Anaheim Seeks to Gag Council Members

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Denise Barnes during council meeting discussion on October 29.

Anaheim’s City Council majority is looking to institute a gag order of sorts on minority-faction council members by limiting how many times an elected official can agendize an issue for public discussion. 

The proposed changes – up for debate on Tuesday night – come after months of tense exchanges between the council majority, led by Mayor Harry Sidhu, and dissenting members over issues involving the Angels stadium lease and rent control efforts for seniors.

This week’s procedural change, proposed by Councilman Trevor O’Neil at the Oct. 29 meeting, comes after Councilman Jose Moreno was finally able to schedule a vote to release the Angel Stadium appraisal and a proposal to sunshine any final lease offer from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 30 days. 

Moreno tried to get the Council to vote on the items at the Oct. 29 meeting, but Sidhu made a motion to table all four of Moreno’s proposals, including a mobile home rent control ordinance and a just-cause eviction ordinance. The Council majority decided it didn’t need to debate or vote on the items. Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Jordan Brandman joined Moreno in his dissent of Sidhu’s move to close off debate. 

“After seeing repeated agenda items covering the same topics that have already received Council action, I want to ask that we bring an item forth at the next meeting to consider a policy change that addresses substantially similar council generated agenda items,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil’s proposed change is “If the requested item does not receive the support of at least two other Councilmembers, a Councilmember may not request that same item or a substantially similar item be agendized for a minimum of six months.” 

Sidhu and Councilwoman Lucille Kring supported O’Neil’s proposal. 

The same six-month restriction will also apply to “Council-initiated agenda items that the Council has considered or taken action on at a meeting (Including, but not limited to, by voting on, postponing or tabling) …” 

The proposed policy change won’t apply to Council deadlocks. 

While the Council has yet to vote on releasing the stadium appraisal or make a decision to sunshine any final proposal from the Angels for 30 days, or consider the just cause eviction notice, it did vote to receive and file the rent control ordinance in August so the city could track the statewide rent control law, which ultimately left out mobile home parks. The Council ultimately refused to pass a resolution supporting the statewide rent control law. 

Seniors living at Rancho La Paz mobile home park kicked off the rent control fight in March when they began petitioning both Anaheim and Fullerton councils for rent help since the park straddles both cities. Fullerton created a mobile home rent subsidy using federal grant money and Anaheim is in the process of creating a safety net program for all low-income seniors, regardless of housing type. The safety net isn’t expected to start until January and Rancho La Paz seniors had to sign their new leases at the beginning of November. 

If O’Neil’s proposal passes, it would be the second procedural change to a Councilmember’s agenda setting ability. 

Sidhu spearheaded the first change in beginning in December that requires two other Councilmembers’ support of a proposed item before it can be placed on an agenda. Before that, a Councilmember could schedule an agenda item without a second and third from two of their colleagues. 

The Mayor, Sidhu, can still schedule items on the agenda without the support of his colleagues. 

And the procedural change proposal doesn’t seem to restrict Sidhu’s agenda-setting power because it only refers to councilmembers. 

“The Mayor shall have the authority to place an item on a future agenda either during or outside of an open City Council meeting through the City Manager’s Office,” reads the policy. 

O’Neil also scheduled another proposal to review agenda requests at a future meeting, although it’s unclear how that proposal is going to work. 

“I want to address the process for placing items on the agenda that may involve hours and hours and or tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of staff time to prepare that effectively delay other pressing items that we should really be focusing our time on,” O’Neil said.  

He continued, “There are regular processes that other cities have in place … to have a more orderly process for items that come before them and I’d like to ask for an item to return at a future council meeting … with options on how we might create a system that allows for public vetting of Council driven items and allows Council and city staff prioritize what’s important.” 

Before O’Neil proposed the procedural changes, Barnes and Moreno lamented the Council majority for tabling Moreno’s four proposals that night. 

“I’m at a loss to the public and to the seniors that were counting on your City Council representing your interests,” Moreno said. “So, I urge the people of Anaheim to please consider what happened this evening and you talk with your neighbors about what happened this evening … I urge you to please come visit the mayor’s office, please come visit City Hall and tell them the story.” 

Barnes said the Council’s actions were “unconscionable.” 

“It just is unconscionable for people who go to church and say they want to be the leaders of our city but do not vote,” Barnes said.” And I want to work with you — I want to. But it just pains me that people have to see our city that cowers and will not lead. That we try to move forward, but we fumble every time.”

But Kring said the way Sidhu runs the meetings is no different than former Mayor Tom Tait. 

“I know a lot of people sitting on both ends of the dais have problems with how some of us voted and some of them have problems with how the mayor conducts meetings. Well, this year we’re back in the majority,” Kring said. 

Barnes and Moreno each sit at opposite ends of the Council during meetings. 

Kring continued, “The previous two years, I was not in the majority and Steve Faessel and myself we’re in that council. And that mayor had a very strong grip on that gavel. He did not allow debate if he felt you were going to go against what he said. He cut Kris Murray and I off at the knees more times than I can count. So, we’re not different. This mayor is not different.”

CorrectionAn earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the City Council voted for a resolution to support the statewide rent control law. We regret the error. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.