Anaheim’s City Council majority “betrayed its constituents” with secretive dealmaking to sell Angel Stadium, according to a new Orange County Grand Jury report that harshly criticizes officials for fueling distrust and suppressing public discussion.
In a 23 page report released Monday and titled “The Big A Lack of Transparency,” the jurors laid out the results of their year-long investigation into the sale of one of Anaheim’s biggest landmarks that’s now the subject of an FBI investigation.
In their report, jurors laid out “myriad problems,” with the stadium sale, pointing out how repeated efforts to pump the brakes by Anaheim Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno were ignored.
“The City’s lack of transparency and rushed decisions regarding the lease and sale agreements contributed to the public’s distrust of the City Council majority,” jurors wrote.
“On multiple occasions, the City Council majority blocked the Council minority from adding items to its agenda relating to the disposition of the Stadium Property, stifling public discussion about the pros and cons of such a significant land transaction,” they added.
The panel then described Anaheim leaders with language rarely used by OC grand juries to describe public officials.
To read the grand jury’s report in full, click here.
In the two months since the FBI publicly announced their probe into the city, Mayor Harry Sidhu has resigned, plans for the sale have been vacated and Todd Ament, former CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, has agreed to plead guilty to multiple counts of fraud.
To read our full coverage of the Angel Stadium investigation, click here.
The FBI has alleged Sidhu “attempted to obstruct” the county grand jury’s probe of the stadium deal, by telling a witness to lie to the panel.
According to the FBI, the then-mayor also indicated he had deleted text messages and emails that the grand jury would have been interested in, regarding Sidhu allegedly leaking confidential city information to the Angels to help them in the negotiations.
“It was my private emails on even my text and all that with you, I erased everything,” Sidhu told his colleague, according to a transcript of the secretly-recorded conversation in January 2022.
The former mayor has denied any wrongdoing.
As a preface to their report, the grand jury addressed the FBI probe and the allegations that Sidhu attempted to obstruct their investigation.
“The FBI has alleged that at least two individuals sought to hide records from the OCGJ and engaged in witness tampering,” jurors wrote. “Nevertheless, the OCGJ investigated aspects of the Stadium Property transactions that are not the focus of the FBI investigation, and this report includes Findings and Recommendations aimed at improving City transparency.”
To fix the problem, the grand jury had a few recommendations: require at least a month of public analysis and council discussion before selling any property in the future, and make it so any city council member can place an item on the agenda.
The city council has already implemented one of those recommendations, repealing their agenda setting policy at their last meeting and opening the floodgates for members to place what they want back on the agenda.
Grand jurors said the stadium property also presents an opportunity to get creative with building housing that’s affordable to Anaheim residents, including people who work in the resort industry.
The city’s past approach “limited creative affordable housing strategies with the Stadium Property transactions,” the panel found.
“Any future agreement regarding the City’s disposition of the Stadium Property should allocate low and very low-income affordable housing units for the local workforce including individuals who work in the entertainment, leisure, hospitality, and health services industries,” the grand jury added.
The city released a statement on their website promising to review the report on Monday.
“We appreciate the grand jury’s review. With recent events and new information brought to light, those issues now are being thoroughly discussed as part of a new, extensive public process for our city,” read the city statement.
Councilman Jose Moreno said he agreed with every recommendation from the grand jury, adding that the Angel Stadium sale was not an isolated incident.
“The focus of the report is on the Big A, but I think the same could be said about many projects in our city over the past few years that are products of or in the interest of those who funded the campaigns of this council’s supermajority,” Moreno said in a phone call with Voice of OC. “The public should review this report and realize Harry Sidhu was one vote and ask how this was approved.”
Councilman Avelino Valencia agreed with Moreno in a text to Voice of OC.
“I agree with the spirit of the grand jury’s recommendations,” Valencia said. “Since my time serving on the city council, I have voiced concerns regarding the lack of transparency and voted against matters pertaining to the sale of Angels Stadium. The shortcomings of this one sided deal and process have been well documented, yet the council majority and city administration chose to turn a blind eye until now.”
Mike and Jeanine Robbins, leaders of the People’s Homeless Task Force that sued the city over the Angel Stadium sale happening behind closed doors, said the entire majority should resign.
“There’s a consistent breach of public trust. And the majority of City Council members were involved in this cabal, which are Trevor O’Neil, Stephen Faessel, Jose Diaz, Gloria Ma’ae, and Avelino Valencia. All of those guys received [the benefit of] millions of dollars from [Disneyland’s main political money group] SOAR or the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce,” said Mike Robbins. “These guys are still on the city council. They should all resign.”
Jeanine Robbins agreed, saying that the grand jury report shows they were right to sue the city for failing to publicly approve the deal even after a judge ruled against them.
“When the initial ruling came down, the city chose to malign the people’s homeless task force, at the podium, in print, and in newspaper articles. So I feel vindicated,” she said. “We always knew.”
The task force’s attorney applauded the grand jury and their report.
“Anything anyone can do to bring light to the numerous issues and practices that led to these problems and gave bad actors the kind of breeding ground they needed to succeed, is wonderful,” said Kelly Aviles, who also is general counsel for Californians Aware, one of the most noted First Amendment defense groups in the state.
She also is Voice of OC’s chief public records litigator.
“We really hope that for those people that are still in the city that are not corrupt – that they will take the bigger lesson to heart, and fundamentally change the way that they do business in order to foster a more transparent government – and thus preventing this kind of breeding ground for corruption that they’ve created,” Aviles added.
“But that only happens if the good people that are there speak up and don’t acquiesce to those people that would then want to try to avoid responsibility and shift narratives. It’s only by actually acknowledging what you did wrong and taking responsibility that you can bring about this required change.”
Councilmen Trevor O’Neil, Stephen Faessel, and Jose Diaz did not return requests for comment Monday morning.
Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae declined to comment on the report, saying she had yet to read it.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and a corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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