It looks like Anaheim taxpayers will foot a nearly $100 million fine imposed by the state because Anaheim city officials negotiated with team owners in a way that violated state laws meant to ensure public properties go out to bid with a priority for affordable housing.
According to reliable sources, state Housing and Community Development Department officials later this morning are ready to make an announcement today about the settlement, one that could very quickly be rushed through the Anaheim City Council by Tuesday.
Apparently there’s a news conference scheduled later this morning to announce the settlement.
The proposed settlement between the state housing agency and the City of Anaheim could put city taxpayers on the hook for a $96 million dollar fine, which according to those familiar with the process, is derived from a formula in the state Surplus Land Act designed to make such a payment a poison pill for any flawed, insider-dominated deal.
Yet it seems the only poison here is for taxpayers’ bottom line.
According to sources, a $96 million dollar fine would come out of Anaheim’s general fund and reportedly be restricted for use only on affordable housing construction — something that likely satisfies state regulators’ aim.
Getting clearance from state regulators, first reported by LA Times Sports Columnist Bill Shaikin on Friday, would mean clearing the last entitlement hurdle for the development of the land around Angels’ Stadium.
It’s a bid that really began with a failed effort back around the Labor Day holiday in 2013 when the name Anaheim forever dropped from view.
That deal would eventually stall and negotiations would chill under a council majority led by former Republican Mayor Tom Tait that held office until 2018.
The next year, in the midst of another election campaign, the Angels took the ultimate chance and tore up their existing lease — something that did impact the mayoral election.
Immediately upon taking office, Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu made it a public priority to keep the Angels and re-instated a loose lease – one that allowed the Angels to negotiate with others like the City of Long Beach, but kept city officials only talking to the Angels.
Over the course of the next few years, negotiations went underground with Mayor Sidhu largely leading the effort for the city side.
The entire negotiation — if there was ever really was a back and forth of terms — occurred largely outside of public view, something that the city council majority supported.
A lawsuit was filed against the process – alleging the city officials violated that state’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act — and while lawyers for activists were able to produce declarations from former City Manager Chris Zapata and Councilman Jose Moreno noting that at one point in closed session, officials shifted gears from lease talks to a purchase, one that was later authorized by the full council.
Yet last month, an OC Superior Court Judge decided against residents in the lawsuit filed by local activists with the People’s Homeless Task Force, deciding that the city’s negotiations met the standard set by the state’s open meeting laws when it comes to discussions about selling off public land.
Superior Court Judge David Hoffer also said that Zapata and Moreno’s declarations weren’t credible, although Hoffer didn’t discuss why he didn’t consider what they said — decisions which would seemingly violate state law — as credible.
The People’s Homeless Task Force has yet to announce whether they will appeal the decision handed down by OC Superior Court Judge David Hoffer.
While many OC Superior Court judges in recent years have really stood up for the state’s open meeting laws, Hoffer took an odd approach to very narrowly-crafted and well-known exemptions under the state’s open meeting law.
Hoffer declared that the stadium negotiations largely met the standard for what could be discussed in private about such deals.
Hoffer wrote that exemptions meant for only “price and terms of payment” in the state law could easily be interpreted to cover just about any closed sessions talks about such a transaction.
I think he’s plain wrong.
If he isn’t, there isn’t one public property in California that is safe from being sold to inside interests.
If this is allowed to stand as the standard for the sale of public assets in California, then I would argue it’s time for the legislature to reconsider the issue.
Price and terms of payment.
That’s the only thing that can be discussed in private, according to the 1953 standard adopted by California’s legislature.
That’s always been my understanding of the exemption, one honed after years of covering public sector purchases, including stadium leases and over the course of several years as President of CalAware, one of the state’s leading nonprofit advocacy groups on First Amendment issues.
I’m not alone in that understanding.
In speaking to David Snyder of the First Amendment Coalition, he was also fairly adamant that those are the only two exemptions.
“Price and terms means only that,” Snyder said.
Yet even Snyder noted that the standard set by legislators is so narrow that maybe over the years, public sector lawyers have increasingly interpreted that – often under pressure from special interests looking to cut a deal – those narrow terms have become really wide ranging – as Hoffer’s decision now codifies..
Editorial writers with the Orange County Register also have consistently raised concerns about the secrecy of this deal.
“One of our frustrations is when cities use public meetings as a rubber stamp for decisions that already are set in stone, or treat public-information laws as technicalities they can work around … we believe the deal should be renegotiated in keeping with the open spirit of the Brown Act,” the OC Register’s editorial board wrote.
People like Snyder and institutions like the OC Register aren’t the only ones asking questions.
I spoke to State Senator Tom Umberg last week, who also mentioned his concerns on the lack of openness on Angels negotiations and whether it’s time for state legislators to potentially amend the 1953 Act to make it much more clear that any property negotiations have to be done in public.
“I think it’s clear that the intent of the Brown Act is to make sure the public can see the public’s business is done in full view, especially when it comes to large issues, like taxpayer expenditures,” Umberg said.
“We’re going to amend the Brown Act,” he said.
Based on the press conference being scheduled for later today — one that apparently will include participation from Attorney General Rob Bonta himself – it looks like legislators may also want to take a fresh look at the state’s Surplus Land Act.
Because if they don’t, get ready for the floodgates to open on speculation over California state properties.
Everything’s in play now and can be sold off largely in the dark.
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