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Like any property owner, the Anaheim taxpayer must know the value of a given property before handing it over in what is something of a fair deal. If you are new to the negotiations between the City of Anaheim and Angels team owner Arte Moreno, it is really that simple: bargained-for-exchange. Last year, the Anaheim City Council, unexpectedly and with very little public notice, voted to hand-over the 155 acres of land surrounding Angels Stadium to Moreno. Voting no, Mayor Tom Tait has been the lone dissenter at City Hall. Putting the breaks on Moreno’s sweet-heart deal, the Mayor called for an appraisal of said 155 acres so as to give taxpayers an idea of what Moreno stands to gain at their expense.
The Council Majority voted to give Moreno the rights to develop the 155 acres for a mere $66. Thanks to the Mayor’s vigilance, we now know for certain that the Majority’s deal, if finalized, would constitute an epic transfer of wealth from Anaheim taxpayers to billionaire Moreno. Released earlier this month, the Mayor was completely vindicated by the professional appraisal. The land is worth $325 million. The appraiser also gave a lower figure, $225 million, if the Angels stay. While this is interesting, it is unrelated to the cash-value of Moreno’s government hand-out.
Already an unprecedented fraud on present and future taxpayers, the Council Majority is forcing Anaheim to surrender another invaluable asset to Moreno: the inclusion of “Anaheim” in the team’s name. Currently the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the much litigated name is, at best, in technical compliance with the current lease. Under the new lease, the Majority opts for the complete deletion of “Anaheim” from the team’s name.
Previously the California Angels, the team first took to the field as the Anaheim Angels in 1997. A year prior, the city and team entered into the current lease, which requires “Anaheim”. In 2005, the city claimed to be shocked when Moreno replaced “Anaheim” with “Los Angeles”. In the resulting lawsuit, Anaheim described how Moreno violated the 1996 lease agreement when he began removing the word “Anaheim” from team merchandise and advertising as early as 2003.
Rejecting “of Anaheim”, the city claimed Moreno violated the spirit of the 1996 lease agreement with the name change. The city maintained that Moreno’s bad faith cost taxpayers in Anaheim at least $100 million in lost publicity and tourism. It would have never agreed to the inclusion of “Los Angeles”, the city argued, because to get “Anaheim” in the team’s name, the city took over the team’s responsibility to pay for stadium renovations. Nevertheless, a jury sided with Moreno finding the current name satisfies the terms of the 1996 lease. As many predicted, however, the media and general public have generally dropped “of Anaheim” and refer to the team as simply the Los Angeles Angels.
$100 million in lost publicity and tourism does not do justice to the hit the city suffered when it lost the Anaheim Angels. While hard to quantify, having the Anaheim Angels encourages residents to identify with the city of Anaheim. With civic identity comes civic participation; and in a fast-growing city like Anaheim, civic pride, or lack thereof, will go a long way in determining our future prospects. Adding the naming rights to the value of the property, the Council Majority voted to give Moreno a government hand-out worth, at a minimum, $425,000,000.
To justify what is basically grand theft, the Council Majority has put forth alternate and contradictory explanations. First, they maintain that the deal, called a memorandum of understanding (MOU), is not final but just a framework. They leave to the imagination, however, how said framework would differ in the final lease. At the same time, the Majority argues that the new lease is a good deal for the city, it is just too complex for the public to be able to comprehend its many benefits. At one point, the Majority claimed that the give-away is warranted because Moreno agreed to take over the duty to pay for stadium renovations. However, that burden already belonged to the team before the city assumed the responsibly in exchange for the Angels’ naming rights, a benefit promised but never realized. In any event, the estimated $150 million in renovation costs comes nowhere near covering the value of the land. Playing with the numbers can’t hide the ugly reality: the taxpayer is losing hundreds of millions of dollars, while Arte Moreno is being given access to wind-fall profits.
Ultimately, the Council Majority is relying on fear to justify what is nothing more than corporate welfare. The Majority is constantly suggesting that the new lease is needed to keep the Angels in Anaheim. On its face, this notion is nuts because it is nearly impossible to imagine how the Angels could move before the opt-out provision in the current lease becomes effective in 2016. [Correction: Alongside the MOU, the Majority voted to substantially alter the lease by extending the opt-out option to 2019, thus giving Moreno three additional years to relocate.] It is true that Moreno has met with Tustin and Irvine about a move, but the sole intent behind the meetings was to put pressure on Anaheim’s leaders and manipulate Anaheim’s public. Moreno, or the taxpayer for that matter, is not going to pay hundreds of millions dollars to build a stadium [in the next couple years] down the road so the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim can be the Los Angeles Angels of Tustin.
The assertion that the city must accept such grossly unfair terms to keep the Angels in Anaheim is nothing less than an obscene lie. Far from securing the team’s permanent presence, the Majority’s deal accomplishes the exact opposite. By extending the opt-out provision in the current lease from 2016 to 2019, the Council Majority is providing Moreno with what they claim he already possessed: time to find a credible opportunity to leave Anaheim.
Moreover, by completely removing “Anaheim” from the team’s name, Moreno and the Majority are putting further distance between the Angels and their fan base in Orange County. It is that fan base, or media market, the really keeps the Angels from leaving town. If Moreno succeeds in his long-term project to supplant the Angels’ fan base with Los Angelenos, nothing will prevent him from ditching OC for L.A. in the future, not even a government hand-out worth nearly half a billion dollars. Before the city even considers giving Moreno a better deal with the Anaheim taxpayer, it is time to make things right and demand a return of the “Anaheim”Angels. The Council Majority is just that, a majority. As such, it falls on the public to stop this deal from becoming final. Now that negotiations have stalled, it is time to hear from Anaheim taxpayers.