The Voice of OC’s drumbeat of narrative-crafting about Anaheim this week has been a font of shoddy reporting extending from the Angels sale settlement agreement to Anaheim First to a councilmember replacing a hold-over commissioner with one of her own choosing.

When Is A Fine, Not A Fine? 

The Voice of OC’s drumbeat coverage of the Angel Stadium sale settlement agreement family begs the question. Three headlines in 24 hours scream that Anaheim has been “fined $96 million.”

Let’s think about that for a moment. We’re all familiar with fines. You get pulled over for speeding, you get a ticket, and have to pay a fine – meaning you pay a specified amount to the relevant government agency.

Anaheim is paying $96 million to…Anaheim.

When was the last time you broke the law and then paid a fine to yourself?

The original stadium sale proposal included $123,677,843 in it for workforce housing. Under the settlement agreement, the modified sale proposal has $123,677,843 for workforce housing.

The only difference is the state asked the city to set $96 million of that aside, as cash, into a dedicated fund to produce more affordable units, more quickly, by moving them off the stadium site.

$96 Million Comes From SRB – Not Anaheim Taxpayers

Santana begins his opinion column with this whopper:

“It looks like Anaheim taxpayers will foot a nearly $100 million fine imposed by the state because Anaheim city officials negotiated with team owners in a way that violated state laws meant to ensure public properties go out to bid with a priority for affordable housing.”

A) Anaheim taxpayers are not paying the fine. B) The stadium agreement negotiations did not violate state law. This is pure, unsubstantiated opinion.

Where is the $96 million coming from? From SRB Management – not the city’s general fund. And not – contrary to Santana’s hysterical headline –  from Anaheim taxpayers. The settlement agreement requires those funds to pass through the city, but it is still money from SRB.

The stipulated agreement is pointedly silent on whether the sale complied with the Surplus Land Act, and explicitly states the city maintains it did not. The city and the AG essentially agree to disagree on that point.

Santana has made no secret of his opinion the sale violated there Surplus Land Act. That’s his opinion. In this writer’s opinion, the city was compliant and would likely have prevailed in court if the matter had gone to litigation. It’s safe to assume from its decision to settle – with no admission of violation by Anaheim – the Attorney General’s office was less than certain it would beat the city in court.

From the city’s perspective, the settlement agreement is a no-brainer: it basically preserves the sale agreement and avoids long and costly litigation.

VOC writers Spencer Custodio and Brandon Pho sacrifice being factual for the sake a of cutesy headline with their story “Anaheim Denies Breaking State Law While Agreeing to $96 Million Fine for Breaking State Law.” 

The basis for the Custodio/Pho claim the city violated state law? The “notice of violation” originally issue by the Housing and Community Development department. The same notice the state canceled under the settlement agreement. Not to mention that a government agency notice is just that: a notice. An allegation. A claim that must be proven. Government agencies issued notices of violation all the time – and they are often successfully contested.

The logical upshot of the Custodio/Pho headline is that the government is always right, turning the notion of innocent-until-proven-guilty on its head. In other words, the Voice of OC is uncritically parroting the state government line. Way to hold the powerful accountable.

Santana’s column also claims the “Angels Get A Stadium On The Cheap”

Huh?

Recall that a central demand of critics of the 2013 Angles negotiating framework – effectively killed in the cradle by then-Mayor Tom Tait – was that in any deal to keep the Angels in Anaheim, the city must obtain fair market value.

And that is what has happened: SRB Management is paying fair market value according to an appraisal commissioned and accepted by Mayor Tait, Councilman Jose F. Moreno and their then-council majority.  No amount of caterwauling, carping or conjured valuations can obscure that fact.

Apparently, what bothers the VOC and other naysayers is the deal was done under Mayor Harry Sidhu. If this same deal had been negotiated by Mayor Tait, does anyone really believe the Voice of OC would be waging this relentless campaign to discredit it?

Cognitive Dissonance On Display

In his column, Santana also took aim at Superior Court Judge David Hoffer’s ruling against the Brown Act lawsuit brought by the Anaheim People’s Homelessness Task Force (i.e. Mike and Jeannine Robbins):

Yet last month, an OC Superior Court Judge decided against residents in the lawsuit filed by local activists with the People’s Homeless Task Force, deciding that the city’s negotiations met the standard set by the state’s open meeting laws when it comes to discussions about selling off public land. 

Superior Court Judge David Hoffer also said that Zapata and Moreno’s declarations weren’t credible, although Hoffer didn’t discuss why he didn’t consider what they said — decisions which would seemingly violate state law — as credible. 

I’ve seen a number of critics make that same head-scratcher of a claim, which begs the question: did any of them read Judge Hoffer’s decision? Because he explains, at lenght, why he didn’t think those declarations were credible. It’s right here – pages 8 through 10, in case any of them are interested in reading the reasons they claim Hoffer never gave.

The Journalism Of Uncausality

Custodio and Pho apply the same journalistc alchemy to a non-story about District 2 Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae replacing her council predecessor’s apppointee to the Budget, Investment & Technology Commission with one of her own.

This happens all the time, in cities all over the state.

Yet the Voice of OC stretches to imply a routine appointee replacement is really political retaliation:

Custodio/Pho make a vague reference to some concern the Lahtinen made at some point about Anaheim First, and then quote the 87-year old West Anaheim resident speculating that Ma’ae may not have appreciated those comments – assuming she was even aware of them:

“I did question whether Anaheim first is going to be interfering with boards and commissions with what they’re doing – maybe she’s got it in for me. I have no idea, she didn’t say anything,” Lathinen said in a Monday phone interview.  

“I haven’t heard anything about Anaheim First for a long time – in fact I almost forgot about that group

Ma’ae declined to comment. 

“I’ve never met her and I don’t know her, but she called me last month and asked me to resign from the budget commission because I don’t live in District 2 and that’s true,” Lathinen said in a Monday phone interview.

To summarize: Lahtinen has barely given Anaheim First a thought, doesn’t know Councilmember Ma’ae, and has no idea if she cares one way or another about his views on Anaheim First.

Yet the Voice of OC transmutes that into the reason Ma’ae is replacing him on the budget commission – implying political retribution against all evidence to the contrary.

The errors don’t stop there.

While discussing today’s council workshop on Anaheim First, Custodio/Pho write:

“Questions to Anaheim First spokesperson Xochitl Medrano went unanswered on Monday.”

That’s because Medrano doesn’t work for Anaheim First. If the authors had invested 5 second in a Google search, they would have discovered Medrano left Anaheim First more than two years ago. Maybe narrative crafting supersedes research and fact-checking.