Disneyland’s new vision includes up to $2.5-billion investment and a plan to take over city streets

For decades, Disneyland has been hampered from expanding its Anaheim resort due to streets, highways and businesses that encircle the self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth.”

(DisneylandForward)

But Disneyland hopes to get around those limits with a plan to spend up to $2.5 billion to reimagine the resort with new attractions, hotels and shops within its current 100-acre footprint — a proposal that would require taking over some surrounding city streets.

The plan already has critics who fear it will create more traffic headaches for neighbors and not provide enough tax revenue for the city.

The plan, presented to the Anaheim City Council Tuesday, would turn the theme park into an even more “immersive” experience by building new areas that would combine theme park attractions, hotels, restaurants and stores in the same spaces, said Disney’s Global Development Vice President Rachel Alde during the presentation.

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Dubbed DisneylandForward, the plan is not specific about what exactly would be built but asks Anaheim to relax zoning rules and give Disney flexibility to redesign the existing resort, which includes Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park and the Downtown Disney business district.

“This will allow, for example, theme park attractions alongside or even embedded in hotels and vice versa,” Ted White, planning and building director for the city, said during the Tuesday presentation.

Disneyland’s footprint is not expected to expand. But Disney, a powerful and dominant broker in Anaheim politics, is also asking the city to hand over some adjacent streets to the company. The move would give Disneyland control over Magic Way, Hotel Way and part of Clementine Street near the resort.

In exchange, according to the plans, Disney is proposing to pay $40 million for the roads, what city planners said is fair market price. That payment would be part of a plan by Disney to spend $90 million on Anaheim street improvements near the theme park, including widening Katella Avenue.

Disney is also asking Anaheim to halt its previous plans to extend Clementine Street and Gene Autry Way.

Disney is offering to give the city tens of millions of dollars more in taxes and fees, earmarked for affordable housing, public parks and road improvements.

In all, Disney expects to invest up to $2.5 billion over the next decade on the project and, in addition, pledges to give the city of Anaheim more than $100 million for street improvements, parks and affordable housing.

The multibillion-dollar investment, Disney officials said, could mean thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of tax revenue for the city in what could be one of the most significant expansions of the storied theme park since it was first built in 1954.

Already, hotel stay-tax revenue is Anaheim’s largest source of funding, said Mike Lyster, spokesperson for the city of Anaheim. The city expects to collect $236.3 million from hotel taxes for the last 12 months ending in June, he said.

But the expansion of the theme park, as well as the proposal to privatize public roads, is already raising concerns from some Anaheim residents who worry the plan could mean worse traffic in their community, and the resort’s expansion could further increase rents and the cost of living.

“The ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ has the saddest communities next door,” said one resident in Spanish, who identified herself as Maricela during Tuesday’s meeting.

She and other residents at a nearby apartment building received notices, saying they had to leave their homes in December, she said, a decision she believes may have been prompted by the resort’s expansion plan.

“The expansion hasn’t started, and some of us are already being expelled,” she said.

Lyster, the city spokesperson, said eviction notices received by apartment building residents are not related to Disney’s expansion plans.

“Our thoughts and concerns are with anyone dealing with relocation,” he said. “But it appears the owner is renovating the property within their rights with 60-day notice and relocation assistance as required by state law.”

He said the city has reached out to residents for assistance in apartment searches.

Some residents have also created an online petition in opposition to the privatizing of streets, with worries that Disney’s privatization of the streets will mean the public will no longer have access to them.

“Road closures mean that high-value, taxpayer-owned real estate would be privatized for Disney’s profitable use,” the petition reads. As of Friday, 230 people have signed the petition.

City officials, however, say two of the roads that could be privatized — Hotel Way and Clementine Street — are now used as entryways into a Disney parking lot. Magic Way, Lyster said, would remain open to vehicles heading into the resort.

Among the planned construction, Disney is looking to expand the theme park across Disneyland Drive to Walnut Street, an area designated strictly for hotels under its original plan with the city.

DisneylandForward is asking the city to give the company more flexibility to overhaul areas that were originally designated for hotels to also include park rides, attractions and retail stores.

Disney also looks to build a new 17,000-space parking garage, as well as three pedestrian bridges to cross over Harbor Boulevard, and two additional bridges over Disneyland Drive.

Under the plan, Disney promises to invest between $1.9 billion to $2.5 billion within the next 10 years. If Disney’s investment does not reach the $2.5-billion mark, the company vows to pay an additional $5-million payment to the city.

But the proposal, which has been in the works since 2021, follows an Anaheim City Hall corruption scandal. An internal report found a “potential criminal conspiracy” regarding COVID-19 relief funds and accused former Mayor Harry Sidhu and the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce of “influence peddling.”

The report came after an FBI affidavit accused Sidhu of misdeeds and being part of a self-described “cabal” of public figures and influential figures in the city, including a Disney power broker.

The scandal underscored concerns by some residents and city officials that Disney holds undue influence in Anaheim at a cost to its residents.

“Instead of making this franchise richer, I urge you to really invest in our communities who are struggling to afford each and every day despite holding two or three jobs,” resident Yesenia Altamirano said during the Tuesday meeting.

During the meeting, Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem Norma Campos Kurtz, said some residents have already approached her with concerns about privatizing city roads and how it could lead to increased traffic on Walnut Street and Ball Road.

City staff said a plan and funding are already in the works to improve traffic flow at the intersection of the two streets.

City Councilmember Natalie Rubalcava said she’d like Disney to make a greater commitment than the $30 million the company has promised to give the city for affordable housing.

“One of the things I would love to see Disney commit to in perpetuity is some additional funding for housing, whether it’s first-time home buyer program or a last-mile funding for affordable housing projects,” she said. “I would love to see that in addition.”

Click here to read that the full article in the LA Times

Missing Money in Anaheim? Visit Anaheim CEO Resigns After Allegations of Rerouting Tax Dollars

Jay Burress, CEO and President of Visit Anaheim, has resigned amid allegations he helped divert $1.5 million in tax dollars to an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce-controlled nonprofit in the midst of one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit Orange County. 

Christina Dawson, senior vice president of operations for Visit Anaheim – the local tourism bureau – confirmed Thursday that Burress resigned last week and a search to replace him as president and CEO is ongoing.

She declined to comment further.

Mike Lyster, a city spokesperson, said in a Wednesday email the city has not been updated about Visit Anaheim when asked about Burress’ resignation.

“We have not received any notification or update regarding Visit Anaheim,” he wrote.

After publication Thursday, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said in a text message she couldn’t comment on the resignation since she hadn’t been contacted by Visit Anaheim about the issue.

Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.

The rest of the city council did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Alleged Criminal Conspiracy 

In a 353-page corruption report released at the end of July, independent investigators – with decades of law enforcement experience – alleged Visit Anaheim took $1.5 million of the $6.5 million COVID bailout they were given by the city council and sent the money to a Chamber of Commerce controlled nonprofit. 

The money Anaheim gave the tourism bureau in March 2020 was from the city’s general fund and was later backfilled by federal COVID bailout money.

Investigators say Burress was part of a conspiracy to divert the money allegedly concocted by former Mayor Harry Sidhu and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, both of whom have pleaded guilty to multiple federal crimes.

“The facts showed that then-Mayor Sidhu directed Burress to divert $1.5 million to the Anaheim Chamber’s controlled nonprofit and that Ament instructed Burress to report, if asked about the $1.5 million, that it came from other reserve funds,” investigators wrote. 

“This cover story was created in order to provide some sort of plausible deniability for the unlawful diversion of this $1.5 million,” reads their report.

In September, Sidhu pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about attempting to ram the Angel Stadium sale through for $1 million in campaign support from the team. 

In July 2022, Ament pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges.  

Burress’ name is mentioned nearly 120 times in the corruption report, and investigators say he admitted he completely fabricated the $6.5 million figure the organization said it needed to survive the pandemic. 

Sidhu spearheaded the bailout in March 2020 so Visit Anaheim could book conventions and advertise the Disneyland resort area at a time when the local tourism industry was shut down indefinitely. 

Disneyland would be closed for more than a year.

[ReadAnaheim Council Funds $6.5 Million Bailout To Advertise Disneyland Resort Area]

At the time, former City Manager Chris Zapata objected to Sidhu’s plan saying they should loan them the money instead.

Zapata was fired by Sidhu’s council majority shortly afterwards.

State Auditor Eyes Visit Anaheim

Weeks after the corruption report was released on July 31, State Auditor Grant Parks launched an investigation into Visit Anaheim’s finances at the request of Assemblyman Avelino Valencia, a former city councilman.

[Read: State Auditors to Probe Anaheim’s Rerouting of Federal Funds to Chamber of Commerce]

That audit is expected to be released this winter, according to the auditor’s website.

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of OC

New Law Would Stop Orange County Cities From Selling Land in Violation of Affordable Housing Laws

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that aims to prevent cities in Orange County from selling surplus land in violation of the state’s affordable housing laws, a response to the fallout of Anaheim’s now-nixed efforts to sell Angel Stadium.

State Sen. Tom Umberg authored the legislation, which applies only to Orange County and will expire in 2030. An earlier version of the bill would have applied statewide, but Umberg’s office said, “Relentless lobbying by local governments including cities, counties, and special districts have led to the measure’s narrowing over the last 18 months.”

If a city within Orange County receives a notice of a Surplus Land Act violation from the California Department of Housing and Community Development from a planned sale of land, it would not be able to proceed with the sale without correcting the violation, according to the new legislation.

The Surplus Land Act requires priority be given to affordable housing and open space when a local government is selling excess property, including giving affordable developers first crack at negotiating for the land.

The state’s housing department, under Umberg’s bill, would also have the authority to require the surplus land to be rebid, according to Umberg’s office.

“At the very least, the people of Anaheim and Orange County deserve accountability with their tax dollars in light of the ongoing stadium mess,” said Umberg, whose district includes Anaheim.

The state notified Anaheim in late 2021 that its planned sale of Angel Stadium violated the Surplus Land Act. City leaders initially responded that the stadium property was exempt. Anaheim later agreed to pay $96 million from the sale’s proceeds toward the creation of affordable homes.

“Back in 2021, there was a reasonable question about whether a stadium leased for Major League Baseball was surplus land. But we are in a different time and place today,” Anaheim spokesperson Mike Lyster said in a statement Monday. “We have tracked the legislation and its signing and will always adhere to any applicable California law.”

Another one of Umberg’s bill signed by the governor into law last week requires a local agency that receives a violation notice to hold a public hearing to review and consider the matter.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Former Anaheim Mayor Sidhu Agrees to Plea Deal for Federal Corruption Charges

Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has agreed to plead guilty to four federal charges, capping a years-long federal investigation into alleged corruption that led to his resignation and torpedoed the city’s $320 million sale of Angel Stadium.

In a deal announced Wednesday, Aug. 16, Sidhu will plead guilty to obstruction of justice, wire fraud, false statement to the Federal Aviation Administration and false statement to the FBI.

“Mr. Sidhu was elected by and pledged to work for the residents of Anaheim, but he violated that pledge and their trust on numerous occasions to look out for special interests,” Donald Alway, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles field office, said in a statement. “Mr. Sidhu deceived his colleagues and weakened the city’s official strategy by divulging intellectual property, then lied to the government when his corruption was discovered.”

In a statement Wednesday, Sidhu’s attorney Paul S. Meyer said, “Former Mayor Sidhu appreciates the thorough and fair investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office leading to a resolution in this matter.”

The total maximum sentence for all the offenses for which Sidhu has agreed to plea to is up to 50 years in prison, according to the agreement. He will next need to enter his plea in court and his actual sentencing is up to a judge at a later date and could be significantly shorter.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed that if the court imposes a prison term of no less than 30 months, it would waive its right to appeal the sentence.

The agreement comes two weeks after an independent city-commissioned investigation was released providing new details for how Sidhu and allies appear to have gone unchecked in City Hall dealings.

During the city’s negotiations to sell Angel Stadium to team owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership, Sidhu sought to become a member of the city’s negotiating team and then provided “confidential inside information belonging to the city” to former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament and to a consultant working for the Angels, “so that the Angels could buy Angel Stadium on terms beneficial to the Angels,” according to the plea agreement.

In 2019, Sidhu had also provided a confidential appraisal range related to Angel Stadium to Ament to give to the Angels before that figure was public, according to the plea agreement.

Sidhu was secretly recorded several months later saying he expected to ask for a $1 million campaign contribution toward his reelection from the Angels if they succeeded in buying the stadium, the plea agreement says. In an interview with FBI agents on May 12, 2022, days before the FBI’s investigation became public, Sidhu lied to the agents about expecting “nothing” from the Angels after the stadium deal closed, according to the plea agreement. Prosecutors also said Sidhu “falsely” told investigators that he did not recall providing stadium sale information during the negotiations.

Sidhu resigned in May 2022 following the revelation that the FBI was investigating the former mayor and the $320 million stadium deal was scuttled by the City Council.

Angels Organization spokesperson Marie Garvey said, “It is important to note both the plea agreement along with the city’s investigation showed no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Angels Organization.”

Ament’s attorneys, Joshua Robbins and Andrew Selesnick of Buchalter law firm, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The FBI’s investigation was underway since at least 2019, according to an affidavit filed last year in support of a request for search warrants that included information investigators said was gleaned from wiretaps and intercepted emails.

The plea agreement gives details about how Sidhu attempted to not pay California sales tax for a used helicopter he purchased for $205,000. He had registered the helicopter using a mailing address in Scottsdale, Arizona, to avoid paying $15,887 in taxes. The helicopter was stored in Chino.

Sidhu has already paid back the taxes, according to the plea agreement.

He also provided false information to the FAA when he submitted the Arizona mailing address as his own, the agreement says. The mailing address belonged to an unnamed Anaheim businessperson.

Sidhu and his attorneys signed the plea agreement on Monday, Aug. 14.

For the obstruction of justice charge, Sidhu would admit that he destroyed multiple email messages and documents “with the intent to impede the FBI’s investigation of public corruption surrounding the city’s potential sale of Angel Stadium,” according to the plea agreement.

One of the emails deleted was related to the Angel Stadium deal, which had “confidential negotiation information,” including issues around the price and terms, the plea agreement says.

The document, drafted by attorneys for the city,  included a section about parking and how it affected the value of land, the agreement says, and gave the example of how the team could “eliminate the requirement that they maintain at least 12,500 parking spaces so upon closing they could immediately amend the lease to limit their parking obligation and then flip the land for millions more than they paid for it.”

“Reducing their parking obligation by 4,000 spaces would translate to $64 million in increased land value,” according to the document referenced in the plea agreement.

Prosecutors said Sidhu told investigators he did not conduct city business using his personal email.

Also in the plea agreement are details about planning for mock council meeting sessions in advance of the council’s vote on the Angel Stadium sale.

Sidhu had deleted an email about the sessions that used personal addresses for him, two other unnamed council members and other city staff, the agreement says. Sidhu would purposely conduct city business using his personal email and communicate with some city staff’s personal email addresses as well, prosecutors said.

The deleted email, according to the agreement, said the prep sessions would include the then-mayor pro tem, another council member, the city’s chief communications officer, another city staffer, the unnamed Angels consultant, Ament, the president of the Angels and an attorney for the Angels.

The practice meeting would be held in three sessions, according to the agreement’s description, during which participants would debate the strengths, pitfalls and vulnerabilities of the stadium deal. The Angels team would develop what the agreement called “zingers,” responses and other points to improve the participants’ performance.

It appeared the mock meetings were intended be a dress rehearsal for the real one.

In strongly worded comments Wednesday, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said she was appalled by the alleged collusion between Sidhu, former council members and the Angels organization.

“If the allegations surrounding the Angels organization setting up a shadow council meeting are true, I don’t think the negotiations were in good faith and I would like to look into that,” Aitken said.

The Angels were supposed to be at arm’s length during the negotiations, Aitken said, and any future talks would have to be more transparent and with more community participation.

Overall, Aitken said Sidhu’s plea agreement unveiled just the “tip of the iceberg” of the problems with the city and further confirmed the need for reform.

She said the city also needs stronger restrictions and better enforcement to harness campaign financing and lobbyists who have run unfettered at City Hall.

“We need to make sure our policies are in line with other cities our size,” said Aitken.

In a city statement late Wednesday, a city spokesman said, “We are aware of and are reviewing the plea agreement, which reflects what was a challenging time for Anaheim. We look forward to our City Council’s ongoing consideration of reforms to protect our city and keep moving forward.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Attempt to Change Anaheim Minimum Wage Special Election Date Denied

An Orange County judge on Wednesday, Aug. 2, denied an attempt to stop Anaheim from having its minimum wage special election from occurring on Oct. 3.

Unite Here Local 11, the proponents behind an initiative to raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour for hotel and event center workers in Anaheim, had sued the city for moving the special election on Measure A to Oct. 3.

They had asked the court to not allow the special election to happen on Oct. 3, arguing that the date didn’t comply with state election law. Orange County Superior Court Judge Nathan Scott issued the ruling.

Anaheim originally targeted Sept. 12 for the public vote, but formally called for the election on Oct. 3.

“We were confident in our action, and welcome the court’s determination,” city spokesperson Mike Lyster said in a statement. “This gives voters a chance to weigh in on an important matter with plenty of time to learn about the issue and make an informed decision.”

The special election will decide if the city should have a higher minimum wage for hotel and event centers workers than the state, as well as implement various workload restrictions.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Anaheim independent investigation talks of conspiracy, Brown Act violations

A highly anticipated investigation into alleged corruption in Anaheim detailed dealings by a mayor and his allies who went unchecked, money that appeared funneled to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and Visit Anaheim and instances of potential Brown Act violations in a 353-page report released Monday.

The $1.5 million probe, which was ordered by the City Council, followed the 2022 revelation of FBI investigations into former Mayor Harry Sidhu and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Todd Ament, which included allegations a self-described “cabal” of business and political leaders had exerted significant influence in Anaheim City Hall. Sidhu resigned and the City Council canceled the sale of Angel Stadium.

The report by the JL Group accused Sidhu and Ament of “influence peddling” and describes a close relationship between the city and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, saying that it appeared “as if the city was merely subsidizing the Anaheim Chamber with infusions of money on a near-yearly basis.”

While the version of the report by the JL Group made public has several redactions, the city shared a complete copy with the Orange County District Attorney, California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the FBI, officials have said. Anaheim councilmembers also received an unredacted copy on Monday.

The city-commissioned investigators also explored ties to Visit Anaheim, alleging in their report Sidhu directed that $6.5 million in “grant” funds during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns be given to the tourism bureau and when City Manager Chris Zapata suggested the city should be paid back the money with interest, Sidhu orchestrated Zapata’s firing.

Zapata is now the city manager for Sausalito.

The purpose of the money was to fund services promoting the city’s reopening during the pandemic, but the contract was “vague and lacked oversight.”

Sidhu then directed CEO and President of Visit Anaheim Jay Burress to divert $1.5 million of that money to the chamber, investigators said. Sidhu directed Burress to cover his story, if ever questioned about the money, by saying it came from other reserve funds from Visit Anaheim, investigators said, calling the diversion “unlawful.”

Investigators could not determine how the chamber used the $1.5 million. The chamber did not cooperate or provide any documents, investigators said.

Sidhu, Ament and Burress did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Anaheim city spokesperson Mike Lyster said in a statement that the city has begun reviewing the report and will continue to do so in the coming days.

“The report is part of a process with constructive insights welcomed,” Lyster said. “We will also look to any direction from our City Council.”

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer also was taking a magnifying glass to the report.

“I am reviewing with my team to evaluate it for potential criminal conduct and I have no time frame at this time on any decisions,” Spitzer said.

Beginning last September, investigators from the JL Group collected nearly a million emails, more than 50,000 documents and conducted more than 150 interviews. The investigation took more time and money than expected, and at one point even caused the City Council to consider ending it prematurely.

The city-funded investigation was tasked with examining questions of corruption, past campaign contributions, contracts, city dealings, including the sale of Angel Stadium, council decisions and potential Brown Act violations, among other raised concerns.

The JL Group is a Laguna Niguel-based workplace consulting firm composed of former law enforcement  officials.

Investigators noted in their report that the Walt Disney Company and Angels Baseball declined repeated requests for interviews or to participate.

While Disney is mentioned throughout the report, the JL Group did not make any accusations against the company.

The JL Group submitted written questions to Carrie Nocella, the Disneyland Resort director of external affairs, but her attorney declined to have her respond.

Former councilman Jose Moreno, who long has complained about outside influences on City Hall, criticized those who refused to speak to investigators.

“Choosing not to say anything says a lot,” Moreno said.

“It was deliberate, it was organized and it was a syndicate,” Moreno said, adding that taxpayer money was doled out by this cabal “like it was a rummage sale.”

JL Group investigators argued elected officials in recent years have sidestepped the city manager and given orders to city staff directly, especially Sidhu, which violates the city’s charter.

Sidhu would give key staff members direction and strongly suggest a course of action, it said. The report also criticized current Councilmember Natalie Rubalcava for directing a city staffer to work with the Orange County Business Council, for which she previously worked.

The JL Group and City Manager James Vanderpool said Rubalcava’s action would be a violation of the city’s charter. Rubalcava did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shift away of power from the city manager’s executive position to elected officials “further created the environment that gave rise to many of the issues concerning influence peddling, lack of compliance with lobbying rules, the proliferation of no-bid contracts, potential Brown Act violations and acts of preferential treatment,” the JL Group report said.

Former city development officials, some business leaders, and former elected officials described a business culture, JL Group investigators said, in which Sidhu and Ament controlled development projects in return for financial considerations.

The change in tone at the city was noted by developers and others who worked with Anaheim in the past.

Investigators interviewed Shaheen Sadeghi, a Laguna Beach-based developer of retail projects such as the LAB Anti-Mall in Costa Mesa and several projects in Anaheim, and reported that Sadeghi experienced what he termed “a cultural shift” following Sidhu’s election.

In previous years, Sadeghi and other developers would be asked to submit proposals on certain possible projects, depending on their interest. But, after Sidhu’s election, Sadeghi said he was no longer able to get a return call from the new mayor.

Sadeghi told investigators that during a lunch with former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle he asked Pringle “What’s the deal with this guy (Sidhu)? I called him like three times, and he won’t meet with me.’ Curt said, ‘Well, he is a pay to play mayor.’”

Last year, an FBI investigator alleged that Sidhu may have tried to slip confidential information to a representative of Angels owner Arte Moreno and his business group in negotiations to purchase the city-owned stadium with the intention of soliciting a large campaign donation later. He also was heard on an FBI wiretap telling Ament that he wanted money from the Angels after the completion of the sale.

The $320 million deal was scuttled by the City Council after news broke of the allegations and Sidhu resigned.

No criminal charges have been filed against Sidhu and his attorney has maintained that a thorough investigation would find no wrongdoing. FBI investigators noted in their search warrant affidavit it was unclear if the Angels representative knew of Sidhu’s intentions.

The city-commission investigators allege Sidhu leaked confidential information — including an appraisal of the Angel Stadium property that had not yet been made public and another document titled in part “Key Issues – Stadium Transaction Agreements” — through Ament and lobbyist Jeff Flint of FSB Public Affairs to the Angels Baseball Organization.

The FBI investigators never named the political consultant who was considered a ringleader with Ament of the so-called cabal that held sway in City Hall, but among the details provided are the consultant’s firm was in the same building as the Anaheim chamber, and lobbying reports required by Anaheim showed the consultant did work for stadium buyer SRB Management, Moreno’s business partnership, and those are consistent with Flint.

Shortly after the release of the affidavits, Flint said in a statement, “I have no hesitation in saying that I firmly believe I did nothing wrong nor illegal” and in case the allegations being made could harm his company, he was taking a leave of absence as its CEO. Flint was not immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Sidhu, JL Group investigators said, sent the documents from his personal email to Ament and Flint in July 2020.

The use of the personal email address “appeared to be an attempt to mask his activity and to potentially sidestep any Public Record Act requests,” the report said of Sidhu.

The reason for the leaked information, the report said, was to move the Angel Stadium sale along so Sidhu could “curry favor with the Angels Baseball organization” and “to support his political future.”

The city-commissioned investigators surmised that the FBI released its search warrant affidavit regarding Sidhu, along with Ament’s criminal complaint affidavit, in an effort to stop a stadium sale that could have been problematic.

“One can reasonably conclude that the real time evidence collection by the FBI rose to a level to which they felt the necessity to intercede and shed light” on their findings and “preclude the potentially tainted sale of one of the largest public land purchases in recent history,” the report said.

The investigation found that Sidhu’s expressed desire to have Ament solicit up to $3 million from the Angels upon completion of the stadium sale likely never led to an actual request because the sale was terminated. And while it noted that Sidhu was seen meeting with Moreno, Flint and Ament during the negotiating process, that alone didn’t make it a Brown Act violation without knowing what was discussed.

While the stadium deal was attacked by many, “the greater weight of credible evidence indicates that the city of Anaheim made an informed decision and entered into an agreement to sell the Angel Stadium site to the Angels,” the report said.

It acknowledged a “rush to complete the sale for a multitude of reasons,” but said it could not be determined that Sidhu’s “push to complete the sale had a negative effect on the sale.”

Additionally, the report alleged that Ament acted as a “hub” for elected officials to communicate through to garner favorable votes for various projects and developments. This practice, the report said, meant Ament was acting as “an unreported lobbyist” and conducting what the Brown Act would consider to be unlawful meetings.

“(T)here has seemingly existed a genuine contempt for government transparency and public participation relating to governmental projects and agreements concerning the actions of certain powerful actors in the city, including Ament, Flint and Sidhu,” the report said. “The rules and law seem to get in the way of certain elites’ desires and interests.”

“Whether it was handing over confidential documents during a negotiation to improve the chances of a successful Angel Stadium property sale negotiation or ‘fixing’ projects in favor of the ruling structure, the result of these corrupt practices has been to shortchange the public’s rights in terms of meaningful government participation, knowledge and understanding.”

From the early revelations of the FBI investigation, accusations that Sidhu instructed Ament to lie to the Orange County Grand Jury stood out to some legal experts as more problematic than other allegations surrounding the former mayor.

The JL Group report surmised the FBI used Ament’s letter to appear before the grand jury “to conduct an integrity assessment” of Sidhu.

“When Ament met with Mayor Sidhu, he (Sidhu) implored him to lie to the Orange County Grand Jury and not reveal any of the documents that were provided by the mayor to Ament,” the report said. It also said that when Ament, who was wearing a wiretap, feigned concern about email and text messages being discovered, Sidhu told him they were not on his city accounts and “he had erased everything already.”

Democratic State Sen. Tom Umberg, whose district includes Anaheim, called Monday for more accountability.

“I just received a copy of this report.  Already as a quick scan, it reads like a soap opera: fraud, helicopters, cannabis, cabals,” Umberg said. “It’s going to take some time to digest the implications, findings, and recommendations and even still, I know another investigation is occurring by the FBI.”

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said Monday she is creating a Mayor’s Advisory Committee that would include “government, community, business, and legal leaders” to review the report and offer reforms for council discussion.

“This will be a public-facing process, and I look forward to discussing it with the residents of our city in the weeks and months ahead,” she said in a statement. “Together, we will rebuild public trust and work to make sure Anaheim’s city government lives up to its obligations to our residents.”

The JL Group investigators offered a laundry list of recommendations for the City Council to consider.

The investigation recommends placing a tighter hold on city money contributed  to the Chamber of Commerce and the Visit Anaheim tourism office and that the city try to “claw back” any money illegally received.

Under those recommendations no more money would be given by the city until full forensic audits were conducted on the chamber and Visit Anaheim and all their controlled nonprofits for the last seven years. Another accounting for a five-year period would be done each year before public money was given.

Other recommendations included creating a city ombudsman/ethics officer who could only be removed for misconduct, malfeasance or incompetence. The ombudsman’s duties would include monitoring  political contributions, independent expenditures and other money spent on city races, as well as lobbying.

Employees who are lobbied would be required to report it to the ombudsman, who would check it against the lobbyists official disclosures.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Anaheim Mayor Invites Queer, Trans Nuns Group to Angels Pride Night


Anaheim’s mayor has invited a group of self-described queer and transgender nuns that was disinvited from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ annual LGBTQ+ Pride Night to be her guest at the Los Angeles Angels’ upcoming pride night.

“I’m inviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to join me for @Angels Pride Night at Anaheim Stadium on June 7,” Mayor Ashleigh Aitken tweeted Saturday. “Pride should be inclusive and like many, I was disappointed in the Dodgers decision.”

Neither the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence nor the Angels immediately responded to a request for comment Sunday. It was not clear whether the group would accept the invitation, or whether they would have any official participation in the team’s June 7 event.

“I think it was a missed opportunity to really err on the side of being inclusive and err on the side of standing up for our marginalized communities, especially on the eve of Harvey Milk Day, especially on the eve of Pride Month,” Aitken told ABC7 of the Dodgers’ decision to revoke their invitation.

The Dodgers’ decision, announced Wednesday, came after complaints raised by several Catholic organizations and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who said the group — billed as an “order of queer and trans nuns” — regularly disparaged Christians.

“This year, as part of a full night of programming, we invited a number of groups to join us,” according to a statement issued by the team. “We are now aware that our inclusion of one group in particular — The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — in this year’s Pride Night has been the source of some controversy.

“Given the strong feelings of people who have been offended by the sisters’ inclusion in our evening, and in an effort not to distract from the great benefits that we have seen over the years of Pride Night, we are deciding to remove them from this year’s group of honorees.”

The group had been scheduled to receive a Community Hero Award at the team’s June 16 Pride Night, honoring its efforts to promote human rights, diversity and “spiritual enlightenment.”

The Sisters issued a statement Thursday expressing “deep offense” at being uninvited to the event, calling the decision a capitulation to “hateful and misleading information from people outside their community.” The group insisted it is a nonprofit organization that “annually raises thousands of dollars to distribute to organizations supporting marginalized communities.”

“Our ministry is real. We promulgate universal joy, expiate stigmatic guilt and our use of religious trappings is a response to those faiths whose members would condemn us and seek to strip away the rights of marginalized communities,” Sister Rosie Partridge, described as the “abbess” of the group, said in a statement.

The Sisters’ website describes the organization as “a leading-edge order of queer and trans nuns.”

Other high-profile Southland supporters of LGBTQ rights also chimed in, expressing disappointment in the Dodgers’ decision.

The Dodgers’ original decision to honor the group drew criticism from various Catholic organizations. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, accused the team of “rewarding anti-Catholicism” by honoring the group.

“The Catholic League has been the leading critic of this bigoted organization for many decades,” Donohue wrote on the organization’s website. “… These homosexual bigots are known for simulating sodomy while dressed as nuns.”

He added, “Just last month, they held an event mocking our Blessed Mother and Jesus on Easter Sunday.”

Donohue said he wrote to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to protest the Dodgers’ decision to honor the group.

Rubio also sent a complaint to Manfred, saying the group “mocks Christians through diabolical parodies of our faith.”

“Do you believe that the Los Angeles Dodgers are being ‘inclusive and welcoming to everyone’ by giving an award to a group of gay and transgender drag performers that intentionally mocks and degrades Christians — and not only Christians, but nuns, who devote their lives to serving others?” Rubio wrote in his letter.

The organization Catholic Vote also condemned the group’s inclusion in the Dodgers’ event. Its president, Brian Burch, issued a statement Wednesday hailing the team’s decision to exclude the group, which he called “an anti-Catholic hate group known for their gross mockery of Catholic nuns.”

“While we continue to wonder how such a group was selected in the first place, this incident should serve as a wake-up call for all religious believers: unchecked woke corporations have no qualms about exploiting people of faith,” Burch said.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Is Anaheim Looking to Secretly Negotiate Another Angel Stadium Deal?

Anaheim City Council members secretly rejected a lawsuit settlement that would’ve forced more transparency when it comes to any future city stadium negotiations. 

The decision comes less than a year after a couple of damning FBI court affidavits surfaced, alleging the former Mayor Harry Sidhu tried to ram through a controversial stadium sale for $1 million in campaign support from team officials.

The FBI affidavit crushed city hall credibility last year after agents alleged that a small cadre of Disneyland resort area insiders through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce essentially steer public policy in Anaheim largely behind closed doors. 

[ReadFBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]

Federal agents also said the former mayor destroyed records to hide from an Orange County Grand Jury investigation on the sale and passed on confidential city information to the LA Angels.

Through his attorney, Sidhu has maintained he committed no wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged with a crime. Team officials also have denied any wrongdoing publicly and pushed for completion of the stadium sale even after release of the FBI affidavit. 

[ReadFBI Alleges Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu Destroyed Angel Stadium Records to Hide From OC Grand Jury]

Before revelations of the FBI corruption probe last May, Anaheim was facing a 2020 lawsuit from the nonprofit activist group, the People’s Homeless Task Force.

The task force alleged the city violated the Ralph M. Brown Act – the state’s chief transparency law – when secretly negotiating the old deal in 2019. 

The task force lost their lawsuit in Superior Court but later appealed, prompting ongoing talks between them and the city. Last year, FBI officials in their explosive affidavit noted that city officials may not have properly disclosed all relevant public records in that lawsuit. 

[Read: Anaheim Activists Take City Back to Court For Shadowy Attempt at Angel Stadium Sale]

Kelly Aviles, attorney for the task force, said local transparency activists weren’t asking for much in their settlement negotiations with city officials  – a signed settlement agreement that Anaheim officials wouldn’t privately hammer out another stadium deal and minimum attorney fees. 

“You don’t have to say that you were wrong, but you have to promise you won’t do it like this again in the future,” Aviles said in a Wednesday phone interview. 

That’s something city officials refused to agree to earlier this year, a decision that was never reported out to the public – even though council members met in closed session to consider the lawsuit in January. 

Based on that refusal, Aviles said it’s fair to conclude that city council members want to leave open the option of secret talks that potentially violate the state’s open meetings laws when it comes to Angel Stadium. 

“Based on the refusal to enter into a very reasonable settlement that says we won’t do it in the future, they want to keep every option open – including things we thought were illegal.”

Aviles is also Voice of OC’s chief public records litigator. 

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and all other council members did not respond to requests for comment last week.

In late 2019, when the now-dead land sale was being initially approved, two state lawmakers, the OC Register editorial board, many residents and activists lambasted city officials for the rushed sale process. 

City officials unveiled the plan Dec. 4 that year and approved the land sale 16 days later – all without knowing the final cash amount they would get for the land. 

[ReadTwo State Lawmakers Call For Delay of Angel Stadium Land Sale]

After the Peoples Homeless Task Force was gearing up to appeal their loss in OC Superior Court last spring, Aviles said settlement negotiations were taking place between her and contracted attorneys for the city. 

The biggest part of the settlement proposal was promising to publicly construct any future stadium deal and reimburse the task force for $10,000 – a flat fee Aviles said she charged them, while waiving all other attorney fees. 

But, she said, that all abruptly ended in January. 

“There was no feedback from the city council that there was some provision they had concerns with. We had talked definitively that we were really open to work out language,” Aviles said. “We would be open to hammer out actual details and actual language if they came back.” 

The last time the lawsuit was scheduled for a closed session discussion was at the Jan. 24 city council meeting and the city attorney didn’t publicly disclose any action on the item. 

Jeanine Robbins – an Anaheim resident who’s part of the task force – said she’s confident heading back to court. 

“Obviously the Brown Act was violated, so we’re hoping that this one will have a different outcome,” Robbins said in a Wednesday phone interview. 

Former Councilman Jose Moreno said the previous city council – before November’s election – seemed willing to settle the lawsuit. 

“The tone to me is what was the harm in settling this? Minimal attorneys fees, adherence to the Brown Act,” Moreno said in a Thursday phone interview. “So that to me seemed to be the tone – what harm does this do to the city? Nothing really.”

Is Another Stadium Deal Coming? 

A day before that Jan. 24 secret meeting, Angels owner Arte Moreno – unrelated to Jose Moreno – announced he was pulling back on his public announcement last year that he was putting the LA Angels up for sale.

That same day, Aitken said in an email statement to Voice of OC that she was open to discussing a new land sale.

“There have been no discussions since last year. But after the dust settles and when the time is right, I am open to talking about any proposal that would be good for our residents,” Aitken said on Jan. 23.

[Read: Los Angeles Angels No Longer For Sale; Is Another Land Sale Proposal Coming to Anaheim?]

It was the last time Aitken, who campaigned for mayor on a platform of bringing more transparency and reforms to city hall, responded to a request for comment from the Voice of OC. Her father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.

Two months later in March, Aitken told the Los Angeles Times she would be willing to use the previous land sale deal as a basis to restart talks with the Angels.

Anaheim Spokesman Mike Lyster said city officials talk to LA Angels representatives on a regular basis about various issues.

“But there are no active discussions about a future lease or sale of the stadium site,” he wrote in a Thursday email.

The old stadium deal was nearly complete until the FBI affidavits surfaced last May, alleging Sidhu gave Angels representatives critical information during negotiations in his effort to ram the deal through.

Sidhu resigned a week after the probe surfaced. 

[ReadAnaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu Resigns After FBI Reveals Anaheim Corruption Probe]

Shortly after his resignation, city council members canned the stadium sale. 

David Duran, an Anaheim resident who’s part of the People’s Homeless Task Force, said he’s concluded that council members rejected the settlement proposal so they can secretly hammer out another stadium deal. 

“I don’t think that they want to have their hands tied,” Duran said in a Wednesday phone interview. “They don’t want to agree to not violate the Brown Act again – that’s essentially what it was.” 

Now that the city has formally rejected settling the lawsuit with transparency activists,  former City Councilman Jose Moreno said future court proceedings present a real chance for Anaheim to nullify the stadium lease, which was reinstated by Sidhu and his majority in January 2019 under questionable circumstances given what the FBI has presented in public court filings. 

If the lease was nullified, former Councilman Moreno said, that would open it up to be on the market – significantly boosting the land value.

“That would be a powerful outcome for the people of Anaheim.”

Did Officials Violate Transparency Law Again? 

The last time the council members discussed the proposed settlement was Jan. 24, according to a review of meeting agendas. 

And City Attorney Rob Fabela said there was nothing to report out that night. 

When asked for more details – like what the vote was – Lyster reiterated Fabela’s stance. 

“We do not have and are unable to provide details about a closed session item before the Council,” Lyster wrote in a Wednesday email, refusing to say if a vote was taken and what that vote was.

Aviles said the Jan. 24 vote to reject the settlement should’ve been publicly disclosed, despite a loophole in the Brown Act that doesn’t explicitly state city officials have to report out when they reject a settlement. 

“The section does not specifically require them to disclose it, but there’s still that other section that says there should not be a secret vote,” Aviles said.

She said oftentimes city officials only apply the secret vote provision to public sessions and not closed door meetings. 

“No legislative body shall take action by secret ballot, whether preliminary or final,” reads the Brown Act. 

Moreno, the former councilman, said reporting out that vote would’ve been the right thing to do. 

“It would be the ethical thing to do. I raised that issue with the city attorney last year,” Moreno said of various closed session items voted on by council members that weren’t initiating lawsuits or settling them. “He said, ‘Well, the Brown Act doesn’t require it.’” 

At the same Jan. 24 meeting, council members appointed Norma Campos Kurtz to fill a council vacancy left by Avelino Valencia after he was elected to the state Assembly.

Before her appointment, Kurtz sat on the advisory committee for Support Our Anaheim Resort – Disney’s chief campaign spending vehicle in town.

SOAR heavily financed the campaigns of Councilmembers Natalie Meeks and Natalie Rubalcava in last year’s elections. In 2020, they also heavily financed Councilmembers Jose Diaz and Steve Faessel. 

Click here for to read the full article in Voice of OC

Melahat Rafiei, Who was Central to the FBI’s Anaheim Investigation, Takes Plea Deal

The former Democratic party leader could face prison time. She hopes her record and FBI cooperation will help.

Melahat Rafiei, who was a cooperating witness for an FBI probe into a massive corruption scandal involving Anaheim and Irvine, said Wednesday evening that she’s agreed to accept a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office on charges of attempted wire fraud.

She could face time in prison, though she said she’s hoping the judge will take into consideration the role she played in uncovering those broader scandals.

“I have made this painful choice by weighing my options, the most important of which was the care and custody of my son… ” Rafiei said in a statement provided to the Register. “I know this option will bring certainty, closure and a path forward.”

Rafiei was secretary for the California Democratic Party, was helping run campaigns for a number of elected officials and was a prominent consultant for the local cannabis industry until May of last year. That’s when news broke that she’d been arrested in 2019 on charges of “theft or bribery” involving federal funds related to a cannabis scheme, and that she later had been assisting the FBI with a related investigation.

That probe led to federal charges against former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament,and the resignation of then Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu. At that time, the Anaheim City Council voided a $320 million deal to sell Angel Stadium to a business partnership created by the team’s owner Arte Moreno, as the release of wiretap transcripts appeared to support allegations of a self-described “cabal” of business and political leaders that had been exerting “significant influence” over how the city was run.

As for Rafiei, the FBI states that she had promised two executives at a local cannabis company that she could help get a favorable cannabis ordinance passed in Irvine if they gave her money to bribe two council members. She later denied those allegations, saying in a statement that she “never attempted to improperly influence any elected official.” Those charges were dismissed without prejudice, which meant they could always be filed again later.

After that arrest, Rafiei began cooperating with the FBI to bring them information about possible corruption in Anaheim. She says she accepted a request to cooperate, wearing a wire and delivering evidence that the FBI used to charge Ament and to raise concerns about Sidhu’s actions.

The FBI previously said that they did not believe Rafiei was being fully honest with them, even while she was acting as a witness.

Federal authorities couldn’t immediately be reached Wednesday evening for comment on Rafiei’s plea deal.

But her attorney, Alaleh Kamran, said via email that Rafiei’s plea is not contingent on any conditions and that the government “has made no assurances other than what is included in the plea agreement, which will not be filed under seal.”

Wire fraud can carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison, or 30 if the victim is a federally insured bank or other financial institution.

“The hope is that the court will take her distinguished career and lack of criminal history into consideration when sentencing her,” Kamran said.

On advice of her attorney, Rafiei said she can’t discuss facts of the case more until it’s fully resolved.

“I will share my story in due time,” she said. “For now, I will proceed with dignity, humility towards finding peace and clarity in my life.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

After Anaheim’s Last Mayor Resigned, Four Say They’re the Candidate to Move City Forward

In the wake of a City Hall scandal that could still splash mud on more local leaders, Anaheim’s next mayor will have a big job, but also a delicate one.

Four people think they’re up to it: attorney Ashleigh Aitken and former council member Lorri Galloway (both of whom ran for the office in 2018); political newcomer Dick Lopez, a water systems operator at the city’s wastewater treatment plant; and District 6 Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who as mayor pro tem has been running council meetings since former Mayor Harry Sidhu stepped down in May.

“Given the FBI investigation and what’s happened the last six months, I think there’s going to be a lot of people watching this closely,” former Mayor Tom Tait, whose second term ended in 2018, said of the November election for his old seat.

“I think the public, rightfully so, have lost trust in the city government, trust in doing what’s in the best interests of the people versus the well-moneyed special interests,” he said.

Sidhu resigned amid public pressure when it came to light he was being investigated by the FBI, among allegations made in an affidavit for a search warrant was that he may have tried to pass on confidential information to Angels Baseball officials while the city was negotiating with them to sell Angel Stadium, and in return he allegedly hoped to ask for $1 million in support for his reelection campaign.

Sidhu has not been charged with a crime. His attorney has maintained that a thorough investigation would prove Sidhu did not disclose any secret information, and that his campaign contributions are in compliance with the law.

On the heels of Sidhu’s disgrace came the arrest and subsequent guilty plea of close advisor and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, who in a settlement pleaded to several counts of fraud in July. In court filings investigators alleged he helped lead a self-described cabal that influenced council decisions in favor of powerful business interests.

With those events as a preface, whoever wins in November steps into the glare of public scrutiny – and takes on a job that, by the time they’re sworn in, will have been vacant for six months.

What Anaheim needs

Anaheim is the county’s most populous city, with about 350,000 residents, and it’s home to two professional sports teams, a large convention center, Disneyland – which, with more than 30,000 employees is the county’s largest single employer – and a surrounding resort district whose hotel taxes are expected to make up more than a third of general fund revenue this year.

“The thing that I like to remind folks is that Anaheim is the 10th largest city in California and so it sits in a very special class of cities” whose mayors play a role in state policy discussions, said Lucy Dunn, who retired as CEO of the Orange County Business Council in December.

Anaheim’s mayor needs to listen to the needs of residents, but also can’t afford to scorn the businesses that create tax revenue to pay for police, parks and libraries, she said.

“My wish is, do not forget what just happened in this city. Remember you have a broad base of representation, and as a city leader your job is incredibly difficult to balance competing interests and to literally raise up Anaheim for everyone,” she said.

With all that to handle, the city’s mayor serves a four-year term for an annual salary of $18,000 plus other benefits. So who wants the job?

Two of the candidates on the November ballot say their experience is what the city needs to get back on the right track after the recent turmoil, which ended up killing the stadium sale.

With Anaheim’s budget of more than $1 billion and more than 3,000 city employees, “now isn’t the time for novices – because of some of the things that have happened at City Hall, there is a learning curve just to go in and understand the city,” said Galloway, who served two terms on the council that ended in 2012.

For almost 40 years, Galloway, 69, has run the nonprofit Eli Home, which provides shelter and services to children and their mothers who are experiencing homelessness, domestic violence or substance abuse. She said Anaheim residents she speaks with are concerned about safety and homelessness in the city, issues she would prioritize as mayor.

O’Neil, 51, also touts his “proven experience” in filling the leadership void left by Sidhu’s resignation. He’s wrapping up a four-year term on the council and also runs a business providing home health care services.

O’Neil said while on the council he supported increasing the ranks of police and firefighters, helped get more than $72 million in pandemic aid to families and businesses, and got the city to take part in a state program that finances turning market-rate apartments into affordable “workforce” housing.

But he’s also been dogged by accusations of coziness with Sidhu and prevailing business interests.

“Yes, I was aligned with former Mayor Sidhu on a number of issues but not all issues, and my voting record speaks to that,” O’Neil said.

Aitken and Lopez said they also would focus on issues such as homelessness and community safety, but they and Galloway all said transparency and rebuilding residents’ trust in their city government will be key.

“As a former federal prosecutor, my No. 1 goal is to really restore people’s faith in a transparent government and ensure they feel City Hall is working for them,” Aitken, 46, said.

She said if elected she would make her schedule public so constituents would know who their mayor is meeting with, and added, “I believe in full disclosure” regarding campaign donations from a person or organization with business in front of the city.

Lopez, 48, said he grew up in Anaheim and was “disheartened” by the recent scandal at City Hall. As a city employee, he’s concerned about the “brain drain” of workers getting trained here and then leaving for other agencies with better pay and benefits, he said.

He’d be willing to consider the ticket tax on Disneyland and other large attractions the council majority just rejected, he said, adding that he’s not seeking to curry favor with the resort district businesses that typically back their preferred candidates with big money.

“We have to make a fresh start,” Lopez said. “That’s what I’m offering here.”

Will they spend?

As the four candidates’ campaigns unfold in the coming weeks, so will another saga: Who will spend money to back their preferred horse.

The Support Our Anaheim Resort Area (SOAR) political action committee – largely funded by Disney – spent more than $350,000 on each of three council candidates in 2018. The PAC reported collecting a total of $1.3 million in 2021, according to campaign finance reports filed with the city.

Aitken, Galloway and Lopez said they have not been supported by big business so far, and while they promised transparency about any contributors, no one explicitly said they’d reject that support if offered.

O’Neil, who was backed by the SOAR PAC in 2018, said he would accept campaign funding from anyone aligned with his political philosophy, “but my ideology and my opinions are certainly not for sale and not subject to influence by contributions.”

Chapman University political science professor Fred Smoller predicted that after the city’s recent embarrassment of making national news, Anaheim voters will be watching the November election closely.

“To me, it’s a change election. It’s post-Watergate,” he said. “People will be looking for new blood.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register