Anaheim council to public: No, we won’t tell you what Angels land is worth or promise time for open debate of stadium deal

Yesterday morning, Voice of OC reporter Spencer Custodio reported that the Anaheim city council was set to vote on finally releasing the Los Angeles Angels stadium land appraisal that it had promised to release to the public and then decided enh, maybe not. Last night, Custodio reported that the council had voted not only not to release the appraisal, but not to promise even 30 days for public review of any deal before it’s voted on:

Anaheim’s City Council is not interested in publicizing the value of their public stadium and also doesn’t want the public to have much time to look over potential stadium deals before they are approved.

On Tuesday night, the Anaheim City Council voted against releasing the Angel Stadium appraisal, despite repeated calls by the public and some Councilmembers to release it.

A council majority also voted against a potential 30-day review of a final lease proposal…

Councilman Jose Moreno, who successfully scheduled all the items on the agenda, kept trying to overrule [Mayor Harry] Sidhu’s motion [to table the votes] by calling for points of order.

“What the Mayor is doing is he is saying he does not want these issues discussed,” Moreno said.

The appraisal, in case you haven’t been following, is important because the deal being sought by Angels owner Arte Moreno is for the city to sell the stadium parking lots to Moreno for development, and Moreno to use the proceeds to upgrade the stadium. As we’ve seen in other sports venue deals, if the local government sells land at a discount price, that can be a way of funneling stadium subsidies to a team owner under the table — in fact, that’s exactly the concern that led former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait to scuttle a previous plan that would have given the parking lots to Moreno for $1.

This is, needless to say, a worrying trend: not just that team owners and elected officials are trying to play hide-the-subsidy, but that they’re increasingly trying to limit public debate so that no one can figure out what’s going on until it’s too late. It’s especially troubling given that as opposition to straight-up cash grants to teams grows, we’re seeing more convoluted deals that involve land gifts or tax increment financing or other things that are tough to explain without a public comment period — something that the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin praises as the wave of the future:

Is there a way for a city that values sports to contribute to a venue without letting the team stuff its pockets full of taxpayer dollars? Sacramento believes it just made such a deal, as a way to lure a Major League Soccer team, and the city of Anaheim might do the same in helping build — or rebuild — a stadium for the Angels…

In Sacramento, announced last week as the home of the newest MLS franchise, the city is paying nothing toward the cost of the $252-million stadium, or the purchase of the privately owned land on which the stadium and surrounding entertainment district will be built.

The city agreed to divert the first $33 million in taxes generated by the developments — money that otherwise could be available for parks, libraries, police and other public services — to reimburse the team for the cost of infrastructure to support the developments: streets, sidewalks, sewers, a light-rail station and traffic management.

That is not paying nothing! Allowing a sports team owner or developer to keep their tax money on the grounds that the cash is coming from them in the first place is the Casino Night Fallacy, and is exactly the same, from the tax break recipient’s perspective, as getting a check from the public treasury. But it’s way more confusing, which is no doubt why sports team owners have learned to love it as a tactic.

Shaikin’s article also mentions, almost in passing, that an Angels spokesperson has said that “Long Beach is on the back burner” as far as relocating there is concerned. This should be no surprise given that Long Beach had a site too small for a stadium and no way to pay the $1 billion construction cost and that Moreno apparently only started negotiating with Long Beach to increase the pressure on Anaheim to get a deal done, so now that the Anaheim council is playing ball — including conducting negotiations in secret and promising to limit any public debate — of course Long Beach is on the back burner. If rich people wanting public officials to do their bidding know one thing, it’s how to leverage not-very-veiled threats to get what they want.

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