ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Orange County Grand Jury investigating the controversial Angel Stadium land deal found that Anaheim city leaders rushed the decision-making process, weren't transparent with the public, and eroded the public's trust in the city.
The Orange County Grand Jury, a local watchdog over government agencies, released its findings on Monday and disclosed several concerns that residents brought up throughout the city's years-long process of selling the 153-acre stadium and surrounding land to the owner of the Los Angeles Angels for $320 million. The City Council was slated to complete the agreement this month.
In a 23-page report titled "The Big A Lack of Transparency," the grand jury found that the city "demonstrated persistent lack of transparency and rushed decision-making in its handling of the stadium property transactions."
It further added that the deal eroded trust from the public, state and local government officials, and even some members of its city council, many of whom were critical of the sale.
“The city council majority’s inappropriate handling of the stadium property transactions betrayed its constituents,” the report read. “The [grand jury] recommends that any future city council decisions on the stadium property be made based on public input, in the form of public workshops, compliance with the Brown Act and [Surplus Land Act], and in accord with the city council’s oath to uphold the public’s interest.”
The grand jury wrote they began investigating the sale due to “heavy public scrutiny” and long before the FBI got involved.
Anaheim Mayor Pro-Tem Trevor O’Neill said the city welcomes the report but “[doesn’t] agree with everything in it.”
“We evaluated the stadium proposal on its merits and in the best interest of those we serve,” said O’Neill in a statement sent to Spectrum News. “What we’ve learned put us in a different place, where the best thing we could do is cancel the deal, which we did swiftly.”
The report comes as Anaheim grapples with the fallout from the voided deal that the FBI is now investigating.
A council majority led by former Mayor Harry Sidhu approved a tentative deal of the stadium in Dec. 2019 to alleviate Angels owner Arte Moreno, who had threatened to move the team elsewhere.
The city and Moreno had been bickering for years over the current and future state of the stadium and who is responsible for paying the estimated $150 million to $200 million in infrastructure improvements for the city-owned stadium.
In 2018, the grand jury reported the Angels opted out of their lease with the city, leaving their future unclear in Anaheim.
As part of an effort to keep the team, Sidhu, newly elected mayor in 2018, led the city’s negotiations of keeping the team in Anaheim, but rather than securing a long-term lease, selling it to the owners.
However, throughout the process, the grand jury, citing local news reports, said the city failed to provide adequate notice of public hearings and withheld information about the sale from the public and certain council members.
The situation led the city and Moreno’s commercial real estate firm to be sued by a coalition of residents called the People’s Homeless Task Force for allegedly conducting closed council meetings violating the Ralph M. Brown Act. The city won that lawsuit partly because of the testimony of then-mayor Sidhu, who was later allegedly “engaged in witness tampering regarding the [grand jury’s] investigation into the city’s sale of the stadium property.”
The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development got involved claiming that the city violated the state’s Surplus Land Act, which requires local government agencies to notify the sale of owned land to other public entities and or housing providers and negotiate in good faith.
The city settled the matter with the state’s housing agency. However, the public later learned that the FBI investigated several people, including the mayor, for corruption in the stadium deal.
The FBI claims Sidhu rushed the deal’s approval and, upon completion, planned to approach a member of the Angels for a $1 million political contribution toward his reelection campaign in November.
Sidhu denied any wrongdoing. The FBI has not charged Sidhu. Sidhu stepped down from his role as mayor in May.
In the report, the grand jury made several recommendations to the city regarding future negotiations for the stadium property and surrounding lot.
The recommendations include allocating low and very low-income affordable housing units for the local workforce and developing guidelines for 30 days of public analysis when selling or leasing public property.
The grand jury also recommended that the city council revise a policy that a city council member could place an item on the council agenda.
However, during the June 21 meeting, the council voted to remove the requirement of a second and third [vote] for an item to be placed on an agenda, making it easier for council members to agendize items.