Anaheim City Council members have decided to cancel the Angel Stadium land sale following an FBI corruption probe into former Mayor Harry Sidhu, who abruptly resigned this week.
“I would like to make a motion to direct our city attorney to immediately void our Angel Stadium agreement,” Councilman Jose Moreno said at Tuesday’s meeting.
City Council members unanimously voted to immediately kill all proceedings surrounding the stadium deal after over two hours of public comments where residents spoke against the deal and the council members who initially supported it.
The move could put the city under the gun of Angels attorneys, city staff said.
Moreno said evidence in court affidavits filed by the FBI should strengthen the city’s position.
“I understand that we might get the wrath of million dollar lawyers thrown at us, but I feel confident that when the FBI says they have evidence of Mayor Sidhu sending documents [to the Angels during negotiations] … that to me is evidence there was collusion to create a deal that was not to our interest, that was corrupted by our mayor’s actions,” Moreno said. “We have very strong evidence.”
Acting Mayor Trevor O’Neil backed up city attorney requests that city officials try to put the deal on hold so city attorneys could explore legal options to void the agreement – but he failed to get support from his colleagues.
“I understand the optics of let’s immediately void and the message that sends – but if we’re able to accomplish the same thing by slightly wording the motion in a different manner to lessen the potential liability we have … I have a hard time backing away from that,” O’Neil said, adding that he would “support whatever motion” ended up before him.
Councilman Jose Diaz also said the city needs to get out of the deal with SRB Management, which is headed up by the Angels owner.
“As far as I’m concerned, this deal is no good,” Diaz said.
City attorney Rob Fabela said his office will find a way to void the deal.
“I understand the current thinking is finding a voidability and that’s what we will do,” Fabela told council members.
SRB Management spokeswoman Marie Garvey said the company is exploring all options.
“We are disappointed by Anaheim City Council’s action last night regarding the Stadium Land Sale. Since the beginning we negotiated in good faith which resulted in a fair deal. We are currently exploring all of our options,” Garvey said in a Wednesday statement.
The move also came the same day Sidhu’s resignation went into effect following an FBI public corruption probe into the former mayor’s dealings at city hall, including the Angel Stadium negotiations.
In affidavits filed in court, federal agents allege that Sidhu shared critical information with the Angels and tried to ram the deal through in order to get the franchise executives to give him $1 million to help refinance his reelection campaign.
“Due to the actions outlined in the FBI investigation affidavit, this deal in my opinion just can’t move forward,” Councilman Avelino Valencia said.
Councilman Stephen Faessel said if the city was going to do a restart on the stadium the city should do it after the current council is out of office.
“If we do a do over, make it in 2025 when all of us, or most of us will be gone,” Faessel said. “This needs a fresh start by fresh faces.”
Faessel was part of Sidhu’s majority who voted with the former mayor to help ram the deal through and at Tuesday’s meeting he denied wrongdoing and welcomed an investigation.
“They can investigate me all they want. I have absolutely had no involvement in this whatsoever. I thought it was a pretty good deal,” he said.
The decision to drop the deal came after Angels Owner Arte Moreno pushed council members to move forward with and finalize the deal by June 14 despite a court order halting the deal for 60 days.
Valencia called out the letter at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“As a fellow Anaheimer and lifelong Angel fan, I did not appreciate the letter that the Angels sent to our city stating that we must approve the current deal despite the current dynamics that we’re all undergoing,” he said.
The deal was canned the same day Sidhu’s resignation went into effect.
Sidhu got himself appointed to the city’s negotiating team in 2019, months before the negotiations officially started.
The former mayor’s attorney, Paul Meyer, said in a statement Monday that an investigation would show the former mayor did not disclose information to get campaign money.
“A fair and thorough investigation will prove that Mayor Harry Sidhu did not leak secret information in the hopes of a later political campaign contribution,” reads Monday’s statement.
Meyer didn’t address Voice of OC follow up questions.
The 2019 stadium negotiations didn’t officially begin until Nov. 15 and SRB Management, headed by Angels owner Arte Moreno, was created five days later. According to a city document tracking the progress of stadium negotiations, the two negotiating parties met Nov. 15, 22 and 26.
The stadium sale proposal was first made public Dec. 4 that year and the Council voted to begin the land sale 16 days later.
It took 12 days longer for the City Council members to decide to name the second Monday in October Indigenous People’s Day than it did to enter a stadium land sale agreement.
During public comment, former Councilwoman Denise Barnes described how efforts by her and Moreno regarding the deal – whether to make the Angels pay “fair market rent” or to have the franchise put Anaheim back in the team name – were shut down by Sidhu and his majority.
“I remember that night like it was yesterday because I felt every lock step was going to just mimic, mimic, mimic and I also felt that the discussion was not there. And I know you guys are pretty educated, but the fact that you just went in step made it so suspicious and the fact that there was a lot on the line with this agreement,” she said.
“I really beg and ask where was the consciousness of you – because I even did a PowerPoint presentation and said how badly it was just rushed.”
The starting price was $320 million for Angel Stadium and the 153 acres of land it sits on.
When the council majority initially started the land sale process in December 2019, the final cash price was still unknown because city negotiators – led by Sidhu – still had to figure out the “community benefit credits.”
Those credits eventually took $170 million off the starting price tag nine months later.
The Sidhu-led council majority were fine with subsidizing $123 million for 466 units of affordable housing and another $46 million to build a seven-acre park.
On Tuesday night, even though Faessel voted to terminate the sale, he said he still thought it was “a pretty good deal,” since the city isn’t making money on the current lease.
However, he acknowledged the community’s concern about the deal as well.
Former City Manager Chris Zapata told Voice of OC that he kept hearing that Angels owner Arte Moreno only wanted to pay $150 million for the stadium and land.
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, that would’ve restructured the back end of the deal to create a $96 million affordable housing trust – a fine imposed by state officials.
Meanwhile, many residents don’t think Sidhu should be the only person on the dais to resign and some are calling for the rest of Sidhu’s majority to leave office as well. They also called for an end of the stadium deal.
“One down, five to go,” local activist Rebecca Kovacs said, referring to Sidhu’s majority still on the council.
Other Residents like Jeanine Robbins also called out Trevor O’Neil, Jose Diaz, Stephen Faessel, Gloria Ma’ae and Avelino Valencia at the meeting.
“You all knew about Harry’s dirty dealings and five of you up there were just as involved in these dirty dealings. This Angel stadium deal needs to end today,” said Robbins during public comments.
On Wednesday, Unite Here! Local 11, a union which represents over 32,000 for hospitality and restaurant workers in Southern California and Arizona, is organizing a protest on the intersection of Harbor Blvd and Katella Ave at 10 a.m. to demand new leadership in the city.
Some of the workers spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting.
“For years our union has been ringing the alarm about the lack of transparency and community input in the development process in Anaheim, including this Angel stadium deal,” said Juan Munoz, a researcher from the union.“Now we find out that the Angel’s deal may have been even shadier than we imagined.”
“It was one of the biggest giveaways of our public land to a luxury real estate developer in our city’s history. Workers and residents tried to demand more. But instead we were completely shut out of the process,” he continued.
“This was business as usual in the City of Anaheim.”
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam