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Pressed by a pandemic budget crunch, Anaheim city council members have significantly sped up the process for selling Angel Stadium and 153-acres around it to team owner Arte Moreno with the hopes of netting a quick $25 million from the transaction to help bolster the general fund.
Yet there are questions about how fast the money could reach city hall.
The development group, SRB Management, headed up by various investors including Angels owner Arte Moreno, is slated to submit a master plan for developing the land by May 31, speeding up the stadium sale process by years.
The 6-1 city council majority that approved the new terms on Tuesday night said the accelerated process will give the city much needed cash during the novel coronavirus pandemic, which is devastating Anaheim’s tax revenues.
However, the money may be locked in an escrow account until the deal closes.
Despite warnings from the city attorney that the funds could be locked in a escrow account for an extended period of time, Mayor Harry Sidhu said on Tuesday he’s confident he can get them released earlier.
“The Angels and SRB Management are moving up by as much as three years,” Mayor Harry Sidhu said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “The city will receive an extra $10 million this year. This is money I have no doubt we will need.”
Councilman Steve Faessel also said it speeds up the timeframe and gives the city money faster.
“As far as I’m concerned, the sooner is better. We’re going to get the site plan a year earlier … the program is being moved up 29 months and we’re going to get another $10 million in September,” Faessel said.
The starting price tag is $325 million and the final price could be millions lower after the city negotiates community benefits and affordable housing with SRB Management, which was formed just days after negotiations formally began last November.
“If this is approved tonight, I guess we’re being urged by the Chamber of Commerce … that we’re going to get money sooner. If this is approved tonight, how much will go into the escrow account and by when, based on the vote this evening?” Councilman Jose Moreno, the dissenting vote, asked city staff.
City Attorney Rob Fabela said the money can’t be used right away.
“Under the terms of the agreement, these [payment installments] are put into escrow and they count against the purchase price,” Fabela said.
“You both commented that we can use the money right now, it sounds like we can’t use the money until the escrow deal closes,” Moreno said to Faessel and Sidhu.
Sidhu responded and said he could try to get some money released to the city when more land sale items are negotiated. Sidhu is on the city’s stadium negotiating team after getting himself appointed last July.
The city expects $25 million deposited into the escrow account by September under the new time frame.
City staff clarified that the master site plan won’t give exact development specifics, but a general idea of what SRB Management is looking to do with the land, like parking garages built in a specific portion of the land.
The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce emailed its members Monday encouraging people to email comments to City Councilmembers in support of the timeframe amendments.
“This agreement provides the city with $10 million in badly needed revenue sooner rather than later. And it quickens the timeline for the development of the stadium site, which will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenue,” reads a template the Chamber encouraged members to email in.
There were over 500 pages of emails sent in before Tuesday’s City Council meeting — a bulk of those were against a weed shop proposal. But roughly 30 emailed public comments used all, or portions of, the suggested comments from the Chamber.
The Chamber, which spent nearly $240,000 on Sidhu’s 2018 campaign for mayor, promoted a December “Rally to Keep the Angels in Anaheim” event at a brewery across the road from the stadium. The group also hosted similar events in 2013 and 2014, when it endorsed a proposed lease that would have given the stadium land to the Angels for $1 a year for 66 years.
Councilwoman Denise Barnes said she wants more transparency surrounding the stadium sale.
“We still have many bases to cover before we get to home plate,” Barnes said. “We know there’s other components that we have not addressed. So hopefully we will continue to have eyes on all the process.”
Barnes, along with Moreno, voted against the move to start selling the land in December.
Councilmembers didn’t formally discuss the land sale until a public hearing at a Dec. 20 special meeting, despite having all last year to negotiate a land sale or lease.
“We had a very thorough discussion and debate about the terms,” Sidhu said Tuesday. “Tonight is not the night to revisit and again debate all of those items.”
Negotiations didn’t officially begin until Nov. 15 and SRB Management was created five days later. According to a city document tracking the progress of stadium negotiations, the two negotiating parties met Nov. 15, 22 and 26.
The stadium sale proposal was first made public Dec. 4 and the Council voted to begin the land sale 16 days later.
Moreno criticized the rushed nature of the deal Tuesday.
“I feel the deal is an imbalanced one, it was a rushed deal and we don’t know the final economic value to the city,” Moreno said “So again I will not be voting for this item because it’s built on a deal I did not support.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.