The Angel Stadium land sale moved a big step closer to closing Monday when a judge ruled that the city of Anaheim had not violated the state’s public transparency law in negotiating the deal.
“There is no basis for overturning the decision to sell the stadium site,” Orange County Superior Court Judge David Hoffer wrote in his preliminary ruling Monday.
Hoffer dismissed the statements presented as key evidence — statements by city councilman Jose Moreno and former city manager Chris Zapata — as “not credible” and said he had examined six claims by a citizens’ group that had sued the city to stop the deal.
“None of these claims are valid,” Hoffer wrote.
Hoffer gave each side 10 days to appeal before his judgment becomes final. In this case, the city would face a remaining obstacle in completing the sale.
In December, the California Department of Housing and Community Development ruled that the sale violated the state Affordable Housing Act. The state and city have discussed a negotiated settlement, most likely with the payment of a $96 million fine, which would then be used to expand affordable housing elsewhere in Anaheim. The city could also sue the state.
If that hurdle is cleared, the city could proceed with a deal approved in 2019, in which a company controlled by Angels owner Arte Moreno would transform the 150-acre stadium site into a mini-city, adding homes, shops, restaurants, hotels and more is building offices on what is now a sea of parking lots around Angel Stadium.
The team would remain in Anaheim until at least 2050, and Moreno could decide whether to renovate the current stadium or build a new one. According to an economic impact study commissioned by Moreno, the city would receive $150 million in cash, plus the inclusion of parkland and at least 466 units of affordable housing, and projected $652 million in tax revenues for the city treasury over 30 years . City advisors reviewed and endorsed this study; Anaheim did not commission its own study.
In a statement, Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu said the tentative decision was the right one.
“This confirms that the stadium sale was an extensive public process with community input and debate,” Sidhu said. “We look forward to a final decision and to moving forward with a plan for the future of baseball in Anaheim that will generate revenue for our residents and neighborhoods for years to come.”
In their statements, Moreno and Zapata testified that the council agreed to sell the property — rather than rent it out — and did so behind closed doors, abusing an exception to state law that allowed a closed-door discussion of ” Price and Conditions”. The city and angels did not begin negotiations until two months later, according to city records.
“It is simply incomprehensible that the city would agree to a sale of the stadium site without knowing exactly what it would get for it,” Hoffer wrote.
Hoffer also wrote that even if he had accepted what Moreno and Zapata had to say, there would have been nothing wrong with the city having a closed discussion about whether to sell while requiring public disclosure of the discussion would have been limited to “price and terms” of a possible deal.
“For a legislature to discuss price without discussing whether the price is for sale or rent would lead to absurdity,” Hoffer wrote.
Hoffer also ruled that two public hearings would have provided ample opportunity for public input before the city council approved the deal and later the development plan.
“The talks and decisions surrounding the sale of the stadium site were anything but secret,” Hoffer wrote.
In a footnote, Hoffer cast an unfavorable light on Moreno and Zapata for disclosing discussions in closed sessions when they believed they were disclosing wrongdoing.
“This Court disapproves of the public disclosure of confidential information obtained in closed sessions without the authorization of the Council, and without even attempting to obtain court approval‘ Hoffer wrote. The italics were his.
During a court hearing earlier this month, Hoffer said he expected the losing side to appeal. Kelly Aviles, attorney for the People’s Homeless Task Force — the civic group that is suing — did not immediately return a message Monday seeking comment.
Although a court could put the sale on hold pending an appeal, this is believed to be unlikely. At the hearing, the parties discussed potential penalties that did not include annulment of the deal, meaning a court could let the sale go ahead and consider other options for punishing Anaheim should the city later break the law.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/story/2022-03-21/angel-stadium-land-sale-judge-ruling-arte-moreno Angel Stadium sale nears completion following judge’s ruling