However, The Anaheim Investigator has uncovered evidence that Aitken not only secretly met with John Carpino, president of the Angels Baseball team, at a coffee shop in late February, but that the meeting she had with him might have dealt with the Angel Stadium assessment. Why? It was scheduled only thirty minutes before city officials toured the facility with a group of consultants interested in bidding for the job.
Phone text messages The Investigator obtained under the public records act show Carpino initiated contact with Aitken on Thursday, February 16th. “Do you have time for coffee in the next few weeks?” he asked. “Yes, I do. Can you meet me at 8:30 at Bodhi coffee on Monday the 27th?,” the mayor responded. On February 26th, Aitken texted him again to confirm the meeting was still on. “Yes, looking forward to it,” he said.
Aitken confirming meeting with Carpino.
When The Investigator carefully reviewed the February calendar that Mayor Aitken made available to the public which supposedly lists all of the meetings “requested” of her that month, absolutely nothing is mentioned about her having coffee with Carpino on the 27th. During the last week, she stated only two things occurred: a city council meeting and a meeting with “Disneyland representatives.”
No mention of Carpino meeting in the mayor’s calendar.
Partial screenshot of website listing Angel Stadium tour.
Furthermore, several letters show that just days before their meeting, both Carpino and ArentFox Schiff LLP, a prestigious law firm retained by the sports team, demanded that the city cancel the tour of Angel Stadium, asserting it was a violation of the lease agreement–a claim vigorously rejected by City Manager James Vanderpool and City Attorney Robert Fabela. Carpino made sure to copy his letter to Aitken.
So far, the mayor hasn’t responded to questions The Investigator sent regarding the secret meeting she had with Carpino in late February. But perhaps it should be noted these types of behind-the-scenes political maneuvers with executives of the Angels Baseball team are part of the reason why former Mayor Harry Sidhu got into trouble with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was forced to resign his seat.
Below are letters exchanged in February between representatives of the Angels Baseball team and the City of Anaheim regarding the tour of Angel Stadium.
Ashleigh Aitken speaking at the headquarters of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324 in November 2018.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In early January, Ashleigh Aitken, the newly-elected mayor of Anaheim, did what many public officials before her had done. She took full advantage of her unfettered access to the city’s vast pool of free tickets to luxury suites at the Honda Center and Angel Stadium and gave a few of them away to supporters who helped put her in office. Several emails show the mayor rattled off names of those she felt deserved them.
Besides the fact a Form 401 filed with the city clerk’s office reports that Smith was treasurer of an independent expenditure committee which spent $138,155 to help Aitken become mayor in 2022, The Anaheim Investigator has discovered his union has a “secret.” Though not criminal in nature, it’s deeply embarrassing. In fact, some people with intimate knowledge of it are apprehensive to talk about it openly with journalists.
It took The Investigator more than a year to find it, and that was only after painstaking research. However, all the effort put in was well worth it. We have uncovered a story that is not only remarkable, but lends credence to the old adage “politics makes strange bedfellows.” It involves an alliance of people with nothing in common, who were brought together by a shared interest. And it implicates Democrats and Republicans.
Todd Ament, Jeff Flint, and Harry Sidhu.
Reliable sources have told The Investigator that sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, Todd Ament, president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Jeff Flint, president of Core Strategic Group, and Mayor Harry Sidhu approached UFCW Local 324 and cut a deal: that in return for a labor peace agreement in any ordinance they introduced to legalize cannabis businesses, the union was to pressure the council to vote “yes.”
Ament, Flint, and Sidhu–sometimes euphemistically referred to as “the cabal”–already had three votes locked up, including Councilman Jordan Brandman’s, who reportedly was one of their point men. But they needed a total of four to get it passed. That’s where UFCW Local 324 came in. They would mobilize members of their union to aggressively lobby any possible holdouts. And indeed, there is evidence this did in fact occur.
Anaheim wasn’t the only city UFCW Local 324 was committed to getting a labor peace agreement. For example, minutes of one Stanton City Council meeting reveal: “Mr. Derek Smith, Political Director, UFCW 324, submitted an e-comment requesting that the City consider the inclusion of ‘Labor Peace’ language that would provide clarity to the cannabis industry and future workers regarding the quality of jobs that are expected from the City.”
For reasons that aren’t clear, Ament, Flint, and Sidhu abandoned the idea of getting a cannabis ordinance passed by council. The November 2020 election led to Avelino Valencia III and Jose Diaz winning seats. Though backed by Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, they weren’t trusted. And Gloria Ma’ae–who opposed the original ordinance–later replaced Brandman. But in late 2021, a new strategy emerged, thanks to UFCW Local 324.
The Silva petition.
On Friday, October 15, 2021, the Anaheim City Clerk received a letter from Stacy Silva declaring that it was her “intention to circulate a petition” to gather signatures to put an initiative on the ballot entitled “The Anaheim Cannabis Regulation and Land Use Measure.” She filed all the required paperwork and paid a $200 filing fee. Silva instructed the city clerk that all correspondence be sent to her lawyer at his Woodland Hills office.
Silva’s lawyer was Bradley Hertz, an election law attorney who had done work for Ament. A Form 410 filed with the city clerk’s office on September 26, 2018 reveals he was treasurer of an independent expenditure committee called “No on L, a Project of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce,” which spent $932,053 in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat a measure which raised the wages of workers of hotels that received tax subsidies.
The text of the initiative Silva submitted was mostly a copy of the cannabis ordinance championed by Ament, Flint, and Sidhu in 2020. However, there were exceptions. First, the number of permitted cannabis retailers allowed to operate in the city was increased from from 20 to 30; one single entity could control up to five of them, instead of three. Second, the requirement workers be full-time to qualify for a labor peace agreement was scrapped.
Herein lies the “smoking gun” of UFCW Local 324’s alliance with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to legalize cannabis businesses. They first tried to pass an ordinance through the council, but failed. Now there was evidence they were collaborating on a ballot initiative. However, there is a catch. Ament had resigned before Silva filed her paperwork with the city clerk. That begs the question: who took his place?
Regardless of what the case might be, Silva withdrew her initiative on October 28th claiming it needed “minor edits.” Then she submitted a new version on November 22nd, which reinstated the requirement workers be full-time to qualify for a labor peace agreement. But after December 7th, everything stopped. When The Investigator asked City Clerk Theresa Bass what happened, she said Silva didn’t continue the filing process.
The Dalati petition.
Three months later, a new face appeared. Belal Dalati, a local real estate agent, walked into the city clerk’s office on Monday, March 21, 2022 with a letter notifying them it was his “intention to circulate a petition” to gather signatures to put a cannabis initiative on the ballot. Most of the paperwork he filed was identical to Silva’s. He used the same title, preamble, and law firm as a contact. But the text of the initiative was different.
Unlike Silva’s initiatives, Dalati’s came from Adam Spiker, of Spiker Rendon Consulting, Inc., a cannabis industry lobbyist located in downtown Los Angeles. The initiative he touted was very “pro-labor.” Not only did it drop the requirement workers be full-time to qualify for a labor peace agreement, but a points system was set up to give preferences to applicants of city licenses who had good employee and community benefits plans.
By May 16th, Dalati changed his mind. At the urging of Bill Taormina and Paul Kott, two local businessman who were opposed to legalizing cannabis businesses, he withdrew his initiative. In a text message Taormina sent to Councilman Trevor O’Neil, he alleged that “Bill Dahlati [sic] was forced into filing the petition by Jeff Flint and other ‘dope dealer’ promoters. He was actually threatened by them not to withdraw the petition ….”
In the days and weeks that followed, the public would learn–thanks to FBI affidavits released in court filings–this scandal wasn’t just about Sidhu and the stadium deal. At the very heart of it was Melahat Rafiei, a political consultant and Democratic Party operative, who is alleged to have committed various crimes in connection with the Anaheim Chamber Of Commerce’s attempt to legalize cannabis businesses.
However, in writing this article, The Investigator made a decision to mostly stay away from Rafiei. Why did we do this? First, her name didn’t pop up in anything having to do this story. Second, the FBI affidavits that have been released so far offer an incomplete and distorted view of what transpired. Third, the testimony offered in those affidavits are solely focused on proving violations of federal criminal laws. It doesn’t talk about what was legal.
Besides Rafiei, it’s erroneous to presume that everybody who worked along with Ament, Flint, and Sidhu to legalize cannabis businesses broke the law. Nothing can be further from the truth. The reality is, an overwhelming majority of people that ended up being dragged into this affair–including pretty much everybody we mentioned in this article–are innocent of any crimes. They are what we would call “victims of circumstance.”
The Investigatorknows despite our good faith efforts to gather accurate information for this article, what we have written isn’t the full story. And it’s possible a few corrections will need to be made as we learn more. But what’s important is we have exposed the biggest “secret” of this scandal: UFCW Local 324‘s alliance with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to legalize cannabis businesses. And it implicates Democrats and Republicans.
The political ramifications of this “secret” are political dynamite. For example, during last year’s election, in order to win the endorsement of the Orange County Register, then-candidate Aitken told the editors “the former mayor and his tightly knit ‘cabal’ were allowed to run roughshod at City Hall, and created a culture of intimidation for staff, management, concerned residents, and the smaller business community.”
What Aitken neglected to mention is UFCW Local 324, a major union of whom she has had close ties to since 2018, was involved in a “pot deal” with the same “former mayor and his tightly knit ‘cabal.'” Though there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, it does vastly complicate things. Maybe she didn’t know about it, but giving $350 worth of city-owned tickets to Smith, their political director, won’t help her in any pleas of innocence.
For matter of record, The Investigator asked for interviews or sent questions outto Belal Dalati, Harry Sidhu, Derek Smith, Stacy Silva, Adam Spiker and others we believed had knowledge about this matter. Most didn’t answer our emails or reply to voice messages. One person declined to speak citing ongoing “local and federal investigations.” Ashleigh Aitken ignored our request for comment on the Anaheim Ducks tickets she gave to Smith.
The job offer was set into motion shortly after Valencia sent out an email to James Vanderpool, the city manager, on Monday, July 26, 2021, expressing that he “would like to hire Dr. Tina Arias Miller as a Senior Policy Aide…. Dr. Miller will be working about 6-7 hours a week. Her hourly compensation will be $31.00 an hour.”
Valencia’s email to the city manager.
Documents The Investigator acquired from the City of Anaheim show that Miller worked for Valencia less than a year. A human resources action report notes she was hired on August 16, 2021. And her last day on the job was March 31, 2022, according to the final Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests that she filed.
However, it’s unclear what Miller did for the councilman that warranted her higher pay grade. For example, The Investigator carefully reviewed his calendar during the several months he employed her and though she was sent to a few city meetings, she appears to have spent most of her time doing tasks that lesser-paid council aides do.
But most importantly, Valencia took steps to ensure the public never knew he had hired her. At no time did he ever list Miller’s name on his homepage on the city website. And despite the fact she had an official email address, she was apparently told not to use it to send messages, enabling her to elude detection from public records act requests.
Robert Fabela, City Attorney for the City of Anaheim, speaking at a meeting of the Anaheim City Council earlier this year.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In a highly unusual chain of emails obtained from the City of Anaheim last year through the public records act, City Attorney Robert Fabela appears to have advised Councilman Avelino Valencia III to “lie” to The Anaheim Investigator about the underlying reasons why he handed out several thousand dollars worth of city-owned Angels baseball tickets to his campaign backers–something of which the city attorney has emphatically denied.
The emails in question, which were also shared with City Clerk Theresa Bass and Chief Communications OfficerMike Lyster, offers a rare glimpse into a system that holds nobody accountable for misusing any of the hundreds of tickets the city gets each year from Angel Stadium and Honda Center, allowing politicians like Valencia to give them away like candy to big donors, personal friends, and union leaders who helped get him elected.
In an attempt to learn more about the “good work” these people did, The Investigator sent Valencia an email on June 17th which listed the names of 22 individuals that public records showed were the recipients of his ticket largess between the months of April and May. “In the interest of full public disclosure, [we’re] requesting information as to the type of ‘volunteer public service’ each of the above persons are engaged in,” we wrote.
It wasn’t until in mid-July The Investigator learned Valencia was concerned about our inquiry into the reasons why he gave out tickets. A chain of emails obtained through the public records act showed that shortly after receiving our June 17th message, the councilman forwarded it to Fabela and Bass, asking them for help. “Please see the below email I received,” he said. “I would appreciate your advise [sic] and direction regarding the request.”
Within a half hour, Fabela issued a reply. The city attorney told Valencia he had “no obligation to respond” to The Investigator because it was “an ask for a verbal response.” Furthermore, he stated “policy” allows the councilman to “provide tickets not only for past service, but also to ‘attract’ service.” And finally, Fabela said if he does choose to respond, that this is “more of a public relations issue,” urging him to contact Lyster “to help him with … strategy.”
Forty minutes later, Bass followed up with an email backing one of Fabela’s points. “For reference, I am attaching a copy of our Ticket Policy — Section 5.0 states the conditions by which tickets may be distributed,” the city clerk told Valencia. “As noted by Rob, the policy allows for ‘attracting or rewarding volunteer public service’ which was noted on your Form 802, meeting the requirements of the policy and FPPC Form 802.”
Fabela’s email to Valencia.
The chain of emails The Investigator discovered–especially the one sent out by Fabela–offers us a behind-the-scenes look into why the ticket system has been constantly plagued with cronyism and corruption. Though part of problem lies with bad policies that have allowed council members to hijack it for political purposes, evidence we have unearthed seems to hint an overly compliant city bureaucracy might also be enabling this unethical behavior.
But it is what Fabela instructed him to do that is of great significance. Besides the fact he told Valencia that he could ignore The Investigator–and thus stonewall our inquiry–it appears he advised him to “lie” about the reason why he handed out those tickets, reminding the councilman that “policy” also allows him to “provide tickets … to ‘attract’ service”–a flimsy pretext which doesn’t require recipients to do any “volunteer public service.”
To better understand the context of Fabela’s advice, it was given after the councilmanhad already handed out tickets to 22 individuals–most of them campaign backers–between the months of April and May. And by reminding Valencia that “policy” also allows him to “provide tickets … to ‘attract’ service,” the city attorney hinted a different pretext could be used to justify what he did, thus “lie” about his reasons for distributing them.
What is most revealing about Fabela’s email is he never advised Valencia to truthfully answer The Investigator’s questions. Given that taxpayers own these tickets, one would think the city attorney would zealously guard their interests. Not so. Everything he wrote, whether intentional or not, encouraged the councilman to be deceptive. Even his suggestion Lyster be contacted to formulate a response hinted it be a spun narrative.
The emailthat Bass sent out, however, was more straightforward. The city clerk was correct when she told Valencia “policy allows for ‘attracting or rewarding volunteer public service’ which was noted on your Form 802, meeting the requirements of the policy and FPPC Form 802.” There is nothing on ticket disclosure forms which require council members to explain why they gave them away. But they do have to identify a “public purpose.”
A Form 802 that Valencia filed in April 2021.
It is not a strange coincidence that on every Form 802Valencia filed for each big donor, personal friend, and union leader that he gave city-owned Angels baseball tickets to, he listed “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service” as the “public purpose.” That’s because this “public purpose,” as it is currently written, contains a major loophole which enables council members to hand out tickets to anybody on a flimsy pretext.
This loophole was first noticed by Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly. While reviewing more than 1,539 ticket disclosure forms in 2019, he discovered a common pattern among council members who were abusing the system for their own selfish motives: they noted on each Form 802 they filed that they gave away tickets for the “public purpose” of “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.”
Upon further scrutiny, San Roman learned this “public purpose” allowed council members to disburse tickets for two entirely different reasons: they can give them to “reward” people for “volunteer public service” they have done; or give them to “attract” people to do “volunteer public service” in the future. Since council members aren’t obligated to explain why they gave them away, nobody ever knows which of these two they chose.
The ambiguous nature of this “public purpose” has created a loophole which council members have been all too eager to exploit: if tickets can be given away to “attract” people to do “volunteer public service” in the future, then the recipient doesn’t have to do anything to earn them. Over the years, this flimsy pretext has paved the way for doling them out to practically anybody–big donors, lobbyists, political operatives–you name it.
OC Weekly cover story on August 9, 2019.
For matter of record, The Investigator did reach out to Fabela seeking his comment for this article. We asked the city attorney point blank if in the advice he gave to Valencia that he was “encouraging him to be deceptive—if not ‘lie’ to us—should he have chosen to respond” to our inquiry requesting he provide “additional information about his reasons for handing out tickets to 22 people during the months of April and May 2021”
“The answer to your question is ‘no’ as your inquiry is based on a misreading of both the email and the City ticket policy,” said Fabela. “The question to the Council member incorrectly assumed that past public service is the only criteria allowed under the City’s ticket policy, and my email to the Council member corrects that and reflects what City policy actually states. I do not see how that could be interpreted as encouraging anyone to ‘lie.'”
Regardless of what the city attorney’s intent was, it’s quite evident that Valencia felt empowered by what he said to continue distributing tickets to campaign backers without fear of any repercussions. Though the councilman has been handing more of them out to local residents and non-profit groups, he still doles tickets to cronies who not only have helped get him elected to public office in the past, but will probably do so in the future.
Gerry Serrano (left), President of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, with Serina (right), his wife, at an event in Newport Beach in 2017.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In 2019, when Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, reviewed more than 1,539 ticket disclosure forms—Form 802sas they are called—to see who received the thousands of dollars worth of tickets the city got each year from Angel Stadium and Honda Center, he noticed an unusual practice: some council members were trying to avoid publicly disclosing the identity of persons they were really giving tickets to by reporting that they gave them to their spouse instead.
But documents The Investigator obtained under the California Public Records Act show Valencia may have tried to go further than this. An earlier Form 802 the councilman submitted offers prima facie evidence suggesting he made an attempt to hide Serina’s identity from public disclosure by using Serina Porras, her maiden name, instead of Serina Serrano, her married (and legal) one. If this form had been officially filed with the city under her maiden name, it would have been much harder to link her to Gerry.
Screenshot of the withdrawn Form 802 with Serina’s maiden name.
In a followup message, Torres told Serina that he got this information directly from the councilman. “I was unaware that we had your old name filed,” he typed. But in a stunning admission, he acknowledged to Serina he knew what her legal name was: “Frankly, I used Serina Serrano for this email thread because that was your apparent name based on your email address.” Indeed, The Investigator has an unredacted copy of her personal email address and can confirm he was using it to communicate with her.
Though Torres would later claim Valencia was “unaware of the name change,” all of this begs the question of how he knew Serina’s maiden name was Porras? Furthermore, the councilman himself most likely provided his city council assistant with her personal email address. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume since that email has Serrano as her last name, that’s how she identifies herself? Perhaps it should be noted she uses it as a last name on all of her identifiable social media accounts as well.
Under California state law, there are criminal statutes—specifically Penal Code 115—which make it a crime to file a false Form 802 with a government agency. For example, if a person knowingly files a document that contains inaccurate information, they could face a felony charge. However, a document has to have been officially filed with an agency before a prosecution can take place. That didn’t happen in this situation. The Form 802 in question was withdrawn and quickly replaced with a corrected version.
For matter of record, The Investigator emailed Valencia approximately three times requesting comment for this article. We wanted to know the reason why he felt motivated to use Serina’s maiden name on the original Form 802 he submitted, then later withdrew due to her questioning why it was being used. We were hoping that his reply would put our concerns about this matter to rest. But so far, the dapper councilman from District 4 hasn’t bothered responding to any of the messages we sent him.
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 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.
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.
Kris Murray with Mayor-elect Harry Sidhu and Amelia Castro (now a member of Anaheim First’s Board of Directors) at the Disneyland Hotel in 2018.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
A chain of emails the Anaheim Investigator recently obtained from the City of Anaheim during a routine California Public Records Act request strongly suggest that Kris Murray, a former Anaheim City Councilwoman, is working as a paid consultant for Anaheim First, a shadowy 501(c)3 nonprofit group created by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to promote its interests.
The first email in the chain, written by Xochitl Medrano, Director of Community Engagement for Anaheim First, consists of a message “reaching out” to David Belmer, Director of the Planning and Building Department, “on behalf of Leslie Swan and Kris Murray with Anaheim First,” inviting him to speak to their members later that month at the Chamber’s office near Angel Stadium.
It is reproduced here in its entirety:
From: Xochitl Medrano <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, June 10, 2019 12:10 PM
To: David Belmer <DBelmer@anaheim.net>
Cc: Leslie <Leslie@AnaheimFirst.com>
Subject: Inviting you to speak again to Anaheim First members
I tried leaving you a voicemail on your office line but I wanted to make sure you also have my email. My name is Xochitl Medrano and I am reaching out to you on behalf of Leslie Swan and Kris Murray with Anaheim First.
We would love for you to speak again to Anaheim First members at our Onboarding meetings to talk about how the city’s Planning & Building Department operates and what residents should know about zoning. We are hoping you are available on June 19th and June 26th (both at 5:30 pm at the Chamber).
If you can let us know at your earliest convenience that would be most helpful. Also, if you cannot attend and would be able to send someone that would be great too!
Xochitl Medrano. Director, Community Engagement ANAHEI’M FIRST
Hi Xochitl. I am out of town at a family reunion on the 19th but available on June 26. Does it work if I only attend on the 26th?
The next day, Leslie Swan, Director of Anaheim First, jumped in by sending out an email graciously thanking Belmer for “accepting to speak to the Anaheim First Neighborhood Leadership Council on June 26th.” But Swan then quietly added Murray to the discussion, using the email address of her political consulting firm, KLM Strategies:
From: Leslie Swan <email@example.com> Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2019 11:05 AM To: David Belmer <DBelmer@anaheim.net>; Xochitl Medrano <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Kris Murray <email@example.com> Subject: Re: Inviting you to speak again to Anaheim First members
Hi David, thank you for accepting to speak to the Anaheim First Neighborhood Leadership Council on June 26th. These are additional members, 10 for each district. We offered two dates for convenience purposes. Since we are splitting up the group in two sessions is there anyone in your office that could walk through the presentation you shared with us last September and Q and A’s? In our meeting here with the consultants, there was mention that many community members do not understand zoning and planning. We thought your presentation to Anaheim First Advisory Board in September is one that is on point with the process of the upcoming assessment. If you could assist us with someone from your office on the 19th it would be greatly appreciated. We are looking to have the meeting here at the Chamber 2099 S. State College Blvd. Suite 650, Anaheim at 5:30 pm. If there is any change on the location we will reach out to you. Enjoy your family reunion!
Leslie Swan Director Anaheim First 714-675-2044
2099 S. State College Anaheim, CA 92806
What role Murray has played in Anaheim First has been the subject of widespread speculation for several months now. Hundreds of photos reviewed by the Investigator clearly show Murray has been a visible presence at their secret meetings, including one held at the Anaheim Convention Center on March 13th where she was seated next to Councilman Jordan Brandman.
Mayor Sidhu speaks to members of Anaheim First during a secret meeting at the Convention Center while Brandman eats a salad and Murray snaps photos.
The emails the Investigator uncovered not only reveal that Murray’s involvement in Anaheim First is much deeper than what is publicly known, but they underscore the political nature of this group. Murray and Swan are friends of Mayor Sidhu. So is Xochitl‘s father, Ernesto Medrano. In fact, all three were guests at Sidhu’s victory party at his Anaheim Hills estate last December.
For matter of record, the Investigator sent two emails to Anaheim First asking for more information about Murray’s work for their group.
The following questions were posed:
Is she an employee or independent contractor? How much compensation is she getting? Is she being paid a regular salary? Or a flat fee?
A similar message was sent to Murray at the email address she uses for KLM Strategies.
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