Last Pre-Election Meeting: Anaheim’s Trilogy of Terrible! Part 2: A Rush to Political Gain?

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Access California in the Park

Someone in or around City government (we don’t know which) has had the kernel of what sounds like a good idea: create a health services facility right next to the Brookhurst Community Center, with a focus on the City’s Muslim community (as well as others who live in the nearby area.)  As envisioned, it would be run by Access California Services, a reputable nonprofit that has been “serving the Arab- and Muslim-American communities since 1998” and seems to do a lot of people a lot of good.  Now of course the City can’t just go up to a group and say “HEY WE’D LIKE TO GIVE YOU A BUNCH OF MONEY FOR SOCIAL SERVICES”; there’s a process to go through to protect the integrity of the decision-making and make sure that it cannot reasonably be seen as some sort of political quid-pro-quo right before an election, which might help the candidate involved but would unfairly besmirch the reputation of the group in question.  So it’s really good to see the early stages of such a project get off the ground, and —

What’s that?

Oh, read Item 13?  All right, it says … oh, no.  How?  No.  Are they …?  Argh

Approve a Lease Agreement, in substantial form, with Access California Services for the construction of a new building at Brookhurst Park located at 2271 West Crescent Avenue, in the approximate lease amount of $1.00, per year, for 35 years with an option to renew; authorize the Director of Community Services, or his designee, to execute the agreement and any related documents and to take such actions as are necessary to implement and administer the agreement; and authorize only those modifications to the agreement as may be necessary and as approved by the Risk Manager and the City Attorney’s Office.

These are not “the early stages” of such a process.  This is all of the stages of the process occurring all at once.  I don’t blame Access California for this, as it’s not their job to be clear on the ins and outs of how these things are done.  It’s the CITY’S job.  And the City just blew it, badly, bringing Access California into unwanted and probably unfair scrutiny.  REAL NICE FAVOR YOU DID FOR THEM THERE, CITY OFFICIALS!

This is NOT the sort of thing that is supposed to just drop onto an agenda out of thin air, especially not just before an election, when it almost SCREAMS OUT that someone is “playing politics” with a proposal that at first glance looks good enough that it SHOULD NOT REQUIRE razzle-dazzle “hide the ball” political machinations.  Just.  Go through.  The Process.

Where do we begin?  How about here?

(1) This lease is what we call a “publicly owned real property negotiations.”

Funny thing about “publicly owned real property negotiations”: they SHOULD be authorized by City Council through a Closed Session agenda-disclosed meeting authorizing a “negotiator” to discuss that public property with an outside agency, and identifying the property by legal description, or at least by a general description as offered in this agenda.  You don’t just show up and say “helloww, we’d like to give this group a lease for 35 years at $1/year!  CALL THE QUESTION!”

What this looks like is that staff taking it upon themselves to scampering around carving off pieces of public park space, to provide them for $1 per year to private groups that happen to have a very specific constituency base?  On its face, Staff should be fired for that sort of audacity!  The City Manager lacks the authority to negotiate property of this value!  Even raw land has value in excess of City Manager’s Office authority!  We PRETEND that the CMO is only prohibited from SIGNING a final deal, but the INTENT of the Charter and Brown Act is to bring these issues to Council for permission to begin negotiations in a publicly disclosed manner and then bring the final agreement back for approval. Making deals behind the scenes and bringing a “done deal” to City Hall is NOT how a transparent government works!

(2) This is parkland, not commercial property.

Anaheim is “park-poor” — one implication of which is that getting rid of parks is a big deal.  Now this may well be one of the situations in which it is justified —  but the Council shouldn’t be asked to contemplate it for the first time without the benefit of advice and analysis from at least the Planning Commission — and (one would think) the Parks and Recreation Department as well.  There is no obvious legitimate reason for the rush here.  (There’s an obvious illegitimate reason to rush, of course — as a means for a faction of the Council to curry favor with an ethnic group just before an election by giving them the benefit of public resources — but the thing about illegitimate reasons is that they are illegitimate.)

How and why did this bypass at least the Planning Commission — which deals with, you know, things like zoning?  Do any of the Planning Commissioners want to defend their being cut out of the process?

And how did this get to the Community Services Department for discussions with Access California?  When did discussions begin?  And on whose authority?

(3) ALL SORTS of legitimate concerns appear to have been overlooked

Parking.  For example, there is NO MENTION OF PARKING.  If this is to have a medical clinic, adequate parking is a must, as they use more of it than almost any other use.  So where will the parking for patrons of this facility be located? The parking now there is for the Community Center and already overflows in peak use and special events.

CEQA.  The City admits that this proposal — well, actually an almost complete lease — “may be” subject to CEQA.  Yeah. a zone change from PUBLIC PARK to a COMMERCIAL building is gonna require some paperwork.  (And claiming that it is IN the General Plan is insane as well.)

Additional costs.  So, who gets to PAY FOR the environmental documents for this, which will be in the six-figure range?  Probably not the non-profit!

(4) The Lease is Really Hinky.

 

There’s too much to cover here for now.  Section 2.3 allows “access by City” using community room for public events — but it offers no details, fails to specify a MINIMUM number of days or hours, or define “if available”

We won’t get into try to square non-discrimination requirements of a culturally conservative group in a city that includes strong culturally liberal subcultures.  Sure, these sorts of problems are solvable by people of good will.  But they still have to be solved.  Do we know what stakeholders think of this? 

Section 5.8 grants the tenant “RIGHTS TO EXPAND” — but there’s no mention of additional rent if the group takes up more public space.

Or perhaps we shouldn’t say “the group” — because of the prospect of subleasing the building with Council approval, which can be pretty easy when the Council Majority wants to get something done!  Section 15.1 prohibits sublease without approval, but elsewhere the agreement contemplates it.

The contract seems to contain no requirement to pay rent or forfeit property if subleased. This means that the group — or any group benefitting from such a contract — can become LANDLORDS to a tenant of their choosing — thus negating the intent of the agreement of public space use for the community room — and the “overhead” for their land is $1 a year for the foreseeable future of the lifespan of the building and beyond.

And what happens if a future corrupt and crony-oriented Council wanted to get the benefit of that $1/year lease, either by being assigned the rights to the cut-rate lease or simply taking over as a tenant?  What prevents them from “convincing” the non-profit to move along and give this benefit to someone more of the Council’s choosing?

WHO RUNS A CITY LIKE THIS?  HOW DID THIS GET ONTO THE AGENDA IN ITS PRESENT FORM?

It’s not Access California’s fault at all!  It’s the City’s.

Given the small number of hours — just before an election, let’s recall — between the posting of this agenda and the meeting itself, we have not been able to read through the lease and its support packet to see if some of these questions are answered.  We hope that, in our skimming our way through it, we missed some ironclad provisions that prevent any problems.  But we in the public should not be put into this position by the Council, YET AGAIN, when there is no hurry but the desire to close a deal when they can get away with it.

We look forward to seeing a solid and fully baked proposal along these lines.  This isn’t it, and we’re unhappy that Access California may have been place in the position of thinking that this proposal was ready for adoption — when the City should have CLEARLY KNOWN that it was not.

 


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)