What Every Anaheim Voter Needs to Know About the Angels Swindle.




(Originally entitled “Response to Lucy Dunn’s Celebration of the Angels Swindle.”)

Orange County Business Council CEO Lucy Dunn is really nice to me.  She sang in the choir at Dec. 21’s The Longest Night event, which meant she sang two of my songs – “Dirty Snow” and “You’re One Pink Slip Away.”  Afterwards she came up and hugged me and told me how beautiful and meaningul my songs are and how honored she felt to be able to sing them.

Well, that was kind, and I wish I could be as charitable to her work.  I could say that she does what she does well, except it’s something that nobody should be doing – spinning folksy tales to convince the public that projects that enrich certain well-connected financial interests at the expense of taxpayers and the environment are actually GOOD FOR EVERYBODY AND EVERYTHING.  This has been Lucy’s job for decades.

Case in point – I came home from that Longest Night performance and saw that Lucy had just penned this paean to the City of Anaheim’s recent controversial deal with Angels Baseball.  Her literary conceit in this paean was to identify five alleged virtues of the deal and list them as a single, a double, a triple, a home run, and a GRAND SLAM!  But to those of us not in the OCBC box seats, it looks a lot more like two fouls and a strike-out.  Let’s have a look…

1. Single?  [Not so much.] “Anaheim Taxpayers Off the Hook.”

Lucy: “The simple elegance of this deal cannot be overstated. With the Angels agreeing to buy the land and stadium, the taxpayers of Anaheim are off the hook for expensive upgrades – one of the oldest stadiums in baseball – and from any obligation to pay for a new stadium in the future. Instead, 153 acres of prime Orange County real estate and a building suited for private activity are back in private hands, and on the property tax rolls, no less, at a price actually above highest valuation.”

Simple? Not at all.  But elegant, sure.  The Angels’ billionaire owner Arte Moreno has pulled off something very complex and elegant here:

  • opting out of his lease one month before the mayoral election, in effect threatening to leave town;
  • helping Harry Sidhu get elected Mayor by 400 votes as “the only candidate who can keep the Angels here”;
  • Sidhu in his first act as Mayor re-instating the 1996 lease thereby “encumbering” the property and reducing its value by hundreds of millions;
  • Sidhu and his majority agreeing to sell it for even less than THAT reduced amount – $325 million – with NO OTHER BIDDERS ALLOWED – to a mysterious entity, SRB Management, somehow affiliated with Arte (and which could very well turn around and FLIP the property in a few years for triple their cost);
  • and as you’ll see, Anaheim won’t even be getting that $325 million but probably a whole lot less.  Elegant!  Maybe Ms. Dunn meant to type “a price way below highest valuation.”

But her main point here seems to be that we Anaheim taxpayers are now “off the hook” for expensive upgrades, and also have no obligation to pay for a new stadium in the future.  Well, we never WERE on the hook or had such an obligation!  The Angels were ALREADY responsible for all repairs and upgrades to the stadium, as per paragraph 10 of the 1996 lease!  THIS was a “single?”


2. Double?  [Not quite.] “New Revenue to Rebuild Anaheim and all of Orange County”

Lucy: “For the next decade, this deal is projected to generate $20 million a year or more for Anaheim. Coming at a time when Mayor Sidhu has announced ambitious plans to invest in rebuilding Anaheim’s neighborhoods, the city will have the ability to fund these community projects with new revenues. This process only stands to stimulate Anaheim’s economy further.

“Add to that, the Angels are not just an Anaheim asset – they are an Orange County economic engine. The cultural and economic benefits of Major League Baseball for the region are huge, driving billions of dollars in investment for decades to come.”

This $20 million is a totally made-up number – nobody knows what if anything will be built, so nobody can predict when or how much revenue will be generated.   And it’s cold comfort to us Anaheim taxpayers who are taking all the loss here, to hear that we’ll be sharing the (possibly imaginary) benefits with other Orange County cities.


3. Triple? [I don’t think so.] “Community Benefits, Including Workforce Housing”

Lucy: “In addition to significant revenues to Anaheim, the framework for adding additional community benefits also dramatically improves the Platinum Triangle for residents and Orange County more broadly.  While specifics are yet to be negotiated, early talks of additional workforce housing, office space, hotels, entertainment, retail options and needed park space all add excitement about what’s to come at the Angels complex.

“By state law, Anaheim must begin to plan for more than 17,000 new housing units over the next decade to accommodate jobs and population growth. Adding affordable housing to this mix relieves some of that burden and provides the opportunity to live near work for Anaheim residents, reducing commutes and increasing quality of life.  Master planning 153 acres in the heart of Orange County is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Does Lucy really not know?  Or does she just think WE don’t know, that ANY “community benefits” we talk Arte and his SRB Management into granting us – affordable housing, open space, whatever – are gonna be SUBTRACTED from that already-low $325 million figure.  Tens of millions or more could be subtracted till we’re giving away our prize property for nothing but some “community benefits.”

Also considered an expensive “community benefit” is any “Project Labor Agreement” guaranteeing that the Angels or SRB will hire union and hire local for whatever construction they undertake.  Oh, a PLA will subtract MANY tens of millions from the price we get for our property.  Did all those building-trades palookas who packed the council chambers Dec. 20 in their helmets and vests, clamoring for this deal, know that it did NOT include a PLA?  Did they know that any PLA is literally going to be paid for by us taxpayers?  I bet the leadership (*cough* Ernesto Medrano) knew at least.

There was an interesting, well-dressed group of people exuding unhappiness at that meeting, all involved with Dr. Howard Knohl’s proposed Anaheim Performing Arts Center.  Turns out they’d been privately promised by the Mayor that their Center would be a CENTERPIECE of the Angels deal, and that promise was blithely broken by the Mayor – apparently Arte wasn’t interested in it, or Harry just forgot.  So take heart, working men and women – Harry screws over the wealthy too, as long as they’re not part of his inner circle.  In any case an Anaheim Performing Arts Center is yet another “community benefit” that won’t be happening.

Slavishly loyal councilman Stephen Faessel, in whose district this property rests, did manage to wring ONE small concession from the robber barons … wait for it … an “upscale grocery store.”  So in return for our councilman’s blind lockstep obedience to Mayor Sidhu, we in the fifth district will be granted a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.  [You just heard the muted sound of a golf clap.]


4.  Home Run?  [Get a grip.] “A Deal Even Better Than the Sum of Its Parts.”

Lucy:  “It is true that the devil is in the details, but this agreement turns that adage on its head. Here, the details distinguish the deal – particularly when even the Orange County Taxpayers Association endorses it for its taxpayer protections.”

A fetching turn of phrase from Lucy, which would make more sense in a situation in which WE KNEW ANY OF THE DAMNED DETAILS.  We do not.  Does Lucy?  Maybe she should tell us. 

Also, OC TAX endorsing this is sort of a dog-bites-man story.  OC TAX backs every scam that OCBC backs – they’re like sister organizations.  And OC TAX has nothing to do with protecting the average taxpayer – two of their biggest causes are the Poseidon desal boondoggle and the 405 toll lanes – utterly staggering ripoffs of the little guy.


5.  GRAND SLAM?  [Dream on.] “Angels Are Staying Where They Belong.”

Lucy: “Lastly, but not least, the Angels are staying. Orange County’s baseball team will remain just that.  Fans will enjoy the Big A for generations to come.  I can’t help but be reminded of James Earl Jones’ speech as Terrance Mann at the end of the iconic baseball film, ‘Field of Dreams’… [Let’s skip that, it’s just some drivel about how nice and good baseball is.]

“’I think, long-term, the balance of entertainment will always lean toward baseball. I think it’s just part of our culture,’ said Arte Moreno in 2003.  Thanks to his vision, and Mayor Sidhu’s eye protecting the city and its residents, Anaheim and Orange County will benefit from Angels baseball for the long-term.”

How can Lucy Dunn, like a grasping wife in denial of her husband’s cheating, continue to refer to the LOS ANGELES ANGELS as “Anaheim’s team” and “Orange County’s team?”  Arte Moreno is embarrassed of us.  The City’s “negotiators” humbly asked him if he’d consider putting Anaheim in the team name, Arte said no, and our folks said okay then.  You see, the Angel’s negotiators are allowed to have non-negotiable demands and Anaheim is not. 

When Angels games are televised and there’s a slow spot, stations often throw in clips of the LA skyline, NOT Anaheim’s.  When the Angels played Kansas City and Kansas City’s mayor wanted to make a playful bet with the Angels’ mayor, he called up the Mayor of LA, who later apologized to (former mayor) Tom Tait for the awkwardness.  Calling the team “the Anaheim Angels” would have been worth $10 million a year to our city (twice as much if they ever made it to the playoffs) and our “negotiators” should have demanded that amount be added to the price at least.  But of course they didn’t, the supplicants. 

On top of everyithing, despite all the hype, there STILL is no guarantee that the Angels are going to be staying in Anaheim.  And it sure ain’t this city or the residents that “Mayor Sidhu’s eye” protects.  WHAT “grand slam?”


Lucy Dunn has good taste in music and lyrics, but she should really retire from her job at long last, and make use of her literary talents writing straightforward fiction.  Meanwhile, you and I have a Mayor to recall!

(Sidhu’s all-seeing Eye.)


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.