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Column: Angels get to 2020 in Anaheim, but taxpayers are left stranded on base

Column: Angels get to 2020 in Anaheim, but taxpayers are left stranded on base
“[F]rom the tone of Tuesday night’s Anaheim City Council vote — which reinstated the Angels’ lease with a second amendment that extends an out clause until 2020 — it is unlikely that the city will ever get its name back on the team.” (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim get until 2020 to figure out their name and home.

Yet from the tone of Tuesday night’s Anaheim City Council vote — which reinstated the Angels’ lease with a second amendment that extends an out clause until 2020 — it is unlikely that the city will ever get its name back on the team.

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Only two council members — Jose Moreno, one of two Democrats, and Denise Barnes, a Republican — voted for an amendment that would have conditioned reinstatement of the lease with the Angels keeping the name Anaheim prominent in team marketing.

“We’re cowering here,” Barnes said from the dais toward the end of a debate she’d ultimately lose on a 5-2 vote.

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“I’d love to see the Anaheim name back, but I’m not sure this is the time to do that,” said Councilman Steve Faessel.

Democrat Jordan Brandman joined Republicans Sidhu, Lucille Kring and Trevor O’Neill in fighting back any conditions.

Meanwhile, Moreno — who was seconded on every motion by Barnes — offered two other proposals for conditioning approval. He proposed that the Angels pay market-based rent during the new lease period. That was rejected on a similar 5-2 margin, with Moreno and Barnes dissenting.

Moreno almost won a proposed amendment that would have required the Angels to agree to an exclusive negotiation in exchange for a new lease approval, winning over the support of Republican Faessel, but ultimately failing on a 4-3 vote.

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Ironically, both Brandman and Kring publicly lamented their previous vote in 2013 that extended the out-clause to 2018.

Other than a short statement about his private meeting with team owner Arte Moreno and the belief that the new lease would give negotiators time to craft a deal, Sidhu said little to defend the new lease. Owner Moreno opted out of his stadium lease last year just before the November elections.

Thus, by October, Anaheim taxpayers could have owned the stadium and the 150 acres of parking around it — without any lease restrictions.

Outside the meeting, Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament said the existing lease is problematic and unclear in areas, arguing that a new agreement would allow the city to have a better long-term ability to retain the team.

Yet long-term seems like a relative term to sports teams.

Keep in mind that the original lease was supposed to keep the team in Anaheim until 2038.

Last year, it seemed Moreno accepted that fact.

The out clauses were supposed to be small windows — so small that they couldn’t be used — so taxpayers would get to the portion of the lease that benefits them.

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Yet that point never seems to show up.

Sports stadium leases are the only kind of municipal arrangements I’ve ever seen that when the tenant gets to the halfway point of the lease, they get to drive a renegotiation that involves not only buying the asset but even getting surrounding development rights.

All this after the team pulls out of the lease.

And offered with no change in rent.

Just listening to Barnes try to get an answer from City Stadium Manager Tom Morton about how the Angels pay their rent was a bizarre affair with the stadium manager dancing around the basic fact that under the current lease terms, the stadium is a wash for taxpayers.

In fact, it was stunning how little information council members were offered to make this major concession.

They weren’t shown economic impact studies or information on market-based rents for other stadiums, nor was there even a discussion of the maintenance needs at the stadium or the value of naming rights for cities.

Ultimately, council members have charged City Manager Chris Zapata with putting together a negotiation team and reaching out to the Angels.

Zapata — who has experience with stadium deals — was measured when asked his opinion on the extension but said he could use the time to put together a strategy and analyze potential complex deal points.

“For me, more time is better,” Zapata said.

He expects to get a stadium appraisal, the first step in a new negotiation, ordered by next month.

Norberto Santana Jr. is the publisher of Voice of OC, a non-profit investigative news agency.

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