Grand jury rips Anaheim for Angel Stadium sale negotiations

When the Angel Stadium deal fell through and Anaheim’s mayor resigned amid an FBI investigation into public corruption, the city of Anaheim worked to isolate itself from allegations leveled against the now-former mayor.

On Monday, however, an Orange County grand jury slammed the Anaheim City Council — and not just the now-disgraced former Mayor Harry Sidhu — for rushing to approve a stadium deal without proper transparency.

“The City Council majority’s inappropriate handling of stadium real estate transactions betrayed its voters,” the grand jury said in its report.

Mike Lyster, the city’s spokesman, declined to respond to that phrase. In a statement, Lyster said: “We appreciate the grand jury’s review. In light of recent events and new information that has been brought to light, these issues will now be thoroughly discussed as part of a new, comprehensive public process for our city.”

Jose Moreno, the most prominent member of the council’s minority, said the grand jury report reinforced the point that Sidhu had just one out of seven votes on the council.

The majority of the council, Moreno said, rushed to approve measures to support corporate interests in Anaheim, including but not limited to the stadium deal.

“This is just the pinnacle of their hubris,” Moreno said.

“Ultimately, the city council needed four votes on all these issues, in which the specialist interests pull together. They got not just four, but five votes on important issues that we now know are a function of the interests of this self-proclaimed cabal. I hope people keep that in mind.”

In an affidavit released May 16, FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins claimed Sidhu shared confidential negotiation information with the Angels — at a time the city was negotiating the team — in hopes that the team would earn a million dollars would provide contribution to his re-election campaign. Sidhu’s lawyer has denied these allegations.

Adkins also claimed Sidhu “attempted to obstruct the grand jury’s investigation into the stadium deal.”

Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu in 2015.

Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu in 2015.

(Karen Tapia/Los Angeles Times)

Even as city officials denounced Sidhus’ alleged behavior, claimed ignorance and ended the suddenly politically toxic deal, they stood behind the sale and the process behind it.

On the day the affidavit against Sidhu was released, City Manager Jim Vanderpool said in a statement, “Throughout this process, Anaheim employees and the City Council worked in good faith on a proposal that offered benefits to our community. “

Trevor O’Neil, now Protem Mayor, said the council approved the deal in the city’s best interests.

“That was the case for me and a majority of my fellow councilors with the stadium plan, which we evaluated for its merits and endorsed,” O’Neil wrote in a comment in the Orange County Register.

The grand jury said it began its investigation before learning of the FBI investigation. The grand jury’s most prominent finding squarely contradicted claims that the city and its council majority had worked in the best interests of the city and its residents: “The City of Anaheim demonstrated a continuing lack of transparency and hasty decision-making in its handling of stadium real estate transactions, fueling the mistrust the public, state and local government officials, and even some members of their own city council.”

The grand jury also cited the city for failing to share negotiation documents that “resulted in uninformed decision-making by the city council,” for restricting “creative affordable housing strategies” as part of the sale, and for “stifling public discussion.” because the council majority has repeatedly prevented the council minority from even raising, let alone discussing, issues related to the deal.

Under the deal, which was approved by the council in 2019, the city would have received $150 million in cash for the 150-acre property from a company controlled by Angels owner Arte Moreno, who is not related to the council member .

The city would have provided $170 million in development loans to Arte Moreno’s company to include parking space and affordable housing in a project that would have surrounded the stadium with apartments, shops, restaurants, offices and hotels.

Angels owner Arte Moreno speaks with former Angels manager Joe Maddon.

Angels owner Arte Moreno (right) speaks with former Angels manager Joe Maddon (left) before a game against the Cleveland Guardians in April.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The grand jury said it saw “no benefit” in such “financial community services” and recommended that the council not offer them in any future stadium sale.

The grand jury also recommended that the city ensure a minimum 30-day review period for such property sales. The council majority had refused to support council member Moreno’s call for a 30-day review period for the sale of Angel Stadium.

To ensure a more informed public, the grand jury said that each future negotiating committee should include more than one council member. The council majority voted for Sidhu as the council’s sole representative in negotiations with the Angels, and the grand jury said the council minority “found it very difficult to obtain the detailed and factual negotiation updates that were expected.”

The grand jury rebuked Sidhu for commenting at a council meeting: “The city council decides what happens in the city, not the voters.”

The grand jury’s response: “Mayor Sidhu’s comment is not only offensive to his constituents, but also contradicts the very intent of the Brown Act.”

The Brown Act essentially requires that public business be done publicly. A citizens’ group is suing the city for allegedly violating the Brown Act in stadium sale negotiations. The city prevailed.

In his affidavit, Adkins wrote that Sidhu’s actions “may have affected the verdict” because a cooperating witness said Sidhu gave him information about a property appraisal so he could share that information with the angels. Because this information came from a closed City Council meeting, Adkins wrote, “Sidhu’s actions may have violated the Brown Act.” Grand jury rips Anaheim for Angel Stadium sale negotiations

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