Archive for the tag “Trevor O'Neil”

Santa Ana Police Union Made $10,000 Donation to Blog Run by Political Consultant Tied to Anaheim Chamber

Matt Cunningham (left), Editor & Publisher of the OC Independent, with his wife Laura (right), President & CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

The Anaheim Investigator has acquired a copy of the draft minutes of the September 23, 2021 board meeting of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association which reports they made a $10,000 donation to the OC Independent, a right-wing news blog started last year by Matt Cunningham, a well-known political consultant with deep ties to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County Republican Party.

Reliable sources have told The Investigator that Cunningham, along with several associates, attended the September board meeting and delivered a presentation about his new blog, OC Independent, to members of that body. In addition, they claim shortly after he finished speaking, Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, actively lobbied the board to write out a check to help fund it.

The Investigator first became aware of this matter back in December when it obtained emails exchanged between police officers stating the owner of the Anaheim Independent had gotten $10,000 from Serrano for his new blog and alleged it might be used as a platform to attack certain Santa Ana politicians. The Anaheim Independent is the previous name of the Anaheim Observer, an older blog that Cunningham still operates.

Excerpt from the board meeting minutes.

This newfound alliance between Cunningham and Serrano is yet another unexpected twist in The Investigator’s ongoing coverage of the embattled police union president of whom, at least from our perspective, has made what could be aptly described as a Faustian bargain with a political consultant who is sometimes at odds with–if not been completely opposed to–the goals of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.

For example, on April 2, 2020, Cunningham made an urgent appeal to all of his Santa Ana friends on Facebook to vote “no” on the recall of Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias, a right-wing Republican the police union spent $341,000 to remove from her seat. Beneath his message was one of her anti-recall videos which not only portrayed Serrano as a greedy “union boss,” but characterized people like him as “bullies.”

Furthermore, Serrano’s alliance with Cunningham becomes even more bizarre over the fact the company the latter hired to set up the OC Independent website, HashtagPinpoint, is run by Pasquale Talarico, a former Deputy Chief of Staff for ex-State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, a politician who literally built his entire career on calling for drastic cuts to public employee pensions, especially for law enforcement personnel.

According to OpenSecrets, an independent, non-partisan organization which tracks the flow of money in U.S. politics, HashtagPinpoint earned about $40,500 from the Orange County Republican Party in 2020, making them their top vendor that year. Another one of their clients is the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, of which Cunningham’s wife, Laura, took over the reigns as President and CEO at the end of March.

Another firm tied to the OC Independent, albeit loosely, is GC Strategies, LLC, owned by Cameron Wessel. Earlier this year, Briana Walker, a Mission Viejo activist, not only discovered one of its employees was writing for this blog, but that Wessel opened an office a few doors down from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. Walker also noted he has a contract with the City of Anaheim to be Councilman Trevor O’Neil’s senior policy aide.

The Investigator has been aware for quite some time now that O’Neil is a close friend of Cunningham, even occasionally stumbling across email communications between the two during routine public records act requests. However, what is not known publicly is that both men have had a longstanding relationship with Fred Whitaker, a local attorney who has been chairman of the Orange County Republican Party since 2015.

Cunningham and Whitaker.

There is no evidence the OC Independent receives any direct funding from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But it is not a coincidence many political consultants with links to the Orange County Republican Party gravitate to this business advocacy group. This entity has always been an important hub of social networks for jobs because it is connected to many key players in industry and government.

For matter of record, The Investigator emailed several questions to Cunningham asking him about the $10,000 donation he received from the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, if he had conversations with Serrano or anybody else about the OC Independent running “negative articles about certain Santa Ana politicians,” and if he plans to approach other public employee unions for money to help fund this blog.

In response to our inquiry, Cunningham wrote the following:

OC Independent, like other independent news organizations, has a broad base of supporters to pursue its mission. We will not sell, share or trade our donors’ names or personal information with any other entity, nor send mailings to our donors on behalf of other organizations to respect donor privacy. As editor, I ensure our news stories are researched thoroughly, all subjects and stakeholders have an opportunity to comment, and then present the news to the public.

The Investigator also made three attempts to contact Serrano about this matter, emailing him questions quite similar to those we posed to Cunningham. But despite giving him an ample amount of time to issue a response, the police union president so far has not bothered replying to any of our messages. However, if we do eventually hear from him, we will most assuredly let our readers know.

Below is copy of the draft minutes of the September 23, 2021 board meeting of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.

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.

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