Anaheim Investigator

Archive for the category “Anaheim Chamber of Commerce”

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:

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.

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