Anaheim City Council members’ attendance earlier this summer at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon is raising concerns they could have violated state open meeting laws by potentially discussing city policies amongst themselves while gathering with business leaders. 

The June 6 luncheon, which was first reported by the Anaheim Investigator blog on Monday, included six of the seven city council members, raising questions about whether city officials violated the state’s chief transparency law. 

The Brown Act aims to keep government deliberations public, barring a majority of city council members from discussing most city policies outside of public view.

The annual event, touted by the chamber as the “2023 Anaheim Chamber Luncheon at Angel Stadium,” brought together longtime Angel pitchers with business leaders and the Loara Little League, sponsored by Visit Anaheim, the city’s tourism bureau.

According to the Chamber’s website, individual tickets to get into the luncheon cost $200 each, with larger sponsors paying as much as $10,000 to attend the event. 

Chamber CEO Laura Cunningham and city council members attending the event didn’t respond to Voice of OC requests about where they sat at the event or how they handled potential conflicts with the state law. 

The Brown Act only allows very narrow exceptions for allowing a majority to engage in behind-closed-door deliberations  –  things like personnel matters, litigation or land sales. 

To read the Brown Act, click here.

The revelation of the Angel Stadium luncheon comes on the heels of two different investigative probes that raised questions about a culture at Anaheim city hall that ignores California’s standards for open meetings and records. 

The luncheon took place just two weeks after the year anniversary of the first probe going public with the release of an FBI affidavit publicly noting how a small group of lobbyists and chamber leaders exerted undue influence at city hall. 

To read the FBI affidavit, click here.

City-hired independent investigators echoed those concerns two weeks ago after they released findings from their corruption probe into city hall accusing the chamber and Disneyland resort interests of misconduct and influence peddling in Anaheim.

[Read: How Disneyland Resort Interests Planned to Withhold Tax Money from Anaheim’s Working Class]

Duane Roberts, editor and publisher of the Anaheim Investigator, published multiple photos showing city leaders including Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and City Manager Jim Vanderpool gathering privately with Chamber of Commerce President Laura Cunningham, Angels Baseball Sr. Vice President Molly Jolly and other business leaders. 

City spokesman Mike Lyster defended council members’ attendance in a statement to Voice of OC, pointing to a section of the Brown Act that allows the councilmembers to gather at a “purely social or ceremonial occasion,” as long as they don’t discuss city business.

The Brown Act does allow: 

“The attendance of a majority of the members of a legislative body at a purely social or ceremonial occasion, provided that a majority of the members do not discuss among themselves business of a specific nature that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency,”according to the law.

However, having all the council members there can create an opportunity for impropriety according to David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition. 

“I think it raises serious concerns if the majority of the council is at this event,” Loy said. “I do agree that it raises serious concerns of impropriety or the risk of impropriety, to do this in secret and be so secretive about it.”

Lyster also points to an exemption in the Brown Act that allows a majority of the council to attend a public gathering to discuss “issues of general interest to the public,” as long as they don’t discuss specific city business amongst themselves.

City investigators called out a disregard for the Brown Act among city leaders. 

“Whether it was handing over confidential documents during a negotiation to improve the chances of a successful Angel Stadium property sale negotiation or ‘fixing’ projects in favor of the ruling structure, the result of these corrupt practices has been to shortchange the public’s rights in terms of meaningful government participation, knowledge and understanding,” investigators wrote.

[Read: Investigators: Anaheim Does A Horrible Job of Keeping Public Records For Public Access, Accountability]

The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce provided tickets for the stadium luncheon to Aitken, Vanderpool and City Councilmembers Natalie Rubalcava, Jose Diaz, Norma Campos Kurtz, Stephen Faessel and Natalie Meeks, according to Lyster. 

Aitken and the rest of the city council members at the meeting did not respond to requests for comment Monday. Vanderpool also did not respond to a request for comment.

Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors. 

Lyster said he was also there, taking photos and assisting council members.

Voice of OC obtained the event photos via the California Public Records Act on Monday. 

“For Aitken, Faessel and Kurtz, their tickets fall under ceremonial job duties as Aitken addressed attendees, Faessel did the invocation and Kurtz led the pledge of allegiance,” Lyster wrote.

“For Rubalcava, Meeks, Diaz and City Manager Vanderpool, it will fall to them to list their tickets as part of a form 700 due in spring 2024.”

Form 700s are the conflict of interest disclosure forms elected and appointed officials have to fill out each year. 

None of the six city council members who went to the stadium luncheon spoke about the event at their next city council meeting on June 13 –  even though council members have a section of the meeting where they talk about their public appearances since their last meeting. 

For example, during the June 13 city council meeting, Aitken and Faessel talked about attending the State of the City held on May 23, which was live streamed.

Lyster directed questions about the event’s proceeds to the Chamber of Commerce, which did not respond. 

The city used to contract with the Chamber of Commerce for such events. 

In 2019, former Mayor Sidhu spearheaded efforts to get the chamber a $425,000 contract to do essentially what its core function is – attract and retain businesses.

[Read: Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Gets $425,000 Contract From City at Request of Mayor Sidhu]

The 2019 contract also called for the chamber to host the Angels Luncheon and promote the city at the very stadium Anaheim owns.

Investigators also say in their report there is credible information to conclude former Mayor Harry Sidhu leaked the appraisal of Angel Stadium to Angel Baseball executives amid negotiations of the now-dead Angel Stadium land sale.

Sidhu has not been charged with a crime and has maintained his innocence through his lawyer.

That report also documented the close ties between Sidhu and former Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, claiming that Ament served as the “gatekeeper” to the mayor’s office and that the Chamber of Commerce called the shots at city hall. 

Ament’s attorneys did not return requests for comment. 

The luncheon was also sponsored by Visit Anaheim according to the Chamber’s website, whose CEO Jay Burress, investigators say, was part of a conspiracy with Ament and Sidhu to divert $1.5 million in tax money to a chamber controlled nonprofit.

“Initially, Burress denied that to our investigators,” reads the report. “However, he later conceded that the money given to the (Anaheim Economic Development Corporation) was in fact money from the COVID funds that were paid by the City to Visit Anaheim.” 

Aitken is calling for an audit of Visit Anaheim’s $6.5 million bailout, which was given to the resort advertising bureau weeks after the pandemic kicked off. It was later backfilled by federal COVID dollars.

The report also spotlights an exclusive retreat held by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce with city officials on Dec. 2, 2020 – a meeting called out by the FBI – in which investigators say a plan to keep millions out of the general fund was discussed.

[Read: Inside The Shadowy Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Retreat Called Out By the FBI]

Loy said that while the June 6 meeting could’ve been completely benign, the secrecy surrounding the event generates more concerns for the public. 

“It may not be illegal, but if you want the public’s trust you should go above and beyond,” Loy said. “Maybe it’s part of their job to go meet and greet about this, but why be so secretive about it if there’s nothing going on?” 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.