ANAHEIM, Calif.—Community benefits are a key component of the deal brewing between the City of Anaheim and SRB Management, which is seeking to buy Angel Stadium and the surrounding land.
However, the main community benefits—466 affordable apartments and a seven-acre flagship park—come at a considerable cost. A total of $170 million has been subtracted from the $320 million cash price, with the understanding that SRB will invest that money in these benefits instead of paying it to the city.
But some argue the developer should include community benefits in the project without the city footing the bill. And some say Anaheim community groups should have been more involved in deciding the community benefits.
“We're paying for the community benefits in the form of a price reduction. Most developers, when they do a development deal, they have to allot for improvements and benefits,” Paul Kott, a realtor and lifelong Anaheim resident, told The Epoch Times. “In this transaction, the buyer gets to deduct those.”
Another Anaheim resident, Vern Nelson, told The Epoch Times, “We're paying them 170 million to get them to do what should be done in decency; just to make some of the [housing] units affordable. ... It shouldn't be something we have to pay for.”
Nelson was wearing a red shirt that said, “Shame on Sidhu,” (referring to Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, a proponent of the stadium deal) at a protest against the deal on Sept. 21.
Community Involvement in Deciding Benefits
Ted De Barbieri, an associate professor at Albany Law School, has studied similar development deals. He said the community benefits aspect of the Anaheim deal is unusual in that community members weren't directly represented in those negotiations.
“Deals where the local government or city council provides community economic benefits—I don’t call them ‘community benefit agreements,’” he told The Epoch Times. “I think we should only call [them] ‘community benefit agreements’ if they are negotiated between community coalitions ... [and] developers.”
An example is a 2018 deal in Nashville, Tennessee, to construct a Major League Soccer stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville. An organization called Stand Up Nashville, composed of labor unions and other community interests, negotiated the community benefits. Those included affordable housing, a child care center, and a $15.50 minimum wage for stadium employees.
At a virtual town hall in Anaheim on Sept. 24, residents brought up the issue of community input.
A resident submitted a question asking why the sale of the 152 acres, including the stadium, wasn’t put before voters as a referendum.
“There is no requirement that this needs to go before voters in a referendum,” said Mike Lyster, chief communications officer for the city. “City councilmembers are elected to do the business of a city ... and this certainly falls under their purview to consider the future of an asset like this.
“They do that in consultation with the public. And again, we encourage everyone to have their voice be heard on this.”
During the city’s presentation, Lyster highlighted additional community benefits, including 45,000 permanent jobs, 30,000 construction union jobs, and 2,500 Angels baseball game tickets to be given to the community annually.
“We, as a city, often turn around and give these [tickets] to charitable organizations and community groups,” he said. “So that has gone on as we've owned the stadium, and that will continue going forward.
“But the short of it is, this site will generate revenue that will benefit all of our city ... This is partly why we are doing this. We, as a city, need to maximize the value of land in our city and turn around and use it for the benefit of our neighborhoods.”
Alex Winsberg, general counsel for SRB Management, said developments on the site “will be useful for everybody.”
Aside from “all of the open space,” Winsberg mentioned plans for bowling alleys, movie theaters, restaurants, bars, and “places to come and spend an evening regardless of whether you're here for a baseball game.”
Price Tag on Community Benefits
De Barbieri said evaluating the monetary value of community benefits can be tricky.
“These types of efforts to quantify public goods are happening across the country,” he said. “It's hard, in my experience, to put a price tag on some of the benefits that are discussed.”
He gave an example related to the seven-acre park in the Angel Stadium deal. That park can raise property value in the surrounding area. That could be good for homeowners, he said, but not for renters, whose rent may rise as a result.
“Just that metric—increased property values—cuts both ways,” he said.
“The efforts to try to put a dollar value ... certainly reflects a trend across the country to attempt to quantify, or attempt to balance out, the good that the public is giving—in this case, reduced purchase price—in exchange for something the community needs.”
When governments subsidize privately owned projects, De Barbieri said, there is scrutiny of the costs and “calls among communities for tangible benefits.”
Performing Arts Center
Kott asked, “Why should the city of Anaheim have to pay for a park that's not owned by the City of Anaheim? In other words, this property is going to be owned by [SRB Management].”
Todd Ament, president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, told The Epoch Times that SRB Management will purchase the land for the park, develop it into a park, and manage the park, but will “dedicate it back” to the city.
“It's far from a fair deal for the people of Anaheim,” Kott said. “Angel Stadium is the crown jewel of all public assets.”
Lupe Ramirez, one of the residents at the Sept. 21 protest, said, “It's just a deal that completely supports the buyer.”
Ramirez said past community benefits discussions involving a nature center, a visitor’s bureau, and a performing arts center never came to fruition.
“None of that is included in this deal now,” she said.
Howard Knohl—a retired doctor who is president of the board at the Anaheim Performing Arts Center Foundation—had proposed building a performing arts center on a parcel of the land near Angel Stadium. City council instead decided in December 2019 to sell that land to SRB Management.
When the issue of the arts center surfaced at the Sept. 24 town hall, Lyster said: “For whatever reason, certain milestones laid out in that process and in that exclusive negotiating agreement [in December 2019] just were not met. But we all stand with the door open should we have further discussions on that.”
The city council will hold a hearing Sept. 29 to evaluate the current Angel Stadium project proposal. If it chooses to move forward, there will be a second hearing on Oct. 6.
Chris Karr is a California-based reporter for the The Epoch Times. He has been writing for 20 years. His articles, features, reviews, interviews, and essays have been published in a variety of online periodicals.