City of Anaheim tells state agency that Angel Stadium land sale didn’t violate law
In December, the state housing agency declared the Angel Stadium land sale in violation of the law and gave the city two months to resolve the issue. On Friday afternoon, the city of Anaheim declared that the violation had been “erroneously issued” and asked the state housing agency to rescind it.
On Friday evening, the agency said the city’s response “doesn’t change anything.”
The city’s stance appears to set up a confrontation with the housing agency and puts the sale in renewed jeopardy. The housing agency could levy a $96-million fine against the city or refer the matter to the state attorney general, who could file suit to block the sale.
The city also faces a lawsuit in which a citizens group has asked a court to overturn the deal on grounds the city did not comply with the state’s public meeting laws. A hearing on that suit is set for Feb. 14.
The Anaheim City Council has discussed filing a lawsuit against the state housing agency. In a 15-page letter to the agency Friday, the city provided multiple reasons why it believed the agency was wrong.
“From the state’s perspective, today’s response from the city of Anaheim doesn’t change anything,” said Megan Kirkeby, the agency’s deputy director of housing policy and development. “We still disagree with the way things have been handled, and we’re going to review their response and evaluate our options and next steps.”
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Mike Lyster, the city spokesman, did not return messages seeking comment or an explanation about how the city’s arguments for why the deal is valid differed from ones the agency previously rejected. The city also put the state on notice for what Anaheim called “unconstitutional impairment of contract.”
One issue is apparent: The agency said the deal could not have been approved under a previous version of the affordable housing law because the city had missed the deadline for entering into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the buyer, SRB Management, a company controlled by Angels owner Arte Moreno. The city previously negotiated with the Angels, and SRB had not been incorporated before the deadline.
“SRB Management is part of the Angels Baseball family of entities,” the city said, adding: “The form of the entity involved … is irrelevant because the controlling parties are the same.”
If the state does not back off, the city could accept the fine and use it to build additional affordable housing elsewhere in the city, as opposed to adding it within the Angel Stadium project. That would lower the city’s cash price from the sale from the originally announced $325 million — and the subsequent $150 million that remained after development credits for the inclusion of parkland and affordable housing — to $54 million.
“If the city simply chooses to pay the penalty,” City Councilman Jose Moreno said, “it would mean Arte Moreno keeps his gift of a deal from his friend Mayor [Harry] Sidhu, the people of Anaheim get less value for their land, saddled with a $96-million fine, and further segregation of our affordable housing stock.”
Jose Moreno, no relation to the Angels owner, voted against the Angel Stadium deal and has provided sworn testimony that the city violated government transparency laws in negotiating the deal, which the city denies. At this week’s council meeting, Sidhu said Moreno’s testimony was “absolutely embarrassing to the city” and “misinformation.”
When Sidhu suggested Moreno had not taken the same position in a previous development deal between the city and the Ducks, Moreno said Sidhu had misrepresented his position.
“You can’t lie, Mr. Mayor,” Moreno said.
Harkins, the Angels’ visiting clubhouse manager, filed a defamation claim after being fired for providing foreign substances to pitchers. A Superior Court had dismissed that case.
The state charged the city with a violation of the Surplus Land Act, which restricts public land from being sold without first being offered to affordable housing developers. The Angels’ lease allows the team to control development on the stadium site as late as 2038, a condition the city says would keep affordable housing developers from bidding on the site.
The state housing agency said the city would be in compliance with the law if it put up the land for bid and found no feasible bids. The city has declined to put up the land for bid.
In the letter, the city also reiterated its exasperation with the state housing agency, since the proposed Angel Stadium development includes the minimum 15% affordable housing required by an agency with, as the city notes, a “core mission to facilitate the development of affordable housing in California.”
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