What is the future of the Angel Stadium Deal?

That is the question Anaheim city council members will be asking themselves at their meeting tomorrow just one week after a FBI corruption investigation into Mayor Harry Sidhu came to light.

Federal officials allege that Sidhu tried ramming the deal through so he could get his reelection campaign financed by the Angels. 

Meanwhile, the Angels have written city leaders saying their deal was negotiated fairly and should be finalized this month. 

[Read: Angels Owner is Pushing Anaheim to Finalize Stadium Deal, Regardless of FBI Corruption Probe]

Residents are also asking themselves which Anaheim city officials and staff members were involved in the alleged corruption.

Afterall, Sidhu isn’t the only one the feds have been watching.

Former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Ament  is now facing charges of mortgage fraud, including claims of public corruption, detailed in a 99-page criminal complaint released Monday

The investigation has exposed what FBI officials in wiretaps reveal is a self described governing “cabal” centered around Ament and the chamber, Sidhu and the city’s resort industry.

[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]

According to the complaint, Ament and lobbyists would go on “retreats” to discuss business throughout the city and form new initiatives. 

Now questions are being raised on which city council members and city administrators attended those so called retreats.

Anaheim resident Jeanine Robbins, who has for years publicly questioned the stadium deliberations, said officials and city staff should face consequences for attending those kinds of invitation-only retreats with special interests.

“Any employees who attended those retreats should be put on unpaid administrative leave and any elected officials who attended those retreats, in my opinion, are as involved as the mayor was in this corruption and they should resign,” she said in a Friday phone call.

James Vanderpool, Former Buena Park City Manager, listens to public comments on a proposed homeless shelter. Vanderpool is now the city manager of Anaheim. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

In a statement sent to the Voice of OC on Friday afternoon, City Manager Jim Vanderpool admitted to attending one of those so called retreats on December 2, 2020 that included city council members and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce representatives.

“I have read the same descriptions as others, and it is disheartening to see this meeting portrayed that way. That is not what I experienced,” Vanderpool said of the way the FBI described such invitation-only special retreats. 

[Read: ‘Family Members Only’: Anaheim’s City Manager Admits He Was At Private Briefing Called Out By FBI]

Voice of OC also reached out to Anaheim City Councilmembers Friday on whether they attended those meetings or if they believe top city officials who attended should resign or be placed on leave pending further investigation.

Three council members answered the question; Councilman Jose Moreno, Avelino Valencia and Jose Diaz were the only ones who answered. 

Moreno said in a Friday phone interview he did not attend those meetings.

“I’ve never been in anything called a retreat with the chamber of commerce,” he said, adding that he met with the board of directors of Visit Anaheim when he first got elected to office in 2017 to introduce himself.

“They had spent so much money attacking me, I said, ‘Do you know who you’re attacking?’ Let’s meet,” Moreno said, adding he was never invited back.

Valencia said in a text message that he did not attend any of the meetings outlined in the Ament complaint.

“This is an ongoing FBI investigation and the City of Anaheim will do everything it can to cooperate. I’m confident that at the end of the day all the guilty parties will be held accountable. There is no place for this type of corruption in city hall,” Valencia wrote Friday.

In an email Friday, Councilman Jose Diaz denied attending or being invited to any of those meetings but did not respond to a question regarding the consequences city staff who attended the “retreats” should face pending an investigation.

City Spokesperson Mike Lyster also denied attending any of those meetings in an email Friday.

Council members Trevor O’Neil, Gloria Ma’ae and Stephen Faessel did not respond to calls, texts or emails for this story.

The Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Meanwhile, the stadium deal has survived public scrutiny, a lawsuit alleging Brown Act violations over the deal and the State Attorney General deeming the sale a violation of the Surplus Land Act.

But now the future of the Angel Stadium deal is up in the air.

Moreno said he hopes the discussion will provide direction on the stadium deal.

“This land deal was wrong,” he said. “My hope is that we seek to reboot and that we also seek to investigate further all aspects of how this deal was constructed, who was involved.”

He also wants a discussion on what a new negotiation process will look like and if the city council members who supported the original deal should steward it.

Tomorrow’s discussion on Angel Stadium comes at the request of Valencia, who at last week’s meeting called on the absent Sidhu to resign.

“Everyone’s entitled to legal defense,” Valencia said at last week’s meeting. “However, the evidence released yesterday on audio tape by the Attorney General’s office makes it very clear that Mayor Harry Sidhu has broken the law and violated his oath of office to this city.”

“The instability and disgrace that these actions have cast over the city cannot go without consequence,” he continued. “Let our city move ahead from this chapter.”

Anaheim city councilman Avelino Valencia listening to speakers at the city council meeting on July 20, 2021. Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

Those calls were echoed by residents in the council chambers who have been showing up for years to call out the stadium deal for a lack of transparency.

Some even called for Valencia and other members of the council to resign as well.

[Read: Orange County Reacts to FBI Corruption Probe in Anaheim; Calls For Sidhu to Resign Roar]

But the calls for Sidhu to resign may be moot.

Under the city charter, a seat automatically becomes vacant if a council member misses two regularly scheduled meetings without an excused absence in the span of a month.

“Mayor Sidhu’s last attended meeting was April 26. If unattended on May 24, that stands to be two unexcused absences within 30 days,” wrote City Spokesperson Mike Lyster in an email Friday. “The Council still needs to formally take action to declare it vacant.”

Lyster said in his email that the charter calls for an appointment to fill a council vacancy within 60 days or a special election is called.

“In this potential situation, the charter would allow the seat to go before voters in November as scheduled, given the timing of that election,” he wrote. “Because we do not have a vacancy from where we sit at this moment, we have not done full due diligence yet but would expect to do so if we encounter a vacancy. But this gives some idea of what we could expect.”

Anaheim city councilman Jose F. Moreno at the city council meeting on July 20, 2021. Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

Councilman Moreno affirmed calls for Sidhu to resign last week at the meeting and called on the city to cut ties with the chamber of commerce and the resident advisory group they created to make spending recommendations to the council called Anaheim First.

He also wants a full investigation into city staff and for Disney to stop contributing to political campaigns in Anaheim.

“The FBI affidavit,” Moreno said at the meeting. “raises disturbing questions about the nature of transactions made under the mayor’s discretion with acquiescence by his counsel majority over the past three and a half years.”

[Read: Calls for Investigations, Resignations Echo in Anaheim After FBI Stadium Sale Probe]

In a Friday interview, Moreno said he does not know enough about who from staff is involved and that’s why he called for the investigation.

“My call for the investigation wasn’t because I assumed that staff were complicit in illegal and unethical behavior,” he said. “But I want to make sure that we can say with certainty that they were not and if any of them were that we will deal with those individuals.”

Other council members – who have regularly sided with Sidhu at the dais – expressed shock about the FBI agent’s findings on the mayor but did not call on him to resign at last week’s meeting.

The very next day they changed their tune.

Council members Trevor O’Neil, Jose Diaz and Stephen Faessel sent a letter Wednesday to Sidhu’s lawyer calling on him to resign.

[Read: Anaheim Mayor Sidhu’s Council Majority Flips, Demands His Resignation Amidst FBI Corruption Probe]

Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae later put out her own statement that day calling for Sidhu to resign as well.

“I support law enforcement’s efforts to root out any corruption in our city. Anaheim deserves leaders with integrity and my fellow council colleagues, and I must be held to the highest ethical standards,” she said in the statement, adding she supports a complete investigation.

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The investigation into Sidhu has already led to a Orange County Superior Court judge to halt the Angel Stadium land sale – a deal the mayor brokered – which would have left the city with $150 million and the Angels with the stadium and the land it sits on.

[Read: OC Judge Halts Angel Stadium Sale Amidst FBI Corruption Probe of Anaheim Mayor]

But the Angels want the deal finalized by June 14.

Tuesday’s meeting will take place at Anaheim city hall and start at 5 p.m.

Residents can attend the meeting in person or watch it live on the city website.

Moreno said on Friday that people may not be interested in politics but politics are interested in them and called out the “cabal.”

“Corruption and this unethical behavior flourishes because they depend on the public and the media not watching,” he said.

“Their whole setup was to create a regime through the city council and the mayor and their shadow government, to do things, presumably in the name of the people, but without the consent of the people.”

Reporters Spencer Custodio and Brandon Pho contributed to the reporting in this article.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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