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Team owner won't yield

Angels owner Arte Moreno suggests that Anaheim honor its stadium lease or be sued. But the city may build without his OK.

August 31, 2007|Dave McKibben and Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writers

The already cool relationship between Anaheim and its hometown baseball team has grown ever chillier, with Angels owner Arte Moreno raising the specter of legal action to block the city's proposed development in the Angel Stadium parking lot.

After a recent meeting between Moreno and city officials deteriorated into a debate over who should have attended the meeting and what might be built next to the ballpark, two City Council members said Thursday that the city was now prepared to proceed with development without further discussion with Moreno.

"The city wanted to open up the dialogue and get Mr. Moreno's blessing to put residential on the land," said Councilman Harry Sidhu. "But since he did not want to open up the door, we are proceeding further without any negotiation."

The 53-acre site, which is on the outskirts of the lot and includes the Grove theater, had been used in an attempt to attract an NFL team. But the city recently gave exclusive development rights to Archstone-Smith and Hines, a nationally known builder that has proposed incorporating 1,100 apartments into a project that also could include offices, hotels, shops and entertainment venues.

The city owns the property, but the Angels hold a lease that forbids housing on the site. Sources said the sale price of reportedly more than $150 million could increase by about $50 million if the city persuaded Moreno to waive that restriction.

In a July 23 meeting with Moreno, city officials presented Archstone's vision for the site. Moreno expressed concern that the project would infringe upon the Angels' lease rights regarding parking, ease of access to the stadium and views of the park from neighboring streets and freeways.

Moreno also objected to the presence of City Atty. Jack White at the meeting.

His attorney, Leo Beus, told the city in a July 30 letter that Moreno and the Angels "are not going to again be surprised with lawyers in a context where it was expected business would be discussed." Moreno had arrived at the meeting without a lawyer.

In a subsequent letter, White apologized for what he described as a "misunderstanding," blaming an assistant to Angels President Dennis Kuhl for incorrectly conveying that the team would bring its attorney to the meeting.

White also explained that city officials presented a plan at odds with the Angels' lease because the city and Archstone-Smith preferred a mixed-use commercial-residential development, and "it was our hope that such a concept might receive favorable consideration by the Angels."

In his letter, Beus said the city had agreed that it would not pursue housing on the site "without the prior written consent of the Los Angeles Angels." Beus also said the Angels took the city at its word that it would not infringe upon any of the team's lease rights and would not contend that the Angels had forfeited legal rights by not trying to stop the development now.

"Based upon your assurances, the Angels will not file an action at this time," Beus wrote. Moreno was out of the country Thursday and unavailable for comment.

The prospect of another lawsuit between the team and the city comes as Anaheim's fight to overturn the Angels' 2005 name change winds its way through the appellate court. It is believed the City Council was willing to consider dropping the appeal, as part of a development deal or otherwise, but that possibility appears increasingly unlikely.

Councilwoman Lorri Galloway said the city "has no intention of going outside of our lease" but believes the council is ready to proceed with nonresidential development and leave Moreno out of the process.

david.mckibben@ latimes.com

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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