A Fullerton redevelopment project by Shopoff Realty – a developer detailed in Anaheim’s corruption scandal – is making some in the city question the relationship between developers and elected officials.
In a 353-page report released by Anaheim City Hall on July 31, investigators allege loose regulations over lobbyists, influence peddling by resort interests through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce helmed by former CEO Todd Ament and outsized influence on city staff from former Mayor Harry Sidhu.
One of Sidhu’s alleged favorite developers in town?
Investigators allege Sidhu went to bat for his preferred developers in Anaheim who were friendly with the former mayor. Through interviews, investigators also found Ament was acting as a lobbyist for Shopoff.
“These developers, Shopoff development and Greenlaw partners seemed to have preferred status based on various city employees’ observations. Mayor Sidhu ‘pushed’ city staff to use these two developers for certain projects,” reads the report.
Councilman Bruce Whitaker said the revelations should force elected officials throughout Orange County to take a hard look at their relationships with developers.
“Anytime such charges are levied at a developer, all the other cities who have been involved should take a closer look at what’s going on because it’s so easy for people who are real estate interested to kind of fall into that trap, kind of slide into those cozy relationships,” Whitaker said in a phone interview.
Whitaker added that Shopoff “worked the deal pretty hard,” but didn’t get a sense of anything improper happening with the Sunrise Village project.
But resident Carol Edmonston, who is in opposition to the conversion of a commercial center into homes on Euclid Street and Rosecrans Avenue, says differently.
“They know how to go into a city and befriend those people that are making the decisions,” Edmonston said in a phone interview.
Bill Shopoff, president and CEO of Shopoff Realty, did not respond to emailed questions.
Last month, 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.
Meanwhile, Shopoff Realty was given the 2023 North Orange County Chamber of Commerce member of the year award Shopoff in Fullerton.
Anaheim’s independent investigation report comes more than two years after Shopoff Realty Investments announced they purchased Sunrise Village, a shopping plaza in Fullerton, with the goal of redeveloping it into over 100 new homes while retaining some of the retail space.
The plan faced push back from business owners and neighboring residents.
In a phone interview, Mayor Fred Jung said the types of outsized influences in Anaheim aren’t present in Fullerton and pushed back on Edmonston’s allegation that the developer improperly tried to gain political favor.
“We just don’t have those kinds of influential organizations/nonprofits/corporations that exist in our city anymore,” he said. “We are more and more becoming a bedroom community, so I find her assertions to be ridiculous.”
Jung said that Shopoff’s project in Fullerton is limited in scope and has been vetted by the city council and attorney to ensure it would benefit the community.
“I read the Anaheim report and certainly there are a lot of damning things in there about a lot of individuals and a lot of stakeholders in Anaheim. But in terms of the Fullerton development, I think for all intents and purposes, it was about as good as it gets,” he said.
When asked if he’d support future proposals from the developer, Jung called his experience with Shopoff positive.
“But I’m not Anaheim. I don’t have the kind of developable land and parcels that apparently Anaheim has,” Jung said.
Jung said the project was reworked for over a year to make it less dense.
“It took an extraordinarily lengthy period of time and it was batted down when it came before Council. We didn’t feel good about it. We wanted to change it and indeed, it did get changed,” he said.
Shopoff in Anaheim
City-hired investigators in Anaheim say in their report that Shopoff paid and used Ament as a lobbyist to help push through a development project at Euclid and Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim – even though Ament never registered with the city as a lobbyist.
Last year, Ament pleaded guilty to a series of fraud charges and is still awaiting sentencing.
The city had denied other efforts to develop the area with residential components, but things changed after Shopoff wanted to do a build there, according to the corruption report.
“Several witnesses stated that Ament was advocating for Shopoff Realty Investments and assisting them with receiving approval for a residential component for the Lincoln and Euclid Project,” investigators wrote.
“Ament was able to utilize his influence with the mayor and the City Council to get a residential component of this project approved after several other prospective developers had been denied the same opportunity.”
James O’Malley, a senior vice president for Shopoff, defended the project when asked about it by investigators and said there was “nothing coy, unusual or backdoor” about the entire process.
Edmonston said similar tactics were used to get their proposal approved in Fullerton.
“They know how to work the system,” she said. “It was very disappointing to see and to try and find out where integrity in the process exists.”
The same month Sidhu agreed to plead guilty, Fullerton City Council members moved forward with creating a special tax district at Sunrise Village at the developer’s request.
Fullerton Councilman Whitaker voted against it. He said he has a practice of voting against these types of tax districts because it isn’t decided by residents.
Shopoff is pushing for the district to secure up to $9.5 million in bond financing, with taxes applied to the residential parts of the development, to pay for street, park and sewer improvements.
Jung said residents who were initially against the project now support it and that he met residents several times to discuss the project.
Edmonston said that the community doesn’t support the project like Jung claims, but accepted it. She also said that Jung had told them he would not support the project when meeting with the group but ended up voting in favor of the proposal in the end.
Jung said while Edmonston didn’t support the project, he and others did in the end because it was better than what was originally proposed. He also called her claims disingenuous.
In 2022, business owners and residents pushed back against the commercial center being converted into housing as cities across the county struggled to meet state-mandated affordable housing goals.
Residents argued that Sunrise Village, located off of Euclid Street and Rosecrans Avenue, is the last commercial center in their neighborhood and say they have to go to neighboring cities of Brea and La Habra to shop.
For business owners – many who are Korean American – the conversion is displacing them after their business survived pandemic closures.
Residents like Edmonston also have expressed concerns that Shopoff gave financial gifts to the city to gain favor.
When asked about the concerns last year, President and CEO Shopoff said in an email response to questions they make contributions in a lot of cities they have properties in.
“We make charitable contributions and support the community in many, if not all of the communities we are active in,” Shopoff told the Voice of OC at the time. “In all the communities we retain property, we look at ways to engage and support the local community – this is not unique to Fullerton.”
Jung said that while Shopoff sponsors North Orange County Chamber of Commerce events, the chamber has nothing to do with the city and that they represent other cities as well like Brea, Placentia and Buena Park.
Shopoff, along with other groups, sponsored Fullerton’s 2022 State of the City hosted by the North Orange County Chamber of Commerce.
In January, the city council unanimously approved the project.
Edmonston said this was despite residents organizing against the development.
“We had thousands of people on our petition. We really achieved a lot in networking and gathering together the community who really had a very strong voice,” she said.
“Unfortunately, money kind of took priority over integrity as far as we were concerned.”
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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