Anaheim City Council members tonight are expected to decide just how far they want to go with a corruption probe into City Hall, one that could touch on the very Disneyland area resort interests that fund many of their campaigns. 

Their expected Tuesday discussion comes after most council members earlier this month told investigators with the JL Group to scale down the investigation and reduce its cost – despite investigators publicly telling council members they’ve found potential criminal misconduct.

Click here to watch Tuesday’s 5 p.m. city council meeting. 

The city investigation was launched after last year’s explosive revelations of an FBI corruption probe, in which federal agents allege Disneyland resort area interests and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce wielded outsized influence on policy making at City Hall.

The very interests that help fund city council campaigns. 

[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]

There’s a growing chorus of voices looking to city hall for credible leadership on restoring public trust badly damaged by the FBI revelations. 

“We’re calling for them to commit to continue the investigation because of some clear and blatant corruption that took place at the city level,” said Ely Flores, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development. 

In a Thursday phone interview, Flores said the city’s image could be scarred even further  if the council backs off anti corruption efforts. 

“Give the community answers,” Flores said. “If they stop this investigation from moving forward, we’re left with a big question mark on the city and a big stain on the city quite frankly.”

Since the scandal broke, community organizing in Anaheim has spiked with civic groups like OCCORD focusing more than ever on city hall. The community group is expected to bring up to 50 people with them on Tuesday, Flores said. 

Former Councilman Jose Moreno, who helped spearhead efforts to launch the investigation last year while still in office, echoed Flores’ remarks. 

Voting against the $750,000 increase for the probe would be “a tremendous lost opportunity for this council to remove the stain, to continue to cleanse the culture and perception of City Hall and the political leadership of Anaheim,” Moreno said in a Thursday phone interview. 

At the council’s Feb. 7 meeting, Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava said she was against doubling the investigation’s $750,000 cost, which was launched last August during the fallout of the FBI corruption probe. 

“It sounds like we’re kind of throwing numbers out. You’ve stated that you’re not really sure how much longer it can take. It’s sort of like an abyss of information we’re exploring at this point,” she said. 

Her colleague, Natalie Meeks echoed cost concerns. 

“I’m always concerned with a change order that comes in, doubling the scope or the cost of a project,” Meeks said. “It seems to me that at this point in your investigation, you should be able to give us a specific proposal now.”

[Read: Anaheim Leaders Rarely Question Spending Like They Do On Anti-Corruption Efforts]

Disneyland area resort interests backed both Rubalcava and Meeks heavily in their campaigns – especially Support Our Anaheim Resort, Disney’s main political spending vehicle in Orange County. 

Interests touched on by the FBI corruption investigation. 

SOAR spent nearly $547,000 on Meeks’ campaign alone, funding things like political mailers and digital advertising during last year’s election.  

Resort interests also spent heavily on Rubalcava, contributing about $380,000 to her campaign efforts, according to the most recent disclosures

“People recognize it’s a good chunk of money, I think people appreciate that the council wants to do its due diligence, but there’s no way they can pull back on the investigation at this point and expect anyone to trust their decisions,” Moreno said. 

In a Thursday editorial that referenced Voice of OC reporting, the Orange County Register’s editorial board criticized city council members for not increasing the spending.

“The new council cannot move forward with new business until local residents understand what went on before and are assured that new controls are in place,” the board wrote.

”This Editorial Board always looks askance at public spending, but we find it odd when officials who spend money rather freely suddenly become spendthrifts when it comes to funding oversight of their operations.” 

The newly elected council’s move to potentially scale down the investigation prompted calls from city watchdogs and the chair of the Orange County Democratic Party to dig as deep as it takes to root out any potential corruption. 

[Read: Calls Intensify for Anaheim’s City Leaders to Keep Promises to Root Out Corruption]

Now, Flores and OCCORD are encouraging residents across Orange County to show up and demand that investigators are allowed to finish the job they were hired to do. 

“We are encouraging community members and residents to head to the city and make their voices heard on the subject,” Flore said, adding that they’re also pushing for campaign finance reform in the city. 

Ely Flores, executive director of OCCORD, demands Anaheim City Councilmembers publicly commit to releasing the internal corruption probe into City Hall once it’s finished. Nov. 15, 2022. Credit: SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

But it doesn’t stop in Anaheim. 

“The issue of government transparency and campaign finance reforms extend beyond just Anaheim. We’re in talks with the City of Santa Ana for campaign finance reform also,” Flores said. “Because one of the things that has taken place – really across the board – is the power of special interest groups in elections” 

FBI agents also alleged former Mayor Harry Sidhu gave the Angels critical information during the stadium land sale negotiations in an effort to ram the deal through for $1 million in campaign support through independent expenditures. 

Sidhu has maintained he committed no wrongdoing and hasn’t been publicly charged with a crime. 

Former Councilman Moreno, who frequents numerous community meetings throughout Anaheim, also said he’s been hearing a lot of residents talking about showing up to Tuesday’s meeting. 

“I’m hearing a lot of conversations about that – about organizing around it,” Moreno said, adding some residents also expressed disenchantment with the new council because they remind them of previous ones who didn’t “take into account anything the people came out for.” 

While council members intensely questioned the investigation’s requested spending increase during the Feb. 7 meeting, they didn’t say much when they approved spending on palm tree lighting for the resort district, police helicopter engine overhauls and police dogs since taking office.

The investigators were purposely given a wide swath to work with by the previous city council last year. 

They were tasked with examining lobbying activity, campaign finances, and development projects and contracts stemming from those activities.

With all the campaign spending by resort interests during election season, Moreno said the council should approve the increased cost of the corruption investigation.  

“To do anything else on Tuesday night would cast a serious doubt on their ability to assert themselves as independent from those special interests that funded their campaigns. So if they want to assert their independence, this is the time to do it.” 

Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.


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