On March 21, Judge David A. Hoffer issued his “Proposed Statement of Decision” regarding the case of People’s Homeless Task Force Orange County v. City of Anaheim and SRB Management, LLC, in which the city has been accused of violating the Brown Act in negotiating the sale of about 150 acres of land surrounding Angel Stadium.
Judge Hoffer’s statement is flawed and self-contradictory in a number of ways. A large part of his reasoning stands on the assumption that the decision to sell a property is “inextricably intertwined” with the price and payment terms that one might hope to obtain, should one decide to sell.
Excuse me? We can be fairly confident that 99% of homeowners in Orange County know the price they can get for their homes, but only a tiny fraction of them are actually planning to sell.
Yes, it’s quite reasonable to obtain an appraisal without deciding to sell. But it is also possible for a landowner (or the landowner’s “negotiator”) to decide to sell before they know exactly what price will be paid. This happens frequently, I would guess, in cases where job offers require relocation. Of course, it may also happen when the buyer thinks he can make a ton of money off the property, and has made all the necessary political “contributions” to the lead negotiator. In such cases, the decision to sell may be entirely unrelated to the price and terms, because the fee for making that decision has already been paid.
So, I’m sorry to inform Judge Hoffer that his reasoning on this point is quite simply wrong. It is entirely possible to discuss the price of a property before deciding to sell, and it is also possible to discuss the decision to sell (as opposed to, say, leasing) without knowing the exact terms of the sale. However, according to the Brown Act, the latter decision must be made in public.
Hoffer compounds his error by misinterpreting Section 54956.8 of the Brown Act, which clearly states (and he quotes!) that the PRICE and TERMS OF PAYMENT are the factors that can be discussed behind closed doors, not the decision to sell itself. Curiously, he mentions several times how careful people were about only discussing prices and terms of payment in the closed-door meetings, and yet he concludes that any discussion of a price somehow means that you must also be discussing the decision to sell.
Most egregiously, at no point in Hoffer’s timeline of events was the decision to sell ever discussed in open session until the 12/20/19 public meeting, at which point the council voted to accept a purchase proposal by Angels Baseball. Councilmember Dr. Jose Moreno and City Manager Chris Zapata both declared that this decision was discussed in the closed session that took place on August 13, 2019, which of course would have violated the Brown Act. City Attorney Robert Fabela contradicted their statements, claiming no discussion of “the relative merits of a sale versus a lease and no decision to sell the stadium site was made.”
If Moreno and Zapata’s statements are correct, the Brown Act was violated. Hoffer claims Fabela’s declaration is more believable, but that begs the question: When did the council discuss the relative merits of selling versus leasing and when was the decision made to sell? Hoffer claims that Moreno contradicted his own declaration (that the decision to sell was discussed in closed session on 8/13/19) when Moreno stated in open session on 12/20/19 that it was the first time they had discussed the choice of whether to sell or lease the property. This apparent contradiction is resolved if we take Moreno’s words to mean that 12/20/19 was the first PUBLIC discussion of that choice.
Judge Hoffer includes other quotations that contradict his own reasoning. Another occurs on page 23, near the end. He states, and even underlines the fact, that NO INTERVENING CLOSED SESSIONS occurred between December 20, 2019, when the initial version of the sales agreement was first presented at a public meeting, and September 29, 2020, when the amended (and eventually passed) version was first presented.
So if no closed-door sessions were held, and no discussions took place in open session, how exactly was that amended version negotiated? Over cocktails between Harry and Arte? By telepathy?
Hoffer seems to think the above scenario proves how open and honest the city has been. (They didn’t do ANYTHING behind closed doors! ) And he took pains to cite the number of public comments received at the latter meetings, as if that somehow proves how open and above-board the whole process has been. I mean, if you receive 10 or 20 times the average number of comments at a council meeting, that has to mean everything is hunky-dory, right?
It can’t possibly mean people are really upset about being railroaded into a bad deal, can it?
Thomas Fielder has been involved in homeless advocacy for more than 4 years, with Housing is a Human Right OC. He is also Director of Acquisitions for the People’s Homeless Task Force Orange County. The views expressed here are solely his.
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