Anaheim officials appointed another council member with ties to the Chamber of Commerce and the Disney funded Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) political action committee – interests that were touched on in an explosive FBI corruption probe.
At their meeting Tuesday, Councilmembers voted 5-0-1 to appoint Norma Campos Kurtz, who was part of SOAR and was nominated by Councilman Stephen Faessel, to the empty seat on the dais out of 13 applicants. Councilman Jose Diaz abstained from the vote.
“If appointed, I commit to serving the district constituents of District 4 by making myself available to them and meeting with residents in their own neighborhoods. By ensuring that District 4 constituents experience the same quality of life as the residents of the other 5 districts in Anaheim,” Kurtz, an 18-year resident, told the council last night.
Residents raised concerns prior to the appointment that the council would select a candidate connected to resort interests amid the continued fallout of the FBI corruption probe.
Kurtz, who served as district director for former Assemblyman Tom Daly, took over a remaining two year term after former Councilman Avelino Valencia.
Valencia, who worked for Daly, was elected to the state Assembly in the same district Daly represented before he retired. Daly was also a former Anaheim mayor.
Federal agents allege Sidhu tried ramming the stadium deal through for $1 million in campaign contributions from the ball club. The former mayor has maintained he committed no wrongdoing and hasn’t been publicly charged with a crime.
It also comes after a controversial appointment in 2021, when the council majority appointed resort ally Gloria Ma’ae to a District 2 vacancy. Ma’ae narrowly lost the election to Councilman Carlos Leon.
Kurtz listed parking and traffic, short term rentals, high housing costs and code enforcement response as some of the issues people in the district are facing. She also wanted to bring more services for seniors.
Resort Industry Concerns
The decision came after residents expressed concerns about the resort industry’s influence during public comments.
Most recently, SOAR spent over $925,000 on helping the campaigns of Councilwomen Natalie Meeks and Natalie Rubalcava leading up to the November election.
“The cabal lives!” yelled a resident inside the council chambers following Tuesday’s appointment.
The FBI, through wiretapped phone conversations, highlighted a self-described “cabal” that heavily influenced policy making at city hall.
In a criminal complaint against former Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, FBI agents detailed a recorded conversation in December 2020 between Ament and an unnamed political consultant about inviting select unnamed council members to a secret retreat.
Ament referenced the chamber and its allies as the “cabal” in that conversation.
The former chamber CEO pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges and is expected to be sentenced March 24.
She did not mention either role on her application for the city council seat – something that drew criticism from residents during public comment.
In an email Wednesday, SOAR’s Executive Director Jill Kanzler said Kurtz has been an advisory board member for many years.
“As an active resident of Anaheim for more than 18 years, she understands the important role the resort district plays in generating revenue for city services that improve our residents quality of life like police, fire, parks and libraries,” Kanzler wrote.
“As is our custom, if a S.O.A.R. Advisory Board Member is appointed or elected to the city council, they no longer serve on the Board.”
Jeanine Robbins, a founder of People’s Homeless Task Force, called out Kurtz at Tuesday’s meeting for not including that information on her application and said the decision on the appointment had already been made.
“We’ve simply traded one cabal for another cabal – another cabal ruled by Disney money, ruled by special interests,” she said.
Councilmembers voted unanimously on Dec. 20 to fill the vacancy through an application and appointment process rather than a special election.
If council members failed to appointment a resident by Feb. 2, they would have been forced to call a special election as mandated by the city charter.
City staff estimate that the special election would have cost taxpayers between roughly $206,000 to $227,000.
Robbins, along with most other residents who spoke at the meeting, voiced support for the Anaheim Union High School District Board President Annemarie Randle-Trejo to be appointed to the vacant seat.
“I did want to voice my support for Annemarie Randle-Trejo,” said Mark Lopez, who also applied for the vacant position.
Lopez pointed out that Faessel had wanted to get someone with policy setting experience during the district 2 vacancy and wanted “someone who could hit the ground running” and had gained the community’s confidence.
“And what better way to have gained the confidence of the community than having been elected and then reelected by the voters in her district,” Lopez said.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken nominated Randle-Trejo, but she failed to receive enough support. Aitken, whose father Wylie Aitken chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors, ended up voting for Kurtz.
‘Are We Going to Have Change?’
Similar resident concerns surfaced around Ma’ae’s appointment in 2021 following the resignation of former district 2 city councilman Jordan Brandman.
She was a key member of Anaheim First and a resort industry ally who served on SOAR’s board.
Ma’ae ended up narrowly losing the November 2022 election to Carlos Leon – who had applied to the vacant seat in 2021 – despite receiving over $300,000 in support from SOAR.
In last year’s election, SOAR pumped over $1 million into the campaigns of Ma’ae as well as Councilwomen Natalie Meeks and Natalie Rubalcava.
Resident and meeting regular Kenneth Batiste called out SOAR Tuesday prior to the appointment and said the vote to fill the vacancy would be crucial to show if things in Anaheim have changed.
“The worst part about corruption is sometimes you can predict,” he said. “SOAR – Screw our Anaheim residents not Support Our Anaheim Residents. Residents are second.”
“So is it going to be the same? Are we going to have a change?”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.