Pringle Ring Backpedals into ‘Citizens Commission’ Bunker: Cleansing Wash or Whitewash?

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Hey, here’s a sign of possible progress in Anaheim!  (Maybe not — but even being able to say “maybe” is itself progress given where we’ve been!)

whitewash with angels logo

Will it be a whitewash to approve a bad deal that helps a few people? Or could they choose people for oversight who actually know what they’re doing — for the benefit of all of Anaheim?

The likely weakness in the design apparent in the MOUs has always been that Arte Moreno was being used the the Pringle Ring, the “Clique at the Catch,” to make himself a little money while making other people rich.  (After all, Moreno himself is not a developer — and OC is teeming with the beasties.)

My outsider’s guess is that maybe Moreno and his loyal advisors (at least I hope he has some) have decided that if the deal is grimy that grime will likely get all over him if he lets it happen.  (If there is already some tacit deal for him to unload the valuable lease-holding rights that he’s been set up to receive onto a local partner, who would then make plenty of money, then he has every reason to want to backpedal; as it is he’s probably earned himself a deposition someday for what  has already been done in his name.)

Moreno doesn’t strike me as someone villainously trying to pervert the political system, but rather as someone who just seeks to maximize profit as a reflex.   (I’m also more sympathetic than some are because I might well have picked up Josh Hamilton too, so I can’t throw stones at him for that.)  His problem is that he — not Curt Pringle, not Jordan Brandman, not Kris Murray, not Michael Houston, not Charles Black — is the visible public figure who will naturally catch the public’s attention (and contempt) if any deal crafted by “his negotiators” and “the City’s negotiators” (presuming that they’re not the same people) turns out to be a sickening ripoff.  He’s already a billionaire; why should he put up with catching other people’s flak for their benefit?

Art Marroquin (who’s doing such good work at the Register on this issue that I occasionally hang out at coffeeshops until someone discards a copy just so I can read it) has a good article today that heralds possible progress — or a possible whitewash (my words, not his) — with Kris Murray calling for creation of a “Citizen Task Force” to review lease renegotiation.

“It could not be more relevant to have full transparency so our residents know the benefits of the stadium as we enter negotiations with the Angels,” Murray said. “This will allow them to weigh the benefits of any agreement before it’s brought back to the City Council for approval.”

It’s unclear how many people Murray would have serve on her Anaheim Citizens Task Force on Community Benefits, which would review plans that could allow the Angels to lease the city-owned parking lot surrounding the stadium for $1 annually over 66 years. In turn, team owner Arte Moreno would have the right to develop the property and ask the city for tax subsidies to help fund construction. Any profits could go toward stadium improvements.

“Now, after the horses are out of the barn, Councilwoman Murray’s idea to create a commission strikes me as simply looking for political cover for a bad decision,” said Tait, who asked for an appraisal of the stadium property. “Instead, the city should openly negotiate an agreement that pays the people of Anaheim a fair price for its largest real estate asset.”

Tait is quoted as calling the proposal for a citizen oversight panel “too little, too late.”  (Murray’s talking about “transparency,” after the Orwellian violence that she and Brandman did to that word on Monday, can’t be reassuring to him.)  The Angels are keeping mum for now.

While I agree that the ACTFCB — yeccch, let’s just call it “Task Force Arte” — is not adequate, I also think that it’s at least a step in the right direction.  The question is whether it will be a whitewash.  Part of the answer to that question would hinge on who would be on the task force, part on who would staff the task force (as staff can often control what the group they serve decides — cough, OCTA Board, cough), and on what information they would be able to seek.

If this Task Force Arte turns out to be  a rubber stamp for the Council majority and its Superlobbyist “patron” — and looking at recent Anaheim commissions, including the Charter Review Commission that is even now concocting a horror show for voters, that’s always got to be the safest bet — then it won’t do Arte Moreno any good because it won’t confer any legitimacy on the product.  It’s not like those of us trying to protect Anaheim’s resources are going to shrug stupidly and wave them through; we’ll be watching what they do closely.

It’s not that hard to do this right — with people who are professionals at this sort of contract review, knowledgeable about what sort of information should be sought, skeptical enough to withstand a snow job from the likes of Charlie Black, and insulated enough from political consequences that they can speak their minds.

I’ll look forward to seeing what safeguards are placed into the proposal when it comes to nominations.  If it’s just the usual gang of loyal appointees, that won’t cut it.  If it’s people who really know something about local business, including real estate — we’ve heard more and more of them speaking before the Council lately — than maybe this could be helpful.

And when Task Force Arte is done looking at this deal, maybe it could be renamed “Task Force Bill” and look at the GardenWalk.  And then it could be renamed “Task Force Carrie” and look at the Streetcar.  (I wonder if we could make it through the entire alphabet?)

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)