Archive for the tag “Anaheim City Council”

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is streetcar.jpg

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 …

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