It has been a battle fought on the front pages and in scores of legal documents, a $16-million spat loaded with accusations of greed and deceit involving Orange County's largest city and its two professional sports teams.
The heart of the dispute, like many others in Orange County, is land--in this instance, the parking lot at Anaheim Stadium.
It will be six years ago Tuesday that an angry Gene Autry sued the city of Anaheim for $100 million, claiming the city had "sold the same horse twice" by promising that a development group formed by the Los Angeles Rams football team could build high-rise office buildings on the parking lot leased by the California Angels baseball team.
Messy Trial, Then Appeals
It took more than two years for the lawsuit to come before a judge, and another year to complete a messy trial, only to have all three parties announce their intentions this year to appeal the judge's decision.
And there is no settlement in sight for one of the most expensive civil lawsuits involving a city in Orange County history.
"It's a runaway locomotive," said Alfred E. Augustini, a lawyer for Anaheim Stadium Associates, the Rams' development group. "And from everything I can see, the locomotive is chugging away."
A decision in late 1988 from Superior Court Judge Frank Domenichini said that the Angels were entitled to 12,422 parking spaces on the ground, not in the parking garages that were to accompany the office development. This decision wiped out the development group's plans to build on more than 60% of the stadium property.
The city, however, could develop the remaining land after it striped 20 acres for 12,422 spaces, the number there now, and changed the entrances and exits to accommodate the development, the judge ruled.
Attorneys for the city and Anaheim Stadium Associates say Domenichini's decision was acceptable. But Angels owner Autry has steadfastly declared that he will fight \o7 any \f7 development on the parking lot, and the Angels therefore will appeal the decision, said William B. Campbell, attorney for the ballclub.
"We didn't make the lease to give up our rights to accommodate a bunch of land developers and a City Council that made a mistake," Campbell said.
Augustini said, "The Rams aren't going to accept nothing. The developer has spent $10 million (in legal fees and development plans) and will not walk away from that."
'City in the Middle'
And then there's the city. "These are two absolute, opposite positions with the city in the middle trying to find a way to appease both sides," Anaheim City Atty. Jack L. White said. "We got sued. We really have no choice at this time but to defend the city's position."
All sides deplore the amount of money spent on the case. Legal fees have cost the developer about $5 million, and the Angels have spent $3 million to $4 million. But the largest share--$7 million--has been borne by the taxpayers of Anaheim in the most expensive lawsuit in city history.
"I'm mad and the council's mad and we're all mad that it has taken this much money," White said. "But when the plaintiffs are willing to spend millions and millions of dollars to assert their position, you have to respond in a like manner. If one side uses the heavy artillery and bombers, you can't respond with popguns."
The legal machinery began gearing up in 1983, when Anaheim Stadium Associates was seeking final approval of plans to build four office buildings, ranging from 18 to 30 stories tall, on 20 acres of the stadium lot. City officials declared the project to be a pioneering development that could turn Anaheim into the Century City of Orange County and pour nearly $1 million a year into city coffers.
The parking garages used by office workers during the day could also serve baseball fans at night and fulfill the city's obligation to provide the Angels with at least 12,422 parking spaces, city officials reasoned.
Autry knew of plans to develop the parking lot because he was at the 1978 news conference during which the deal to move the Rams and develop the lot was announced, White said. But sometime after that, Autry perceived that he was not being properly consulted about the project.
'Treated Without Respect'
"He was treated without respect and very shabbily," said Campbell, the Angels' attorney. "He was incensed at that."
The Angels began to protest the project at City Council meetings in the spring of 1983. After the city approved the project, the Angels filed suit on Aug. 8. The following spring, the developers sued the city for $110 million as insurance in case the Angels prevailed in court.
In 1984 and 1985, the Angels filed five more lawsuits against the city, including one accusing former City Manager William O. Talley of "fraud and deceit" in trying to deprive the ballclub of its parking rights.