Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and the rest of the City Council may be forced to answer questions under oath about a proposed Angel Stadium land sale now that an Orange County Superior Court judge has refused a city request to throw out parts of the lawsuit against the city.
The People’s Homeless Task Force, an Anaheim residents’ advocacy group, sued the city in February for moving to sell the stadium land and alleged Sidhu and his colleagues violated the state’s transparency law, also known as the Ralph M. Brown act, by holding secret meetings about the deal.
Judge David Hoffer will preside over a Monday afternoon court hearing on the case at 1:30 p.m.
“The underlying issue relates to Respondent’s allegedly back-door deal to sell the subject property to a group associated with the Angels baseball team,” read’s Hoffer’s tentative ruling.
The lawsuit is looking to overturn the land sale vote and have Anaheim City Councilmembers redo the entire process in public, which is now proposing to sell the stadium for $150 million.
“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 initial filing, submitted by the task force’s attorney, Kelly Aviles, who is also Voice of OC’s public records litigator.
The group alleges because the City Council appointed Sidhu to the city’s negotiating team, it’s subject to more transparency laws. The team, consisting of the mayor, the city manager and the city attorney, only met with Angels negotiators three times before the land sale was announced early last December.
Councilmembers only talked about the stadium deal twice in closed session after negotiations officially began, according to meeting agendas. The first discussion happened on Nov. 19 and another discussion Dec. 3, the day before the land sale proposal was released.
The city tried to get that part of the lawsuit thrown out, along with numerous other allegations.
“Petitioner’s argument that “essentially anything created by a legislative body…must comply with the Brown Act” relies on a false assumption that ignores the official record, and a refusal to accept settled law. For Petitioner’s argument to have any merit, the Council would have been required to act to create something. The official record establishes that it did not,” reads the city’s response.
Hoffer refused to throw that part of the lawsuit, along with other parts the city wanted tossed out.
“Defendants offers a bevy of documents from which various facts might be supportable, but, in the end, the questions of whether a negotiating team constituted a legislative body or whether any “safe harbor” attaches are based on the facts, not on what the defendant City elected to put in agenda reports, Hoffer wrote in his tentative ruling.
The People’s Homeless Task Force also alleges the city should’ve notified the public it was moving in the direction of a land sale and not a lease agreement.
Negotiations didn’t officially begin until last November and the land sale was announced early December.
“The City’s fundamental change in direction from a lease, to the sale and the permanent loss of the City’s largest public asset, should have been made known to the public,” reads a court filing on behalf of the task force
And five days before Christmas last year, the City Council voted to sell the 153-acre stadium land for a starting price of $325 million, which was secretly reduced to $320 million because the city is looking to keep two acres for a future fire station and water well.
Now, the price has been more than halved after the city’s negotiating team agreed to shave off nearly $170 million to subsidize at least 466 units of affordable housing and a seven-acre park, reducing the price to roughly $150 million.
Anaheim city attorneys said the lawsuit fails to specifically point to evidence of secret meetings.
“Petitioner alleges, on “information and belief,” and without any specifics, that the City Council engaged in secret and/or serial meetings in violation of the Brown Act,” reads Anaheim’s filing. “Absent allegations of specific facts, however, contentions that merely speculate that a violation ‘must have occurred’ fail to state a claim.”
But the task force’s response said the nature of secrecy makes it impossible to point to specifics about closed-door meetings.
“The very nature of secret communications make them impossible to allege as a matter of personal knowledge,” reads the lawsuit.
“Even the comments made by the Council infer that the negotiations would be discussed outside of public view. In response to concerns about how all council viewpoints would be represented in negotiations, the City Council was repeatedly assured that they can give direction to the Negotiating Team outside of public view.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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