In a stunning blow to Anaheim officials, the Orange County of Board of Supervisors scuttled plans Tuesday to sell a proposed jail site on which the city had sought to build a 21,000-seat, $85-million sports arena.
"The deal is dead," announced a disappointed Supervisor Don R. Roth, one of the biggest boosters of Anaheim's bid to purchase the county-owned, 7.6-acre parcel at Katella Avenue and Douglass Road.
While the plan had the support of Roth and Board Chairman Thomas F. Riley, the other three supervisors opposed it. Because of the county's critical need to construct a new jail to relieve severe inmate overcrowding at existing facilities, Supervisors Roger R. Stanton, Harriett M. Wieder and Gaddi H. Vasquez said it would be a mistake at this point to sell any potential jail site, including the vacant Katella-Douglass property.
After gathering in a session that was closed to the public following Tuesday's regular meeting, Riley said the board reached a "consensus" not to sell any county parcel under consideration for a possible jail until a permanent site is selected. Though no formal vote was taken, the board's position effectively dashes Anaheim's hopes of building an arena to attract a professional hockey or basketball franchise on the Katella-Douglass property. It takes four votes by the board to sell county property.
"We are bitterly disappointed," said Anaheim City Manager Bob Simpson, who described the Katella-Douglass site the "best choice" for an arena.
Upon learning of the supervisors' decision, the Anaheim City Council went into its own closed session at the end of Tuesday's regular meeting to discuss options. The session ended with no formal action being taken by the council. But Jim Ruth, Anaheim's assistant city manager and lead negotiator on the arena, emerged from the meeting and said the city was abandoning its pursuit of the Katella-Douglass property, the cornerstone of its 3-year campaign to bring another professional sports franchise to Orange County.
"We're not going to make any effort to resurrect that jail site," Ruth said.
The city, Ruth said, is considering at least two other parcels for an arena in the same area. The preferred choice, he said, is a privately owned, 12-acre plot on the northeast corner of Katella and State College Boulevard--not far from the jail site. The other possible site is a smaller 7-acre parcel about a block north of Katella on Douglass. It, too, is privately owned.
While Anaheim officials scrambled to salvage their arena plans, officials in neighboring Santa Ana, which last week revived its own long-held plans to build a similar sports facility, were optimistic about the impact of the supervisors' action on their proposal. Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young said it gives his city the advantage in the testy two-city race to be the first to construct a 20,000-plus seat arena in the heart of the county.
Santa Ana's arena would be built on 17 acres at Edinger Avenue and Lyon Street, near Century High School in an industrial and business park owned by the Santa Fe Pacific Realty Corp. Unlike the Anaheim plans, those to build an arena in Santa Ana are still conceptual, with no financing or ownership group yet lined up. As a result, Young considers Anaheim's setback as a plus for his city's arena push.
Boost for Santa Ana
"This is a tremendous boost for us," Young said in referring to the supervisors' decision not to sell the Katella-Douglass property. "This clears away any imminent danger of competition. It's really now up to Santa Fe to put together the final package. But this certainly gives them some breathing room. Now we don't have to rush as much."
At the heart of the controversy surrounding the Katella-Douglass property is the county's continuing search for an acceptable site to build a new jail. It is one three proposals by the county to relieve overcrowded jails over the next 20 years. The others include the expansion of the Theo Lacy Branch Jail in Orange and a 6,000-bed jail planned for Gypsum Canyon. There has also been some discussion about expanding the 1,400-prisoner James A. Musick Branch Jail, which is just outside the Irvine city limits.
Because of its prime location several blocks from Anaheim Stadium and next to the Orange Freeway, the Katella-Douglass property is among the most valuable parcels in the county's real estate portfolio. Real estate in the area is selling for as much as $750,000 to $1 million an acre, and for that reason, Supervisor Roth favored selling the property rather than developing a 10-story jail that would house 1,500 inmates.
"That would be like the city of Beverly Hills building the city jail on Rodeo Drive," said Roth, a former Anaheim mayor. "It just doesn't make economic sense to put inmates on a piece of land that valuable."