A local land use advocacy group is hosting community forums to educate and engage Anaheim residents on a corruption scandal that’s been hanging over their city since the FBI revealed last year an investigation into the former Mayor and city hall.
The forums also come after a damning 353-page independent corruption investigation report released at the end of July in which investigators allege potential criminal violations, loose oversight over lobbyists and influence peddling at Anaheim City Hall.
Tonight, the nonprofit Orange County Communities Organized For Responsible Development (OCCORD) will host its second of three public forums in which residents will get a chance to weigh in on the corruption scandal rocking their city and give input on what reform should look like in Anaheim.
These public sessions are intended to educate residents on the corruption scandal, gather input from the community on how to move forward with reforms and will be used to create a final report with recommendations for the city council.
Ely Flores, Executive Director of OCCORD, questioned some city council members’ contention that residents don’t care about the corruption at city hall.
“I said no, residents do care about corruption and we also said you need to do a better job at trying to gather community input. We have not seen that yet, which is why this is happening here today,” he said at the group’s forum on Aug. 31.
Around 100 people showed up to that first forum.
Tonight’s community forum will be held at the Brookhurst Community Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. featuring former City Councilwoman Denise Barnes, Resident Jeanine Robbins and Ed Lopez — a member of the mayor’s advisory committee.
The last of the three forums will be held on Thursday Sept. 21 at the St. Boniface Catholic Church from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The first forum was held on Aug. 31 and included Former City Councilmembers Jose Moreno and Denise Barnes, OC Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento and Cynthia Ward – a member of the Mayor’s advisory committee.
None of the current city council members showed up.
OCCORD posted a video recording of the forum on their YouTube channel.
It was held two weeks after former Mayor Harry Sidhu agreed to plead guilty to four federal charges, including lying to federal investigators about trying to ram through the Angel Stadium deal by leaking critical information to a team consultant for $1 million in campaign support.
The independent investigation was commissioned last year after a sworn FBI affidavit surfaced in which federal agents accused lobbyists and resort interests through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce of having outsized influence over city hall.
Still, the independent corruption investigation almost didn’t see the light of day.
Earlier this year, the current city council seemed poised to effectively kill the probe and were hesitant to provide the necessary funding investigators said was needed to produce a comprehensive report.
After a series of stories by the Voice of OC and pushback from some residents, city officials decided to spend more money on the investigation in February.
Now those same city council members have scheduled a series of reform proposals ranging from campaign finance reform to hiring an ethics officer and more in the weeks to come in light of investigators’ findings.
Last Tuesday, Anaheim City Council Members held a discussion on reforming the city’s lobbyist rules at the request of Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava.
That same day, Irvine officials also discussed reforming the city’s lobbyist laws.
The reform debates are popping off in Anaheim after initial reform efforts in the wake of the independent corruption report sputtered out with some council members like Rubalcava saying there were inaccuracies in the report.
Investigators allege in their report that Anaheim First – a Chamber of Commerce resident advisory group – was a political data mining operation that helped Rubalcava’s campaign last year by giving her a list of names and contact information taken down when the group was conducting its community outreach meetings
They also accuse Rubalcava of violating the city charter by allegedly giving operational direction to city staff instead of the city manager.
The councilwoman denied the allegations at the Aug. 15 city council meeting and said there were other issues in the city that residents care about.
“What the vast majority of my residents in District Three asked for is for us to focus on homelessness, affordable housing, crime and public safety, parks, libraries and streets, picking up trash on time, removing graffiti, and other important quality of life issues,” Rubalcava said.
“And these are things that I will focus on, including making sure that we are transparent here on the dais.”
Efforts to start a recall election against Rubalcava – who is detailed in the investigation report – kicked off last month a couple days after that meeting.
Resident Jeanine Robbins, a member of the people’s homeless task force, said at last week’s city council meeting Rubalcava was wrong and pointed to the OCCORD forum.
“Natalie Rubalcava likes to proclaim that over half of her district is Hispanic and they don’t care about corruption only things like streetlights and sidewalks and stop signs – how wrong you are considering that OCCORD’s first corruption forum held in Ponderosa was standing room only and spilling out of the venue,” Robbins said during public comment.
“Trust me when I say that people care about your corrupt actions.”
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.
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