ANAHEIM — Despite strenuous objections from neighboring residents and businesses, the last apparent obstacle to construction of a proposed $85-million indoor sports arena was cleared Wednesday when the City Council voted 4 to 1 to approve a controversial environmental impact report.
Ground-breaking is expected in early February after a mandatory 30-day waiting period to allow legal challenges to the proposed 20,000-seat arena. City officials hope to open the arena and attract a professional basketball team to play there by the fall of 1991.
"There's overwhelming support for putting an arena in Anaheim," Mayor Fred Hunter declared, brushing aside complaints about the project from the California Angels, Los Angeles Rams and residents of a mobile home park next to the proposed site.
Hunter, a lawyer, said the environmental report was sound and could withstand any legal challenge in court.
But attorneys for the Angels, Rams and Orange Tree Mobile Home Park Estates renewed their complaints during a daylong public hearing, arguing that the environmental report was hastily compiled, using outdated traffic and geological data and self-serving analyses.
Jack Stanaland, owner of the mobile home park, has already indicated that he may file suit to block the project and an attorney for the Rams and Angels said Wednesday that he might do so as well.
"What's happening here is a rush to the NBA franchise door," said attorney William D. Ross, representing Anaheim Stadium Associates, a Rams-Angels partnership embroiled in a separate, eight-year legal dispute with the city over rights to the Anaheim Stadium parking lot.
Several speakers complained during Wednesday's hearing that the city is speeding up its arena bid to beat the city of Santa Ana, which hopes to build a nearly identical facility and lure professional sports franchises. Santa Ana has yet to approve its environmental report, which must be done before construction can begin.
Ross urged Anaheim council members to delay action, prepare a more thorough report and "remove the idea that this project is being slammed through."
Despite the complaints, council members also voted Wednesday to spend $3.2 million to acquire three more acres of land for the project and to rezone all the property to permit construction of the 100-foot-tall, 20,000-seat arena. The city previously had agreed to pay $8 million for an adjoining 7.6-acre parcel now occupied by a German-American social club.
Many city officials expect the arena to be a boon to the local economy, generating 700 to 800 new jobs and about $78 million in sales in the community.
But the city also stands to share directly in the profits.
Under a July 12 preliminary agreement with Ogden Financial Services of California, the city would receive 15% of the net operating profit each year for the first 15 years and the developer 85%. After 15 years, the city will receive 20% and Ogden 80%.
Ogden would finance construction of the arena, then deed the building to the city. In turn, the city will employ Ogden Management to operate the facility on the condition that it would make up as much as $1.5 million a year if there is a revenue shortfall.
Nevertheless, arena critics can be found, even within City Hall.
"It's one of the worst (environmental impact reports) I've seen in 25 years," complained Planning Commission Chairman Lewis Herbst after the council's vote. "They've been trying to ramrod this thing through. Rush, rush, rush."
"The downside is that it could cost the city," Herbst said. "Why do we want to spend 85-million bucks until we find out for sure" whether a professional sports franchise is willing to move to Anaheim?
Councilman Irv Pickler, who cast the lone vote Wednesday against the project, agreed that "we have moved too fast."
"I wanted a little more information on the parking and the traffic," Pickler said. "Hopefully, I will feel better about it later. I think we should have taken a little more time to analyze the situation. I think there are some real concerns about the parking and the traffic circulation."
While acknowledging that "we've been on a fast track," Assistant City Manager Jim Ruth, the city's prime negotiator on the project, said that the city has not unnecessarily rushed the process.
Ruth said the city has given residents adequate time to comment on the arena plans, and extended the environmental report's review period by two weeks.
The city is still negotiating for a parcel on the northeast corner of Katella Avenue and Douglass Road to complete land acquisition for the arena. Officials are also negotiating with private landowners and the county to acquire additional off-site parking.
Ruth said the City Council will be asked in coming months to approve a financial agreement between Anaheim and Ogden, in which the profits of the arena would be divided and the liabilities spelled out.