Years before an FBI corruption probe rocked city hall, Anaheim residents had routinely been vocal at public meetings about their feelings toward city council and the decisions a majority of elected officials have made on their behalf.
Whether it’s seniors living at a mobile home park calling for rent control, business owners calling for their city council to recognize the Little Arabia business district or even residents raising concerns and questioning the Angels Stadium land sale and the negotiation process – they’ve spoken out.
But a majority of the city council members have ignored their requests and concerns.
Last night, they couldn’t.
On Tuesday, around 60 residents and community members showed up to sound off on the stadium deal and the city council members who helped ram the deal through.
Only this time, their comments came one week after the disclosure of a federal corruption investigation into Former Mayor Harry Sidhu and Former Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament came to light in which FBI agents alleged a small covert group of individuals really run things in Anaheim.
“I never thought that we would actually see the day when the Federal Bureau of Investigations would take down Harry Sidhu. It’s almost unthinkable. If you told me that a year ago, I’d say ‘No way.’”Resident Daniel Robbins at the meeting.
Jeanine Robbins, Daniel’s mother and a founder of People’s Homeless Task Force, has routinely spoken out against the stadium deal.
“This Angel Stadium deal needs to end. I have a statement for all of you, all of you who were involved in this illegal Angel Stadium deal. Trevor, Steve, Avelino, Gloria with her Anaheim first and Jose Diaz – you must all be terrified,” she said.
“You don’t know what to do up there. You’ve been told what to do the entire time that you’ve been sitting up there. Now there is no one to direct you. And oh my god, you’re expected to think for yourself. The horror, the horror of having to think for yourself. You have no one to talk to because you don’t know who might be wearing a wire,” Robbins continued.
“Let me tell you something. I’m Mexican American second generation. And I strongly identify with the comment that Christopher Zapata told Rob Fabela – you fucked with the wrong Mexican.”
After almost three hours of public comment, city council members – some who had initially voted to pass the Angel Stadium deal – unanimously voted to squash the land sale.
The decision came the same day Sidhu’s resignation went into effect following federal allegations that he helped push the deal through in order to get Angel executives to fund his reelection campaign to the tune of $1 million.
“This is an embarrassment not only to the people of Anaheim, but to the Republican Party. What else is going to be done if he is found guilty, he is obviously guilty. What! He [Harry Sidhu] resigns? That’s it?” said Jesse Shave who spoke during public comments, adding he voted for former President Donald Trump.
“He needs to be put in jail and prison. But not only that, what about the people from Anaheim or the person he was dealing with from the Angels? That person needs to be investigated and arrested. And they both need to be sent to jail, because they need to be made an example of because if not, it’s going to happen again and again, Basta!” He continued as the audience clapped in support.
Council members have said they were shocked about the allegations that have come to light, but many residents Voice of OC has spoken to over the past week are not surprised and suspect from their experience and reading the FBI allegation that more of them are involved.
They have also been questioning how their elected officials could be shocked when they have spoken out for years about “pay to play” politics in Anaheim for years.
“For those of you mentioned in the FBI documents, you shouldn’t feel comfortable. At the very least you’ve got some soul searching to do,” said Cynthia Ward, a resident and former staff aide to former council member Denise Barnes.
“When you sell your soul to sit at the popular kids table during recess, when you go along with silencing your opposition at this microphone on those seats with your colleagues, you’re feeding into and enabling Harry Sidhu time and time again.”Cynthia Ward, a resident and former staff aide to former council member Denise Barnes
“You had the chance to question what was happening.”
Here’s a glimpse at the faces of some of the people who took to the podium last night and the messages they delivered to their city council members:
Disillusioned with the city he used to work for, where council members were sentenced to prison for misusing public funds, William Trevilla, a former city worker for Bell, spoke of the corruption he had lived through.
“And because there’s corruption, I bring this up, because I live with experience, and I know this firsthand this apple doesn’t fall far from the truth,” said Trevilla, “I moved to city of Anaheim in 2017. And that’s where I met Kenneth, my neighbor, and he told me about all this corruption that’s going on with the city.”
“The question I always ask is, if my neighbor, Kenneth, who is not even a council member knew about this corruption? How did you guys not know about this?” Trevilla continued, “You are equally as guilty as the former city mayor, if you guys stayed quiet.”
“At this moment the residents of Anaheim do not have an inclusive democracy in the City of Anaheim. A pillar of this type of democracy is an economic democracy; which is shifting the decision making power from corporate managers and corporate shell shareholders to a large group of public stakeholders, including workers and residents,” said Ely Flores, executive director for OCCORD.
“The sale of the Angel Stadium is highlighting the corruption, lack of transparency and lack of public input regarding the land that belongs not to a single politician, but to all taxpayers of Anaheim. We call on the city council to halt the sale of the king of the stadium and negotiate with real transparency and public input.”
“In the midst of the pandemic and moments when residents in Anaheim were dying due to complications of COVID and struggling to pay for food and rent, our mayor and the majority council were in negotiation deals and accepting campaign contributions with no benefit and transparency to the public,” Marisol Ramirez, OCCORD Director of Programs and Development and Anaheim resident, said.
“As residents we all have eyes on the corruption that is taking place inside the walls of city hall. Our city includes major businesses and corporations such as Disneyland, Angel Stadium and home to major entertainment, our convention center and Honda Center” said Ramiriez, “ what role have all these entities played in influencing contracts and city elections with little to no community benefit? Everyone is watching.”
For many of the Anaheim residents like Mark Lopez, a resident and local school district trustee, this is a very inspiring time in the city and not a dark one.
Lopez was watching the meeting from home before he decided to head down to city hall and speak
He compared the FBI investigation to going to the dentist.
“If you have a toothache, and you don’t go to the dentist to find out what the problem is, it doesn’t get better. The cavity doesn’t go away. So having the light shed on this is important to see what the problem is.”Mark Lopez, a resident and local school district trustee
“You go and you get X-rays, you find proof or in this case, an affidavit from the FBI, to find out what you can remove now,” he said, noting Sidhu’s resignation.
“But when you get the X-rays, you also realize there might be some other teeth that need to be pulled as well.”
While residents criticized a majority of the council members for siding with Sidhu on decisions like the stadium deal, they praised Councilman Jose Moreno for standing with them.
“Congratulations to Councilman Moreno, I’ve never met you but you are my hero tonight,” said longtime resident Harry Shankar Lal.
Some residents even called for Moreno to be appointed as the Mayor.
The stadium deal wasn’t the only thing residents sounded off about on Tuesday.
One of the issues residents brought up at the city council was Little Arabia.
For at least a decade, small business owners and residents have been pushing city council members to put up signs officially recognizing a corridor on Brookhurst street as Little Arabia.
But Sidhu and his council majority refused to even bring up the signs for a discussion.
Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder of the Arab American Civic Council, told the Voice of OC last week that he met with Sidhu to discuss Little Arabia in 2019.
In the meeting, Al-Dabbagh said, Sidhu pointed out that the Arab American community held a fundraiser for his opponent Ashleigh Aitken at a restaurant in Little Arabia prior to the 2018 election and that Sidhu would not support recognizing the area as Little Arabia.
Residents called out Sidhu’s actions.
“We just heard recently that Mayor Sidhu completely refused to agendize a Little Arabia designation solely because they fundraised for Ashleigh Aitken and you all here sat and allowed that. What else did you allow?” Jorge Gavino, resident and president of the Anaheim Democrats, said.
Aitken – whose father, Wylie, serves as chairman of the Voice of OC board of directors – apologized to the Arab American community and called for Little Arabia to be recognized.
Mirvette Judeh, a leader in the Arab American community, called out the council majority for siding with Sidhu instead of the residents on issues like Little Arabia and the stadium deal.
“First request I have as an Arab American is that you finally agendize the Little Arabia project and that you actually pass it,” she said. “Second of all, cancel the damn Angels deal. Move on. It’s done. Don’t go down with it.”
Judeh said she hopes that the guilty parties in the corruption probe are held accountable.
“Whoever walks like a mouse, sounds like a mouse – is a mouse and every one of them I hope they get caught in the rat trap and get put in prison and never again represent any of their people,” she said.
“And may this be a lesson for any other city officials out there or any representatives in the United States of America that think that they could cheat the people because In God We Trust.”Mirvette Judeh, a leader in the Arab American community
It wasn’t just calls for Little Arabia that went ignored.
Small immigrant business owners in Sunkist Plaza called on city council members for help last year and rallied hard against a developer who plans to convert the plaza into a car wash and gas station.
Their pleas for help went unanswered.
Instead most of the council including Sidhu sided with the LA based developer who hired Jeff Flint to help them “understand Anaheim politics” and get the project passed.
Business owners have since relocated or are looking for a new location for their business.
One of the owners – Sandie Schwaiger of the iconic Jagerhaus restaurant – died and the Jagerhaus ended up closing.
One of Schwaiger’s last fights before she passed was trying to stop business owners in the plaza from being displaced.
Rosalinda Viveros, one of those business owners, spoke out on Tuesday.
“We are kind of like the victims of this corruption,” she told the council. “For sure you destroyed our businesses. You almost destroyed our families. Many people got affected (by) what you did.”
Viveros thanked God that the FBI was paying attention and that the alleged corruption didn’t just revolve around the Angel Stadium deal.
“You should feel guilty. You should feel ashamed with your family. I don’t know if you have a kid. But you know what my daughter is over there and she’s proud of me. I hope your kid can say the same to you.”Rosalinda Viveros, former Anaheim business owner, told Councilman Trevor O’Neil who voted in favor of the developers
Viveros, who was friends with Schwaiger, isn’t the only resident to watch a neighbor die in Anaheim.
Rancho La Paz
Back in 2019, residents at the Rancho La Paz Senior Mobile Home – which straddles Anaheim and Fullerton – advocated for cities to pass ordinances that would stop high rent increases.
Instead, Sidhu tabled a proposed rent control ordinance in October 2019, allowing their rents to go up the next day.
Lupe Ramirez, a Rancho La Paz mobile home park resident and advocate, said on Tuesday almost 20 people in the park died from stress related illness after the council’s inaction.
“We had 19 People in our park die of stress related illness, you kill old people! On top of everything else that you don’t want to do, that you wouldn’t want to live up to, one of your previous council members even nicknamed me, the nasty lady for my job and I took that proudly because no one else was listening.”Lupe Ramirez, a Rancho La Paz mobile home park resident
“We came here over three years ago, begging you guys to help seniors who receive $400, $300 increases in their rent and people on social security who could not afford it. People who had to make the choice between taking medicine, paying their rent, buying food,” Ramirez said.
“The jackass man that bought our property, you’ve taken money from! You’ve taken money from! You’ve taken the money from! You are taking money from John Saunders. How much can you buy for $2,000? If that was the limit, I can’t buy a decent used car for 2000,” she continued.
“Damn you all.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Julie Leopo is the director of photography at Voice of OC. Contact her at Jleopo@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @julieleopo
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