Angel Stadium land deal hearing judge expects losing side to appeal

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If the City of Anaheim violated state public transparency laws when negotiating the sale of the land at Angel Stadium, should the sale be rescinded?

Orange County Superior Court Judge David Hoffer wrestled with that issue on Wednesday, hearing from attorneys for the city and the citizens’ group that filed the lawsuit to end the deal. . Hoffer said he expected to take about 30 days to issue his decision and said he anticipated the losing side could appeal.

“That’s where I think it’s going,” Hoffer said.

An appeal could further delay a deal the Anaheim City Council approved in 2019. Under the deal, a company controlled by Angels owner Arte Moreno would buy the stadium and surrounding parking lots to $150 million in cash, then would build homes, businesses, restaurants, offices, and hotels around a new or renovated ballpark.

The development agreement grants Moreno’s company up to 15 years after closing to complete construction of the project’s flagship park, up to 25 years to complete the accommodations and up to 30 years to complete the hotel and other business developments.

Angels attorneys have suggested in court papers that the deal could stand even if the city violated the law because the team assumed a contractual obligation and spent money to implement the deal in good faith. before a third party disputes it. The only lawyers who spoke at Wednesday’s hearing were those representing the city and the citizens’ group.

Kelly Aviles, the band’s attorney, told Hoffer that she believed the particular violations she alleged necessitated the invalidation of the agreement. But she acknowledged that violations of Brown’s Law — the state law that generally requires public business to be conducted in public — sometimes lead a judge to simply find the law was broken, with the ability to impose safeguards against future breach.

Thomas Brown, an Anaheim attorney, said the city did not violate the law. Even though the city violated a provision of the law prohibiting council discussions outside of council meetings, Brown said, the law does not require the agreement to be invalidated.

“We’re not saying, ‘It’s a Get Out of Jail Free’ card,” Brown said.

The core allegation in the lawsuit is that Anaheim circumvented Brown Law by deciding to sell the land behind closed doors, rather than in a public meeting, and used a negotiating team to make key decisions about how to proceed in private, beyond the “price and terms of payment” exception permitted by law.

Brown said the city did not have a negotiating team per se, instead using then-city manager Chris Zapata as a liaison to bring together the mayor, city attorney, city ​​employees and outside consultants as needed, and said Aviles’ claim that the mayor and city attorney were part of a three-man negotiating team was “that fiction”. Aviles, whom Hoffer asked for evidence to support his claim, cited in part an editorial from the Orange County Register in which Mayor Harry Sidhu wrote: that he was “part of the negotiating team”.

Zapata and Councilman Jose Moreno submitted affidavits saying the decision to sell the land was made behind closed doors. City Attorney Rob Fabela submitted an affidavit saying the discussion at that closed meeting revolved around an assessment, and Brown said Aviles was “inventing” an alleged legal requirement that the city ​​was compelled to talk about the merits of selling versus renting. the earth in public.

“The deciding factor here was fair market value, not sale or lease,” Brown said.

Aviles expressed skepticism that a detailed purchase proposal from the Angels had surfaced without the city making a decision to sell the land.

“You mean there was never any discussion about whether we would be willing to sell the property to the angels and yet they made us a concrete offer?” Aviles asked. “That doesn’t ring true.”

Aviles said the city “intends to keep this secret” rather than “having these discussions in open session.” Brown said any alleged violations of the law would have been mitigated at public hearings — one before the council approved the purchase agreement, another before the development agreement was approved — where he said citizens had a “full and fair” opportunity to comment.

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