A longtime resident activist group in Anaheim is taking the city back to court for its attempt at pushing through the Angel Stadium land sale in a way that allegedly violated California’s chief transparency law.
Appealing a previous ruling they lost in OC Superior Court, People’s Homeless Task Force OC is looking to prove that city council members and high-ranking officials violated the Ralph M. Brown Act when they nearly sold off Angel Stadium and the 153 acres it sits on for $150 million in cash.
“I’m an expert in the Brown Act and they violated the Brown Act. If we’re wrong about that and every judge we go to says you’re wrong, then maybe we need to fix the Brown Act,” said attorney Kelly Aviles, who’s representing the task force and also works as general counsel for Californians Aware, one of the most noted First Amendment defense groups in the state.
In a Wednesday phone interview, Aviles, who is also Voice of OC’s chief public record litigator, said “it’s important to clarify exactly what the Brown Act requires.”
City council members unanimously voted to kill the deal Tuesday night following revelations of an FBI corruption probe into former Mayor Harry Sidhu.
“This was totally built on corruption,” Aviles said. “I’m not surprised, they bullshitted on everything else.”
City officials were still figuring out what to do Wednesday.
“We are aware of the notice to appeal and will continue to evaluate as we learn more in the days ahead,” city spokesman Mike Lyster said in a Wednesday email.
The task force’s president, Mike Robbins, said the appeal is an effort to protect the Brown Act.
“The ruling by that judge in the Brown Act lawsuit weakens the Brown Act,” Robbins said in a Wednesday phone interview.
In March, OC Superior Court Judge Glenn Hoffer ruled against the task force, saying the discussions to sell the stadium deal were “anything but secret and were fully vetted with the public.”
“This is far from public or transparent and that’s what the public requires in the Brown Act,” Aviles said.
In separate depositions, City Councilman Jose Moreno and former City Manager Chris Zapata said the idea of a land sale instead of a new lease was first floated in an August 2019 closed session meeting – something Aviles says should’ve been done publicly.
But Hoffer didn’t find their declarations credible.
Peoples Homeless Task Force OC member, David Duran, said the judge incorrectly believed the city’s argument against Moreno and Zapata.
“We believe they were wrongly identified as being untruthful. So we’re hoping an appeal would rectify the judge’s finding on that,” Duran said in a Wednesday phone interview. “There was a Brown Act violation, lack of transparency and some corruption that really needed to be outed.”
The city was about to finalize the deal before California Attorney General Rob Bonta successfully got a judge to put a two-month hold on a stipulated judgment. Bonta’s court filing includes an FBI affidavit, which has damning allegations of public corruption by Sidhu.
In the affidavit, FBI agent Brian Adkins alleges Sidhu gave Angels representatives critical information during negotiations in an effort to try to ram the deal through for up to $1 million in campaign contributions through independent expenditures – political mailers and other advertising.
Adkins also alleges Sidhu destroyed documents related to the Angel Stadium land sale.
Sidhu, through his attorney Paul Meyer, announced his resignation Monday.
In the Monday statement, Meyer denied any wrongdoing by Sidhu and said “the government affidavit confirms that Harry never asked for a political campaign contribution that was linked in any way to the negotiation process.”
Scores of residents came out to decry the stadium deal and the resort industry’s influence on city hall at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Meanwhile, Duran said the FBI corruption probe could increase the task force’s chances in court.
“I think they’re going to be forced to be more truthful,” Duran said. “We’re not getting anything from this. It’s just bringing truth to light hopefully.”
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
And since you’ve made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.