Mayor’s $250 Million “Anaheim First” Initiative Stacked With Resort Lackeys

Sidhu promises a “Golden” Age for Anaheim. Photo from Sidhu for Mayor website

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.

30 Replies to “Mayor’s $250 Million “Anaheim First” Initiative Stacked With Resort Lackeys”

  1. Gabriel, I have to question who your source was for this writing. He obviously misguided you based on his own bias and distaste. The picture you paint and the facts listed for each member of Anaheim First focuses purely on who they voted for and list only one or two groups they have been involved in. The reader is left thinking the only thing I have ever done is being a member of SOAR. (I started my volunteer involvement when my neighborhood was plagued with drugs and gangs 20 years ago.)Keep an eye on our web page for biographical information on each of our members, if you are truly interested in the truth. There will always be people who thrive on projecting negativity and hate rather than encouragement and support if you are not aligned with their way of thinking. Anaheim First is a group of residents who have been involved out of concern for their neighborhoods and city first. We have people with different levels of experience, and knowledge, various ethnicity and ages. In my case, I am first generation Mexican-American. My parents were day laborers traveling up and down the coast picking whatever was in season. Raised in Santa Ana once my father joined the Teamster’s and became a construction worker. I moved to West Anaheim when I married. West Anaheim has been promised help since I can remember. In all of my years of involvement there has never been a mayor who publicly announced financial support for the problems that plague our neighborhoods. I am extremely grateful that funding has been committed to helping us. This is a first. Our group is prepared to do the work necessary to make educated decisions about the projects ahead. All I ask is that everyone keep an open mind and save your judgment until there is something to base it on. I look forward to a future article about the diversity of our members and the good work we are doing. God bless you.

    1. My source for you was SOAR’s own advisory committee membership listing and Caldwell’s 460 forms. The claims of Anaheim First being nonpolitical don’t hold muster when weighed in full.

      1. You are gauging our ability to represent our neighborhood based on who we support politically. I voted for Tait in the past so, now, what is my ” political alliance”? I sat on the SOAR board for years and my greatest advocacy was to bring the success of the resort directly to our neighborhoods. That is finally happening through Anaheim First. Mayor Sidhu saw our efforts as a viable group when presented with what Anaheim First was doing. And now, the financial commitment from the city will allow us to do even more. One question, If it were Councilman Moreno who put this group together would you have the same concerns?

        1. When you voted for Tait was that in 2010 when he was endorsed by SOAR or in 2014 when SOAR opposed him?

          To your last question about Moreno: yes, it would be objectionable. But you see, Sidhu didn’t put Anaheim First together. Nobody on council did. Visit Anaheim and the Chamber of Commerce did. The advisory committee has never come before council and that, too, is questionable.

          1. What difference does it make? I have never voted based on what SOAR or anyone else recommends. I am an independent free thinking woman not to be controlled or told what to think, do, or say, by anyone. Not even my husband.

            Why can’t you wait to express your opinion about our group until you know more about us? Get to know us than decide.

    2. You are also the same woman who threatened me with physical violence- I’ll base my opinion of you on that fact alone.

    3. Anaheim does not have 1 school in the top 100 in California, our parks are rated with Fresno and San Diego spends double per resident on the parks.
      Our police dept is the same size as Santa Ana while covering twice the area and 25 million visitors per year. 10% of the police force spend their days chasing homeless people around town till they die.
      The streets are a mess, unless you are in the resort area.
      The schools are begging for after school funding.

      We will see what Harry does.

  2. Anaheim First is a really diverse, non political group of actual residents who have proven historically they have been extremely active. Each time we reached out to ask for help, we didnt get it from the negative person behind this one sided article.
    I personally have been very passionately involved with district one far more than the blip introduces me as, and that’s ok, I’m very confident in who I am, and why i do it.
    This group gives our community hope. And we look forward now to the future.
    I just wish this article was fair, not just political….which is ironically what he’s accusing us of.
    I’m honored to be part of Anaheim First, and I personally will only do what would be good for district 1, not for ANY politician.

    1. I’ve seen your comments praising Sidhu on Anaheim Blog…

      Anyway, if y’all want to emulate Buena Park’s Beach Boulevard revamp, read my 2017 cover story on The Source!

      1. Since when should a group separate from city council have to be transparent? It’s completely separate from the city. What I dont understand is how or why this should even bother someone who should be paying attention to doing his own job, and applauding residents for wanting to help.
        Ultimately we just advise on which areas of each district could be focused on, and council would be voting anyways. Read that twice. But labeling members by who they once supported seems rather insignificant, unless of course you would like others to do that to you, Jose Moreno or anyone else. I personally dont think that’s very nice, you are trying to politicize this yourself. We just want to help our neighborhoods, soon as it got support from a respected mayor the ones who never helped us before certainly threw a tantrum.
        There isnt anything questionable about this group except your true intentions by going this far. It’s a great opportunity for those who are involved and fighting for the same neighborhoods they were fighting for a long time ago. It’s a very diverse group, and
        The only thing different is the whining from someone who cant stand that he hasn’t got control of it.

        Thank you Mayor for your support.

        And I cant wait to see what our future holds!

        1. Perhaps you can answer an unanswered question in my story…

          How many Anaheim First members are apartment tenants who live in any of Anaheim’s “priority neighborhoods” like ABC, Glen-Neighbors, Anna Drive, Wakefield?

          Since it’s a diverse bunch talking about future neighborhood investments and all, it shouldn’t be a hard question to answer. Or did the working poor get left out of the discussion?

          1. Im sorry, give me specific names of those how came to meetings, organized, volunteered with proved passion towards improving our neighborhoods. I don’t remember seeing them. I don’t owe an explanation for why the ones who have been involved all along need to prove themselves to those who all of a sudden want into a group they never cared of starting themselves.

            It’s ridiculous that you are trying to politicize this.

          2. In the ABC neighborhood, there’s Grupo de Padres en Accion. They put together community clean-ups, host community events and have a community garden. I’ve personally seen folks in that community organize bus stop pick ups for children going to school to ensure the utmost safety. Residents can clearly identify what their needs are and advocate for them.

            Now, did Anaheim First bother with reaching out to anyone in Grupo de Padres en Accion or any such groups in other communities? How is Anaheim First going to identify the needs and priorities for those neighborhoods going forward without them even being at the table? This is where the contrast is starkest between the Resort Area and the rest of Anaheim, something that’s preserved by the composition of Anaheim First.

        2. If you want to be taken serious by residents of Anaheim, you should be transparent. Transparency is a sign of true democracy and anti-corruption anywhere in the world. Lack of it, speaks to behind door transactions for very special interests. You know, the type all Americans are disgusted and tired of on the right and left. If your true aim is to do right by your community, than an article like this should be the least of your worries. Too many people out there trying to get rich on the tax payer for anyone to just trust “a resident wanting to help” that doesn’t believe in transparency.

          1. Laughable.
            Start your own group.
            When you’ve earned your respect, let everyone rag on you too. This is not a public, city council run group. They just now want it to be. Just like they ruined the neighborhood council that was run by and for neighbors…. and politicians insisted that was run by the city, and ruined that completely.
            I dont want to defend our group for every remark you make. Just start your own.
            We know who we are.

          2. That’s the point: anybody is free to start their own group. And if Anaheim First wants to exist, there’s no problem with that. But what gives this group special privileges to function as an advisory committee regarding hundreds of millions of neighborhood investments planned by the mayor over any other privately formed group?

            And then there’s the city’s claim that Anaheim First is nonpolitical, which after taking an honest look at the first 30 members is truly laughable!

  3. Stop building these resorts. Leave our town alone. Its a beautiful city. I have lived here all my life. Its becoming too crowded n too expensive. The real average hard working commuties r suffering. How many council members actually live in Anaheim. If u dont luve here ur on the bosrd for money n perks. ANAHEIM RESIDENTS ONLY SHOULD ONLY BE ON THE BOARD!!!!!!!!

  4. We are just getting started. Our organization will grow and include others. Again, give us a chance to build and grow before being critical of what you do not have a full understanding of. Time will tell.


  6. You are so right , a group to just RECALL the mayor to shut his resort and Disney agenda. A agenda that is all the money and he totally blew the angel deal not putting in the extension that they could not negotiate with any city. NOW THEY HAVE TO GIVE UP MORE TO KEEP THEM. His agenda support district six and DISNEYLAND. WE THE RESIDENT SHALL RISE UP AGAINST THE SYSTEM THAT REPRESENT THE RICH AND PRIVILEGED WHILE OUR PEOPLE GO HOMELESS/ FOOD INSINCERE.

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