Angels owner Arte Moreno is pushing Anaheim City Council members to finalize a controversial stadium sale by June 14 – regardless of a court-ordered hold on last-minute changes to the deal stemming from a Surplus Land Act violation and what seems like an active FBI probe into stadium negotiations.
SRB Management, headed up by Moreno, sent a letter to City Manager Jim Vanderpool on Friday – urging the city to approve the deal, despite the headlines of the week and a mayor that hasn’t been seen or heard from all week.
Vanderpool himself has had his own actions come under scrutiny after admitting to Voice of OC that he went to one of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce retreats, with people the FBI considers a “covert group of individuals that wielded significant influence over the inner workings of Anaheim’s government.”
Despite the explosive corruption allegations made public this week by the FBI, the Angels say city leaders should approve all their dealings and contracts immediately.
“The agreements are the product of over two years of intensive discussions with numerous City Stakeholders to achieve transformative benefits for the City,” the SRB letter written by their Attorney Allan Abshez.
Read the full letter here.
Yet some of Anaheim’s most civically active residents, in turn, have criticized the deal for not being transparent for years now, even taking the city to court.
The city put out a statement on the letter Friday acknowledging they got the letter, echoing the Angel’s sentiments that the deal was pursued in “good faith.”
“While what has come to light this week falls outside that process, it nonetheless raises questions, concerns and complications. City Council members have expressed initial reservations about whether this current proposal can go forward. We will look to the May 24 City Council meeting for a full discussion and direction,” reads the city’s statement.
The letter to the city is the first official statement from the Angels on this week’s FBI bombshell disclosures. Angels spokeswoman Marie Garvey declined to elaborate on the letter Saturday.
If the city council approves the deal, it’s unclear if the city’s on the hook for a $96 million fine imposed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta because he just asked a local judge to put a two-month hold on a stipulated judgment that would clear up the land act violation.
The letter from the Angels was sent after Bonta got Orange County Superior Court Judge Glenn Salter to halt the stadium land sale for 60 days on Tuesday in light of a federal corruption probe into Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu – the lead negotiator who brokered the deal.
In official affidavits, FBI agents concluded Sidhu shared city information with the Angels and tried to ram the deal through in an effort to get at least $1 million in campaign spending from Angels executives — largely through independent expenditures that usually fund mailers and other political advertising.
Direct quotes attributed to Sidhu in an FBI affidavit include;
“I am hoping to get at least a million from I’m going to be pushing it. [Angels Representative 1] actually asked me. [Angels Representative 1] said, ‘What can I do for your election?’ I said, ‘Let me finish your deal first, and then we’ll talk about that,’” Sidhu said to an unnamed Chamber of Commerce employee in a recorded phone call, according to the FBI affidavit.
On Tuesday, Anaheim City Council members are expected to discuss the future of the Angel Stadium land sale and the Friday letter will likely come up.
“As the statement indicates, council members have offered initial questions, concerns and doubts about the stadium plan being able to go forward in light of what has unfolded this week. We now await Tuesday’s formal Council discussion and any direction to come out of it,” reads an email from city spokesman Mike Lyster on Saturday.
According to a Friday statement on the city’s website, Anaheim officials are “evaluating the letter. The stadium site plan was pursued in good faith and on the merits of the proposal and the benefits it could bring to our city. While what has come to light this week falls outside that process, it nonetheless raises questions, concerns and complications.”
The revised agreement, which stems from a CA Surplus Land Act violation and is tied to the stipulated judgment, would’ve restructured the back end of the $320 million stadium deal, which Anaheim expects to get $150 million in cash form.
The original version of the deal was approved in September 2020.
The city council majority, led by Sidhu, took $170 million the price tag so Moreno would build a seven-acre park and at least 466 units of affordable housing, according to the original agreement.
“The total amount of the investment in affordable housing through this settlement is reflective of the $123,677,843 amount that was originally credited to SRB in the Stadium sales transaction for onsite affordable housing. The intent of the parties is that Stadium deal will be restructured such that approximately $96M of the $123M credit will instead fund the housing trust, while the balance of the credit will be used to fund affordable housing on the Stadium site,” reads an April 28 staff report, when a majority of council members approved changes to the deal.
Moreno is pushing the city to adopt the agreement, even though one version is on hold for two months.
Attorney Allan Abshez – representing Moreno’s development firm, SRB Management – said officials “expects that the parties will complete the first transaction; (i) as it would be modified by the draft First Amendment to the PSA and the draft First Amendment to the DDA (if those amendments are approved by the City Council at its upcoming session); or (ii) in accordance with the agreements previously adopted by the City in September 2020.”
Abshez said Moreno and Angels executives have done their end of the bargain.
“SRB and Angels Baseball have acted in good faith throughout their dealings with the City of Anaheim with the sole purpose to create a good and fair agreement for the residents of Anaheim and the Angels. SRB Management is proud of its work with the City, and all of its numerous representatives and experts, and stands ready to complete the transaction and perform the agreements approved by the City Council in September 2020,” Abshez wrote to Vanderpool on Friday.
Meanwhile, California Housing and Community Development officials clearly see the stadium sale process as deeply flawed and in violation of the law, a notion that is directly at odds with both how city officials and the Angels describe their dealings.
“They never believed that they violated the law. I point to our December notice of violation – we still think all those things are true,” said Megan Kirkeby, deputy director of housing policy at the Housing and Community Development Dept.
In an interview with Voice of OC about the stipulated judgment, Kirkeby said state officials aren’t backing down.
“We are not rescinding our notice of violation, this will fulfill our enforcement of the notice of violation should all the conditions be met.”
It’s unclear if Moreno wants council members to adopt the original deal, or the one that’s tied up in court, since officials have declined to answer questions about it.
Before news broke of the corruption probe into Sidhu, HCD officials said in a Monday email that the revised deal shows officials from Anaheim and the Angels aren’t taking the Surplus Land Act violation seriously.
“We have reviewed the revised development agreement. The City of Anaheim and SRB’s transaction violated the Surplus Land Act. The revised development agreement is evidence that the City of Anaheim and SRB don’t take our enforcement and affordable housing seriously. HCD will exercise everything in our power to hold them accountable. We encourage the city council to reject the revised development agreement.”
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.