Why CATER is Suing Anaheim Over the Angels Stadium “Negotiations”

Labor Day weekend, 2013, kicked off with the late Friday afternoon posting of the Anaheim City Council agenda, disclosing that the Angels lease of our taxpayer-owned stadium was up for negotiation.   Since that night, Anaheim hasn’t quite been the same.

The bickering between the Mayor and City Council had already been pretty bad, but it would soon get louder and more venomous.  The relationship between citizens of Anaheim and our elected leaders has been no bed of roses either.  City Hall watchers reading Arte Moreno’s public statements to the media have had little doubt the whole mess is going to end up in court… again…

The MOUs (an “MOU” being a “Memorandum of Understanding,” or preliminary contract) approved the evening of September 3rd are indeed the focus of an existing lawsuit, one to be discussed in Closed Session during Tuesday’s Council meeting, but it is not Arte Moreno, Angels Baseball LP, or even Moreno’s hastily assembled “Pacific Coast Investors LLC” (known as PCI)  that is hauling Anaheim’s leaders before a judge.

(Subdivision (d)(1) of Section 54956.9 of the Government Code)

Name of Case:Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsiblity v. City of Anaheim, Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2013-00695342

The Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility is a 501c4 non profit, registered with the California Secretary of State and the IRS. While membership is not limited to Anaheim residents, to the best of my knowledge so far all of its members are from Anaheim. We will share more about who CATER is and what CATER hopes to achieve in another post, coming soon.

I will take this opportunity to remove my hat as Cynthia Ward, long-winded blogger, and disclose my unpaid position as Cynthia Ward, President of CATER.  For reasons beyond my comprehension, this ragtag band of Anaheim rebels looks to me to lead this charge; being unable to find another sucker-I mean-leader, I have accepted.  May God help us.

CATER has served (get it?) a lawsuit against the City of Anaheim, regarding the actions of September 3.  The case has been assigned to the courtroom of Judge James Di Cesare, and a Case Management Conference has been scheduled for June of this year. 

I will try to give you the Reader’s Digest version, although I am not known for my brevity any more than is CATER’s Counsel, Greg Diamond.  Diamond is even less succinct when trying to ensure that anything needed in court gets included in the initial complaint, but readers are welcome to wade through the muck of the quicksand that is this document, should you care to.  It is attached as a PDF to this post.

In a nutshell, CATER claims that the City of Anaheim violated California’s open meeting laws (Brown Act) when approving the MOUs for Angels Baseball and PCI on September 3, 2013.

On that night, repeated pleas were made by the public, in addition to a motion from Mayor Tom Tait asking to delay the vote until the following meeting. We requested time for the public and elected leaders to review the deal points and the supporting documentation. Arte Moreno was given 3 extra years to consider staying, but the public was denied 3 extra weeks to determine why Anaheim staff was so intent on demanding he remain!

Instead, the Anaheim City Council approved the MOUs over very passionate objections. Council justified their 4 to 1 block of “yes” votes with references (at least 10 separate times) to a report by a firm called “Convention Sports and Leisure” (or “CS&L”.) The report offered what appeared to be inflated or unsupported claims of the Angels’ value to Anaheim, while staff minimized Anaheim’s value at the bargaining table.

The City’s negotiating attorney, Charles Black, unprofessionally argued with the Mayor he was supposed to be working for, presenting a case benefitting Angels Baseball, again using what appeared to be inflated or unsupported “proof” that the public was not privy to at the time.

The report by Convention, Sports, and Leisure was not publicly disclosed prior to the meeting, or even during the meeting! Lacking documentation used as the basis for staff’s “findings,” the public was left in the dark as to why our own attorney was presenting a case seemingly against the best interests of his client. That lack of public disclosure was not only a sign of bad government, it was a clear violation of State law.

Lacking documentation used as the basis for staff’s “findings,” the public was left in the dark as to why our own attorney was presenting a case seemingly against the best interests of his client.

The Brown Act specifies:

 “54957.5.  (a) Notwithstanding Section 6255 or any other law, agendas of public meetings and any other writings, when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body, are disclosable public records under the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1), and shall be made available upon request without delay. However, this section shall not include any writing exempt from public disclosure under Section 6253.5, 6254, 6254.3, 6254.7, 6254.15, 6254.16, 6254.22, or 6254.26.   

(b) (1) If a writing that is a public record under subdivision (a), and that relates to an agenda item for an open session of a regular meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, is distributed less than 72 hours prior to that meeting, the writing shall be made available for public inspection pursuant to paragraph (2) at the time the writing is distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of the body.    (2)  A local agency shall make any writing described in paragraph (1) available for public inspection at a public office or location that the agency shall designate for this purpose. Each local agency shall list the address of this office or location on the agendas for all meetings of the legislative body of that agency. The local agency also may post the writing on the local agency’s Internet Web site in a position and manner that makes it clear that the writing relates to an agenda item for an upcoming meeting.    (3) This subdivision shall become operative on July 1, 2008.    (c) Writings that are public records under subdivision (a) and that are distributed during a public meeting shall be made available for public inspection at the meeting if prepared by the local agency or a member of its legislative body, or after the meeting if prepared by some other person. These writings shall be made available in appropriate alternative formats upon request by a person with a disability, as required by Section 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12132), and the federal rules and regulations adopted in implementation thereof.”

I requested the CS&L report on August 30 — before CATER even existed — because while its findings were almost exclusively cited as reason for the staff report’s recommendation of approval of the MOUs, staff had failed to offer the report online with the staff report. The City Clerk’s office admitted they had no report to share with the public.  They hypothesized that, rather than a physical record, the opinion by CS&L may possibly have been offered to staff verbally, with that opinion then simply being repeated in a staff report. I was assured by both phone and email that I would be informed if a report did surface.

We now know that the City Council received the CS&L report that Friday, but a copy was not made available for public review for another week — days after the City Council meeting. The Brown Act is very specific, and even a report distributed at the last minute must be made available at the meeting itself, or at the City Clerk’s desk. Anaheim’s failure to provide the public with the same information the City Council was using to prop up what became a very contentious decision appears to be a violation of State law.  These activities are part of the basis of a separate portion of our complaint involving the Public Records Act.

The report was finally released, after the City Council had cast their vote and it was too late for public review to inform the outcome. When released, the report was City stamped to indicate it was distributed to the Council majority prior to the Council meeting of September 3. Yet the version of the report released for public review was an altered version, edited after the Council meeting and purged of a glaring mistake with the potential to discredit the “experts” findings, upon which the Council based their approvals.  The City Attorney’s response to CATER’s letter to Cure and Correct the Brown Act violation confirmed the two versions, as Michael Houston included both copies (one stamped, one not) in his response.

Can you imagine the repercussions should the government begin approving expenditures based on one set of documents — and then alter those records to make them more palatable to the public prior to their release?!

Read the preamble to the Brown Act:

In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

What CATER Seeks

CATER has requested nullification of the September 3rd MOU approvals. Our first request was in a Cure and Correct letter to the City, which is the appropriate process for resolving a Brown Act violation. (Matt Cunningham mistakenly reported that complaint as a lawsuit. If Matt’s secret sources are going to leak information, they should at least get the information correct. But then Matt would be acting like someone trying to share news, and not a paid lackey intent on the destruction of anyone getting in the way of Curt Pringle’s payday. Sorry, got distracted by the squirrel… I mean the gerbil. Let’s continue.)

As the City of Anaheim rejected our Cure and Correct letter, a complaint in Superior Court was the next step.

CATER’s nullification request seeks to void all Council actions on these items other than the three-year extension of the opt-out period itself.  (We do believe that this action was wrong, but we have doubted that we could achieve its rescission in court.)  CATER is thus not asking to dishonor that binding provision of the agreements.

But approval of the other items approved in the MOUs of September 3 – the deal points for Angels baseball leasing the Stadium, and for Pacific Coast Investors leasing the surrounding 150 (or so) acres of prime real estate, and the fundamental matter of Anaheim’s dealing with two entities for two different properties rather than one – requires nullification.  Approval of those MOUs was based upon documentation that the public was prevented from reviewing — and thereby from participating in a critique.

The City Council and City staff continue to insist that “nothing has been negotiated” and that “this is the beginning of the process” and “merely a framework for negotiations” and since a final lease agreement with solid deal points has not been brought back to City Council.  If that is indeed the case, there would appear to be no harm in resetting that clock, letting everyone take a deep breath, step back for a moment, and return to discuss specific deal points when we have ALL been provided with the same information, as is our right as Californians under the law.

Anaheim citizens will have a wide variety of views regarding how much, if any, public tax subsidy should or should not be offered to a highly profitable private enterprise like Angels Baseball. In fact, there is debate among CATER’s own members on this point. But that debate should stand on solid information that taxpayers can rely upon for accuracy, allowing for educated, informed opinions on the issues. In failing to disclose information that citizens were legally entitled to review before the City Council used those reports as the basis for their September 3rd approval of the MOUs, our government essentially shut its own people out of the negotiations for our publicly owned Stadium. That is about as un-American as it gets, folks.

This deal is not a no-brainer: it is clear that many Anaheim residents are questioning the wisdom of those MOUs, and how the City Council majority arrived at their approvals when the Mayor and the public all brought up very valid objections at the time.

It would have been FAR better to address those concerns then, rather than rushing to approve the September 3rd MOUs, refusing to wait for the public’s review of materials. Now, because of that error, Anaheim is locked in a death struggle with ArteMoreno, who has already proven he will nitpick the slightest loophole to his advantage. It is not unreasonable of us to ensure that any written contract our City Council majority approves is indeed as accurate as we need it to be, and able to withstand the scrutiny we believe Arte will subject it to in his insatiable quest for more, more, more of our public dollars.

Again, the members of CATER see no personal or organizational benefit from this suit, our intent is simply to reset the clock back to before those MOUs were approved, and make sure that the public has access to all of the information that supports the negotiations.

By the way, had “extra eyeballs” been able to review the reports by Convention, Sports, and Leisure that City Council referred to a minimum of 10 times on September 3, in justifying their approval of the MOUs over the objections of their own citizens, the public might have spotted the numerous deficiencies in the reports, which were caught by Mayor Tait during the September 24 meeting — too late to affect the outcome. Many hands make light work, and many readers may have created better review of the “experts” findings, which turned out to be not so solid as City Council may have believed.  (It would also have been nice if the only opportunity these extra eyes would have had to read the report would not have been the three days of a federal holiday weekend.) 

Simply put, the members of CATER believe that Anaheim is a world class city with the opportunity to be far greater than she is — and we believe that lack of fiscal responsibility is at the heart of what is holding Anaheim back from reaching its full potential.

For decades, Anaheim taxpayers have invested in public projects that leverage Anaheim’s legendary spirit of hospitality to generate revenues that would benefit the entire city.  Yet our current Council majority squanders the dividends that should be paid out to the investors who trusted in those earlier dreams.

Tax revenues come into the General Fund only long enough to be counted for some future PR piece promoting the “economic engine,” before the Council majority diverts those revenues without benefit to our community. Anaheim’s citizens have been shoved aside, while phone calls, emails, and even personal time taken to speak at a City Council meeting are often dismissed by leaders who claim opposition is based on “misinformation,” ironically as they refuse to share information with the public they pledged to serve.

The Anaheim City Council keeps saying that “everything is on the table for discussion,” but the one thing left off that table is a place setting for the taxpayers. 

Contact: Cynthia Ward, President CATER Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a 501c4 incorporated in the State of California.
Cynthia@Ward-Associates.net  (Include “CATER” in the subject line, please.)

About Cynthia Ward

I am a truth-teller. It gets me in trouble. But if you ask me if a dress makes you look fat, I will tell you so, and help select another, before you go on television and realize it for yourself. My real friends are expected to be truthful with me as well. A secret shared will be taken to my grave, but lie to me, and it will end up here…on these pages… especially if you are tasked with the stewardship of public resources. I am a registered Republican who disdains the local GOP power structure, a born-again Christian who supports everyone’s right to spend their lives with the partner of their choosing. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister. I am a loyal friend to those who merit that friendship and when crossed I am a bitch with a capital C. I do not fit into a box, nor do I see others through the stereotypes that politics and public affairs so often tries to shoehorn us into. I think for myself, and so do you. Welcome to our shared space in this world.