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Angel Stadium development still facing legal hurdles

Anaheim development plan Angels June 2020

The proposed Angel Stadium development that may include a new or renovated facility still faces legal challenges from the state and from a local advocacy group arguing the deal violated open-meetings laws.

Neither of these challenges are new; we’ve reported on both of them in recent months. After years of negotiations, Angels owner Arte Moreno and the city reached an agreement for Moreno and his investment group to buy the 20-acre Angel Stadium site and an additional 133 acres comprising 12,500 parking spaces for games and events, and City National Grove of Anaheim, a 1,700-seat theater. The total cost: $150 million in cash and $170 million in community benefits, including affordable housing. The goal was a mixed-use development a la The Battery.

Hold up, the state said: the sale doesn’t meet the requirements of the California Surplus Land Act requiring municipalities selling parcels must first offer it to qualified affordable-housing developers, who will then be required to set aside a percentage of any new housing units for affordable housing. (The issue here isn’t whether the Angel Stadium redevelopment plan includes affordable housing, which is the goal of the Surplus Land Act; it does. The issue is that the land was not put out to bid and a state-approved list of affordable-housing developers were included in the bids.) We’ve seen it in play in San Diego, where the state directed city officials to rebid the sale of 48 acres for redevelopment of the Pechanga Arena area. The result: A second round of bids from big developers that added affordable-housing partners.

The state gave Anaheim two months to address the issue. That deadline came and went, with the city’s stance that the deal did not violate the Surplus Land Act remaining intact. It will be interesting to see how the state responds: the state could try to fine the city $96 million, refer to the case to the state Attorney General or let the matter drop after negotiating some sort of final agreement. If the two former actions come to fruition, Anaheim could back down and rebid the sale with conditions so onerous that only the Angels could qualify. For instance, in the case of San Diego, city officials did indeed rebid the development with some specific guidelines, saying that any new development must include a new or renovated arena. Anaheim would not need to accept the largest bid, either.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging the Angel Stadium sale is now scheduled to be heard March 2, as both sides have filed arguments in Orange County Superior Court. A group of residents, supported by former city manager Chris Zapata and Councilman Jose Moreno, say the sale came as the result of closed-door meetings that violated the California open-meetings law. The city’s stance is that because there was no official group of negotiators hammering out a deal, the negotiations with different sets of city rep did not run afoul of the open meetings law. Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu argues the city’s side in the Orange County Register:

At a December 2019 City Council meeting to consider a sale, [the aforementioned] Moreno said before those in attendance and watching on TV and online that it was the first time the Council had ever discussed a sale and that the city followed California’s Brown Act.

“This is the first public discussion — the first discussion I should say — that the City Council has actually had on the actual deal points,” Moreno said on Dec. 20, 2019. “Because in closed session, the city attorney was very good in making sure we focused on the price and terms of payment per the Brown Act.”

In a span of two minutes, Moreno says “first” time or “first” discussion of a sale five times, at one point turning to myself and others and emphasizing, “We’ve not had that discussion, colleagues.”

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