Anaheim officials continue to say virtually nothing about the status of Angel Stadium publicly, and now with a critical deadline looming, city council members have apparently only discussed strategies surrounding a land act violation behind closed doors.

The city has until Monday to respond to the state’s department of Housing and Community Development’s December determination that Anaheim City Council members illegally sold Angel Stadium under California Surplus Land Act. 

The city of Anaheim could face a $96 million fine over the issue.

[Read: State Housing Department: Anaheim Illegally Sold Angel Stadium]

It’s unclear what the city will do because city council members haven’t had one single public discussion on the issue since being publicly notified of the potential state fine and officials won’t give specifics. 

Only one city council member responded to Voice of OC queries on opinions about the potential fine and that council member noted that strategies are being hammered out entirely in secret.

City Councilman Jose Moreno said council members have clearly given direction to the city attorney during recent secret discussions as part of closed session meetings of the Anaheim city council regarding the housing department fine.

“These meetings – these discussions – are happening in closed session because our city attorney has submitted various public responses to [the housing department].”

City Councilman Jose Moreno said in a Thursday phone interview

“In those documents it is clear that the city attorney is responding on behalf of the city and the city council.” 

No other Anaheim city council member returned calls, emails and text messages on Thursday about the issue.

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The city could be facing a $96 million fine from the state housing department for the $150 million Angel Stadium sale if they don’t follow one of the three recommended actions from the Housing and Community Development Department. 

In the department’s Dec. 8 letter, state officials are calling on Anaheim to either set aside 80% of the roughly 153 acres of stadium land for housing development, declare the land surplus and put it on the auction block with a 25% affordable housing mandate, or declare it surplus and offer it to affordable home developers.

If officials opt to take the fine, they would only be left with about $54 million in cash from a stadium land sale.

Anaheim residents have had no way of knowing if their city council members are talking about the issue.

Moreno said the city council has discussed the matter at least three times in closed door meetings, listed on meeting agendas as “potential litigation.” 

“We’ve had three closed session meetings as it relates to the [housing department’s] notice of violation and memos regarding the city violating the Surplus Land Act on the Anaheim Stadium sale. After each of those closed sessions, the city attorney at the end of the public meeting told the public that there was nothing to report, no actions were taken. Yet memos were sent to the HCD, based on direction presumably from the city council,” Moreno said.

He added, “Something smells.” 

Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster declined to answer questions about how many times council members have secretly talked about the surplus land act violation or who exactly is heading up the city’s response strategy.

“The city plans to provide a response next week and share it with the public. Beyond that, we don’t have anything else to share at this time,” Lyster said in a Thursday email. 

The controversy has prompted Moreno to note critically that the city is being run like a corporation, not a municipality.

“At this point it has become clear to me that the mayor and his majority and the city attorney are operating the City of Anaheim as a private organization, a private corporation and the Anaheim city attorney is no more than a corporate attorney protecting the private interest of the mayor and his majority. That’s not what we were elected to do and I would think that’s not in the spirit of the laws of open government and transparency.”

Monday’s deadline also comes a week before the city is due in OC Superior Court Feb. 14 to defend the stadium sale against a lawsuit alleging council members broke state open meeting laws by secretly deciding to switch from a lease negotiation to a stadium sale.

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The People’s Homeless Task Force, an Anaheim resident advocacy group for homeless people, is suing the city for the alleged violation of the state’s open meeting law, commonly known as the Brown Act.

The group alleges a pattern of secret meetings between city council members and staff, along with the secret decision to switch from a land lease to a property sale. The city has denied all the claims.

The transparency law narrowly allows city council members to have closed door discussions about lawsuits, labor negotiations and price and terms of payment on public land sales.

[Read: Anaheim Mayor Disputes Legal Testimony That Council Members Illegally Sold Off Angel Stadium]

The stadium sale had a starting price tag of $325 million, but was secretly reduced to $320 million so the city can hold onto roughly two acres for a water well and a fire station. 

From there, $170 million was shaved off for “community benefit credits.” 

Those credits include $123 million to subsidize 466 units of affordable housing and $46 million for a seven-acre park. 

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Moreno said city officials are using “potential litigation” as blanket cover to talk about the housing department’s violation letter. 

Moreno says council members have clearly given direction to Fabela, yet the city attorney doesn’t report anything out to residents. 

“It seems that in closed session council direction is being provided on responding to potential litigation. Responses to agencies’ notice of violations, etc. as evidenced by the legal memos – public documents – submitted on behalf of the city in recent communications with [the housing department] regarding the Anaheim Stadium proposed sale,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Moreno continued, “Yet, while required to report out if any actions were taken by the council in closed session … you have consistently stated that no action was taken by the council to report.” 

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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