ANAHEIM, Calif.—Anaheim officials are facing a legal challenge after allegedly discussing the sale of the Angel Baseball Stadium with the owner of the Angels in private—prior to announcing their plans to the public.
City Councilman Jose Moreno and former city manager Chris Zapata provided declarations in the Orange County Superior Court after the lawsuit was filed by the People’s Homeless Task Force of Orange County in 2020.
The lawsuit accuses city officials of meeting behind closed doors in August 2019 to discuss Angel Stadium owner Arte Moreno’s desire to buy the land instead of leasing it, according to Moreno.
The legal challenge further notes the city council’s discrete meeting to agree upon the negotiation of the stadium property in September 2019, Moreno said.
While the Brown Act requires local government affairs to be open to the public, except under limited conditions, Moreno claimed that he was unaware of a possible violation at the time.
“The decision by the council to sell, to engage in this negotiation for the sale of our public land was in September, but the public was not made aware of it until December when the proposal was sunshined for sale,” Moreno told The Epoch Times.
With eight officials sitting on the city council, including Mayor Harry Sidhu, Moreno speculates that Sidhu didn’t consider a potential violation of the Brown Act.
“His interest was pursuing a deal that was in the best interest to Arte Moreno and Angels baseball, and he is basically the donor class of Anaheim,” Moreno said.
Mayor Harry Sidhu didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding the alleged Brown Act Violation.
After the discussions by the council occurred behind closed doors, the sale of the stadium was rushed to be sold prior to Dec. 31, 2019, due to Angel’s owner Arte Moreno wanting to ensure a deal was made with the city to buy the land before the deadline to opt out of the lease agreement by the end of 2019, according to Councilman Moreno.
Angel’s baseball team owner Arte Moreno was not immediately available for comment.
While Councilman Moreno attempted to persuade the city to extend the opt-out of the lease agreement by a month to receive more public input after the New Year’s holiday rather than rush the vote, his efforts were rejected.
“Why would we do such a monumental important deal that’s the most consequential land of the city of Anaheim in multiple generations and our most valued asset … on the eve of the holidays when people can’t really pay attention to what’s happening?” Moreno said.
Prior to 2019, the Angel Stadium owner was seeking to move the baseball stadium elsewhere in the state before the lease expired due to an opt-out clause written in the contract, Moreno said.
The city of Anaheim responded in an attempt to keep the stadium in Anaheim by extending the opt-out deadline by a year for negotiations to occur, Moreno said.
In December 2019, the city approved the sale of the 150-acre stadium site to Arte Moreno’s business, SRB Management, for $320 million, which will be paid in installments over the next four years with a fixed interest rate of 2.35 percent.
The agreement was approved by the city council by a 4–2 vote, with Moreno and former Councilwoman Denise Barnes dissenting.
Despite the city being questioned regarding the transparency of the stadium sale, Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said in a statement that the city stands by the decisions made.
“We are confident in our entire process, including appropriate closed session briefings and direction given to staff from those briefings,” Lyster said. “Some simply don’t want to see a stadium agreement go forward for their own reasons, and this claim and much around it reflects it.”
While city officials will be on trial on Feb. 14 to address the allegations, Moreno commended the People’s Homeless Task Force of Orange County for filing the lawsuit in an attempt for a more transparent government.
In response to the city allegedly approving the sale without providing the opportunity for other bidders to place an offer on the land, the city received a notice of violation of affordable housing laws by the state Housing and Community Development (HCD) on Dec. 8, 2021.
The notice required the city of Anaheim to fix the violation within 60 days.
While it’s unknown how the city will respond before the deadline in February, Moreno said the council has been assessing the violation in closed session.
The People’s Homeless Task Force didn’t respond to a request for comment.