Mayor Harry Sidhu made a bold proclamation for the future of Anaheim last week in his fist State of the City speech. With criticisms of past councils paying too much attention to the Anaheim Resort to the detriment of the rest of the city, Sidhu announced an ambitious $250 million plan for neighborhood investment over the next 10 years. The mayor pledged $20 million from the next budget to kick off his key policy initiative, touting the help of “Anaheim First,” a privately formed advisory committee few have heard of.
“It’s not enough to say that we are going to invest in Anaheim neighborhoods,” Sidhu said. “We need to partner with Anaheim residents so that they drive the investment.”
Now, let’s invoke a little Abbott and Costello, shall we, in asking: Who’s on Anaheim First?
As the mayor’s address stated, Anaheim First came together last year at the behest of Visit Anaheim in partnership with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. There’s 30 current advisory committee members across the city’s six council districts. Over the next few weeks, they’ll help recruit 60 more people so that each district will have a 15-member crew. The original batch are described as a diverse bunch already active in civic life whether at churches, nonprofits, schools or elsewhere. Most important of all, Anaheim First is touted as “nonpolitical” on a question-and-answer sheet available on the city’s website.
“Some members have involvement with the city and some have even run for council,” the original Q&A sheet read. “But all were picked entirely on their nonpartisan involvement with the community.”
Is that so? When endorsements, campaign contributions, and other political activities of the Anaheim First crew are reviewed, it tells much a different tale; an overwhelming number of members are–surprise, surprise–tied to the resort cabal and its favored council candidates, past and present (see the Weekly‘s detailed listings at the bottom of this post for more!) And it just so happens that the advisory committee is especially stacked in Districts 1 and 3, which also just so happen to be areas represented by council members not backed by Disney and its resort allies.
The most explicitly political of the bunch are two failed city council candidates. Sergio Gonzalez, a retired fire fighter, began a campaign to represent Anaheim Hills last year but folded early on account of poor fundraising. Before that, he wrote a missive to residents published on Anaheim Blog–the resort cabal’s favored fetid swamp run by disgraced blogger Matt Cunningham–opposing a $15 an hour resort-area living wage initiative later dubbed Measure L and passed by voters in November. The other is Mitch Caldwell, a council candidate for central Anaheim who made it to the November ballot only to get a shellacking from incumbent councilman Jose F. Moreno; this despite having his coffers being stuffed by the Disneyland Resort through the Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) PAC.
“It’s not a coincidence that most of the people handpicked to sit on this committee are either backers of mayor Sidhu, his close allies or persons linked to organizations that support his agenda,” says Duane Roberts, a longtime activist and former District 2 council candidate. “By giving Anaheim First special treatment in deciding how millions of dollars in taxpayer money are spent, Sidhu is creating an army of loyalists that he can use to get out the vote for him in a future election. Remember, he only won 32.5 percent of the vote last November.” When he first heard of it, Roberts likened the advisory committee to a modern version of past political machines that operated in big cities during the Gilded Age.
In stark contrast, the city defines Anaheim First as nonpolitical and not all that different from past advisory committees and boards. “Anaheim First is a community group that we plan to take input from as we look at investment in neighborhoods,” says Mike Lyster, a city spokesman. “It is similar to what we did with Welcoming Anaheim and the Homeless Policy Working Group, where groups were invited to offer thoughts for consideration.”
When asked how many members came from the city’s identified “priority neighborhoods” that suffer from greater poverty, the city spokesman had no response, citing Anaheim First as a private group. Visit Anaheim didn’t respond to the Weekly‘s request for comment. Either way, there’s a key difference at hand.
In establishing the Welcome Anaheim Task Force, Moreno asked for council approval and got a 4-1 vote with 2 abstentions. In making it a mayoral task force, former mayor Tom Tait held sway over membership despite past protests by former councilwoman Kris Murray who felt every council member should have had appointing authority. Back in 2017, Moreno’s Homeless Policy Working Group got a 5-2 nod from council and held a more politically eclectic council-appointed crew from Mike Robbins of the advocacy orientated People’s Homeless Task Force to Esther Wallace of the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Council (WAND), a group that’s favored enforcement strategies.
Residents could also count on public meetings at city facilities with a measure of transparency. Not so with Anaheim First, formed without a whiff of democracy.
Lyster offered more parallels to past groups in response, including Anaheim’s former Neighborhood District Councils and the privately funded Anaheim Youth Services Assessment in 2012, which later brought recommendations to council following civic unrest in the city that year. “As with all of those examples, Anaheim First will be a source of input for the city to consider,” Lyster adds. “It will not direct spending or projects, rather we will hear from members about needs in their neighborhoods with staff, and ultimately, council, deciding on projects and budget priorities. We see city staff playing an informational role for Anaheim First, providing input about the city budget process and how projects work.”
Only, they’re dealing with $250 million in planned neighborhood investments for the next decade to come, including $20 million to start, with Anaheim borrowing half of that from an overfunded reserve fund for compensated employee absences. In following years, the city is anticipating big revenue to come from developments and investments in the Anaheim Resort and Platinum Triangle in continuing the Anaheim First initiative.
And, according to the previous version of the question-and-answer sheet, for all to be successful, “Anaheim First has to be nonpolitical.” Good luck with that!
Here’s the Weekly’s in-depth look into the Anaheim First advisory committee’s inaugural members, their political activities, and the Disney-backed council candidates (Steve Lodge, Lucille Kring, Harry Sidhu, Kris Murray, Jordan Brandman, Mitch Caldwell, Stephen Faessel) they’ve contributed to or endorsed between 2016-2018.
District 1 (Denise Barnes)
Jodie Mosley: WAND, Lodge endorser, 2016.
Abdulmageed Abdulrahman: Public Utilities Board, 2017 (Kring appointee), Kring contributor, 2016, Faessel contributor, 2016.
Orlando Perez: District 1 candidate, 2016, Housing and Community Development Commission, 2018 (Barnes appointee).
Kathy Tran: WAND, Lodge endorser, 2016.
Amanda Edinger: SOAR Advisory Committee, WAND, Lodge endorser, 2016. Former Lodge campaign manager, 2016. Current Faessel policy aide.
District 2 (Jordan Brandman)
Gloria Ma’ae: SOAR Advisory Committee, Caldwell contributor, 2018.
Peggy Kruse-Stodghill: PTA president, 2014.
Kay Carpenter: YMCA board member, Brandman contributor, 2018, Sidhu, Caldwell supporter, 2018.
Cecilia Aguilar: Realtor, Paul Kott Realty.
Tony Torres: More info needed.
District 3 (Jose F. Moreno)
Maribel Barrios: Sidhu, Caldwell supporter, 2018
Mitch Caldwell: District 3 candidate, 2018, Sidhu contributor, 2018.
Keith Olesen: Caldwell endorser and contributor, 2018, Kring and Faessel contributor, 2016, 2018 (respectively).
Angel Ureno: Caldwell endorser, 2018.
Danny Fierro: President of Presidio Strategic Communications, PR firm contracted by the Brandman and Caldwell campaigns in 2018. Former policy aide to Brandman, son of fired Anaheim city attorney Arturo Fierro, husband to Brandman’s current senior policy aide Felicia Fierro (who’s VP of PSC).
District 4 (Lucille Kring)
Martin Mercado: Chief’s Neighborhood Advisory Council.
Norma Kurtz: Legislative aide to Tom Daly, ACSD candidate, 2018, Housing and Community Development Commission, 2017 (Kring appointee).
Linda Newby: Past Anaheim Chamber of Commerce board member, Kring contributor, 2016, Murray endorser, 2010, 2014.
Pepe Avila: Visit Anaheim Tourism Development Director.
Frank Haselton: Sidhu contributor, 2018.
District 5 (Stephen Faessel)
Ernesto Medrano: LA/OC Building & Construction Trades Council, Public Utilities Board, 2017 (Faessel appointee), Opposed Measure L.
David Bartash: Faessel supporter, husband of Faessel council aide.
Lucas Walden: More info needed.
Diana Ramirez: More info needed.
Jeanette Saldivar Osaldi: Sidhu supporter, 2018. Mother of Juan Saldivar, Anaheim Youth Commissioner and Murray for Supervisor endorser, 2018.
District 6 (Trevor O’Neil)
Diana Flores: Noon supervisor, Canyon Rim Elementary.
Andrea Yamasaki: OUSD trustee, Sidhu endorser, 2018.
Sergio Gonzalez: District 6 candidate, Sidhu contributor, 2018.
Roy Jefferson: State Farm agent, Anaheim Hills Rotary Club.
Anthony Novello: Business Manager/Financial Secretary UA Local 582, Opposed Measure L.