Questions are surfacing over whether or not Anaheim officials are willing to hold the Angels baseball club accountable for repairs on the publicly owned stadium.
After a damning FBI corruption probe rocked city hall last year, city council members ordered up a stadium maintenance report – something one former councilman and the city attorney – said could be used to force stadium repairs under the current lease.
Last year at a public city council meeting, City Attorney Rob Fabela made it clear that regardless of cost, it is the Angel’s responsibility to pay for the stadium’s maintenance.
“If there’s a number out there that represents the amount of capital repairs and improvements needed to maintain Angel Stadium in good condition repair equal to a first class professional baseball stadium, Angels are responsible for that – subject to the capital reserve contribution the city makes,” he said in October.
Yet it’s unclear if the new city council will force the Angels to pay for repairs once that assessment is completed even after officials hired a consultant last month to find out exactly what condition Angel Stadium is in.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said in a Friday phone interview that asking whether the city will force the Angels to make the recommended repairs is “putting the cart way before the horse.”
“We just want to know what condition our largest asset is in,” Aitken said. “Knowing that, it’s premature to make any projection about what will be the city’s responsibility or the Angel’s responsibility without having a report in front of me.”
Team officials say they’ve spent seven times more on maintenance than what’s required under the current lease.
It comes after federal agents, in sworn affidavits, alleged former Mayor Harry Sidhu tried ramming through the stadium deal – including passing critical information to ballclub officials – for $1 million in campaign support.
Sidhu resigned shortly after the probe surfaced last May and has maintained he’s done nothing wrong. He hasn’t been charged with a crime.
The stadium land sale quickly fell apart and the previous city council voted to assess maintenance needs on the publicly owned asset in an effort to hold the Angels accountable for repairs – and as a negotiating point for any future deals.
City spokesman Mike Lyster wouldn’t say if the city will use the assessment findings to force the Angels to make and pay for more repairs to the stadium.
“The study is being done to assess the condition of the stadium and as a reference for any future discussions about a lease or the stadium site,” he wrote in a Tuesday response instead.
Aitken said that it is critical the assessment be independent.
“To the extent any future negotiations start with the Angels, it’s information that we really are going to want to know. I would rather have it sooner than later and it’s important that it is our independent assessment, not something that is given to us by the Angels,” she said.
Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.
The rest of the city council did not return requests for comment last week.
The lease, originally signed in 1996, makes it clear who’s responsible for maintenance.
“Tenant will maintain the Baseball Stadium in good condition and repair subject to ordinary wear and tear at its sole expense,” reads the lease. “The standard of maintenance to which Tenant will adhere in the maintenance of the Baseball Stadium will be at least equal to first class professional baseball stadium.”
The stadium lease was reinstated in 2019 – spearheaded by former Mayor Sidhu, who billed the move as a one-year temporary lease extension.
This past November, the previous city council called for a maintenance assessment on Angel Stadium, months after an FBI corruption probe surfaced and killed the stadium land sale that would’ve netted the city $150 million cash for selling the roughly 150 acres of land.
Shortly after the land sale was canned, former City Councilman Jose Moreno began questioning if the Angels had lived up to their end of the lease agreement which requires the team to maintain the city’s stadium at a first class level.
He also called for a closed door meeting on how best to enforce the Angel’s maintenance obligations under the lease.
Moreno said in a Wednesday phone interview that by the Angels own admission the stadium is dilapidated and Angels Owner Arte Moreno – no relation – should pay for the repairs.
“I would hope that the city council, based on this assessment, will start working on upgrading that stadium,” he said. “And that the bill per the lease and clarified by the city attorney should then be given to Arte Moreno and Angels Baseball, to pay for the upgrades of infrastructure and upkeep of the stadium at a world class level.”
What Needs Fixing?
Over the years, the Angels in communications with the city estimated the stadium needs $150 million in upgrades and wants the city to help pay for it.
Marie Garvey, spokesperson for Angels Baseball, did not answer if the ballclub would make and pay for any of the recommended repairs after the assessment is completed. She deferred questions to the city as owners of the stadium.
“Our priority is to provide a high-quality fan experience at The Big A. Under current ownership, we have spent over seven times more than what the lease requires in capital improvements and maintenance,” Garvey wrote in a Wednesday email.
According to an Oct. 25 city staff report, the Angels have spent $54.5 million on capital repairs and improvements on the stadium since 2002 – $12.3 million of that money came from the city.
Between 2012-2019, the Angels spent roughly $30 million on the stadium, according to building permits at the time. But more than half of that money was used on items that benefit the team like a scoreboard.
Former Councilman Moreno said he called for the assessment because during land sale negotiations they never got an appraisal of the value of the stadium structure itself and that the city has not in recent decades done their own assessment of the condition of the public property.
In 2013, the Angels had started the process of conducting an assessment of the stadium, but a final work product was never released even with the city throwing in $65,000 for it.
“A lot of the trouble that surrounded the last deal is because there wasn’t an independent appraisal or assessment of the asset,” Aitken said.
On May 16, Anaheim City Council Members voted unanimously to pay Populous, Inc, a global design firm, $325,000 to conduct a property condition assessment of Angel Stadium without much discussion.
Councilmembers also agreed to a 10% contingency for “extra services” not included in the agreement if deemed necessary and approved by the city attorney.
Lyster said the city is paying for the assessment through the city’s Convention, Sports & Entertainment enterprise budget when asked if the Angels would share the costs or completely cover the study.
According to the contract agreement, Populous is tasked with assessing the current and future capital needs of the stadium as well as recommending a repair and replacement plan including estimated costs.
This includes a look at stadium seating, restrooms, the structure itself, the parking lot, electronic signage, sound systems, roofs, concession stands and more.
Read the agreement here.
Lyster said the city used the firm to help make stadium renovations between 1996-98.
Is Another Angel Stadium Land Sale on the Horizon?
While some residents question if city council members will try to secretly negotiate another land sale, Anaheim officials have said multiple times there have been no discussions with the baseball team to date on any future stadium sale or lease.
Aitken said Friday there’s been no discussions with the team about a future sale or lease. She also said she didn’t know if discussions would start after the assessment is complete.
“The Angels have not reached out to me, nor has the city reached out to the Angels,” she said.
But even with the corruption scandal surfacing last year, Angels Owner Arte Moreno pushed for the old land sale to go through.
He later demanded $5 million from the city over transaction costs for the failed land sale.
Lyster wrote in a Tuesday email that the claim expired and the city didn’t pay the $5 million.
By August, Arte Moreno announced he’s looking to sell the baseball team.
But on January 23, he decided to take Angels off the auction block – about a month after four new council members were inaugurated to office in Anaheim.
That same day, Mayor Aitken told Voice of OC she is open to discuss a new land sale.
One day later, Anaheim City Council Members secretly rejected a transparency lawsuit settlement that would have made them commit to negotiating any future Angel Stadium deal in public view.
Noah Biesiada 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam
Since you’ve made it this far,
You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.