Angel Stadium sale lawsuit: Anaheim officials detail negotiation timeline

·4 min read
An overall view of Angel's Stadium of Anaheim during the third inning of a baseball game.
A view of Angel Stadium during a game against the Seattle Mariners in July 2020. (Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

The city of Anaheim and the owner of the Angels had discussed the future of the Angel Stadium property for half a year. On Aug. 23, 2019, the Anaheim City Council was advised the Angels wished to buy the land, rather than lease it. On Sept. 24, 2019, the council agreed to negotiate a sale of the property.

Those meetings took place behind closed doors, but City Councilman Jose Moreno and former city manager Chris Zapata testified to that timeline in separate declarations filed late Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court. The declarations supported a filing in a lawsuit in which a citizens’ group has asked the court to declare the sale invalid.

In the next month, the city faces two challenges to the viability of the stadium sale. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial Feb. 14.

Separately, the state housing agency has determined the sale violated a law intended to maximize development of affordable housing. The city has until Feb. 6 to resolve that violation.

On Dec. 4, 2019, the city announced the sale of the 150-acre site — the stadium and surrounding parking lots — for $325 million to a newly established development company controlled by Angels owner Arte Moreno. At the next council meeting, on Dec. 20, the council approved the deal, in which the Angels would remain in Anaheim through at least 2050 and Moreno’s company would surround Mike Trout with a neighborhood of homes, offices, hotels and dining and shopping options.

In Wednesday’s filing, the People’s Homeless Task Force argued the sale violated the Brown Act — the state law that generally requires public business to be conducted in public — because “all the deal points [had] been negotiated in secret.” The filing alleged five violations of the Brown Act, most notably by failing to provide timely public notification that the land would be sold rather than leased.

“The pros and cons of the decision to sell versus lease public property and the ultimate decision to sell the property must be” discussed in a public session, not a closed session, according to the filing.

Jose Moreno — no relation to the Angels owner — was one of two council members who voted against the deal. Zapata resigned under pressure last year and now serves as city manager in Sausalito.

In 2018, the council publicly commissioned an appraisal of the land value for both lease and sale scenarios, although the city declined to release the appraisal. In August 2019 — in an op-ed article, at a news conference and at a public council meeting — Mayor Harry Sidhu said the that the city should consider a lease and sale and that he would insist on market value either way.

In a statement Thursday, Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city remains "confident in our entire process, including appropriate closed session briefings."

He added: "Some simply don’t want to see a stadium agreement go forward for their own reasons, and this claim and much around it reflects that. People are entitled to their views. But just because something doesn’t go your way does not make it unlawful."

The city council has met twice since the state housing agency notified the city of the affordable housing violation, but in neither meeting did the council discuss the matter before the public.

City staff met Tuesday with representatives of the state agency, discussing options for putting the property up for bid in accordance with the law. Under the law, a city should not sell public land without first making it available to affordable housing developers.

If the city council decides not to put the land up for bid, the council would have two other apparent options: sue the state, since the city has repeatedly argued the most recent version of the affordable housing law does not apply to the Angel Stadium deal; or pay a fine of about $96 million, which would leave the city with $54 million in cash from the sale.

In lieu of full cash payment, the city agreed to credit Moreno’s company with $170 million toward the inclusion of parkland and 15% affordable housing within the project. The city previously offered to settle the matter by committing to additional affordable housing elsewhere in Anaheim; the agency preferred not to segregate lower-income families away from the stadium area.

If the city does not resolve the violation, the housing agency also can refer the matter to the state attorney general for potential legal action.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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