There are no two ways around it, people: I’m going to be writing about last night’s Stadium Lot Giveaway (that’s the name I’m trying out for it right now) for days, weeks, months … maybe years. This probably isn’t the optimal place to start — that would be by explaining to you what the Council actually did last night (as opposed to what it said it did — but this will help you get a sense of the forces at play.
Right now I’m just sifting through media reports about last night’s meeting, which largely miss the point — but there’s one report that I want to highlight first. It contains a mistaken assertion — but it was a very easy mistake to make.
From a story in Ballpark Digest entitled “Angels casually threaten move during lease negotiations”:
It was a little unexpected: a rep for Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno said the team has the resources to move to another city, as the Anaheim City Council debate changes to the Angel Stadium lease.
Charles Black was pretty blunt about the prospect of the Angels looking for a new home. It’s no secret that Moreno has cast an eye to other cities in the region, particularly downtown Los Angeles, as a new home for the Angels in the past few years. But with discussions on a lease extension only in the beginning phases, it is a little shocking to bring up the prospect of a move. From the Los Angeles Times:
“The owner of the Angels has made clear in our discussions he has the resources and willingness to build his own stadium,” said city consultant Charles Black, president of CB Urban Development in San Diego.
Black also told the council the Angels could move to Irvine, Irwindale or “at least half a dozen potential sites” in downtown Los Angeles.
After the meeting, Black said Moreno had not mentioned specific alternative sites in the talks with Anaheim.
It’s only a little surprising that “a rep for Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno” would “casually threaten to leave the city” if he didn’t get his way in lease negotiations with the City of Anaheim. That’s just playing hardball. And Charlie Black, former San Diego Padres CEO and now President of CB Urban Development in San Diego — the person whom the story identifies as Moreno’s “rep” — presented this threat quite effectively. He didn’t betray to the Council the point mentioned at the end, that Moreno’s threat really wasn’t that well-developed — it was more … theoretical. But given the bottom line in the negotiations — that the City of Anaheim could under no circumstances allow the Angels to leave Anaheim — it still had to be taken seriously.
Black’s threat that the Angels may well move, in combination with the assurance of the city’s legal consultant and a few other factors, was enough to get the City Council to do exactly what Moreno wanted. Again: not surprising. But one subtle twist is a little surprising — and it wouldn’t be surprising if you missed it. Go back to that description again:
“The owner of the Angels has made clear in our discussions he has the resources and willingness to build his own stadium,” said city consultant Charles Black …
That’s right: the person whom the writer of the story quite reasonably — but (as a formal matter) erroneously — identified as “a rep” for Arte Moreno was in fact the consultant hired by the City.
He was not only representing the City as “outside staff” hired, I’m told by City Attorney Michael Houston — who, I’m told, coincidentally used to work for Charles Black — in this meeting, but he and his team are the ones negotiating with the Angels on the City’s behalf.
(They deny — or at least don’t interrupt the City Council majority when it denies — that “negotiations” have really at this point even begun, but that’s another story, hopefully later today. Let’s just say that if negotiations haven’t begun and the Memoranda of Understanding presented to Council came about through something other than negotiations — say, they set an infinite number of monkeys in front of an infinite number of typewriters and this is the first thing that came out looking like a legal document — then I think that someone may have paid off the monkeys, because it sure looks like the product of negotiation.)
Now, as a lawyer myself, I can tell you that sometimes lawyers have to tell clients unpleasant truths about the weakness of their negotiating position. I can’t remember, though, ever telling a client that “we have to give the opponent everything he wants because not signing this contract is simply not an option.” I mean, sure, if the alternative is going to prison for life or something, but here, at the supposed early stage of negotiations, not signing a contract is usually an option — especially if one’s client hasn’t had the chance to think through the tradeoffs in the negotiation.
For a lawyer to say that his client — especially one who is not in a desperate situation — must give in to the supposed demands of the other party at any cost strikes me as really weird. That’s what I expect the other side’s lawyer to say in a negotiation. It’s not what I’d expect of someone you’re paying.
And if the other party is trying to hurry things up for some reason, you’d think that the lawyer or agent would tell the other party that they’d better cool their heels until his client had had enough time to think through the issue. It’s the rare non-urgent contract — especially a nine-figure contract (if not ten, which is “a billion”) — that can’t wait for a little while for reasonable consideration.
You expect time pressure from the other party’s lawyer. You expect time pressure from your own lawyer if it really looks like the deal will otherwise fall apart and you have no decent options if it does. You don’t expect time pressure — extreme time pressure, in this case — from your own lawyer if it’s not really necessary. You tell your lawyer to tell the other party that you’ll need time to think about it. And they do.
You know who you do expect time pressure from? A salesman. And you’ll be able to view the video of the meeting and ask yourself: does the city’s paid staff that are negotiating on its behalf sound like the city’s legal representatives willing to fight for their wishes — or do they sound like salesmen for a project?
The person who wrote the story above was clearly confused about it. He thought that Charles Black was representing Arte Moreno! Imagine that!
You know what else I, as a client, wouldn’t expect from my attorney or agent? I might expect to be told that my position was so weak that we had no choice but to give in. But I wouldn’t expect to be told that in a public meeting. You know — a meeting where, as was the case last night, the representatives from the Angels were right there sitting in the audience. It would seem to undermine one’s negotiating position from the start — something that, in general, one does not want to do. (The other side would love for you to do so, of course, but that’s because they’re on the other side.)
Does admitting such woeful weakness of one’s position — wrongly, I believe, in this case — seem like a strong negotiating posture to you? Because to me, it seems like something else: a hard sell.
But that doesn’t make sense, does it? Why would the City Attorney (and maybe City Manager as well) hire someone to give the Counsel the hard sell on a project that gives away a major portion of the city’s assets? Is that what one seeks in a consultant?
I don’t know — but I wouldn’t think so. I wanted to ask Michael Houston about it last night, but he told me that he tries not to talk to the press.
It’s just so funny: the lawyer hired by the City staff to represent the city in these negotiations being identified as a rep for the other party! Hilarious. How can a writer make a mistake like that?