A bill to allow the Department of Housing and Community Development to block projects in Orange County that are in violation of the Surplus Land Act and other laws, continued to move up in the legislature in June following the Angel Stadium sale scandal and deal collapse last month.
Senate Bill 361, authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), would require Orange County, or any city within Orange County, to correct all law violations within 60 days when notified by the HCD that a planned sale of surplus land is in violation of existing law. The sale of the land would not be able to move forward until the violations are cured or corrected. The agency selling the land would also need to hold an open, public session on the violation, with notice going out at least two weeks in advance. Under SB 361, the sale would not be able to go through until a public session is held and would be voided once the 60 days are up with no violation correction.
SB 361 would replace the current system where the HCD is only able to give fines to law violators and have no voiding powers. The special requirements and prohibitions in the bill would then be repealed on January 1, 2030.
Senator Umberg wrote the bill to to fix the current issue of the HCD not being allowed to stop land sale deals even if laws such as the Surplus Land Act have been broken. Specifically, he was incensed by the scandalous sale of Angel Stadium to Los Angeles Angeles owner Art Moreno. The sale, which had been negotiated in 2019 and 2020, was scrutinized for the last several years over new plans of the site violating the Surplus Land Act by showing far less affordable housing built than it had agreed to, as well as the Angels paying only $150 million for the property, then-Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu taking a large campaign donation for facilitating the sale, and other concerns.
SB 361 and Angel Stadium
While legal settlements in April 2022 were finally thought to be an end of the drama and continue the sale, due to the HCD being unable to stop it, and FBI investigation quickly upturned the table after it confirmed more and more of the numerous wrongdoings. With the FBI and California Attorney General Rob Bonta now behind it, things quickly fell apart in late May. Mayor Sidhu resigned following an increased number of corruption findings, including taking money in exchange for the sale going through and destroying sale documents. Days later on May 29th, the Anaheim City Council officially ended the deal. While investigations continue, the fiasco exposed a glaring hole in the powers of the HCD, which Senator Umberg hopes to correct to prevent another deal like the tainted Angel Stadium episode.
“Since 2019, I have repeatedly expressed concerns about this deal between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the City of Anaheim – specifically, about the value of the land and the amount of affordable housing within the requirements of the Surplus Lands Act,” said Senator Umberg. “To make matters worse, federal and state investigations into this deal have highlighted a massive amount of corruption in connection with this transaction. Consequently, in addition to being shortchanged, the residents of Anaheim are now grappling with broken trust and faith in their local government.”
“Media and local officials have consistently glossed over the fact that this stadium deal has, from the very beginning, attempted to skirt state law, keep officials and the public in the dark, and shortchange the residents of Anaheim by not reaping the full potential value of this property. It is painful to watch the trust of the public be so egregiously eroded. SB 361 and SB 34 are just the beginning steps needed to restore the trust of the residents of Anaheim and Orange County.”
While the bill was initially slow in getting off the ground, and the Angel Stadium deal constantly in the news with the HCD essentially powerless to stop it, only drastically increased support for the bill. Once only plodding along in the Senate, the bill’s support shot up to a 36-0 bipartisan vote in favor by April 29th. Those opposed to the bill who saw it as an impediment against land sales or too focused on a single county were also quickly silenced following the FBI report, Mayor Sidhu’s resignation, and ultimate end of the stadium deal in May.
“Support for that went from people saying ‘You’re crazy’ to ‘You’re crazy for NOT supporting this’,” explained Leo Wade, an Anaheim who had initially helped found a grassroots movement to keep the sale going forward, to the Globe on Tuesday. “Initially, it seemed those claims were far fetched. We kind of dug in our heels because we wanted the Stadium to go to the team and we wanted more housing here. But once the FBI and the state started proving what really had gone on, it was a real punch in the gut moment. You know, no one was honest. They took away a lot of the affordable housing they agreed to. The Mayor took money and tried to cover his tracks. And the Angels? I don’t think Orange County deserves them after what happened. It was a real 180 for a lot of us. And they almost got away with it too.”
SB 361 is expected to be heard in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee in the coming days. Little opposition to the bill has been noted.