Anaheim officials continue to challenge state housing department officials’ position that the Angel Stadium land sale is illegal, using many arguments that have already been rejected. 

On Friday, city attorney Rob Fabela sent a response letter to the California Department of Housing and Community Development regarding its finding that city officials illegally sold Angel Stadium under the Surplus Land Act. 

Fabela argues the sale is exempt from the land act because the sale agreement happened Dec. 2019, shortly before the law got more teeth beginning in 2020. 

“…receipt of the [notice of violation] was a complete surprise and disappointment to the City as months of previously encouraging discussions were callously waylaid to attempt to enforce (erroneously) procedural mechanics of the surplus Land Act,” Fabela wrote in the Friday response letter, which was provided by state housing department officials.

City officials are urging the Department of Housing and Community Development to rescind the surplus land act violation it issued in December.

If city council members opt for the fine, the city would only be left with roughly $54 million from selling Angel Stadium and the roughly 153 acres it sits on. The starting price was $320 million, but was massively reduced for the promise of 466 units of affordable housing and a seven-acre park built by the team owner.

The city council never publicly debated the land act violation or discussed any responses to the charge it illegally sold Angel Stadium. 

[Read: Will Anaheim Pay Out a $96 Million Fine For Illegally Selling Angel Stadium?]

Meanwhile, the city is due in court Feb. 14 to defend against claims city councilmembers illegally switched from a lease to a land sale in secret while holding illegal, secret serial meetings.

[Read: City of Anaheim Fights Back Against Lawsuit Alleging Officials Secretly Conspired to Sell Angel Stadium]

The city attorney also points to a “constructive exclusive negotiating agreement” between Anaheim and SRB Management, a development firm headed up by Angels owner Arte Moreno. 

In the December 2020 determination that city councilmembers illegally sold the land, state officials said there was no written agreement between Angels or the city, which would exempt the stadium from the Land Act.

“Based on the evidence submitted by the City, HCD finds that no substantial evidence of any exclusive negotiating agreement with SRB Management, LLC existed prior to September 30, 2019,” officials wrote in their determination letter. 

In Anaheim’s Friday response, Fabela again said that a written agreement isn’t needed to constitute exclusive negotiations – but state officials have already rejected that argument.

Fabela also pointed to a similar situation in the City of Santa Monica, when the housing department exempted a land sale from the act — stemming from an apparent handshake negotiating agreement.

“The [law] does not define ‘exclusive negotiating agreement’ and does not state that it must be in writing,” reads the March 2020 determination letter the housing department sent to Santa Monica

But housing department officials also found Santa Monica and the developers had a written exclusive negotiating agreement, but it expired. 

The Anaheim City Council shot down the idea of entering into exclusive negotiations in January 2019, when the Angels were threatening to move to Long Beach.

“[The housing department] claims that an [exclusive negotiating agreement] could not have existed prior to September 30, 2019 because at a January 15, 2019 hearing, City Councilmember Jose F. Moreno made a motion to require a written ENA with the Angels Organization which was not passed. This assertion is incorrect. As described above in HCD’s own legal interpretation … [a] formal ENA is not required for this exemption to apply,” Fabela argued. 

Fabela also argues the stadium land is exempt from the land act because there’s an existing lease with the Angels, and because the stadium creates an economic opportunity, which he said also shields the stadium from the act.

Shortly before the November 2018 election, the Angels opted out of their lease. 

Not long after being elected, Mayor Harry Sidhu brought forward a lease reinstatement. 

But it was largely billed as a temporary lease extension. 

When Sidhu introduced the item Jan. 15, he told the Council, “Last week, I had met with the Angels owner Arte Moreno (unrelated to Jose 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.” 

[Read: Anaheim Mayor and City Staff Offer Contradicting Angels Stadium Statements]

Councilmembers eventually finalized the sale in September 2020, which saw a huge price drop from the original price tag of $320 million – even though an appraisal showed it being worth roughly $500 million, but city officials said they had to take the lower price because of parking space requirements set by the city.

Taxpayers took $123 million off the starting price to subsidize at least 466 affordable housing units. Another $46 million was taken off so taxpayers could build a seven-acre park on the stadium land.

City officials classify the price reductions as “community benefit credits.” 

It all happened without much critical discussion from the council majority.

In an unsuccessful effort to avoid a Surplus Land Act violation, city officials and SRB Management upped the amount of affordable homes slated to be built to 777, according to a city statement posted in December.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

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