Anaheim City Council members voted unanimously late Tuesday to “immediately void” the deal to sell Angel Stadium to Angels owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership.
Before the vote, Anaheim residents added Tuesday night to the chorus calling for cancellation of the Angel Stadium sale, investigations into which city officials and employees may have been involved in alleged corruption and reforms to city campaign finance rules.
The City Council was discussing the future of its pending sale of the stadium and surrounding property for the first time since news broke last week that Mayor Harry Sidhu is under federal investigation for alleged corruption, partly in connection with the stadium deal.
Cynthia Ward, a longtime resident who worked as an aide to former Councilwoman Denise Barnes, urged the council not to proceed with the stadium sale until any related investigations are complete, or “there will always be the stench of corruption hanging over” the deal.
At a sometimes raucous meeting, council members sat calmly as speaker after speaker criticized the stadium deal and lambasted the council, urging all members to resign except Councilman Jose Moreno, who voted against the sale and has repeatedly raised questions as to how it was crafted and who it would benefit most.
One man led the crowd in a chant of “Ditch the deal! Ditch the deal!” Others at the meeting held up signs wth slogans including “All crooks resign” and “Audit Anaheim.”
The $320 million sale of the 150-acre Angel Stadium property was billed as the biggest real estate deal in the city’s history.
The sale to SRB Management, Angels owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership, was slated to create about 3,000 to 5,000 new apartments and condos as well as restaurants, shops, hotels and offices, and the development was projected to generate 45,000 jobs, plus millions in revenue for Anaheim in future years. It would also get the city out of financial obligations to maintain the aging stadium.
Condemnation and calls to cancel the deal have come from state Assemblyman Tom Daly, state Sen. Tom Umberg, Rep. Lou Correa, hospitality workers’ union Unite Here Local 11 and the OC Democratic Party.
In a resolution that was unanimously approved Monday, the party’s Central Committee said that the party “stands with the people of Anaheim against corruption and pay-to-play politics.” The resolution also states the party opposes the Angel Stadium deal and “demands that independent investigations be conducted to review the conduct of city staff, council members, and business interests that had any involvement in the deal.”
As council members pondered what to do on Tuesday, there was an empty seat on the dais: Sidhu announced his resignation Monday.
An affidavit filed in federal court May 12 says authorities are investigating whether Sidhu “shared privileged and confidential information with the Angels during stadium sale negotiations, actively concealed same from a grand jury inquiry, and expects to receive campaign contributions as a result.”
Sidhu has not been charged, and in a statement Monday, his attorney, Paul S. Meyer, said an investigation will find that Sidhu “did not leak secret information in the hopes of a later political campaign contribution” from the Angels, adding “no closed session material, no secret information, was disclosed by Mayor Sidhu.”
The city and Angels Baseball have tried for years, unsuccessfully, to negotiate a new lease to replace the current one, which dates to 1996 (when Disney bought the team from Gene Autry) and runs through the end of 2029.
Sidhu campaigned on keeping the Angels in Anaheim, and once he took office after winning the November 2018 election, he moved quickly to restart talks and secure a deal. Everything looked on track for completion until December, when state housing officials said Anaheim had violated an affordable housing law in selling the stadium, a conclusion the city has continued to dispute.
To resolve the situation, city and state officials in April reached a settlement, but before it could be finalized by a judge, the allegations about Sidhu came to light and the state asked the court to halt any action on it for 60 days.
Then on Friday, an attorney representing the Angels and SRB Management sent the city a letter saying the sales deal “was the result of an honest arms-length negotiations with city staff and its advisors, and has been thoroughly analyzed and debated.”
Saying the buyer had held up their end of the deal, the letter gave Anaheim until June 14 to close escrow.
Some residents said they hope real reforms will come out of the unfolding scandal. After seeing his proposals blocked during Sidhu’s tenure, Councilman Moreno was able to put a campaign finance proposal on a future agenda; it could include banning campaign contributions from vendors with active city contracts and requiring council members take a one-year break from any discussions or votes on matters concerning anyone who’s given more than $250 to support their election.
This story is developing as the council meeting continues, check back for updates.
Staff writer Brooke Staggs contributed to this report.