Mayor Harry Sidhu (left) welcoming Gloria Ma’ae (right) to his “Victory Party” at his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
During the Tuesday, September 14th meeting of the Anaheim City Council, when Councilman Jose Moreno began raising objections to the “process” that body had chosen to select a replacement candidate for a councilman who had vacated his seat, hinting it was “preordained,” or rigged in favor of applicant Gloria Ma’ae, Mayor Harry Sidhu could barely contain his anger.
“Councilmember Moreno, I’m very much disappointed in you in bringing this up,” Sidhu said in a raised tone of voice. “It is one of the fairest process we’ve been through. We gave every applicant an opportunity to meet with the residents. We gave every opportunity for the residents to come out and speak, whether in favor, or whether in opposition of the candidates who applied.”
“It was given opportunity of the applicant to have one-to-one meet with the councilmembers,” he continued. “[T]he way it was done, was proper, giving everybody an opportunity to come and speak. I spoke, and I sat down with every applicant here …. [Y]ou’re trying to talk about unfair process is … in my opinion, is wrong. And this was a completely a transparent process…”
Likewise, at the September 14th council meeting, when Sidhu tried to rush through Ma’ae’s appointment with very little discussion or input, he said nothing about his close personal ties with her. Besides the fact Ma’ae is a known supporter of the mayor, she was a “special guest” at a “Victory Party” he held on his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.
Sidhu giving Ma’ae a hug.
The Investigator has roughly a dozen photographs of Ma’ae that were taken at the event. Besides the three we have published here, others show her mingling with then-Councilman Jordan Brandman and Lea Ament, the wife of Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber. In most photos, Ma’ae is seen with persons who would later be linked to Anaheim First.
Ma’ae chatting with Sidhu.
Despite what reservations The Investigator has about Moreno, he was correct: Ma’ae’s appointment was “preordained.” However, the “process” of selecting her really began in 2007 when she started participating in a “front group” called Support Our Anaheim Resort,run by a Newport Beach public relations expert hired by The Walt Disney Company and Anaheim Chamber.
Recently, “front groups” like SOAR, and now Anaheim First, have been one mechanism the resort elite has used to vet candidates for appointment to various boards, commissions and city council seats. The decision to put Ma’ae on the council was years in the making. That doesn’t mean Sidhu’s role should be discounted. But he’s just a cog in a much bigger political machine.
[Update: An earlier version of this post stated Gloria Ma’ae started participating in Support Our Anaheim Resort in 2011. That is incorrect. She began in 2007.]
Alex Ruiz (center) celebrating the marriage of Monica Munguia (left), his niece, to Avelino Valencia III (right), at their wedding in 2019.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In a careful re-examination of all Form 802s that Councilman Avelino Valencia III filed in the months of April and May,The Anaheim Investigator has discovered a local businessman he gave city-owned baseball tickets to is also an uncle of his wife, making him legally his nephew.
A Form 802 Valencia filed shows he gave tickets to Ruiz.
But at that time, we didn’t know Ruiz was a relative of Valencia. Ourlatest investigation into whothe councilman has been handing out tickets to was spurred, ironically, by an unusual email we obtained from the City of Anaheim through a routine California Public Records Act request.
Much of the new evidence comes from social media. In a message Ruiz posted on Facebook in 2019, he tags Valencia and his wife. “Had the great pleasure of attending my beautiful niece Monica and Avelino [sic] wedding this weekend,” he typed. Also included: a photo of himself with the newlyweds.
In two messages Ruiz posted in 2020, he encouraged all of his friends to back Avelino’s effort to win a seat on the city council. “If you’re in the Anaheim area please support my nephew. A wonderful person and very committed to helping out the community,” he waxed enthusiastically.
On May 19th of this year, he posted photos and videos of himself attending the Angels vs. Indians game.In one 46-second video Ruiz shot with his phone, he parades around the luxury suite his nephew’s tickets gave him access to, showing off the amenities. “Check out where I’m at,” he boasts.
But these tickets are public assets. Valencia is a public official. There are rules, policies, and laws–everything from local administrative regulations to federal anti-corruption statutes–which not only forbid, but make it illegal for a politician to use the power of their office to benefit family members.
Though a more thorough investigation needs to be conducted into this matter by knowledgeable legal experts to determine if Valencia has crossed the line and violated any civil or criminal laws, it wouldn’t be premature for us to say that he has already done so at least when it comes to government ethics.
Councilman Stephen Faessel said the “angry confrontation” between himself and Larry Larsen occurred at the event for the proposed veterans cemetery.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In an email to The Anaheim Investigator, Councilman Stephen Faessel said the “angry confrontation” between himself and Larry Larsen occurred at the July 1st event for the proposed veterans cemetery in Anaheim Hills. “As an elected official, I welcome hearing from anyone,” he told The Investigator. “But Larry’s abusive language and hostile behavior crossed the line.” “I did not call the police, nor ask anyone to call on my behalf,” Faessel said. “I was contacted by officers just as Larry Larsen was, and happily answered all their questions, as reflected in the police record.” The councilman did say, however, he informed the organizers of the July 4th parade about the incident, who reportedly passed this information on to police.
Below is his account of what transpired:
Larry Larsen stopped me when I arrived at a recent event for a proposed veterans cemetery in far east Anaheim on July 1st. He was yelling at me, clearly still angry about his removal from the Sister City Commission two months earlier.
As an elected official, I welcome hearing from anyone, but Larry’s abusive language and hostile behavior crossed the line. The veterans cemetery event was not the time or the place for an angry confrontation about his removal from a city commission, for comments that sadly speak for themselves.
As I disengaged from him and made my way over to the event, Larry yelled after me, ‘I’ll see you on the Fourth! I’ll see you on the Fourth!’ He was referring to the upcoming Fourth of July celebration where I would be riding in the parade.
A few hours later, Larry sent me an email addressed to myself and Councilmember Trevor O’Neil, full of hostile language and again promising he would see us on the Fourth of July to pick up where he left off. As a precaution, I gave a heads-up to the parade organizers. As the event’s first time back since the pandemic restrictions, I wanted to see the celebration go on without disruption from something that had nothing to do with gathering our community to honor our country.
I shared a reasonable concern in the best interest of seeing the event go on without incident, which I’m glad to say, was the case.
I did not call the police, nor ask anyone to call on my behalf. I was contacted by officers just as Larry Larsen was, and happily answered all their questions, as reflected in the police record.
I would have preferred that the matter be dropped, but the police felt it prudent to follow up with Mr. Larsen. As always, the Anaheim Police handled the matter professionally and carried out their duty with respect for all involved.
As The Investigatorreported last week, Larsen, a longtime community activist who at times has been known to have a brash and acerbic demeanor, made an astonishing revelation at the July 13th meeting of the Anaheim City Council: he openly accused Faessel of sending cops to his private residence to investigate him for being a “terrorist.”
“July 2nd, between 8:30 and 9-o-clock at night, two Anaheim police officers knocked on my front door,” he said. “They were there on the behest of Mr. Faessel. And, in my words, they were there to investigate the possibility of me creating some kind of terrorist diversion or distraction on the July 4th parade,” which takes place in Anaheim Hills.
According to the log, Trapp first sent two officers to Faessel’s house to investigate a possible PC 422–a criminal threat. But the officers quickly ruled that out. Their inquiry shifted toward a “disturbance” on July 1st where Larsen, angry over his removal from the Sister City Commission, confronted Faessel, his wife, and an aide about it.
Though there are no remarks on the log about what was discussed when these policemen later dropped by Larsen’s residence, it should be noted he was not arrested. In fact, the document hints the investigation was “cleared,” strongly suggesting this case was closed and no criminal charges would be forthcoming.
For matter of record, The Investigator did make an earlier attempt to contact Larsen. We were especially interested in getting his side of the story with respect to the “angry confrontation” he had with the councilman. But he never bothered to respond to any of the messages we left on his home and personal phones.
Larry Larsen, a former member of the Sister City Commission, is shown here speaking at a political rally in front of Anaheim City Hall in 2012.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
At the July 13th meeting of the Anaheim City Council, Larry Larsen, a longtime community activist who at times has been known to have a brash and acerbic demeanor, made an astonishing revelation: he openly accused Councilman Stephen Faessel of using the power of his office to send cops to his private residence to investigate him for being a “terrorist.”
“July 2nd, between 8:30 and 9-o-clock at night, two Anaheim police officers knocked on my front door,” Larsen said. “They were there on the behest of Mr. Faessel. And, in my words, they were there to investigate the possibility of me creating some kind of terrorist diversion or distraction on the July 4th parade,” which takes place in Anaheim Hills.
“Is this what this city has come to, some kind of a fascist city where each city councilman can use the police to carry out their wishes and demands?” he continued. “I demand that there be an investigation … on the false charges …. I also demand that Mr. Faessel be suspended immediately from the city council until the results … are reported.”
Sgt. Shane Carringer, public information officer for Anaheim Police, told The Investigator that though he didn’t know who Command Staff initially spoke with regarding this matter, he confirmed it was Capt. Eric Trapp who instructed Sgt. Bryan Janocha to make the call to enter it into their CAD system. Indeed, the latter officer is listed as being the “complainant.”
Capt. Trapp orders an investigation.
According to the log, Anaheim Police first sent two officers to Faessel’s house to investigate a “poss 422”–a criminal threat. But that was quickly ruled out. Their inquiry soon shifted toward a “disturbance” on July 1st where Larsen, angry over his removal from the Sister City Commission, allegedly confronted Faessel, his wife, and an aide about it.
During the alleged confrontation, Larsen made statements which not only caused Faessel’s aide to become “upset/scared,” but raised concerns he “may do something at the parade.” “Wait until Sunday,” he reportedly warned. The councilman told police he was “not desirous of prosecution,” but wanted the incident “documented” just in case Larsen “tried to do anything.”
Despite the fact there are no remarks on the log about what was said when these officers later dropped by Larsen’s residence, it does show them preparing for a visit: they conducted a routine criminal background check roughly 32 minutes before they knocked on his door. “Can you run his RAP and see if he has weapons registered to him?” one policeman asked dispatch.
It should be noted this log does not reflect the full story of what transpired. But what information it has undermines Larsen’s claim cops were sent to his home “on the behest of Mr. Faessel.” Furthermore, if he angrily made comments hinting to the councilman about something happening at the July 4th parade, police may have had a legitimate reason to question him.
For matter of record, The Investigator made an attempt to contact Larsen seeking his comments for this article. We were especially interested in getting his side of the story with respect to the alleged confrontation he had with Faessel, his wife, and an aide on July 1st. However, he never responded to any of the messages we left on his home and personal phones.
Councilman Avelino Valencia III gave city-owned Angels tickets to the wife of the president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
A careful review of all the Form 802s that Councilman Avelino Valencia III filed in April and May reveals he gave 28 city-owned Angels baseball tickets worth $5,740 to 13 campaign backers who spent $38,938 to help him get elected to his seat. That number reflects 60% of all the tickets the councilman has handed out during those months especially if one takes into consideration the fact a Long Beach supporter got tickets twice.
For example, a Form 802 the councilman filed last month states he gave Serina Serrano two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Dodgers game on May 8th. Besides the fact Serina works for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, her husband is Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. Public records show Gerry and his union made $2,850 in campaign contributions to Valencia in 2020.
Many recipients of free tickets earn six-figure incomes.
In the article The Anaheim Investigator published on June 1st, we reported about the Form 802sValencia filed in April, pointing out that of the ten people he gave tickets to that month, eight were close friends and campaign backers of his. Five had close ties to unions that each made a $2,100 contribution to his city council campaign last year. Two were top Democratic Party operatives. And most don’t live in Anaheim.
The councilman’s filings for May show a similar pattern of behavior. Out of the 13 people he gave tickets to, ten were also friends and backers. Nine of them–or 70% of all the persons who received tickets that month–either contributed money directly to his city council campaign, or have close ties to unions that did. One is linked to a committee that spent $24,288.20 on his election. And again, most aren’t residents of this city.
Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Political Education and Legislative Fund (ID# 850568) made a $500 contribution on June 26, 2020.
Between April and May, Valencia gave 28 city-owned Angels baseball tickets worth $5,740 to 13 campaign backers who spent $38,938 on his election–a whopping 60% of all tickets he handed out during those months. We determined this by gathering names from all the Form 802s that he filed, running them through various databases to identify who they were, and cross-referencing them with available campaign finance data.
On June 17th, The Investigator sent out an email to Valencia with a list of names of the 22 people who received tickets from him requesting more information about the type of “volunteer public service” each of them engaged in. “The rationale you gave in all of these cases is that tickets were given ostensibly for the purpose of ‘attracting or rewarding volunteer public service,'” we wrote. But he never responded to our inquiry.
For matter of record, Valencia isn’t the only council member who has hijacked the city’s ticket system for selfish political purposes. His abuses are roughly comparable to those of Councilman Jordan Brandman, whose Form 802 filings this year are also highly questionable. Though Brandman has handed out less tickets than Valencia, both have given them to some of the same people–a matter we’ll report about in the future.
According to a Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed on August 8, 2018, Brandmanreported at that timehe was “Vice-President” of the Southern California Group, earning “over $100,000” in salary from them. He listed their primary business activity as “strategic public affairs.”
The ECAdescribes its mission as serving the “infrastructure contractors of Southern California through project-based advocacy, labor-management relations, political action and fair public policy.” Most of its members are heavy construction companies that bid on public works projects.
Sorem and Brandman(both on the left) at an ECA event in 2017.
Last Wednesday, The Investigator sent out an email message to Brandman and Claudia Perez, his Senior Policy Aide, to request more information about the type of “volunteer public service” that Sorem has been involved in. So far neither of them have responded to our inquiry.
Councilman Avelino Valencia III gave $3,280 worth of city-owned Angels tickets to close friends, campaign backers, and top Democrats in April.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
Before Councilman Avelino Valencia III was elected to his seat, he told a reporter from Anaheim Exclusivo what his main priority would be. “I would like the residents of Anaheim to know that I am dedicating the next four years of my life to improving the quality of life for our residents,” he said. “I will be selfless in those endeavors; I will put the residents’ needs first.”
But there is an old adage about politicians: watch what they do, not what they say. And evidence is mounting that there is a big difference between Valencia’s behavior as a councilman and his rhetoric as a candidate. Thanks to Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, we know as a fact that this happens to be the case.
In an article San Roman recently posted on his Slingshot blog, he observed that with the reopening of Angel Stadium and Honda Center due to relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, a once “dormant political patronage system” has sprung back to life “with Anaheim city council members able to dole out free tickets to their well-connected friends and political backers again.”
In reviewing the latest filings for April, he discovered not much had changed. For example, Councilman Jordan Brandman, who is a notorious peddler of city-owned tickets to lobbyists, campaign contributors, and even his former employer, gave two Angels tickets worth $410 to a businessman who appears to have been one of his clients at a previous job.
Even Valencia has gotten tickets.
The most astonishing revelations, however, came from Valencia’s filings. Being a newcomer, one thinks he would have been a bit more circumspect in his actions. But San Roman reported that his Form 802s showed the councilman freely gave away tickets to close friends, trade union leaders who helped finance his campaign, and known Democratic Party operatives.
In response, The Anaheim Investigator launched its own investigation into this matter and carefully scrutinized all of the Form 802s Valencia filed in the month of April. The documents not only corroborate the initial claims San Roman made in his piece, but new information has been uncovered which reveals that what he reported was just the tip of the iceberg.
The Form 802s show Valencia gave tickets to ten people, eight of which could be positively identified. Of those eight, all are “well-connected friends and political backers” of the councilman. Five have close ties to unions that each made a $2,100 contribution to his city council campaign last year. Two are top Democratic Party operatives. And most don’t live in Anaheim.
Below is a list of persons of who benefited from his largess: ERNESTO MEDRANO
On all of the Form 802s that Valenica filed, he stated he gave away tickets for the purpose of “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.” Maybe so. Perhaps he wanted to encourage charity work in Irvine, Santa Ana, and Long Beach. And it could be a coincidence half of the recipients of his tickets apparently helped steer large amounts of cash into his city council campaign.
But the evidence speaks for itself. The Form 802s make a mockery of Valencia‘s promise to “put the residents’ needs first.” That he decided to shower close friends, trade union leaders who helped finance his campaign, and top Democratic Party operatives–most of whom don’t live in Anaheim–with $3,280 worth of tickets demonstrate that his priorities lie elsewhere.
Indeed, The Investigator believes he is only using his seat on the Anaheim City Council as a stepping stone to get elected to the state legislature in the 69th State Assembly District. After all, Tom Daly, his boss, is termed out in 2024. But to do that, he’ll need to build a base of support not only in Anaheim, but in Santa Ana. That’s where giving away free tickets comes in handy.
For matter of record, Valencia isn’t the only politician in this town who has taken advantage of the ticket system and exploited it for selfish political purposes. Sometime in the future, The Investigatorplans to publish more in-depth articles like this one exposing how past and present council members, both Democrat and Republican alike, have done similar things.
The City of Anaheim is undergoing planning efforts as part of the Anaheim Connects study to transform transportation and transit solutions in the Platinum Triangle Planning Area. The study seeks to provide opportunities to public/private partnerships, improve pedestrian and bicycle connections along the Santa Ana River, and improve the East/West transit connections between ARTIC and the Anaheim Resort Area. As part of this East/West transit connection, the Applicant is aware the City is studying a Street Car alignment that would provide potential stop(s) within the Project Site. While the City has not made any decisions regarding the alignment, design or system to be employed, the Project can accommodate potential stops in the future, if needed.
The Anaheim Investigator has known for quite some time the streetcar project is part of Anaheim Connects. But the Stadium Master Site Plan is the first “official” document that has made this information public. The link to Anaheim Connects on the city’s website says nothing about streetcars and only talks about mass transit in terms of vague generalities.
The logo for Anaheim Connects
Nobody should be surprised SRB Management LLC was aware of this study. Representatives from the Angels have been active participants in Mayor Sidhu’s Transit Options Task Force since its inception. For example, records show that Brian Sanders, Senior Director of Ballpark Operations, attended oneof their meetings in February 2020.
Regardless of what the case may be, there is circumstantial evidence that Anaheim Connects will still include a streetcar. At bare minimum, a line may be built that travels east and west along Katella Avenue, from ARTIC to Harbor Boulevard. However, the size and scope of any such project will ultimately be determined by the level of government funding.
Tony Serna, Vice-President of Agency 51, a Santa Ana advertising firm that has been a hidden force behind Anaheim First.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
Much has been written aboutAnaheim First, the faux grassroots organization which, according to legal documents filed with the California Secretary of State in 2019, is controlled by Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But very little, if anything, has been said about another entity thathas been a hidden force behind it.
If you have ever seen Anaheim First’s full page ads in a newspaper, a slick mailer inviting you to attend one of their town hall forums, or observed members wearing those proverbial blue shirts, you saw the handiwork of Agency 51, an advertising firm located in downtown Santa Ana, literally a block away from the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse.
On its LinkedIn page, Agency 51describes itself as a “full-service integrated marketing communications agency with offices in Orange County, CA, specializing in implementing complex, strategic advertising programs.” Founded as a partnership in 2001, it has two offices nationwide: one in Santa Ana and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Agency 51 boasting about Anaheim First on its website.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anaheim First was reinvented as a marketing tool to help local restaurants, microbreweries, wine bars, and other businesses survive the economic downturn. For months, residents have seen ads on social media sites, much like the one on Agency 51’sYouTube page, offering discounts for food, drink, and other items.
However, as more people get vaccinated and life returns back to “normal,” it will undoubtedly revert to its original form. At the March 23rd meeting of the Anaheim City Council, Mayor Harry Sidhu reaffirmed his commitment to the Chamber-backed group. He is up for re-election next year. Given Anaheim First is stacked with his allies, he’ll need all the support he can get.
Though this document mostly consists of mundane proposals to ease traffic congestion, it contains a startling revelation. On the first page, under the subheading “Transit,” one key recommendation is to create an “Express Gondola Service–two routes from ARTIC,” the city’s main bus and train terminal. The first route would “align with Disney Way and potentially connect to the proposed pedestrian bridge at Harbor/Disney,” a stop within walking distance of Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. The second would “provide access to the convention center.”
A map that was included, entitled “Transit Recommendations Overview” and marked “DRAFT,” is also revealing. Not only does it offer a visual representation of where two routes of the proposed aerial gondola system would go, but it mentions “Planned Streetcar Stops” without showing where that line will be. But The Investigator believes, based on circumstantial evidence, that the streetcar is being referred to euphemistically as the “Potential At-Grade Transit Connection.” It would travel east and west along Katella Avenue, from ARTIC to Harbor Boulevard.
Map shows two routes of the proposed aerial gondola system.
The Georgetown-Rossyln Gondola project in Washington, D.C.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all discussions about transit options to connect the Platinum Triangle and Anaheim Resort either slowed down or were put on hold. Everything came to a standstill late last year when the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected a request by city staff for $2.379 million in BUILD grant program funds to pay for planning of a streetcar. Nevertheless, as more people get vaccinated and life returns to “normal,” this matter will soon come back to life. But for now, we know that streetcars aren’t the only things being planned for.
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