Archive for the category “Anaheim City Council”

Uncle of Councilman’s Wife, Who Donated $200 to His Campaign, Got City-Owned Tickets Worth $410

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.

In June, The Investigator reported that Alex Ruiz, owner of Alex’s Flooring Company, received two tickets from Valencia valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 19th. Furthermore, campaign finance records also show Ruiz had contributed $200 to his city council race in 2020.

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. Our latest investigation into who the 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.

In that email, Luiz Torres, a city council assistant, warned Valencia The Investigator was “looking into each and every council members” ticket filings. As a result of this message, we decided all the persons he named on his Form 802s deserved a second look to see if we missed anything. And we did.

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.

Our discovery that Valencia gave tickets to his uncle adds a new twist to this story. Up until now, the councilman has been able to skirt around the rules and hand them out to close personal friends, campaign backers, and Democratic Party operatives without facing any repercussions.

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.

‘Angry Confrontation’ With Former Commissioner Occurred at Event for Proposed Veterans Cemetery

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 Investigator reported 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.

But The Investigator obtained a hardcopy of the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) log which tracked the activities of the policemen who visited Larsen’s home on the evening of July 2nd. And the information it contains clearly shows that it was Captain Eric Trapp of the Anaheim Police–not the councilman–who ordered the probe.

Captain Eric Trapp.

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.

Police Dispatch Log Shows Councilman Did Not Send Cops to Home of Former Commissioner

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.”

But The Anaheim Investigator has obtained a hardcopy of the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) log which tracked the activities of the policemen who visited Larsen’s home on the evening of July 2nd. And the information it contains shows that it was Command Staff of the Anaheim Police Department–not the councilman–who ordered the investigation.

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.

Campaign Backers Who Spent $39K to Elect Councilman Avelino Got City-Owned Tickets Worth $5,740

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.

Furthermore, it appears Valencia has borrowed a trick other council members have used to conceal the identity of the intended recipient of tickets by giving them to their spouse instead. This questionable practice was first noticed by Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, when he discovered Carrie Nocella, a lobbyist for the Walt Disney Company, was getting tickets through her husband.

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 802s Valencia 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.

Below is a list of those ten individuals:

BERENICE BALLINAS

Valencia gave Ballinas two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rays game on May 4th.

Ballinas is a resident of Santa Anaa member of that city’s Personnel Board, and Senior District Representative for Democratic State Senator Josh Newman.

SERAFIN TINAJERO-JAUREZ

Valencia gave Tinajero-Jaurez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rays game on May 5th.

Tinajero-Jaurez is a resident of Anaheim and is employed as a senior analyst for a healthcare company.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that he made a $250 contribution on May 23, 2020.

VALERIE AMEZCUA

Valencia gave Amezcua two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Dodgers game on May 7th.

Amezcua is a resident of Santa Ana and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Santa Ana Unified School District.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report she had contributed $200 to his campaign by August 21, 2020.

SERINA SERRANO

Valencia gave Serrano two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Dodgers game on May 8th.

Serrano is a resident of Garden Grove, an employee of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and is married to Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee (ID# 1255606) made a $2,100 contribution on August 21, 2020.

Her husband Gerry made a $750 contribution on September 22, 2020.

PAUL R. MORENO

Valencia gave Moreno two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 17th.

Moreno is a resident of Mission Viejo and a Business Agent for the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Local 433.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the District Council of Iron Workers Political Action League (ID# 831693) made a $1,000 contribution on June 22, 2020.

ALEX RUIZ

Valencia gave Ruiz two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 19th.

Ruiz is a resident of Anaheim and owns Alex’s Flooring Company.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that Ruiz made a $200 contribution on May 19, 2020.

JOSHUA LAFARGA

Valencia gave LaFarga two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Twins game on May 20th.

This is the second time Valencia has given him tickets.

LaFarga is a resident of Long Beacha member of that city’s Planning Commission, and Recording Secretary for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309 PAC (ID# 851621) made a $2,100 contribution on June 30, 2020.

BRENT BEASLEY

Valencia gave Beasley two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 21st.

Beasley is a resident of Rancho Santa Margarita and Financial Secretary for the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Local 220.

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.

JAMES RAMIREZ

Valencia gave Ramirez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Athletics game on May 22nd.

Ramirez is a resident of Anaheim and Vice-President of Anaheim Firefighters Association Local 2899.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that Firefighters for Anaheim made a $2,100 contribution on September 14, 2020.

A Form 496 Independent Expenditure Report filed by Firefighters for Anaheim on October 15, 2020 reported that they spent $22,188.20 for mailers, signs, banners, and other items on Valencia’s behalf.

IZEAH GARCIA

Valencia gave Garcia two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rangers game on May 25th.

Garcia is a resident of Fullerton, a former Deputy Director of the Democratic National Committee, and Political & Community Organizer for the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the National Union of Healthcare Workers Candidate Committee (ID# 1318200) made a $1,000 contribution on September 29, 2021.

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.

Councilman Brandman Gave City-Owned Angels Baseball Tickets to a Former Business Client

Councilman Jordan Brandman gave city-owned Angels baseball tickets to a businessman who was a former client of his through a previous job.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

A Form 802 that Councilman Jordan Brandman recently filed states he gave Dave Sorem, owner of the Mike Bubalo Construction Company, two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Astros game on April 6th, ostensibly for the purpose of “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.”

But The Anaheim Investigator has evidence Sorem was a former business client of his through a previous job. Between 2017 and 2018, the councilman worked for the Engineering Contractors’ Association, an Anaheim-based advocacy group where Sorem has been a longtime executive board member.

Brandman, however, wasn’t directly employed by the ECA, but through a firm they do business with called the Southern California Group, an entity controlled by Richard Lambros and Peter Mitchell, the latter of whom is also a registered lobbyist for the Anaheim Police Association.

According to a Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed on August 8, 2018, Brandman reported at that time he 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 ECA describes 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.

Brandman‘s involvement with the ECA has been documented in their monthly publication. For example, a photograph of him with Sorem appears on page 19 of their October 2017 issue. He is also shown attending an open house at their Anaheim office on page 13 in the following issue.

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.

Brandman is a notorious peddler of city-owned tickets to lobbyists, campaign contributors, and friends. He has even been caught giving tickets to one of his former bosses at the Southern California Group–a transaction which earned him the scrutiny of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office last year.

But he isn’t the only one who does this. On June 1st, The Investigator reported that incoming Councilman Avelino Valencia III has already hijacked the city’s ticket system for selfish political purposes. And be rest assured, more articles about how these and other politicians abuse this system are forthcoming.

Councilman Valencia Gave City-Owned Tickets Worth $3,280 to Campaign Backers, Top Democrats

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.”

San Roman should know. In 2019, he looked at more than 1,539 ticket disclosure formsForm 802s as they are called–to see who received the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tickets the city gets each year from these venues through various agreements. His award-winning investigation exposed a system rife with cronyism and corruption.

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

Valencia gave Medrano two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 1st.

Medrano is a resident of Anaheim, a member of the Public Utilities Board, and a Business Representative for the Los Angeles / Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Los Angeles / Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council PAC (ID# 822029) made a $2,100 contribution on August 19, 2020.

ROBERT RUIZ

Valencia gave Ruiz two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 2nd.

Ruiz is a resident of Irvine, a member of the Orange County Fair and Event Center Board, and Secretary-Treasurer for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 652.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Laborers International Union of North America Laborers Local 652 (ID# 72-151970) made a $2,100 contribution on June 29, 2020.

ERNESTO AMADO CONDE

Valencia gave Conde two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 3rd.

Conde is a resident of Santa Ana, a retired sergeant with the Santa Ana Police Department, and is Director of Communications for the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. In 2018, the Voice of OC reported he has a cozy relationship with Gerry Serrano, the president of that association.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee (ID# 1255606) made a $2,100 contribution on August 21, 2020.

Serrano made a $750 contribution on September 22, 2020.

LUISANDRES PEREZ

Valencia gave Perez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 4th.

Perez is a resident of Anaheim, a member of the Planning Commission, and Political Director for UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 582. Not only was he previously employed as Political Director of the Orange County Democratic Party, but he currently serves on their Central Committee and is an alternate for State Assemblyman Tom Daly.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union No. 582 PAC (ID# 890440) made a $2,100 contribution on July 31, 2020.

Perez made a $250 contribution on May 22, 2020.

LUIS ALEMAN

Valencia gave Aleman two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 5th.

Aleman is a resident of Santa Ana, Secretary of the Orange County Democratic Party, and President of the Latinx Young Democrats of Orange County.

JOSHUA LAFARGA

Valencia gave LaFarga two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Astros game on April 6th.

LaFarga is a resident of Long Beach, a member of that city’s Planning Commission, and Recording Secretary for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309 PAC (ID# 851621) made a $2,100 contribution on June 30, 2020.

AJAY MOHAN

Valencia gave Mohan two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Twins game on April 16th.

Mohan is a resident of Irvine, a member of that city’s Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee, and Executive Director of the Orange County Democratic Party. He was previously employed as their Political Director.

JOHNATHAN HERNANDEZ

Valencia gave Hernandez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rangers game on April 19th.

Hernandez is a resident of Santa Ana and a member of the Santa Ana City Council.

Total value of tickets given: $3,280.

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 Investigator plans 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.

Santa Ana-Based Advertising Firm Hidden Force Behind Chamber-Backed Group Anaheim First

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 about Anaheim 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 that has 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.

Contrary to what is publicly known, Anaheim First made its debut, at least unofficially, on August 3, 2017 when Tony Serna, Vice-President of Agency 51, registered the domain “AnaheimFirst.com” using his name and his firm’s Santa Ana business address, email, and phone number. Records show this domain was later transferred to Visit Anaheim in 2018.

Message posted to Agency 51’s Facebook page.

But Serna does more than just run Agency 51. Not only was he a founding member of the Anaheim First Advisory Council in District 6, but he sits on the Board of Directors of the Anaheim Chamber. According to IRS Form 990 filings compiled by ProPublica, a non-partisan investigative journalism website, Serna has served on the latter body at least since 2013.

On its LinkedIn page, Agency 51 describes 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.

Anaheim First is not the only major project Agency 51 has been involved with. It has an impressive list of past and present clients, including Comcast, Cox Communications, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, House of Blues Anaheim, and the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center. Furthermore, the firm has done some work for the Anaheim Family YMCA.

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’s YouTube 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.

Internal Documents Show Mayor Quietly Resurrected Controversial Anaheim Streetcar Project

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A streetcar line currently being built in Tempe, Arizona was used as a “case study” for one that could travel along Katella Avenue.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

In 2019, while hundreds of local residents were fixated with the pending sale of the Anaheim Stadium to Arte Moreno, the billionaire owner of the Angels baseball team, roughly 1,000 pages of internal documents obtained by The Anaheim Investigator during a year-long investigation show Mayor Harry Sidhu quietly resurrected the controversial Anaheim Rapid Connection streetcar project that was shelved by the previous mayor in 2017.

The documents in question, all of which were obtained through multiple California Public Records Act requests, consists of dozens of emails, memos, invoices, meeting agendas, maps, and audiovisual presentations which detail a robust discussion about transit options to connect the Platinum Triangle with the Anaheim Resort, mostly emphasizing the use of streetcars to shuttle tourists and workers from one location to another.

The revival of this project was set into motion shortly after Mayor Sidhu announced at his “State of the City Address” in March 2019 he was setting up a Transit Options Task Force to explore various ways of linking the two areas together. At the time, a public statement was issued denying the mayor was bringing back plans for “a street car linking the Platinum Triangle and the resort.” though documents reviewed by The Investigator suggest otherwise.

Lobbyists called the mayor’s task force by a different name.

But before any work could begin, the city council needed to pass a resolution supporting a new “study of a transit connection between the Anaheim Resort and the Platinum Triangle” and rescind two previous ones that expressed “opposition to a street car system,” which was done at their June 4th meeting. Then in late September, city staff secured $350,000 in funding from the Anaheim Tourism Improvement District to pay for consultants.

Kittelson & Associates, Inc., the same firm that worked on the “previous version of the Anaheim Rapid Connection (ARC) project,” was retained as lead consultant. “The City is current [sic] revisiting the former ARC streetcar project,” wrote Tim Erney, one of their employees, in a December 2, 2019 email. “Based on conversations with City staff … trackless streetcar and battery-powered streetcar were identified as the options for further review.”

A slide from a presentation comparing buses and streetcars.

Between November 2019 and February 2020, Kittelson prepared several memos and audiovisual presentations for the Transit Options Task Force, closely coordinating their efforts with vendors like Alstom, BYD, Van Hool, and TIG/m–companies that are either involved in manufacturing streetcars, “battery-powered rail vehicles,” or offer “rubber-tire vehicles that may be comparable in appearance and functionality to [a] trackless streetcar.”

Despite the fact the COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupted the ability of the City of Anaheim to operate, Mayor Sidhu’s Task Force set up “street car subcommittees” and met online at least until August. Furthermore, city staff submitted a BUILD Grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation in May for $2.379 million in funds to pay for planning of a streetcar, a request that was ultimately rejected by the Trump administration.

One city official The Investigator spoke with regarding these matters said everything has been put on pause due to the coronavirus and nothing has been settled on as of yet. Indeed, recent documents suggest support has wavered for a streetcar system as elaborate as the ill-fated ARC project was. Nevertheless, there still seems to be backing for a line that would travel along Katella Avenue, from ARTIC to the Anaheim Resort.

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 …

Anaheim Police & the KKK: Office of Independent Review ‘Investigates’ Complaint Against Police Chief Raul Quezada

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The Office of Independent Review is “investigating” a complaint filed last year alleging that Police Chief Raul Quezada made “inaccurate, false, and misleading statements” to the Anaheim City Council and Public Safety Board.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

The Office of Independent Review, a law firm run by Michael Gennaco, a former trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, is currently “investigating” a complaint filed last year which alleged that Police Chief Raul Quezada made “inaccurate, false, and misleading statements” to the Anaheim City Council, Public Safety Board, and general public about the “time sequence” of events that took place in Pearson Park on Saturday, February 27, 2016, where a violent confrontation ensued between knife-wielding members of the Ku Klux Klan and anti-racist counter-protesters.

The complaint in question, filed by Duane Roberts, Editor and Publisher of the Anaheim Investigator blog, was hand-delivered to City Manager Paul Emery at the Tuesday, April 12, 2016 meeting of the Anaheim City Council. Emery later forwarded it to Bill McCleod, then-Human Resources Director for the City of Anaheim, who was “directed to undertake an investigation.” In a terse letter dated Monday, May 20, 2016, McCleod stated that after interviewing “many witnesses, reviewing … correspondence and attachments, and other materials as necessary,” he concluded the “allegations are not supported by the evidence.”

At the Thursday, December 15, 2016 meeting of the Public Safety Board, Forrest Turpen and Robert Nelson, the respective Chair and Vice-Chair of that body, resurrected the complaint. At the end of the meeting, Nelson queried Emery about “the complaint made by Mr. Roberts.” He then made a “motion to recommend to the City Manager that the Office of Independent Review Group review the complaint made by Mr. Roberts,” which was seconded by Turpen. According to the minutes, out of the six commissioners that were present that night, five voted in favor of the motion, with only one abstention.

Despite some initial resistance to the idea, Emery told The Investigator that given “public interest” in this matter, he “handed over the HR [investigative] file to Gennaco” in mid-January–a fact that was confirmed at last Thursday night’s meeting of the Public Safety Board. When Nelson asked Gennaco how their review of “Mr. Roberts complaint” was going, he gave two word response: “very well.” When pressed further by Turpen if whether or not the Office of Independent Review was merely “auditing” or “investigating” the complaint,  Gennaco replied that he could not disclose that information at this time.

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