Over 60 Anaheim residents and registered voters are looking to get enough support to recall their City Council District Representative Natalie Rubalcava weeks after a damning public corruption investigation report was released that alleged misconduct by the councilwoman.

Late Wednesday, City Clerk Theresa Bass confirmed in a phone call that a notice of intent to circulate a recall petition against Rubalcava was filed with her office on Friday.

Bass said the signatures of 60 registered voters in Rubalcava’s district – District Three – were needed to start circulating a recall petition.

“There were 85 signatures on the notice of intention and 70 were found to be registered voters within District Three,” Bass said.

She estimates that now a little over 5,000 signatures will be needed to spark a recall election.

In a text message late Wednesday to Voice of OC, Rubalcava said the recall is politically motivated.

“I’m proud to have been elected to serve on Anaheim’s City Council less than 9 months ago. In this role, I’ve listened to residents and done my best to get things done for our district,” Rubalcava wrote.

“Recall elections are supposed to be reserved for special circumstances when an office holder violates the public trust. This recall is being put forward by an organization that spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to defeat me in 2022. I think the voters of Anaheim’s 3rd city council district are going to see this recall for what it is and reject it,” Rubalcava wrote.

Bass said the notice of intention had names of registered voters but not a single group and left no indication of a lead organizer. 

Martin Lopez, an Anaheim resident, who signed on to the notice of intent said he cares a lot about his city and recent allegations against Rubalcava are concerning.

“The allegations against her are very serious and that’s why my stance is that she should resign,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview. 

Lopez acknowledged that he does work with Unite Here 11 which represents hotel workers across Southern California but said his concerns stem from what he’s seeing as a resident. 

He didn’t speak to Rubalcalva’s allegations that the recall is politically motivated. 

“I’m taking this stance. Obviously, I work for Unite Here,” he said. “We want her to resign, we are exploring next steps.”

Lopez is an organizer with Unite Here Local 11 –  which backed Rubalcalva’s opponent in last Fall’s election. 

Ada Briceño, co-president of the union, referred questions to Lopez on Wednesday.

The efforts to vote out Rubalcava come after a 353-page damning public corruption investigation report that in part spotlights the councilwoman.

[Read: Anaheim’s Own Look at City Hall Finds Disneyland Resort Businesses Improperly Steer Policymaking]

Investigators allege in the report Anaheim First, a chamber of commerce-created resident advisory group, is a political data mining operation they say helped get Rubalcava elected by giving her a list of names and contact information taken down when the group was conducting its community outreach meetings. 

[Read: Was an Anaheim City Hall-Funded Nonprofit Used as a Political Data Mining Operation?]

They also say Rubalcava violated the city charter by allegedly giving operational direction to city staff instead of the city manager.

Rubalcava pushed back against those allegations at last Tuesday’s city council meeting calling on residents to “resist pressure campaigns and rushed reactions to the results of this investigation.”

“Suggestions that this report represents what Anaheim is today is completely inaccurate,” Rubalcava said. “There is nothing in this recommendation that would suggest that anyone on this council should step down.”

Residents inside the chamber laughed at her remarks.

Rubalcava was elected to office in the 2022 November election with significant support from Disneyland’s political funding arm – the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee.

SOAR spent almost $380,000 on Rubalcava’s campaign through independent expenditures, paying for things like mailers and digital advertising.

Investigators described SOAR as a way for former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament to gain power and to groom elected officials.

[Read: New Players, Same Game: Has Anything Really Changed in Anaheim?]

Ament pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges last year.  

Rubalcava, along with hoteliers and resort interests, has been a vocal critic of a Unite Here ballot measure that would increase safety protections and the minimum wage for hotel workers to $25 dollars an hour. 

The measure will be decided in a special election in October.

[Read: Anaheim Voters To Decide if Hotel Workers Get $25 Minimum Wage in October]

Instead, Rubalcava successfully proposed a separate hotel worker protection ordinance that does not include a pay increase for workers.

Rubalcava is also the district director for Democratic State Assemblyman Avelino Valencia – a former city councilman.

Valencia has successfully called for a state audit of a $6.5 million bailout sent to Visit Anaheim – the city’s tourism bureau – shortly after the pandemic kicked off in March 2020, when the resort would be closed for another year.

The spending was later backfilled by federal COVID dollars. 

Investigators allege $1.5 million of that money was rerouted to an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce-controlled nonprofit.

[Read: Anaheim’s Own Look at City Hall Finds Disneyland Resort Businesses Improperly Steer Policymaking]

Valencia wrote in a text message earlier this month that “anyone found guilty of wrongdoing should be prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law.”

He has not answered questions about Rubalcava being mentioned in the city investigative report in a critical light.  

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


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