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Owner Autry Talks of Angels Moving If Team Loses Suit

Times Staff Writer

As lawyers put the finishing touches Monday on the California Angels’ court battle with Anaheim in the form of a lengthy brief, owner Gene Autry put it much, much more simply.

“If we lose the lawsuit, I’m sure we’d have to make arrangements to go somewhere else,” Autry said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

Asked where that might be, Autry said he is not in a position to say. But he said any new site must have good freeway access and ample parking--the crux of the dispute over Anaheim Stadium.

In a brief telephone interview, Autry sounded like he was stating a fact, rather than delivering a threat.

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While others, most noticeably baseball Commissioner Peter Uebberoth, have stated that any loss of surface parking in the stadium might make it unsuitable for baseball, Monday was the first time Autry has publicly mentioned a possibility of moving the club.

The latest legal brief apparently is the final filing in the dispute before Superior Court Judge Frank Domenichini issues his decision.

The Angels have alleged that the city gave the baseball team rights to the 146-acre parking lot when the club first moved to Anaheim, then broke that promise to lure the football Rams to the stadium in 1978 and 1979.

To woo the football team, the city gave the Rams development rights to 68 acres of the parking lot. A firm called Anaheim Stadium Associates, the Rams’ development partnership, promptly announced plans to build high-rise office buildings and parking lots, creating a center similar to Century City.

The Angels alleged that the deal was in violation of the team’s 1964 lease. Autry put it more simply, saying the city’s plans to let the Rams develop a portion of the lot was like “selling the same horse twice.”

Asked Monday if the 13-month trial and lengthy post-trial argments have changed his mind, Autry said: “I still feel the same way. We felt we gave the city every chance in the world to settle the lawsuit.

“But the city never consulted with me while they were negotiating with (the late) Carroll Rosenbloom of the Rams. They never told me they were giving this property around the stadium to a firm called ASA to build high-rise buildings.”

Autry said the club “had” to file the lawsuit since the city was violating its lease.

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In the written papers, Angels lawyers said that Anaheim residents, as well as the club and baseball fans, would be hurt if the building plans are not halted.

Club lawyer William Campbell insisted that Angels officials never consented to the Rams’ building plans and, in fact, “made objections known all the way along.”

“If ASA is in a predicament, they only have themselves to blame,” Campbell said. “They read the Angels’ lease before they ever got involved. They acknowledged the Angels’ lease and that the Angels’ rights would be paramount.

“They’re gonna have to look in the mirror if they’re worried about their problems.”

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City officials were not to be outdone Monday in the war of words. Anticipating the final Angels brief, the city produced an inch-thick summary of its position in the dispute. Monday’s release itself is larger than many Orange County Superior Court files, containing 27 exhibits. The city said virtually all executives with the Angels at the time the Rams’ deal was negotiated had endorsed it, partly because of a stadium expansion plan that increased its capacity to 64,000 from 43,250 in 1978.

The club changed from cooperation to “bitter opposition” in early 1983, when Autry bought out other part-owners of the team and brought in new management, including his wife, Jackie, according to the city’s release.

Angels officials, who had not seen a copy of the city press release, declined comment.

Campbell insisted that the idea of building high-rise structures on the parking lot “was a dumb idea back in 1978, and it hasn’t gotten any better with age.”

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