Coming down the home stretch, negotiations on a possible Angel Stadium deal keeping the Angels in Anaheim are set to begin next month. Angels Baseball is expected to offer a proposal in October, leaving only a few months for city officials to hammer out a deal before the team can opt-out of its current lease agreement by year’s end or be bound by it until 2029.
Anaheim City Council finally got around to publicly discussing what they’d like to see in a deal during Tuesday’s meeting with all expressing a desire for a “win-win” that benefits the team and residents, especially with the fate of 150-acres of the city’s most prime real estate around the stadium.
No votes took place during a pair of discussion items, but council debate began with how they arrived to their current circumstances. For that, councilman Jose F. Moreno requested a return to a prior January 15 vote when a council majority approved a reinstatement of the 1996 Angel Stadium lease that rescinded the Angels’ Oct. 2018 opt-out, a move that allowed them 14 months before having the option to do so again.
But Moreno claimed that the January vote left out key economic impacts, including a reduction of termination fees if the team decides to ditch Anaheim. “If they eventually leave, we will have lost out on a million dollars,” he said. Tom Morton, executive director of the Convention Center, affirmed that prospective termination fees will drop from $7.9 million to $6.8 million next year.
The councilman suggested that a much more substantial giveaway occurred when the land around the stadium became re-encumbered, meaning covered by lease. Citing a 2016 analysis, the encumbered value of the land stood at $225 million as opposed to $325 million unencumbered. “We gave away $100 million minimum to the Angels,” said Moreno. “We are at their mercy in terms of what the market rate is.”
He criticized how city fact sheets and press releases characterized what the vote entailed for the sensitive issue. “We look to provide clear, understandable information to residents about their city government,” says Mike Lyster, city spokesman. “As we saw in this case, that often involves complex topics. Our goal was to stress the practical effect of the council’s action, which, from where the council sat on Jan. 15, was to address the pending end of the lease that was coming in October 2019.”
Moreno further accused Mayor Harry Sidhu of already having skewered the market rate.
Sidhu’s role on the negotiating team, as appointed by a council majority vote in July, raises interesting questions. Aside from Angels chairman Dennis Kuhl contributing to the mayor’s campaign, he also helped pay off Sidhu’s failed 2016 State Assembly campaign debt with a $2,000 contribution that essentially goes right into his pocket. At the mayor’s solicitation, Angels Baseball also donated $10,000 in late May to help fund the Anaheim Hills Fourth of July Celebration.
The money went to a nonprofit entity whose principal officer is Todd Ament, president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and a Sidhu supporter.
But when the mayor opened public discussion about Angel Stadium negotiations, he affirmed his standing as part of the negotiating team, alongside the city manager and city attorney. “We have a chance to a get a new, better deal for our residents,” said Sidhu. “As the only [one on] council elected to represent all of Anaheim and as our council designated representative, I want to share my guiding principals of negotiation.”
Sidhu reiterated key points of a Orange County Register op-ed he penned that received adulation from building trade union leaders and Anaheim First members at the council meeting. The mayor wants to keep Angels Baseball in Anaheim, of course. That would entail market prices for any sale or lease of the land, mixed-used housing developments in the Platinum Triangle and construction jobs for Anaheim locals.
“You may be surprised, but I one-hundred percent support those principles,” said Moreno before offering presentation slides that differed in significant ways. The councilman wanted 30 to 40 percent of any housing units to be for low-income residents or a living wage for all jobs created by stadium land development. He wanted “Anaheim” back in the team’s name, not just as a populist rallying point but as something of real marketing value that the city’s lost out on since the team principally branded itself as the Los Angeles Angels. Even though Anaheim subsidized the inclusion of its name in 1996, Moreno opposed any public subsidy being part of a final deal.
Councilwoman Lucille Kring stated she didn’t want any public subsidies, either–an apparent departure from her otherwise pro-subsidy votes in the past–but disagreed with any mandated mixed-use housing, living wage or insistence on demanding “Anaheim” be reinserted into the team name, a non-starter for Angels Baseball in negotiations to come.
On Labor Day weekend in 2013, a framework for an Angel Stadium deal ignited great controversy when publicly released as it set out to offer the land around it for a dollar-per-year rent for a 66-years in exchange for the city unloading the cost of stadium renovations.
Councilman Jordan Brandman offered a mea culpa for his past vote. “The worst thing that I ever did was vote for that Angels framework in September 2013,” he said. “I have renounced it over and over again. If we hand’t taken that vote, I think we would have been able to negotiate something eventually.” Brandman also spoke in support of a “sterling” Community Benefits Agreement, something that unions and nonprofits pushing for a fair stadium deal have supported.
Nobody on council expressed a desire to see the city release access to suites and other stadium seating tickets, the subject of a Weekly special report this month that could also raise conflict of interest questions for council members who negotiate or vote on any lease agreement with any such provisions that they can later take advantage of.
At the end of the discussion, Moreno favored making a draft appraisal of the value of the land public as soon as its finalized. He also expressed concerns about the mayor pressing any panic buttons with precious few months before the Angels can decide to opt-out on December 31, 2019.
“Time, at this point, is on our side,” he said. “Do not rush the process. Let’s make sure the public participates and gets to review the deal.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!