Mayor Harry Sidhu (left) welcoming Gloria Ma’ae (right) to his “Victory Party” at his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
During the Tuesday, September 14th meeting of the Anaheim City Council, when Councilman Jose Moreno began raising objections to the “process” that body had chosen to select a replacement candidate for a councilman who had vacated his seat, hinting it was “preordained,” or rigged in favor of applicant Gloria Ma’ae, Mayor Harry Sidhu could barely contain his anger.
“Councilmember Moreno, I’m very much disappointed in you in bringing this up,” Sidhu said in a raised tone of voice. “It is one of the fairest process we’ve been through. We gave every applicant an opportunity to meet with the residents. We gave every opportunity for the residents to come out and speak, whether in favor, or whether in opposition of the candidates who applied.”
“It was given opportunity of the applicant to have one-to-one meet with the councilmembers,” he continued. “[T]he way it was done, was proper, giving everybody an opportunity to come and speak. I spoke, and I sat down with every applicant here …. [Y]ou’re trying to talk about unfair process is … in my opinion, is wrong. And this was a completely a transparent process…”
Likewise, at the September 14th council meeting, when Sidhu tried to rush through Ma’ae’s appointment with very little discussion or input, he said nothing about his close personal ties with her. Besides the fact Ma’ae is a known supporter of the mayor, she was a “special guest” at a “Victory Party” he held on his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.
Sidhu giving Ma’ae a hug.
The Investigator has roughly a dozen photographs of Ma’ae that were taken at the event. Besides the three we have published here, others show her mingling with then-Councilman Jordan Brandman and Lea Ament, the wife of Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber. In most photos, Ma’ae is seen with persons who would later be linked to Anaheim First.
Ma’ae chatting with Sidhu.
Despite what reservations The Investigator has about Moreno, he was correct: Ma’ae’s appointment was “preordained.” However, the “process” of selecting her really began in 2011 when she started participating in a “front group” called Support Our Anaheim Resort,run by a Newport Beach public relations expert hired by The Walt Disney Company and Anaheim Chamber.
Recently, “front groups” like SOAR, and now Anaheim First, have been one mechanism the resort elite has used to vet candidates for appointment to various boards, commissions and city council seats. The decision to put Ma’ae on the council was years in the making. That doesn’t mean Sidhu’s role should be discounted. But he’s just a cog in a much bigger political machine.
Councilman Avelino Valencia III gave city-owned Angels tickets to the wife of the president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
A careful review of all the Form 802s that Councilman Avelino Valencia III filed in April and May reveals he gave 28 city-owned Angels baseball tickets worth $5,740 to 13 campaign backers who spent $38,938 to help him get elected to his seat. That number reflects 60% of all the tickets the councilman has handed out during those months especially if one takes into consideration the fact a Long Beach supporter got tickets twice.
For example, a Form 802 the councilman filed last month states he gave Serina Serrano two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Dodgers game on May 8th. Besides the fact Serina works for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, her husband is Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. Public records show Gerry and his union made $2,850 in campaign contributions to Valencia in 2020.
Many recipients of free tickets earn six-figure incomes.
In the article The Anaheim Investigator published on June 1st, we reported about the Form 802sValencia filed in April, pointing out that of the ten people he gave tickets to that month, eight were close friends and campaign backers of his. Five had close ties to unions that each made a $2,100 contribution to his city council campaign last year. Two were top Democratic Party operatives. And most don’t live in Anaheim.
The councilman’s filings for May show a similar pattern of behavior. Out of the 13 people he gave tickets to, ten were also friends and backers. Nine of them–or 70% of all the persons who received tickets that month–either contributed money directly to his city council campaign, or have close ties to unions that did. One is linked to a committee that spent $24,288.20 on his election. And again, most aren’t residents of this city.
Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Political Education and Legislative Fund (ID# 850568) made a $500 contribution on June 26, 2020.
Between April and May, Valencia gave 28 city-owned Angels baseball tickets worth $5,740 to 13 campaign backers who spent $38,938 on his election–a whopping 60% of all tickets he handed out during those months. We determined this by gathering names from all the Form 802s that he filed, running them through various databases to identify who they were, and cross-referencing them with available campaign finance data.
On June 17th, The Investigator sent out an email to Valencia with a list of names of the 22 people who received tickets from him requesting more information about the type of “volunteer public service” each of them engaged in. “The rationale you gave in all of these cases is that tickets were given ostensibly for the purpose of ‘attracting or rewarding volunteer public service,'” we wrote. But he never responded to our inquiry.
For matter of record, Valencia isn’t the only council member who has hijacked the city’s ticket system for selfish political purposes. His abuses are roughly comparable to those of Councilman Jordan Brandman, whose Form 802 filings this year are also highly questionable. Though Brandman has handed out less tickets than Valencia, both have given them to some of the same people–a matter we’ll report about in the future.
According to a Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed on August 8, 2018, Brandmanreported at that timehe was “Vice-President” of the Southern California Group, earning “over $100,000” in salary from them. He listed their primary business activity as “strategic public affairs.”
The ECAdescribes its mission as serving the “infrastructure contractors of Southern California through project-based advocacy, labor-management relations, political action and fair public policy.” Most of its members are heavy construction companies that bid on public works projects.
Sorem and Brandman(both on the left) at an ECA event in 2017.
Last Wednesday, The Investigator sent out an email message to Brandman and Claudia Perez, his Senior Policy Aide, to request more information about the type of “volunteer public service” that Sorem has been involved in. So far neither of them have responded to our inquiry.
Councilman Avelino Valencia III gave $3,280 worth of city-owned Angels tickets to close friends, campaign backers, and top Democrats in April.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
Before Councilman Avelino Valencia III was elected to his seat, he told a reporter from Anaheim Exclusivo what his main priority would be. “I would like the residents of Anaheim to know that I am dedicating the next four years of my life to improving the quality of life for our residents,” he said. “I will be selfless in those endeavors; I will put the residents’ needs first.”
But there is an old adage about politicians: watch what they do, not what they say. And evidence is mounting that there is a big difference between Valencia’s behavior as a councilman and his rhetoric as a candidate. Thanks to Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, we know as a fact that this happens to be the case.
In an article San Roman recently posted on his Slingshot blog, he observed that with the reopening of Angel Stadium and Honda Center due to relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, a once “dormant political patronage system” has sprung back to life “with Anaheim city council members able to dole out free tickets to their well-connected friends and political backers again.”
In reviewing the latest filings for April, he discovered not much had changed. For example, Councilman Jordan Brandman, who is a notorious peddler of city-owned tickets to lobbyists, campaign contributors, and even his former employer, gave two Angels tickets worth $410 to a businessman who appears to have been one of his clients at a previous job.
Even Valencia has gotten tickets.
The most astonishing revelations, however, came from Valencia’s filings. Being a newcomer, one thinks he would have been a bit more circumspect in his actions. But San Roman reported that his Form 802s showed the councilman freely gave away tickets to close friends, trade union leaders who helped finance his campaign, and known Democratic Party operatives.
In response, The Anaheim Investigator launched its own investigation into this matter and carefully scrutinized all of the Form 802s Valencia filed in the month of April. The documents not only corroborate the initial claims San Roman made in his piece, but new information has been uncovered which reveals that what he reported was just the tip of the iceberg.
The Form 802s show Valencia gave tickets to ten people, eight of which could be positively identified. Of those eight, all are “well-connected friends and political backers” of the councilman. Five have close ties to unions that each made a $2,100 contribution to his city council campaign last year. Two are top Democratic Party operatives. And most don’t live in Anaheim.
Below is a list of persons of who benefited from his largess: ERNESTO MEDRANO
On all of the Form 802s that Valenica filed, he stated he gave away tickets for the purpose of “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.” Maybe so. Perhaps he wanted to encourage charity work in Irvine, Santa Ana, and Long Beach. And it could be a coincidence half of the recipients of his tickets apparently helped steer large amounts of cash into his city council campaign.
But the evidence speaks for itself. The Form 802s make a mockery of Valencia‘s promise to “put the residents’ needs first.” That he decided to shower close friends, trade union leaders who helped finance his campaign, and top Democratic Party operatives–most of whom don’t live in Anaheim–with $3,280 worth of tickets demonstrate that his priorities lie elsewhere.
Indeed, The Investigator believes he is only using his seat on the Anaheim City Council as a stepping stone to get elected to the state legislature in the 69th State Assembly District. After all, Tom Daly, his boss, is termed out in 2024. But to do that, he’ll need to build a base of support not only in Anaheim, but in Santa Ana. That’s where giving away free tickets comes in handy.
For matter of record, Valencia isn’t the only politician in this town who has taken advantage of the ticket system and exploited it for selfish political purposes. Sometime in the future, The Investigatorplans to publish more in-depth articles like this one exposing how past and present council members, both Democrat and Republican alike, have done similar things.
Rohan Sidhu (left) stands next to his father, Harry Sidhu, the night he was sworn in as mayor of Anaheim in December 2018.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
It almost didn’t happen, but at the end of the April 21st meeting of the Anaheim City Council, just as Mayor Harry Sidhu was making his final closing remarks, Councilwoman Lucille Kring abruptly interrupted him.
“Mis… Mister Mayor, first of all, I forgot to do an agenda item,” Kring interjected.
“O.K., Councilmember Kring. Go ahead,” Sidhu replied, sounding a bit exasperated.
“Really, really, really, really fast,” said Kring.
Then she continued:
Colleagues and members of the public as you may recall a few months ago I asked the staff to work with me to prepare an ordinance for our consideration to legalize cannabis businesses in Anaheim consistent with state law and in the alternative to bring to us a resolution to place the question of cannabis businesses before the voters in November. The work on that project has been slowed down somewhat because of the Coronavirus, but we are back up and running. If I would ask staff to finish up that work on the ordinance and bring it back to us at the next council meeting May the 5th, the ordinance can be reviewed and discussed by the council, and we may choose to adopt it. We may also decide that it is better to let the voters weigh in on this issue. So if the ordinance is not adopted on May 5th, then I’d like it to be ready to bring back on May 12th to put it on the November ballot. Either way, we’ll also need to place a ballot of a local cannabis tax measure so we can do that at a later date….
“I’m asking for a second and a third on my cannabis ordinance, ” Kring stated.
Councilman Jordan Brandman seconded her motion.
“I will do the third, not a problem Councilwoman. I will do the third. So it is agendized,” replied Sidhu.
Up until this moment, nobody has really known exactly what Mayor Sidhu’s opinions have been on the issue of cannabis. But for quite some time now, TheAnaheim Investigator has been well aware of what Rohan Sidhu, his 23-year old son, thinks about it. In fact, if the City of Anaheim decides to legalize cannabis businesses, he is well-positioned to get rich from it.
The Mayor’s Son is a ‘Pot Entrepreneur’
Evidence The Investigatorhas uncovered shows that Mayor Sidhu’s son is a “pot entrepreneur.” Not only does Rohan run a firm that offers “design and operational consulting for the legal cannabis industry,” helping secure licenses for cannabis businesses across the state, but he boasts that he helped set up “OC’s largest Type 6 cannabis oil Extraction and Distillation facility” in 2018.
But the information posted on Rohan’s LinkedIn page is more revealing. He states that RSSC LLC was founded in January 2018–not August 2018–as was suggested in the document he filed with the Secretary of State. But to his credit, he goes into detail about what kind of “work” his firm really does: it helps cannabis businesses get their licenses and permits to operate legally.
Founder RSSC LLC * Full-time Jan 2018 – Present * 2 yrs 4 mos Orange County, California Area
Design and Operational consulting for the legal Cannabis industry. With our team of engineers, architects, attorneys, policy consultants, and designers we can make your cannabis industry dreams come true.
Our team is responsible for securing over 25 MCSB/BCC state issued cannabis licenses, across the state of California.
We can help guide you through State and City licensing processes and procedures for the Cannabis Industry.
We have over 15 client facilities currently operating compliantly, through the state.
We have expertise in Type 6, Type 7, Type N Cultivation Facilities, Distribution/Transportation, Retail, and Testing Lab design/management/compliance.
Consider us your allies through the states venture into legalization, and legislation. We can help interpret CA’s new laws, so you can operate your facilities without worry.
Co-Founder – CTO SW Ventures LLC * Full-time Jan 2018 – May 2018 * 5 mos Costa Mesa
Conception and design of OC’s largest Type 6 cannabis oil Extraction and Distillation facility. Developed a successful CUP application, with supplementary documents, for Costa Mesa City, approved by Planning Commission and City Council with 0 comments/concerns.
a Conditional Use Permit for a marijuana manufacturing and distribution facility (SW Ventures, LLC) within a 7,178-square-foot tenant space of an existing industrial building. The proposed facility will include ethanol cannabis extraction, distillation, packaging and formulation and distribution of the final product in vaping pens, tablets/capsules, and edibles. Rooms include extraction and distillation, storage and packaging, and ancillary offices. Vehicles used for the distribution of cannabis products will be pulled into a secured area inside the building. The facility will have security systems (card readers, security cameras, etc.) throughout the facility. No cultivation of marijuana, or marijuana dispensary, is permitted.
Given Anaheim’s historically low electricity rates, easy access to freeways, and large market of consumers–which also includes millions of tourists–it is not inconceivable it could become the “weed capital” of Orange County. Regardless, Mayor Sidhu’s son is well-positioned to get rich from it. And any vote his father makes in favor of legalization of cannabis businesses is a vote to make that possible.
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 <email@example.com>
Sent: Monday, June 10, 2019 12:10 PM
To: David Belmer <DBelmer@anaheim.net>
Cc: Leslie <Leslie@AnaheimFirst.com>
Subject: Inviting you to speak again to Anaheim First members
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org> Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2019 11:05 AM To: David Belmer <DBelmer@anaheim.net>; Xochitl Medrano <email@example.com>; Kris Murray <firstname.lastname@example.org> 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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