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The Anaheim City Council still hasn’t publicly discussed community benefits in the pending Angel Stadium land sale, which will ultimately lower the $325 million starting price tag, despite having the past seven months to iron out the benefits.
The city’s negotiating team is expected to bring the benefits package back to the council at an unknown later date. The team includes Mayor Harry Sidhu, who got himself appointed to it last year.
Anaheim still owns the stadium, but City Council members voted late last year to sell the land to the owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno, after the panel said very little about it. Council members Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno (unrelated to Arte Moreno) voted against it and criticized the land sale proposal for lacking details and transparency.
“It was reported by the city that we would expect to look at a development agreement in September or October that would include the community benefits component. Is there a timeline for when the council will have agendized a discussion of those community benefits so we could provide public direction?” asked Councilman Moreno at the July 14 council meeting.
“There’s no timeline at this point. We’re still in discussions on all those points that you mentioned,” interim City Manager Greg Garcia said.
Sidhu was silent on the issue.
Moreno, the loudest critic of the land sale on the council, said he thought the panel is supposed to form the basis of the benefits agreement and direct the city’s negotiating team.
“It was my understanding that the council would discuss what that package would look like since there’s different ideas of that. So are you presenting the community benefits package to us or agendizing for us to discuss a package?” Moreno pressed.
Garcia said the negotiating team’s been talking about the package, but didn’t have any solid dates.
“Well, there’s a negotiating team that’s been working on this, so the way I would imagine this we would present the council a recommended package. But in terms of when that would be shared with council, I’m just not sure at this time since those conversations continue,” Garcia said.
This year’s progress on finalizing the land sale deal is similar to how last year’s decision to sell the land played out.
In January 2019, Sidhu presented the lease reinstatement, but characterized it as an extension. The Angels had terminated the lease in late 2018.
“Last week, I had met with the Angels owner Arte 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,” Sidhu said at that meeting.
City officials generally considered the action a lease extension at that meeting also and indicated they would negotiate a new lease with the Angels.
At a later meeting in August, the City Council majority members, including Sidhu, said they knew the January 2019 vote was to reinstate the lease, despite characterizing it as a lease extension.
The vote also extended the Angel’s opt-out window until the end of last year.
Very little happened for months until November, when stadium negotiations officially started.
According to a city document tracking the progress of stadium talks, the negotiating parties met Nov. 15, 22 and 26.
Leading up to the late-year stadium talks, there was barely any discussion by council members on what they would like to see in the new deal.
The only time the council publicly spoke about the stadium before voting to sell it, was a vague August discussion that largely centered around market-rate price for the land in either a lease or a sale.
But the stadium property was never put on the real estate market by the city.
City Council members voted to sell Angel Stadium — a multimillion dollar deal with the future plans of the major league team hanging in the balance — faster than voting to name the second Monday in October Indigenous People’s Day.
City officials released the land sale proposal Dec. 4 and the council voted Dec. 20 to sell.
It took 16 days for the body to consider and vote on selling the land, while it took 28 days to vote for Indigenous People’s Day.
The speed and secrecy of the deal caught the attention of two state legislators.
Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), a former mayor of the city, and Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) criticized the deal for its lack of details on community benefits and other agreements that could lower the proposed $325 million starting price tag. The two sent a letter to the city Dec. 19, the day before the City Council voted to sell the land.
“We have heard from many citizens concerned that the proposed sale price – and rumored credits on the ultimate purchase price – may not be in the best interest of the taxpayers of Anaheim. Without knowing the final terms and conditions of the eventual sale, including the role the city will play in shaping the development of the land, how can the taxpayers of Anaheim know if the proposed sale achieves the maximum financial value for the city?” wrote Daly and Umberg.
Former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, along with Daly, published an opinion article on Voice of OC criticizing the land sale proposal for its lack of details.
“Crucial information about this real estate deal is missing, and what little has been made public appears stunningly one sided against Anaheim taxpayers,” the two former mayors wrote.
They also took issue with the undefined community benefits package.
“‘Community benefits’ are only vaguely defined, and will most assuredly reduce the final sale price by millions of dollars, possibly hundreds of millions. There is no limit on this loophole, and the people of Anaheim will be paying the price,” Daly and Tait wrote.
Barnes also raised concerns over the rushed negotiations and lack of details.
“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,’” Barnes said before the land sale proposal was made public.
Meanwhile, the city is facing a lawsuit over the land sale for allegedly violating state transparency laws.
The homeless advocacy group, the People’s Homeless Task Force, filed the lawsuit in February.
“The decision to sell public property must be made by the City Council at a public meeting. Instead, … the decision to sell the property was made entirely outside of public view. The final vote on December 20th was nothing more than a rubber stamp of the secret negotiations,” reads the lawsuit.
City officials say they have followed transparency laws and dismissed the lawsuit’s allegations.
The coronavirus pandemic has largely halted any court proceedings.
Shortly after the land sale proposal was publicly announced last December, Moreno told Voice of OC he thought his council colleagues knew about the land sale ahead of time.
“Let’s just say that, it’s very rare that I’ve come into situations, even among like-minded people, that no questions are asked or other options are pushed,” Moreno said then.