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As time runs out on a controversial lease extension deadline on Dec. 31, Anaheim city council members have one regularly scheduled public meeting to hash out the details of a potential billion dollar deal revolving around 155 acres of public land in the city’s core.
On Tuesday night, Anaheim City Council members are scheduled to discuss negotiations with the Angels for a new stadium deal during its closed session portion of the meeting.
That leaves only one meeting, Dec. 17, to finalize a new deal, unless the Council schedules special meetings.
And that’s leaving some questioning the city’s tactics.
“Well, yes, I am concerned. Like when we first started we felt like we had a very long time to do this and we really did not make an effort to get scheduled meetings (with the Angels). Now that we’re in the last inning, it seems like everybody’s talking like oh this will be fine,” Councilwoman Denise Barnes said Monday.
“The biggest thing is for us to stand our ground on what we would absolutely like to see for our city. Everybody has had plenty of time to stand in their corner and figure out their strategy. So stand firm for what you want,” Barnes said.
Councilman Jose Moreno also shared some of Barnes’ concerns.
“I am concerned that time is ticking, days are passing, we have a meeting tomorrow. I presume there’s no deal that could be made public from the agenda for tomorrow. The appraisal is not listed tomorrow, so we’re still in the same place we were in the past 11 months since the Council agreed to extend the opt out option,” Moreno said Monday.
Little has been said about the progress of negotiations, the Council has refused to release the land appraisal and has only once publicly discussed what it would like to see come out of the negotiations in August.
The city’s negotiating team, which includes Mayor Harry Sidhu, City Manager Chris Zapata and City Attorney Rob Fabela, has met with the baseball team twice to discuss the new stadium deal: Nov. 15 and Nov. 22.
Barnes said she’s trying to remain positive about the progress of negotiations.
”Well this is all uncharted waters for us. I’m going to believe that when we hear the information [Tuesday] that then we put our heads together and formulate the best vision for going forward that we won’t be rushed and be adamant,” Barnes said.
In a statement provided to the Orange County Register Nov. 22, Sidhu said the city and the Angels are looking at fair market prices for either a land sale or a lease.
“We want to keep baseball here, see fair market value for land and added benefits for our city,” Sidhu said. “It’s clear that the Angels share these goals and have heard the input of our City Council.”
Barnes said doesn’t think there’s enough information to gauge a clear direction in the stadium negotiations.
“I am waiting until [Tuesday] to hear and to be able to ask questions so that way I can be able to formulate which direction they’re (the Angels) going. I don’t think there’s been enough conversation to say this is going to be our option A or option B down the road,” Barnes said.
Barnes also said the city doesn’t have a counter-proposal ready for the Angels and “There’s no reason not to. That’s what negotiations are about.”
“For us to get a proposal at the eleventh hour, I’m distressed the Council might panic … the city is reacting to the Angels’ proposal,” Moreno said.
In contrast to how the negotiations were presented as a pressing matter in January, Moreno said city officials aren’t too worried about the looming deadline.
“I keep hearing that’s not a pressure point for the city,” he said.
Stadium negotiation expert Roger Noll, a Stanford University economist, previously told Voice of OC there’s not enough time left this year to hammer out a deal that’s beneficial for both taxpayers and the Angels.
“I think the really interesting thing is why it took so long to get this thing started. It’s ridiculous it’s taken this long,” Noll said.
The City Council reinstated the lease in January, a few months after the Angels opted out in October 2018, in an effort to buy more time to negotiate a new deal for the 155-acre stadium.
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. Barnes and Moreno voted against the lease reinstatement.
Some Councilmembers at the time said the city had to get negotiations started immediately.
“I think that this is a great deal for everybody. Because we’re going to start tomorrow. We’re not going to wait six months and then maybe get to it. Oh, we have 14 months, let’s just wait for the next six and then whatever. So this needs to start now. We don’t have time to let this go because time goes by before you know it,” Councilwoman Lucille Kring said at the January meeting.
“As I see it we’re embarking down the road to craft a very, very complex deal. Many moving parts … and this is something that we don’t want to rush. We want to make sure all of our options are considered. We want to make sure it’s a transparent process,” said Councilman Trevor O’Neil during the January meeting.
Anaheim was expecting to sit down and get a stadium proposal from the Angels in October.
That didn’t happen until Nov. 15.
And city officials, citing the closed-door negotiations, have refused to answer questions about if the city has a proposal to send to the Angels or not and if any special meetings need to be scheduled by the City Council to meet the year-end deadline.
Brooklyn-based reporter Neil deMause, who has written about stadium negotiations across the country for over 20 years, said he’s never seen stadium talks play out like in Anaheim.
“I have to say this is one of the weirdest negotiations I’ve ever seen. Where everybody seems to be approaching it not like there’s hundreds of millions of dollars at stake,” deMause previously told Voice of OC.
“It really seems like we’re headed towards something that’s going to be voted on with very little time for debate either within the Council or within the public and that’s never a recipe for a good deal,” deMause said.
Leading up to the start of negotiations, Moreno repeatedly tried to get the City Council to release the stadium appraisal and get updates on the negotiation process, but has failed for lack of support. He did manage to get proposals scheduled at the Oct. 29 meeting to release the appraisal and a 30-day public review period, but Mayor Harry Sidhu, along with the Council majority, shelved his proposals.
O’Neil successfully nixed the monthly Angels negotiations update at the March 19 Council meeting.
Meanwhile, Sidhu has publicly said very little about the stadium negotiations. He’s held one news conference on the issue Aug. 27, when he echoed much of what he said in an Aug. 22 OC Register opinion article.
“As part of the negotiating team, I will insist that any land sales or leases be at market prices, reflecting ongoing baseball use, development we’re likely to see and any requirements we may ask for with the land. You’ll hear some argue for unrealistic prices based on what we might see if we sold all of the land for housing,” wrote Sidhu.
He said the team will pay rent or a fair price for a land sale, depending on what happens during negotiations.
Sidhu also defended the current lease.
“Those who don’t want the Angels to stay, or only want a deal on their terms, will tell you the team doesn’t pay rent at the stadium. From 1996 to 1998, the team paid $87 million to fix up Angel Stadium, which then was 30 years old,” Sidhu wrote. “That was $87 million our residents did not have to pay to fix up our stadium.”
But the city also chipped in $30 million for the stadium upgrades during that time.
Depending on how many tickets are sold, the stadium sometimes costs the city money because of bond payments from an unused convention hall from the 1980’s — years before the current lease — and the annual stadium maintenance payments under the current lease.
Anaheim has received $1.6 million in direct revenue from the stadium since 2010, when the city’s maintenance spending and bonds from the 1980’s are factored in. According to Forbes estimates, the Angels make $101 million a year in gate receipts, but the team’s net profit — after factoring in player and employee salaries and operating expenses — is estimated at $19 million a year.
A Los Angeles Times analysis found that the stadium has produced $13 million in revenue since the lease was signed in 1996. That number doesn’t factor in bond payments, only the annual stadium maintenance payments.
Barnes said she’s against putting any financial burden on taxpayers in the new stadium deal.
“I think what I would like to see is that we are the landlord, they pursue a vision that compliments the city — that we all can proposer with the vision that gets us the best for our community. Special interests is all well and good, as long as it serves its community. If we’re going to put it on the taxpayers shoulders, then absolutely not,” she said.
On Monday, Moreno said he may have to rely on the Angels goodwill, instead of Sidhu’s negotiating, for a good stadium deal.
“I hope and have to trust that Angels baseball will look at more for this city than the mayor has. In fact, that’s all we have left at this point is for Angels baseball to do right by the city of Anaheim because it is clear the mayor and the super majority are not looking out for the best interests of Anaheim,” Moreno said.