Anaheim city officials next week are expected to discuss whether they violated state law when they voted to sell Angel Stadium, in what some criticized as a rushed process.
This week, Councilman Avelino Valencia succeeded in scheduling a public discussion for next Tuesday — a rare event surrounding the stadium.
“Once again, throughout this process, the public has been kept in the dark by our city’s leadership aboud these developments,” Valencia said near the end of Tuesday’s meeting.
In April, the California Department of Housing and Community Development sent a letter warning the city may be in violation of the state’s Surplus Land Act, which prioritizes development of low and moderate income housing on public land that’s for sale.
Valencia is aiming to publicly question issues surrounding the housing department’s warning letter and the overall negotiation process.
“To reiterate, the [request] is to agendize a discussion where we can interject and ask questions of the staff in terms of the [housing department’s] involvement in the situation and everything that’s led up to this,” he said
He also said the letter was kept from some council members.
“Additionally, some of us on council were not formally briefed or informed of [the housing department’s] preliminary conclusions or of other communications, nor have we been included in the process developing a plan of action to address these issues,” Valencia said.
Councilmen Jose Diaz and Jose Moreno gave the needed support to Avelino’s agenda request on the discussion.
Diaz and Valencia weren’t on the council when the deal was approved and Moreno has been a chief critic of the land sale.
Moreno previously told Voice of OC that he didn’t know about the letter until it was originally reported by the Los Angeles Times late last month.
Over the years, the Angel Stadium negotiation process has been criticized by residents, Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) and former Mayor Tom Tait.
The two state legislators sent a letter asking city council members to hold off on the initial land sale process in December 2019, before the council approved the deal at a special meeting five days before Christmas.
Valencia is also a staffer for Daly.
“Throughout the original negotiation process of 2019, many concerns were raised by Anaheim taxpayers and stakeholders. Some of these concerns pertain to the fact that these negotiations took place behind closed doors and lacked transparency with little to no public input.”Councilman Avelino Valencia
The city is looking to sell the roughly 150-acre land, including the stadium, for $150 million to team owner Arte Moreno.
The starting price tag was $320 million, but that was whittled down through “community benefits credits.”
The council majority was fine with taking nearly $170 million off the starting price: $123 million to subsidize 466 units of affordable housing and $46 million for a seven-acre park.
“In my opinion, there were lost opportunities in the approved deal that would’ve benefited our city’s financial interest,” Valencia said.
Next Tuesday could be the first time council members have a general discussion about the stadium deal and the potential state law violation, unless someone moves to immediately table the item and kills the discussion.
Since 2019, there’s been a concerted effort by some council members to keep discussions secret.
Mayor Harry Sidhu, who led the charge to sell the stadium, has immediately shelved Angel Stadium items before, which axes any public discussion on them.
In 2019, Sidhu shelved the stadium appraisal discussion and the idea of a 30-day review window of the final deal proposal, with support of the council majority.
“The lack of communication and transparency since the inception of the Angels deal seems to have become more and more of a pattern at City Hall. As an Anaheim resident, taxpayer and elected official, this is a grave concern,” Valencia said.
In April, the housing department sent a letter warning the city may be in violation of the state’s Surplus Land Act, which prioritizes development of low and moderate income housing on public land that’s for sale.
The law “requires the city to take formal action in a regular public meeting declaring the property surplus or exempt surplus land, as supported by written findings,” reads the letter. “None of the documents that the city has provided to [Housing and Community Development] indicate that the city has declared the property surplus or exempt surplus…”
But Anaheim City Attorney Robert Fabela, in a written response last month, said that part of the law doesn’t apply because the city apparently has an exclusive negotiation agreement.
“Here, the documentary and administrative record establishes that the city and the principals of Angels Baseball were parties to an exclusive negotiating agreement,” Fabela wrote.
Yet the City Council never voted on an exclusive negotiating agreement.
Instead, council members shot down a 2019 proposal from Councilman Jose Moreno for such an agreement.
But Fabela said the current stadium lease — which was reinstated in January 2019 — proves the city was exclusively negotiating with the Angels.
“No other party was involved in these exclusive negotiations — nor could have any other party been involved — because of the privity of lease and contract that existed between the parties under the Current Lease as well as the lease issues that were subject of negotiations,” Fabela wrote in his response to the housing department. .
If the department decides the city broke state law, taxpayers could be on the hook for at least $96 million dollars in penalties, Valencia said.
“And now to add insult to injury, our residents — the taxpayers — may possibly have to pay a fine of tens of millions of dollars due to poor decision making.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio