Back in June, Jordan Brandman joined a majority of his Anaheim City Council colleagues in voting against a proposed Arco station and convenience store in Anaheim Hills. By doing so, the council overturned the Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve the project–a rare, if not eyebrow-raising move. Indeed, Navaz Malik, a Shell station owner who appealed the Planning Commission’s approval and has contributed to Mayor Harry Sidhu’s campaigns, ending up maintaining a monopoly on the intersection in question, an outcome aided by his consultant Peter Mitchell.
Just how close is Brandman to Mitchell? A complaint delivered to the Orange County district attorney’s office Tuesday afternoon by longtime activist Duane Roberts offered an answer to the question: too close.
Roberts, who ran against Brandman for council last year, alleges the councilman violated “conflict of interest” provisions of the California Political Reform Act of 1974 because he didn’t abstain from a vote that carried a “material financial effect” for him personally since Mitchell is described as his “employer.”
That bombshell failed to detonate when brought before city council this week. “I have no business relationship with Pete Mitchell as my employer,” said Brandman. “I resigned from Southern California Group on November 30, 2018.”
Documents filed by the newly elected councilman in January stated he had held the title Vice President of Southern California Group, a Fullerton-based public affairs company where Mitchell appears in past filings as “manager,” and made a six-figure salary.
When Mitchell registered as a lobbyist for Malik on May 22, he did so under “P.M. Consulting Inc.” and went straight to work. “Normally, we support and are pushing businesses for development,” said Mitchell at a June 4 public hearing before council. “The question is this is a troubled project that should have had significant changes from the beginning.”
A council majority, including Brandman, agreed and voted 5-0 to deny the Arco station project proposed by Isa Bahu with one abstention and another absence. On June 18, a council majority, including Brandman, voted to adopt a resolution denying the Arco station. In response, Bahu filed a request for a rehearing claiming he didn’t get a “fair hearing” and that the council’s actions amounted to a “prejudicial abuse of discretion.” On July 16, a council majority, including Brandman, voted 5-2 to deny Bahu a rehearing.
In describing a “hidden financial relationship” between Brandman and Mitchell, the complaint also draws attention Springboard STG Fund I. That’s where Brandman reported on documents that he bought stock in the investment fund on October 18, 2018 with an assessed fair market value between $2,000 and $10,000.
Incorporated in Delaware but with an Irvine office listed, the document trail for Springboard STG Fund I leads back to Mitchell. “According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, this ‘investment fund’ is controlled by a venture capital firm founded by Mitchell,” the complaint states.
Brandman disputes that the investment should’ve been grounds for recusing from the vote, something he voluntarily brought up to be vetted. “The stock…was immaterial to Mr. Bahu’s project or any votes on it,” Brandman writes the Weekly. “Furthermore, I asked City Attorney Rob Fabela for guidance prior to the meeting, and he advised me that there was no conflict. There has been absolutely nothing inappropriate about my conduct or relationship with Mr. Mitchell.”
Fabela confirmed the conversation. “Based on the inquiry from the council member, it did not appear to be a clear recusable conflict under Fair Political Practice Commissions regulations regarding materiality,” he says in a statement to the Weekly.
Tying the relationship between Brandman and Mitchell closer still, Roberts points to the policy where council members are allowed to distribute an allotment of tickets to events at Honda Center and Angel Stadium under assigned public purposes. The complaint notes Mitchell and Southern California Group donated $4,000 to Brandman’s 2018 election campaign. Shortly after winning election, city documents suggest councilman Trevor O’Neil agreed to release his allotment to Brandman in reserving four concert tickets worth $1,000 for Mitchell to attend Elton John’s farewell tour at the Honda Center in September.
Only, Brandman reported the distribution on the 802 disclosure form as having gone to the Anaheim Police Association as a non-profit. Mitchell is a consultant for various police associations, including in Anaheim, but isn’t the Anaheim Police Association. The complaint asks the OCDA to investigate whether or not Brandman gave tickets to Mitchell but reported them under the Anaheim Police Association to shield the distribution from scrutiny as a felonious falsification.
Mitchell didn’t respond to a Weekly request for comment about the concert, but Brandman freely answered the questions surrounding it.
“Tickets were donated to the Anaheim Police Association and picked up on their behalf by Mr. Mitchell,” he writes. “On their behalf, he does significant volunteer work in our community, advocating for public safety and raising funds for the Anaheim Police Survivors and Scholarship Fund. This is good work, by a good organization, and for a noble cause. I have no qualms about supporting that.”
The ticket policy does outline a public purpose for ticket giving in attracting or rewarding volunteerism. Only, Mitchell received his concert tickets under the public purpose of the Anaheim Police Association as a nonprofit and not by name as a volunteer, something Roberts feels he shouldn’t be alone in umbrage over.
“There are hundreds of people in Anaheim who do significant volunteer work,” says Roberts. “Some teach children how to read. Others help the elderly. What does Brandman do? He gives $1,000 worth of free concert tickets to a lobbyist friend who lives in a three-million dollar house in Yorba Linda. Anaheim taxpayers should be outraged over this.”
Updated with quote from Anaheim city attorney Robert Fabela.