Anaheim Investigator

Fair Political Practices Commission Says Anaheim Mayor Can Participate in Vote to Legalize Cannabis Businesses

rohan-harish

Rohan Sidhu (left) stands next to his father, Harry Sidhu, the night he was sworn in as mayor of Anaheim in December 2018.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

Kevin Cornwall, Counsel for the Legal Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission, has notified City Attorney Robert Fabela that Mayor Harry Sidhu “may take part in the upcoming City Council decisions related to the regulation of cannabis distribution, manufacturing, cultivation, and retail sales” within the City of Anaheim because the “facts” show he currently does not “share his son’s economic interests.”

Cornwall’s opinion, including the legal rationale behind it, is contained within a three-page letter dated May 27th and was issued in response to a “Request for Formal Advice” Fabela sent to the commission twelve days earlier. Fabela wanted to know whether Mayor Sidhu’s adult son’s involvement in the cannabis industry precluded him from voting on related matters coming before the council at the June 9th meeting.

City Attorney Letter Re Sidhu 051520 p1

The text of Fabela’s missive is as follows:

As City Attorney for the City of Anaheim, I am seeking an immediate Formal Advice letter from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) on behalf of Anaheim Mayor Harry S. Sidhu, P.E. This request concerns two related decisions that will be before the Anaheim City Council on June 9, 2020, involving the proposed regulation of cannabis distribution, manufacturing, and cultivation in the City of Anaheim. Cannabis is currently banned in the City of Anaheim for all purposes. Mayor Sidhu’s adult son provides consulting guidance in the cannabis industry in Orange County, California, and the Mayor wishes to take every precaution to confirm that no conflict of interest exists that prevents him from participating in these decisions.

The Mayor’s son, Rohan S. Sidhu, is 23 years old and lives at home in the Mayor’s house, which is located in the City of Anaheim. The Mayor claims Rohan as a dependent, pays for utilities, food, and other amenities for the entire household, including Rohan, and receives no rent or other payments in return. While Rohan has no immediate plans to move out of the house, he is contemplating such a move before the end of the year.

Rohan started a small business in 2018 to provide ‘engineering consulting’ to individuals and businesses working in the cannabis industry. In general, he provides guidance on starting and operating cannabis businesses, with a specialization in consulting on the process of obtaining state licenses issued by the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch and Bureau of Cannabis Control, among other licensing agencies. He does not manufacture or distribute cannabis himself, nor does he profit directly from the manufacturing and distribution of cannabis by his consulting clients. Rohan also has no intent to provide any consulting guidance to cannabis businesses which may at any time be authorized to legally operate in the City of Anaheim.

Mayor Sidhu has never held any ownership interest in his son’s business. He has not invested in the business or made loans or gifts of money to his son that were used in the business.

The Anaheim City Council will soon face two decisions that could result in the regulation and taxation of cannabis manufacturing, distribution, cultivation and retail sales within the City. The first is an ordinance that would repeal existing Anaheim Municipal Code chapters banning cannabis use and adding chapters regulating cannabis distribution, manufacturing, cultivation and sales. The second is a City Council Resolution approving a ballot measure that would place a cannabis tax before the voters at the next general election, which requires a two-thirds vote of the City Council under the City’s Charter. If passed, the first item (the regulation ordinance) will only take effect if the voters actually approve a cannabis tax at the November 2020 general election.

Thus, Mayor Sidhu’s request is for immediate advice as to whether his relationship with his adult son, and particularly his provision of financial support to his son in the form of room, board and other amenities, creates a conflict of interest that prevents the Mayor from voting on an ordinance amending the Anaheim Municipal Code to allow regulation of cannabis, or a resolution adding a cannabis tax to the November 2020 ballot.

Because this matter will be on the Council’s June 9, 2020 agenda, we ask that you provide an advice letter before that date…

In the letter that Cornwall typed in response, he carefully reviewed the “facts” as Fabela laid them out, and then gave his opinion as to how the Political Reform Act (hereinafter referred to as the “Act“), the main state law that deals with issues pertaining to conflicts of interest among public officials, would be applied in Mayor Sidhu’s case.

FPPC Letter Re Sidhu 052720 p1

In his analysis, he wrote:

Under Section 87100 of the Act, ‘[n]o public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.’ ‘A public official has a financial interest in a decision within the meaning of Section 87100 if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, distinguishable from its effect on the public generally, on the official, a member of his or her immediate family,’ or on certain specified economic interests. (Section 87103.) Among those economic interests is any source of income aggregating five hundred dollars ($500) or more in value provided or promised to, received by, the public official within 12 months prior to the time when the decision is made. (Section 87103(c).)

Section 82029 defines the term ‘immediate family’ to include an official’s ‘spouse and dependent children.’ The term ‘dependent children,’ in turn, is defined by Regulation 18229.1 to mean ‘a child… of a public official who is under 18 years old and whom the official is entitled to claim as a dependent on his or her federal tax return.’ Although Mayor Sidhu claims his son Rohan as a dependent for tax purposes, Rohan is over the age of 18 years old and, thus, is not considered a ‘dependent child’ or ‘immediate family’ for conflict of interest purposes under the Act. Additionally, given that Rohan has not made rent payments or similar payments to Mayor Sidhu, he also does not qualify as a source of Mayor Sidhu’s income.

Accordingly, the provided facts do not indicate that Mayor Sidhu has any economic interest implicated under the Act …

However, Cornwall stated that “in the future, if Rohan were to qualify as a source of income, such as by making rent payments, Mayor Sidhu would have an economic interest in him. In such a scenario, Mayor Sidhu would generally be prohibited under the Act from taking part in governmental decisions that would have a reasonable foreseeable, material financial effect on Rohan.”

Cornwall warned Fabela early on his advice “is limited to the provisions of the Act. We cannot provide any advice regarding other conflict interest provisions that may apply, including common law conflict of interest…” Furthermore, he added “any advice we provide assumes your facts are complete and accurate” and that if those “facts” change, “you should contact us for additional advice.”

Downloadable PDF copies of Fabela’s and Cornwall’s correspondence can be found by merely clicking here and here.

Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Behind Efforts to Legalize Cannabis Businesses Says Interim City Manager

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia, Interim City Manager, speaks about the proposed ordinance to legalize cannabis businesses during a Zoom townhall forum.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

At a Zoom townhall forum that Dr. Jose Moreno, councilman for District 3, hosted on Monday, May 11th, Greg Garcia, the Interim City Manager, told the online audience that the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce was behind efforts to legalize cannabis businesses within the City of Anaheim.

Revelations about the Chamber’s role in this matter, which up until now has been kept hidden from the public, was brought to the forefront by questions The Anaheim Investigator posed to Garcia during the forum. The Investigator specifically wanted to know who helped craft the proposed cannabis ordinance.

“We did put together a team internally of city staff and we also utilized some consultants to help us with the drafting and looking into other jurisdictions and run an analysis for us,” Garcia replied.

But he further added:

Also, to go back to the beginning, I think a lot of this came about because of a local task force that was put together by the Chamber that worked with hoteliers and others and businesses in Anaheim that were afraid that cannabis was going to be thrust upon us by the industry and therefore I think they took the time to think about if we were to do it in an Anaheim way, how would we do it, and then they shared that information I guess with some council members, and with us, and then council then directed us to continue looking at that and figuring out the best way to do it, Anaheim way….

The video of the May 11th townhall forum, which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, is available on Councilman Moreno’s Facebook page and can be viewed here or in the link below:

Mayor Voluntarily Recuses Himself From City Council Pot Decision Citing ‘Appearance of Conflict’

Harry Sidhu

Mayor Harry Sidhu listens to public comments at a meeting of the Anaheim City Council sometime in December 2019.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

Mayor Harry Sidhu voluntarily recused himself from participating in last night’s city council meeting discussion on whether or not cannabis businesses should be legalized to operate within the City of Anaheim.

In a brief statement, Sidhu said:

Next item on the agenda is item #23 is an ordinance of the city council for the municipal code for cannabis distribution. This particular item I had great discussion with my city attorney. I took the claims of conflict of interest very seriously and worked with our city attorney on this issue. While he advised that there is no conflict of interest under the FPPC regulation, I feel it is important to not create even an appearance of conflict, thus in an abundance of caution, [I’m] recusing myself from this item ….

Days before the meeting, The Anaheim Investigator published a series of articles about Rohan Sidhu, the mayor’s 23-year old son, pointing out he runs a firm that offers “design and operational consulting for the legal cannabis industry.”

Furthermore, The Investigator acquired a copy of Rohan’s latest voter registration form from the Orange County Registrar of Voters, where he listed his father’s four-acre estate in Anaheim Hills as being his primary residence.

Despite a robust debate at last night’s city council meeting about legalizing cannabis businesses, no action was taken. The matter was continued until June 9th where, presumably, Mayor Sidhu will voluntarily recuse himself again.

Mayor Might Have to Recuse Himself From Pot Decision Because Son is Registered to Vote at Father’s Estate


Rohan & Harry II

Rohan Sidhu (far left) watches his father, Harry Sidhu, being sworn in as mayor of Anaheim on Tuesday December 4, 2018.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

Rohan Sidhu, the 23-year old son of Mayor Harry Sidhu, lists his father’s four-acre estate in Anaheim Hills as being his primary residence, according to a copy of his most recent voter registration form The Anaheim Investigator obtained from the Orange County Registrar of Voters last week. The form in question, an affidavit filed on May 8, 2015 and signed under penalty of perjury by Rohan himself, states that “145 S. Vista Grande” is his “home address.” Documents in the possession of the Orange County Clerk-Recorder show this property is owned by Mayor Sidhu.

The fact Rohan still maintains his father’s home as his primary residence raises concerns about whether or not Mayor Sidhu can legally participate in any upcoming discussions or votes on the legalization of cannabis businesses within the city. As The Investigator previously reported, Rohan is a “pot entrepreneur.” Not only does he run a firm called RSSC LLC that offers “design and operational consulting for the legal cannabis industry,” but he boasts that he helped set up “OC’s largest Type 6 cannabis oil Extraction and Distillation facility” in the City of Costa Mesa in 2018.

Voter Registration Form -- Rohan Sidhu II

The Mayor Might Have to Recuse Himself From Pot Decision

The California Political Reform Act of 1974–the main state law which deals with issues pertaining to “conflict of interest”–makes it perfectly clear: Public officials are prohibited from making, participate in making, or using their official position to influence any government decision in which they have a financial interest. A public official has an interest in a decision if it is “reasonably foreseeable” the decision will have a “material financial effect” on one or more of their interests.

According to Regulation 18703.5, one such interest a public official has is in their “personal finances” and those of their immediate family. A government decision will have an effect on this interest if the decision will result in personal expenses, income, assets, or liabilities of the official or their immediate family increasing or decreasing. The law, however, defines “immediate family” as being the spouse and any dependent children–meaning children who are below 18-years of age.

But the issue here is not that Rohan is Mayor Sidhu’s son, but how any government decision the latter makes might affect his “personal finances.” The fact Rohan lists his father’s home as his primary residence suggests he lives there. Because he is a cannabis business consultant, he could profit from any decision his father makes to legalize them. As a result, Mayor Sidhu’s “personal finances” could be affected in that his son might be in a better position to help him defray the costs of living on his estate.

The Investigator Reaches Out to Lyster, Sidhu, and Mezzacappa

The Investigator contacted Mike Lyster, Chief Communications Officer for the City of Anaheim, and asked him about how City Attorney Robert Fabela might feel about this matter and if Mayor Sidhu would be required to recuse himself from any discussions or votes on the legalization of cannabis businesses. “Should this item come before the Council, we would expect Anaheim’s city attorney to offer any guidance as relevant and appropriate,” he replied.

The Investigator also sent emails to Mayor Sidhu and Annie Mezzaccapa, his Chief of Staff, asking them for confirmation that Rohan lives with the mayor on his four-acre estate; if he intends to release an “official statement” about his “son’s ties to cannabis businesses in the interest of full public disclosure,” and; if he will be “recusing himself” from “city council discussions or votes that address the issue of legalizing cannabis businesses.” So far, none of them have responded.

Anaheim City Council Push to Legalize Cannabis Businesses Could Make Mayor’s Son a Wealthy Man

Rohan Sidhu (left) stands next to his father, Harry Sidhu, the night he was sworn in as mayor of Anaheim in December 2018.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

It almost didn’t happen, but at the end of the April 21st meeting of the Anaheim City Council, just as Mayor Harry Sidhu was making his final closing remarks, Councilwoman Lucille Kring abruptly interrupted him.

“Mis… Mister Mayor, first of all, I forgot to do an agenda item,” Kring interjected.

“O.K., Councilmember Kring. Go ahead,” Sidhu replied, sounding a bit exasperated.

“Really, really, really, really fast,” said Kring.

Then she continued:

Colleagues and members of the public as you may recall a few months ago I asked the staff to work with me to prepare an ordinance for our consideration to legalize cannabis businesses in Anaheim consistent with state law and in the alternative to bring to us a resolution to place the question of cannabis businesses before the voters in November. The work on that project has been slowed down somewhat because of the Coronavirus, but we are back up and running. If I would ask staff to finish up that work on the ordinance and bring it back to us at the next council meeting May the 5th, the ordinance can be reviewed and discussed by the council, and we may choose to adopt it. We may also decide that it is better to let the voters weigh in on this issue. So if the ordinance is not adopted on May 5th, then I’d like it to be ready to bring back on May 12th to put it on the November ballot. Either way, we’ll also need to place a ballot of a local cannabis tax measure so we can do that at a later date….

“I’m asking for a second and a third on my cannabis ordinance, ” Kring stated.

Councilman Jordan Brandman seconded her motion.

“I will do the third, not a problem Councilwoman. I will do the third. So it is agendized,” replied Sidhu.

Up until this moment, nobody has really known exactly what Mayor Sidhu’s opinions have been on the issue of cannabis. But for quite some time now, The Anaheim Investigator has been well aware of what Rohan Sidhu, his 23-year old son, thinks about it. In fact, if the City of Anaheim decides to legalize cannabis businesses, he is well-positioned to get rich from it.

The Mayor’s Son is a ‘Pot Entrepreneur’

Evidence The Investigator has uncovered shows that Mayor Sidhu’s son is a “pot entrepreneur.” Not only does Rohan run a firm that offers “design and operational consulting for the legal cannabis industry,” helping secure licenses for cannabis businesses across the state, but he boasts that he helped set up “OC’s largest Type 6 cannabis oil Extraction and Distillation facility” in 2018.

According to a document Rohan filed with the California Secretary of State on August 6, 2018, he states he is “Chief Executive Officer” of an entity called RSSC LLC, a limited liability company. He describes the type of “business or services” being offered as “Engineering Consulting.” The listed address, however, appears to be a private mail box located at a U.S. Post Office in downtown Los Angeles.

But the information posted on Rohan’s LinkedIn page is more revealing. He states that RSSC LLC was founded in January 2018–not August 2018–as was suggested in the document he filed with the Secretary of State. But to his credit, he goes into detail about what kind of “work” his firm really does: it helps cannabis businesses get their licenses and permits to operate legally.

Below is a reproduction of what Rohan typed:

Founder
RSSC LLC * Full-time
Jan 2018 – Present * 2 yrs 4 mos
Orange County, California Area

Design and Operational consulting for the legal Cannabis industry.
With our team of engineers, architects, attorneys, policy consultants, and designers we can make your cannabis industry dreams come true.

Our team is responsible for securing over 25 MCSB/BCC state issued cannabis licenses, across the state of California.

We can help guide you through State and City licensing processes and procedures for the Cannabis Industry.

We have over 15 client facilities currently operating compliantly, through the state.

We have expertise in Type 6, Type 7, Type N Cultivation Facilities, Distribution/Transportation, Retail, and Testing Lab design/management/compliance.

Consider us your allies through the states venture into legalization, and legislation. We can help interpret CA’s new laws, so you can operate your facilities without worry.

But that’s not all.

Between January and May 2018, Rohan also mentions he was “Co-Founder” of yet another entity called SW Ventures LLC.

Here is what he wrote:

Co-Founder – CTO
SW Ventures LLC * Full-time
Jan 2018 – May 2018 * 5 mos

Costa Mesa

Conception and design of OC’s largest Type 6 cannabis oil Extraction and Distillation facility. Developed a successful CUP application, with supplementary documents, for Costa Mesa City, approved by Planning Commission and City Council with 0 comments/concerns.

Indeed, documents from the Costa Mesa Planning Commission, including one report dated October 15, 2018, make it clear that SW Ventures LLC was seeking

a Conditional Use Permit for a marijuana manufacturing and distribution facility (SW Ventures, LLC) within a 7,178-square-foot tenant space of an existing industrial building. The proposed facility will include ethanol cannabis extraction, distillation, packaging and formulation and distribution of the final product in vaping pens, tablets/capsules, and edibles. Rooms include extraction and distillation, storage and packaging, and ancillary offices. Vehicles used for the distribution of cannabis products will be pulled into a secured area inside the building. The facility will have security systems (card readers, security cameras, etc.) throughout the facility. No cultivation of marijuana, or marijuana dispensary, is permitted.

With respect to Rohan’s ties to this firm, The Investigator couldn’t find his name on any incorporation documents that were submitted to the Secretary of State. However, a Form 460 that was filed with the City of Costa Mesa shows he gave a $249 to the “Figueredo-Wilson for City Council 2018” candidates committee on September 15, 2018. He listed SW Ventures LLC as being his “employer.”

Mayor’s Son Could Become a Wealthy Man

If the city decides to legalize cannabis businesses, Rohan could become a wealthy man. For one thing, “pot entrepreneurs” would flock here to set up operations. They would need a consultant like RSSC LLC to help them navigate the complex legal environment. MedicalJane.com reports firms like his “have been known to charge over $100,000” for their services, even take ownership stakes in cannabis businesses.

Given Anaheim’s historically low electricity rates, easy access to freeways, and large market of consumers–which also includes millions of tourists–it is not inconceivable it could become the “weed capital” of Orange County. Regardless, Mayor Sidhu’s son is well-positioned to get rich from it. And any vote his father makes in favor of legalization of cannabis businesses is a vote to make that possible.

Wife of Anaheim Blog Publisher is Involved in Anaheim First, Senior VP of Chamber of Commerce

Matthew and Laura Cunningham are greeted as they arrive at Mayor Harry Sidhu’s “State of the City” address at the City National Grove last March

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

For several months now, Matthew Cunningham, the publisher of the Anaheim Blog, a website that covers city politics from a right-wing perspective, has shamelessly promoted Anaheim First, a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, as being a “grass-roots community organization.”

In one article after another, Cunningham has lauded it as a being a “non-political” group made up of “residents of all ages, from every walk of life and every part of the city” who got together “to develop a resident-driven plan for guiding city investment in their neighborhoods,” blasting critics who call it a “front” for big business.

But in all of the articles he has penned about Anaheim First so far, he has neglected to mention two crucial details. First, his wife, Laura Cunningham, has played a behind-the-scenes role in organizing “town hall forums” for this non-profit. And second, she has been Senior Vice President of the Anaheim Chamber at least since July.

This image remains the exclusive copyright property of the creator. No rights are granted unless written contracts are in place.

Laura Cunningham oversees a breakout group at the Anaheim First Neighborhood Leadership Summit on July 10th.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Laura’s involvement with Anaheim First isn’t exactly a secret. Her work for this group was first exposed by Gabriel San Roman, an investigative journalist for the now-defunct OC Weekly. In an article San Roman wrote back in September, he made the following observations while attending their first “town hall forum” in West Anaheim:

From the back of the room, Laura Cunningham directed [Karen] Gulley to wrap up her presentation so that the town hall could turn to breakout groups. She’s the wife of Anaheim Blog’s Matt Cunningham who, unsurprisingly, wrote uncritically of the event while finding an opportunity to hammer away at Unite Here Local 11 union members for crashing the discussion session. Todd Ament, Anaheim Chamber of Commerce president and Anaheim First board member, confirmed to the Weekly that Laura worked for the Chamber, but not Anaheim First. The distinction didn’t seem to matter much during the town hall–or after. Laura helped clean up the gym to close out the night.

Documents in the possession of the Anaheim Investigator corroborate his findings. One memorandum, typed up by Deputy City Manager Greg Garcia, recorded a meeting that took place at city hall on Friday, August 9th where city staff met with consultants involved in the “Anaheim First Community Assessment.”

“This is a meeting to discuss the next steps of the group and our role,” wrote Garcia. “PlaceWorks [a consulting firm hired by Anaheim First] will be a part of the meeting to talk us through their plan.” Attendees included representatives from the Anaheim Chamber: Todd Ament, President and CEO, and Laura, who was listed as a contact.

Emails show that Laura was quietly monitoring communications between Anaheim First, it’s consultants, and the City of Anaheim about arrangements being made to use public facilities for their “town hall forums.” Her email address “laura@anaheimchamber.org” is clearly visible on correspondence with city staff.

In another email obtained by the Investigator, Mike Lyster, Chief Communications Officer for the City of Anaheim, was contacted by Laura on August 21st about setting up a meeting with him on an unrelated matter. She signed off using the title “Senior Vice President.” Attached to it was the logo of the Anaheim Chamber.

Email-Cunningham Lyster

Despite the fact Laura has been Senior Vice President for several months now, the Anaheim Chamber has failed to update the staff directory on its website and list her as an employee. Her name, however, has begun to pop up elsewhere, such as on page 12 of the October issue of “Business Advocate,” their glossy newsletter.

Shilling for the Anaheim Chamber

But most curiously, Matthew Cunningham has said nary a word about Laura’s work with Anaheim First. Of course, to acknowledge this would tear to shreds the narrative he has woven about it being a “grass-roots community organization.” Since when do ordinary people recruit business executives to set up their neighborhood meetings?

Furthermore, his wife’s relationship with the Anaheim Chamber raises questions as to how the Anaheim Blog reports the news. For example, does the favorable coverage that Cunningham offers Anaheim First reflect his genuine love and affection for that group? Or is he really doing it because he wants to help his wife succeed at her job?

It should be noted that Cunningham is a political consultant. He runs a public relations firm called Pacific Strategies. On his LinkedIn page, a social media website for business professionals, he makes it no secret one of his “present past clients” has been the Anaheim Chamber. Even Ament himself has admitted this.

Cunningham has long since denied his blog is being paid for by the Anaheim Chamber. But does it really matter? Both he and his wife have received thousands of dollars of income from them over the years. Doesn’t that serve as a strong enough disincentive for him to post articles on his blog that they might not like? 

Anaheim First Director of Community Engagement is Daughter of Union Boss With Ties to Mayor, Chamber

This image remains the exclusive copyright property of the creator. No rights are granted unless written contracts are in place.At the March 5th “State of the City” Address, Mayor Harry Sidhu shakes hands with Xochitl Medrano, while her father, Ernesto Medrano, looks on.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

The Anaheim Investigator is in possession of evidence which now confirms that Xochitl Medrano, Director of Community Engagement for Anaheim First, a shady 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to promote its interests, is the daughter of Ernesto Medrano, a member of the Anaheim First Advisory Council in District 5.

Up until now, Xochitl has been elusive when confronted with questions about her family ties to a certain Anaheim First member with the same last name. Back in May, when Gabriel San Roman of the OC Weekly first broached the issue, he reported she “didn’t address questions as to whether she’s the daughter by the same name of Anaheim First advisory council member Ernesto Medrano.”

But based on a careful review of dozens of photographs, screenshots of messages posted on social media, and various public records, the Investigator has determined that there is more than enough court-worthy evidence available to conclude that Xochitl is in fact Ernesto’s daughter.

Xotchil MedranoXochitl speaking at a WAND meeting.

Registered to vote in Whittier

Furthermore, the Investigator has evidence suggesting that at the time Xochitl became an Anaheim First director, she has never been an Anaheim resident, calling into question a claim she made at a June 12th meeting of the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Council saying the reason why she joined this group was because “actual residents” invited her to become a part of it.

In reply to a question posed to Xochitl about how she “was asked to be involved” with Anaheim First, she offered a rambling response:

I was approached by actual residents and some of them come from District 5, and I also was approached by other residents from District 4 and they were talking about this group, and they just wanted to know more about it; and I also got to see the State of the City from the mayor. I watched that presentation and I was really interested to learn more about what it really takes to understand civic engagement and how it is not the same as political engagement.

But it would have been somewhat difficult for “actual residents” of any these districts to have “approached” her in person because public records make it clear she has never lived in Anaheim. For example, the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters database shows that Xochitl was–and still is–registered to vote at a home in the City of Whittier, in a neighborhood more than sixteen miles away.

One “actual resident” Xochitl was acquainted with, however, is her father, Ernesto, who is a resident of District 5. The Investigator obtained a photograph of her standing near him while shaking hands with Mayor Harry Sidhu at the March 5th “State of the City” Address at the City National Grove. A month after this encounter, she began boasting on Facebook that she “started a new job” with Anaheim First.

Who is Ernesto Medrano?

Ernesto Medrano is a “Business Representative” for the LA/OC Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, an “umbrella group representing 48 local unions and district councils in 14 trades” consisting of “more than 100,000 skilled men and women.” In return for project labor agreements, these unions champion giving developers millions of dollars in tax rebates to build four-diamond luxury hotels.

Last year, Medrano was a key spokesperson for the “No on Measure L” campaign, a political committee set up by the Anaheim Chamber to oppose a successful ballot initiative that raised wages for workers employed by taxpayer-subsidized hotels in the Anaheim Resort area. Documents filed with the city clerk show this committee received most of its funding from big hotel developers.

Medrano - Ament - OConnellErnesto Medrano, Todd Ament, and William O’Connell pose for the camera at a “No on Measure L” press conference in 2018.

Hundreds of photographs reviewed by the Investigator show Medrano was a “special guest” at Mayor Sidhu’s “Victory Party” at his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate last December. Other persons also in attendance were Todd Ament, CEO of the Anaheim Chamber, William O’Connell, developer of the JW Marriot hotel, and Jordan Brandman, a Councilman and close friend of Medrano.

In a recent cover story, the OC Weekly reported that between July 2018 and June 2019, Medrano received “36 tickets from resort-friendly council members, mostly to Angel games, tallying a total face value of $6,980.” But it doesn’t stop there: The Investigator has evidence some of these same “resort-friendly” politicians have showered him with thousands of dollars worth of tickets in previous years as well.

Friends of Ament and Sidhu

It should be no surprise to anybody that Ernesto Medrano’s daughter ended up as a director for Anaheim First. Through his work as a spokesperson with the  “No on Measure L” committee, he formed close ties with Ament, who not only is CEO of the Anaheim Chamber, but he is one of the founders of Anaheim First and serves on its Board of Directors. Ament is in a position to decide who gets hired by that entity.

Nobody should be shocked to learn that former Councilwoman Kris Murray and Leslie Swan are also employed in key positions with Anaheim First. Besides the fact both of them are known political operatives, they have been friends with Ament for years through their affiliation with the Anaheim Hills Community Council, whose non-profit he controls. And like Medrano, both of them have ties to Sidhu.

Conclusion

As the Investigator did with our article revealing Murray’s hidden role with Anaheim First, we believe exposing these relationships not only helps underscore the political nature of this group, but to show how fraudulent it is. The Anaheim Chamber is trying to dupe people into thinking this is a “grassroots organization,” when in reality, it is a private club of mostly Sidhu lackeys handpicked to promote their agenda.

Chain of Emails Strongly Suggest Former Councilwoman Kris Murray is a Paid Consultant for Anaheim First

Murray Sidhu CastroKris Murray with Mayor-elect Harry Sidhu and Amelia Castro (now a member of Anaheim First’s Board of Directors) at the Disneyland Hotel in 2018.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

A chain of emails the Anaheim Investigator recently obtained from the City of Anaheim during a routine California Public Records Act request strongly suggest that Kris Murray, a former Anaheim City Councilwoman, is working as a paid consultant for Anaheim First, a shadowy 501(c)3 nonprofit group created by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to promote its interests.

The first email in the chain, written by Xochitl Medrano, Director of Community Engagement for Anaheim First, consists of a message “reaching out” to David Belmer, Director of the Planning and Building Department, “on behalf of Leslie Swan and Kris Murray with Anaheim First,” inviting him to speak to their members later that month at the Chamber’s office near Angel Stadium.

It is reproduced here in its entirety:

From: Xochitl Medrano <xochitl@anaheimfirst.com>
Sent: Monday, June 10, 2019 12:10 PM
To: David Belmer <DBelmer@anaheim.net>
Cc: Leslie <Leslie@AnaheimFirst.com>
Subject: Inviting you to speak again to Anaheim First members

David,

I tried leaving you a voicemail on your office line but I wanted to make sure you also have my email. My name is Xochitl Medrano and I am reaching out to you on behalf of Leslie Swan and Kris Murray with Anaheim First.

We would love for you to speak again to Anaheim First members at our Onboarding meetings to talk about how the city’s Planning & Building Department operates and what residents should know about zoning. We are hoping you are available on June 19th and June 26th (both at 5:30 pm at the Chamber).

If you can let us know at your earliest convenience that would be most helpful. Also, if you cannot attend and would be able to send someone that would be great too!

Thank you.

-Xochitl

Xochitl Medrano.
Director, Community Engagement
ANAHEI’M FIRST

2099 S. State College
Anaheim, CA 92806
https://anaheimfirst.org/

In response, Belmer told Xochitl:

Hi Xochitl. I am out of town at a family reunion on the 19th but available on June 26. Does it work if I only attend on the 26th?

The next day, Leslie Swan, Director of Anaheim First, jumped in by sending out an email graciously thanking Belmer for “accepting to speak to the Anaheim First Neighborhood Leadership Council on June 26th.” But Swan then quietly added Murray to the discussion, using the email address of her political consulting firm, KLM Strategies:

From: Leslie Swan <leslie@anaheimfirst.com>
Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2019 11:05 AM
To: David Belmer <DBelmer@anaheim.net>; Xochitl Medrano <xochitl@anaheimfirst.com>; Kris
Murray <kris@klmstrategies.com>
Subject: Re: Inviting you to speak again to Anaheim First members

Hi David, thank you for accepting to speak to the Anaheim First Neighborhood Leadership Council on June 26th. These are additional members, 10 for each district. We offered two dates for convenience purposes. Since we are splitting up the group in two sessions is there anyone in your office that could walk through the presentation you shared with us last September and Q and A’s? In our meeting here with the consultants, there was mention that many community members do not understand zoning and planning. We thought your presentation to Anaheim First Advisory Board in September is one that is on point with the process of the upcoming assessment. If you could assist us with someone from your office on the 19th it would be greatly appreciated. We are looking to have the meeting here at the Chamber 2099 S. State College Blvd. Suite 650, Anaheim at 5:30 pm. If there is any change on the location we will reach out to you. Enjoy your family reunion!

Respectfully,

Leslie Swan
Director Anaheim First
714-675-2044
2099 S. State College

Anaheim, CA 92806

A copy of the entire chain of emails can be downloaded here.

What role Murray has played in Anaheim First has been the subject of widespread speculation for several months now. Hundreds of photos reviewed by the Investigator clearly show Murray has been a visible presence at their secret meetings, including one held at the Anaheim Convention Center on March 13th where she was seated next to Councilman Jordan Brandman.

naheim First-Convention Center--(3-13-19)Mayor Sidhu speaks to members of Anaheim First during a secret meeting at the Convention Center while Brandman eats a salad and Murray snaps photos.

The emails the Investigator uncovered not only reveal that Murray’s involvement in Anaheim First is much deeper than what is publicly known, but they underscore the political nature of this group. Murray and Swan are friends of Mayor Sidhu. So is Xochitl‘s father, Ernesto Medrano. In fact, all three were guests at Sidhu’s victory party at his Anaheim Hills estate last December.

For matter of record, the Investigator sent two emails to Anaheim First asking for more information about Murray’s work for their group.

The following questions were posed:

Is she an employee or independent contractor? How much compensation is she getting? Is she being paid a regular salary? Or a flat fee?

A similar message was sent to Murray at the email address she uses for KLM Strategies.

But so far, they haven’t responded.

Businessman Boasted To Anaheim Police Chief He Will Fund The Law Enforcement Accountability Network

Gennaco Taormina Faessal II

Michael Gennaco, William Taormina, and Stephen Faessel sitting together at the June 25th “Garden Party Fundraiser” for the Law Enforcement Accountability Network, an ACLU-backed group run by Theresa Smith.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

William Taormina boasted to Police Chief Raul Quezada and Deputy Chief Julian Harvey that he intended to support the ACLU-backed Law Enforcement Accountability Network “financially and with my time,” according to an email the Anaheim Investigator obtained from the Anaheim Police Department through a California Public Records Act request filed back in August.

The email in question, dated Wednesday, June 28, 2017, was sent out by Taormina to Quezada and Harvey three days after he made a $1,000 donation to LEAN at their June 25th “Garden Party Fundraiser,” held at the Villa Park home of Belinda Escobosa-Helzer, former Director of the Orange County office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

“Dear Raul and Julian,” Taormina began:

Over this last weekend, I attended a garden party held in honor of Teresa [sic] Smith’s son, Caesar Cruz. The party was meant to raise money for the new organization that Teresa started known as LEAN (Law Enforcement Accountability Network). The party was a success with about 50 attendees including both Councilmen Steve Faessel and Jose Moreno. I intend to support this organization financially and with my time because I believe it is going to be a positive relationship builder between our law enforcement community and the folks that are presently less supportive of us. We need to keep building bridges and Teresa is an excellent spokesperson for her side of the equation.

In the same email, Taormina also urged Quezada to appoint Yesenia Rojas, a resident of Anna Drive, a working-class neighborhood in Central Anaheim, to his advisory board saying “she is all about the underserved, the youth, and quality of life in our neighborhoods, especially hers….”

“Thank you for you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. It is an honor to serve alongside you both,” he concluded.

A copy of the email can be downloaded here.

Who is William Taormina?

As the Investigator previously reported, William Taormina is a wealthy real estate developer who serves on the advisory board of Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada. He has been on this body since September 2005 when former Police Chief John Welter created it “as a vehicle to advise and counsel him on matters affecting public safety and to act as a sounding board for police/community relations.”

Before William started dabbling in real estate full-time, both he and his brother Vincent ran Taormina Industries Inc., a solid-waste disposal company founded by their father in 1948. According to the Los Angeles Times, the privately held firm was a $100 million operation that served more than one million curbside customers in Anaheim, Brea, Garden Grove, Placentia, Villa Park, Yorba Linda and Colton.

In 1997, Taormina Industries merged into Republic Industries Inc., a trash hauling company then-controlled by H. Wayne Huizenga, a multi-billionaire, in a deal worth about $250 million in stock. “Brothers William and Vincent Taormina will receive 6.5 million shares [from Republic] and will operate the Anaheim company as a separate unit under its own name,” the Times reported.

Over the past thirty years, Taormina has been a major player in Anaheim city politics, pouring tens of thousands of dollars of cash into the campaigns of candidates and elected officials, both Democrat and Republican alike.

Taormina has also donated generously to many local charities and non-profits. He is  the founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Anaheim Community Foundation, an organization that not only has provided financial support for many different senior and youth programs, but has been responsible for managing tens of thousands of dollars in funds for Kash for K-9’s, Cops 4 Kids, and other projects supported by the Anaheim Police Department.

Despite his presence at the ACLU fundraiser, Taormina is no liberal. Back in 2012, Taormina and his family, both directly and through businesses under their control, gave $5,250 in campaign contributions to a city council candidate by the name of Steven Chavez Lodge, an ex-Santa Ana Police detective, who had been sued multiple times in state and federal courts for alleged “police brutality.” Later that same year, the Register quoted him as asking then-Police Chief Welter why there wasn’t a “blanket [gang] injunction” on the entire City of Anaheim to fight crime. The LA Weekly reported in 2014 that Taormina successfully pressured the MUZEO Museum and Cultural Center to cancel a “graffiti” art exhibit featuring the works of prominent Mexican muralists.

For more about the June 25th “Garden Party Fundraiser” for LEAN, please click here.

ACLU-Backed ‘Anti-Police Activist’ Group Got Tickets Worth $2,108 From Anaheim Mayor, Councilmen

Smith & Faessel

Theresa Smith, the “anti-police activist” founder of LEAN, with Stephen Faessel, an Anaheim City Councilman, who was elected to his seat with $17,389 worth of support from the Anaheim Police Association.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

On Thursday, June 29, 2017, an article entitled, “Councilman Moreno Honored By Anaheim Police Critics,” was posted on the Anaheim Blog, a right-wing website run by Matthew Cunningham, a well-connected public relations consultant, by a person who uses the pseudonym, Anaheim Insider.

Insider, a regular contributor to that blog, reported about a special event which took place earlier that week where Anaheim City Councilman Jose Moreno, who represents the Third District, received an award from a group characterized as being started by “anti-police activists.”

“This past weekend,” Insider wrote, “Moreno was awarded the Public Service Award by the Law Enforcement Accountability Network, or LEAN“:

LEAN was started by local anti-police activists who frequent Anaheim City Council meetings to criticize the police in the harshest, over-the-top terms. It is ‘fiscally sponsored’ by the ACLU. Despite the group’s soft-pedaled official ‘we want to improve policing’ rhetoric, the people behind it view the police as violent, anti-Latino trigger-happy thugs and are in the bait of denouncing officer-involved shootings as ‘murders.’

In an attempt to prove his point, Insider zeroed in on comments one attendee made on her Facebook page, claiming she “helped organize the protest” in the Palais neighborhood “that predictably degenerated into a riot, leading to ‘protesters’ vandalizing the home of an elderly couple of breaking car windows.”

“This is the spirit of LEAN supporters, and they’ve let us know that Jose F. Moreno is their kind of councilmember,” Insider said.

But a two-month investigation by the Anaheim Investigator has uncovered dozens of photographs, emails, and other evidence, some of it obtained from the City of Anaheim through California Public Records Act requests, suggesting Insider’s account of this event was not only inaccurate, but misleading. Contrary to Insider’s assertion that “LEAN supporters” were people who “view the police as violent, anti-Latino trigger-happy thugs,” photos show that several prominent Anaheim politicians and businessmen, all of whom have close ties to law enforcement, attended this function.

The Investigator has learned the aforementioned event Insider made reference to was a June 25th “Garden Party Fundraiser” for LEAN, a non-profit organization founded by Theresa Smith, whose son, Caesar Cruz, was shot to death by Anaheim Police in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in 2009.

A copy of an email invitation dated Monday, June 19, 2017 sent out by LEAN to Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait states the venue for this function was the Villa Park home of Belinda Escobosa-Helzer, former Director for the Orange County office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Smith & Moreno

Smith with Councilman Moreno.

Photos clearly show Moreno was present, but he wasn’t the only politician there. Another attendee was Stephen Faessel, an Anaheim City Councilman who was elected to his Fifth District seat in 2016 with $15,488.80 worth of support from the Anaheim Police Officer’s Association Independent Expenditure Committee. A careful review of California Form 460 paperwork the “Faessel for City Council 2016” committee filed with the City Clerk shows the Anaheim Police Association PAC also gave his campaign $1,900 in cash.

Other photos show Michael Gennaco, a former trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, who runs the OIR Group, a Playa Del Rey law firm that has a $125,000 a year contract with the City of Anaheim to provide auditing services for the Anaheim Police Department.

Smith & Gennaco

Smith with Michael Gennaco.

One notable person that attended was William Taormina, a wealthy real estate developer, who serves on the advisory board of Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada. He is also Chairman Emeritus of the Anaheim Community Foundation, a non-profit which has managed tens of thousands of dollars in funds for Kash for K-9’s, Cops 4 Kids, and other programs supported by the Anaheim Police Department.

The Investigator has confirmed that Taormina wrote out a $1,000 check to LEAN at their June 25th fundraiser–a huge amount of money, especially since James Gilliam, Deputy Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California, boasted on Facebook: “We helped [Smith] raise almost $4,000 this afternoon.”

Bill Taormina behind Smith in Plaid Shirt

William Taormina (in the plaid shirt) sitting behind Smith.

But the biggest donor to LEAN, however, was not Taormina: it was the City of Anaheim. Emails, letters, and documents the Investigator obtained under Public Records Act requests show that Mayor Tait and Councilmen Faessel and Moreno collectively donated sports tickets worth $2,108. According to a California Form 802, “Agency Report of Ceremonial Role Events and Ticket/Pass Distributions,” Tait gave LEAN four “suite” tickets at Angels Stadium for a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics. The tickets were valued at $225 each, or $900 total. Another Form 802 shows Moreno also gave LEAN four “suite” tickets at Angels Stadium also worth $900, but for a different game. As for Faessel, his contribution was much smaller, but still significant. A Form 802 reports he donated four “suite” tickets at the Honda Center for a “P&G Gymnastics Championship,” valued at $77 each, or $308 total, a fact later verified via email by Crystal Norman, his former Senior Policy Aide.

The Investigator has learned all of the sports tickets LEAN received from the Mayor and the Councilmen were put up for “silent auction” during the fundraiser. But the winning bidders didn’t receive the actual tickets that day. Instead, they were given a form letter printed on official City of Anaheim stationery, each signed by Tait, Faessal, or Moreno, that entitled the bearer to contact the Office of the Mayor and City Council to make arrangements to pick up the tickets they won. “Enjoy and thank you for supporting LEAN,” all of them said.

A copy of Tait’s letter is below:

Tait Letter re LEAN

All together, the Investigator calculates that Tait, Faessal, Moreno, and Taormina, made donations to LEAN worth a whopping $3,108. Of the estimated 50 people in attendance at the June 25th “Garden Party Fundraiser,” nobody contributed as much to the financial success of this benefit as did these four men.

But all of this begs the following question: Why are members of Anaheim’s political and business elite, all of whom have close ties to law enforcement, showering LEAN with gifts and money?

Stay tuned …

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