Suit against Angels land sale for violating open-meetings laws set for trial in 2021

The sale of $500 million worth of city land to Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno for $150 million may be close to being official, but it still faces a pesky lawsuit charging that the whole deal is illegal because the city council held initial talks in secret, in violation of the state’s Brown Act requiring open meetings. The suit was first filed back in March, and got a boost yesterday when a judge rejected a motion by the team to dismiss the case, and instead started court hearings.

The suit looks like it’s going to come down to what constitutes a “legislative body”: The Anaheim city council deferred negotiations to a three-member group consisting of the mayor, city manager, and city attorney, which met with Angels execs behind closed doors. The council, according to Voice of OC, later held two closed-door meetings of its own before its single public meeting to vote on the plan, which the lawsuit calls a “rubber stamp” and which, yeah, pretty much.

It would be extremely unusual for an approved stadium deal to be overturned by a lawsuit this late in the game — if nothing else, sports team owners can usually afford excellent lawyers to tell them what’s legal, and then to convince judges of the same — but certainly not impossible. The hardest part may be timing: The trial isn’t expected to begin until next year, which is also when the sale agreement is expected to close, so barring a restraining order, the horse could be out of the barn before a judge can shut the door, and that’s before you even get into the inevitable appeals.

Meanwhile, a recall campaign against Mayor Harry Sidhu looks to be gearing up again after launching back in February and then immediately being put on hold thanks to the pandemic; that would be extremely precedented, since quite a few elected officials have now had their walking papers handed to them for approving sports subsidy deals. (Number of mayors who’ve been booted for refusing to provide subsidies and then seeing a team move: zero.) It’s tough to gauge support for a protest movement based on a couple of Facebook posts — it currently has 241 Likes, which doesn’t seem like a lot in a city of 350,000 — but you gotta like its listing as “Always Open.” Unlike the stadium negotiations, amirite?

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One comment on “Suit against Angels land sale for violating open-meetings laws set for trial in 2021

  1. Interesting one. I wonder what the requested remedy the plaintiff is seeking will be though. I’m sure they want the deal quashed and some sort of judicial no backsies order.

    However that seems an unlikely outcome. If you are claiming the deal violates the Brown Act then the most likely remedy would seem to be the legislative body (and, ya, agree on that one needing to be rigidly defined… which it might already be) reopening the deal, holding a public meeting or three and filing their fingernails down while the public speaks, then amending the deal to give Moreno the same deal plus some actual money as an apology for all this before voting in the affirmative to approve it.

    I am pleased to see the citizens groups taking action. I just hope they don’t think the outcome will necessarily be reversed (or even improved). As we’ve seen before, elected officials aren’t required to provide value in the deals they sign or for the money they are paid. Elaine Scruggs is no doubt still telling everyone who asks (if they can find her) that the Coyotes deal was the best they could make.

    That is not the same as it being a good, wise or fair deal. But she might be telling the truth in a limited way. Maybe the best deal possible was a truly horrific one that required police, fire, library and school staffs to be cut just to subsidize a hockey team nobody watches.

    That’s why governments (or car buyers) should never start with the principle that “no matter what” we have to have a deal. You’ve already lost when that is your negotiating position.

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