As Anaheim officials attempt to restart talks with the Angels baseball team over a new stadium lease, former City Manager James Ruth has offered up a bit of advice for team owner Arte Moreno.
Show the city a little respect.
In a Voice of OC interview last week, Ruth spoke at length about his experience in the 1990s brokering a stadium lease deal with The Walt Disney Company, which owned the team before Moreno, and the problems he sees with Moreno's hardball negotiating style.
From Ruth’s point of view, Moreno has been disrespectful by threatening to move the team from Anaheim if he didn’t get everything he wanted. Talks were terminated last year amid public backlash over the terms of a deal framework that critics said was a massive giveaway of public land to the billionaire owner.
“Something that’s being lost in these negotiations is there’s no respect for the city,” said Ruth, who was city manager from 1990 to 2001. “Mr. Moreno is a very sound businessman in many regards, and that’s to be respected, but he has to respect the community… I don’t like to see these threats, well if we don’t get our way, we’re going to move.”
Ruth, who aspired to play baseball before entering public service, said Disney also wanted a clause in the lease that would allow the team to be moved after six years, but the company conceded that clause after he made it clear it was a deal-breaker. More importantly, he said, there was civility during those negotiations that doesn't seem to exist this time.
Ruth agrees with critics of the deal, led by Mayor Tom Tait, on many points. Negotiations got off on the “wrong foot” because the initial deal outline was lopsided in favor of the Angels, with little to no city benefit, according to Ruth.
Also, city leaders agreed to extend the time the Angels can exit their current lease from 2016 to 2019, a move Ruth said handed negotiating leverage over to the Angels. The team would be locked into the current lease until 2029 if the out clause isn’t exercised.
“I looked at the initial proposal, and frankly, it was very offensive,” he said.
Under the now scuttled agreement, which defenders said was only a starting point, an investment firm belonging to Moreno would have leased over 150 acres around the stadium at $1 a year for 66 years. Moreno would also have been able to drop Anaheim from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim team name.
Supporters of that deal said it would have kept the Angels in Anaheim for decades, with no risk to the city’s general fund, which pays for core services like police and fire protection. Also, development of the land could provide Moreno a revenue source to finance up to $150 million in renovations to the aging stadium.
Ruth scoffs at the idea that the renovations would be a major benefit to the city. He said it was little more than a “nice gesture.” A fairer deal, which Tait has also proposed, would be to have the city and the Angels split revenue from the land development, he said.
“When you look over 20-30 years, for Christ’s sake, $150 million is not a lot of money,” Ruth said.
Meanwhile, Angels spokeswoman Marie Garvey took issue with Ruth’s characterization of the negotiations, calling it unfair and pointing out that the most controversial deal point, giving Moreno city land for a nominal amount, didn’t come from the Angels.
The land contribution proposal originated with city officials as a way to finance stadium renovations in lieu of cash, Garvey said in an email. She also suggested in her statements that frequent turnover of city managers – there have been several since negotiations began over three years ago – was partly to blame for the stalled talks.
“Unfortunately after several city management changes, it remain(sic) unclear if any agreement could be reached,” Garvey wrote. “Only then did we feel it was necessary to look for other options to ensure that our fans and the team had a home in the future.”
Who exactly came up with the land contribution has recently been a point of confusion. Councilwoman Lucille Kring said at last week’s council meeting that city officials were still trying to “ferret out” who first proposed the idea. One source said it was former City Manager Tom Wood, who was later ousted from City Hall and went to work for the Angels as a negotiations consultant.
Ruth said that when the initial deal framework was on the table, former City Manager Marcie Edwards and then Assistant City Manager Paul Emery met with him to go over the deal points.
Ruth didn’t leave that meeting with the impression that city officials came up with the proposal. “If the city offered that up, I’d be shocked,” he said.
Ruth said he told Edwards and Emery that the deal was terrible, but couldn't tell whether Edwards and Emery felt the same way. Edwards wouldn’t give her opinion because she was working for the council, and she would do what “the council directed her to do,” Ruth said.
However, Edwards and Emery did leave the impression that they were under heavy political pressure to make the deal happen, Ruth said.
“My answer on that was always no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said.
Ruth expressed confidence that ultimately the Angels and Anaheim can work out a deal beneficial to both parties. He said the recent hiring of local trial attorney Wylie Aitken as a lead negotiator was a positive step.
“There has to be a deal there for everybody,” he said.