the full scale of what was put before the City Council.
“Just reading the agenda and the amendment they agreed to, I would say 90 percent of the people would not know that meant they were reinstating the prior lease. Especially when the press is reporting the mayor saying I just want a one-year extension to the lease,” Courtney told Voice of OC.
Although the 5-2 vote on Jan. 15 nullified the Angels’ October 2018 lease termination, it also extended the team’s lease termination right to Dec. 31 and reinstated the original lease, which runs until 2029. Council members Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno voted against it.
At its Aug. 27 meeting, Moreno and Barnes questioned staff and other Council members if it was explicitly clear what they were voting on in January. The two had previously considered the vote a temporary lease extension. So did city news releases, news reports and statements from some on the Council.
Mayor Harry Sidhu and Council members Jordan Brandman, Stephen Faessel, Lucille Kring and Trevor O’Neil said they knew exactly what they were voting on at the August meeting.
When Sidhu introduced the item Jan. 15, he told the Council, “Last week, I had met with the Angels owner Arte Moreno (unrelated to Jose Moreno). From that meeting it was clear that the team’s priority is to stay in Anaheim. We need time to make that happen. Tonight I’m asking Council colleagues to consider a one-year extension to the current Angels lease to the end of 2020.”
Barnes asked Sidhu, during the Aug. 27 meeting, if he knew what he voted on.
“Absolutely,” Sidhu told her. “Listen, everything is in the report, if you have not read it, it’s not my fault.”
O’Neil echoed what Sidhu said.
“I don’t know why this was unclear. I’m looking at the staff report from Jan. 15th,” He said.
O’Neil also said he and Barnes met with staff after the Jan. 15 meeting and it was explained “exactly what we voted on and reiterated that was part of the lease. It was that opt-out window that was extended, that the lease itself would still remain in effect.”
Barnes asked City Manager Chris Zapata who wrote the proposal.
Zapata said it was Sidhu, convention center Executive Director Tom Morton, deputy City Manager Greg Garcia and Sidhu’s chief of staff, Annie Mezzacappa.
City Attorney Rob Fabela said he reviewed the item before it was placed on the Jan. 15 agenda.
At the Jan. 15 meeting, Zapata seemed to consider the item a temporary lease extension.
“I want to be very clear that the current item on the agenda if approved, is a 14-month extension, with a 90-day vacation period. So I don’t know if that’s something that I’ve heard tonight, but I’ve heard 14 months. The way I boil it down, is its two baseball seasons, that’s what the extension would do,” Zapata told the Council.
During the Aug. 27 meeting, Barnes asked Zapata if he or anyone else on staff told the Council about the lease reinstatement effects on the value of the land that could affect the appraisal, which is still a draft and hasn’t been publicly released.
“What I said at that time was the action by the Council would provide more time to do something that would result in essentially a new deal. I did not speak to, nor did staff speak to, ramifications related to the value of the property,” Zapata said.
Anaheim officials directed Voice of OC to the Aug. 27 meeting video to answer questions about what led to the confusion.
At the Jan 15 meeting, Morton told the Council it was an extension of the termination clause, but didn’t specifically say it was reinstating the 1996 lease that could run until 2029 if the Angels don’t negotiate a new stadium lease or use their exit window by Dec. 31.
He indicated that if a new lease isn’t struck with the Angels by the end of the year, the city could start to plan for the stadium’s future without a baseball team.
“Further, the amendment will provide the angels with a 14-month extension to their termination right,” Morton said Jan. 15. “By limiting the extension to only 14 months, like the city manager stated, it gives an end date for discussions. So if a new arrangement has not been reached in the near future, the city can start to plan for the utilization and development of the city asset without a major league baseball team.”
The subject line of the Jan. 15 staff report reads “Reinstatement of current stadium lease and extension of option to terminate.”
Moreno said, at the Aug. 27 meeting, a portion of the staff report led him to believe he was voting on a temporary lease extension, not a full reinstatement of the lease.
“That’s what led me to believe that we were discussing that evening was truly a lease extension for one year, with the same conditions of the original lease, but not extending the lease further. In other words, we were not reinstating, fully, the original lease. We were reinstating the conditions of the original lease,” Moreno said. “In fact, our own city has been saying this.”
The staff report spelled out what the exact effects of the Angels’ October 2018 lease termination had and said if the team didn’t exit the lease, it would’ve had to stay until 2029 at Angel Stadium.
But it didn’t do that for January proposal. The staff report instead appears to consider the vote a temporary lease extension, not a full reinstatement of the 1996 lease.
“Third, by limiting the extension to only fourteen months, it gives an end date for discussions so that if a new arrangement has not been reached in the near future, the City can start to plan for the utilization and development of the City asset absent a Major League Baseball team,” reads the report.
A Jan. 15 Anaheim news release also echoed what was said during the January meeting and considered.
The release was titled “Anaheim extends Angels at stadium through 2020, allowing time for discussions on new lease.”
It also called it an extension.
“Anaheim’s City Council on Tuesday approved a 14-month extension for the Angels at the city-owned Angel Stadium of Anaheim, ensuring the team will play in Anaheim through 2020 and allowing time for both sides to talk about a new, potential long-term lease,” reads the news release.
Another news release from Jan. 10 also considered Sidhu’s proposal a one-year extension to the lease and quoted him saying it.
“I pledged I would make keeping the Angels one of my top priorities,” said Sidhu in the news release. “I’m asking my City Council colleagues on Tuesday to consider a one-year extension.”
Courtney, who noted he’s an Angels fan and wants the team to stay, said Anaheim gave away its leverage with the Jan. 15 vote and jeopardized getting a good deal in the process.
“The city had all the leverage at that point, but by reinstating the lease, they lose all the leverage and that has encumbered the stadium again until 2029,” he said. “I know what the values are. I know what a fair deal should be.”
He also said Anaheim should sell the stadium land because it would produce property tax revenue under private ownership.
Stadium lease expert Neil deMause, who wrote the book “Field of Schemes,” said Anaheim’s lease confusion situation stemming from January is something he hasn’t seen before.
“The best friend of a sports team owner is time. And if Arte Moreno clearly opted out of the lease last October in order to put pressure on the city of Anaheim and the fact that now he has the opportunity to do the same thing all over again is a gift to him,” deMause said.
He also said the city had leverage before its Jan. 15 vote.
“Anaheim could easily have gone to Arte Moreno and [said] ‘Hey, we understand you have a baseball team that needs a place to play in 2020. We would be happy to sit down and negotiate new terms. We have the only stadium in southern California you can play in 2020.’ He (Sidhu) chose not to do that, the city chose not to do that,” deMause said.
Anaheim should add more transparency by having a longer public review period on proposals like the Jan. 15 lease reinstatement, deMause said.
“This is why it’s important to have comment periods on legislation, so people can actually read them,” deMause said. “One might even suggest it’s a cautionary tale the city of Anaheim might take into account the next time they have an Angels Stadium lease to vote on.”