Did a Man Associated With the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Drum Up Opposition to the Canyon Homeless Shelter?


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Homeless Center in Canyon and Rio Vista

I received this message from a neighbor on Sunday, May 3:

Hi Ricardo, Did you produce the slick and professional looking circular that was in everyones mail box yesterday? It was titled “Coming Soon to: 1000 N. Kraemer Place…” 

A flyer was delivered in my neighborhood on Saturday, May 2, raising questions about Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s proposed location for a homeless shelter in the Anaheim Canyon area and urging us to attend that week’s council meeting. The flyer was professionally made and, as reflected in the e-mail above, grabbed our attention. The flyer did not indicate who produced it; I thought that some well-to-do neighbor had taken the initiative to channel our frustration with the city council.

The flyer provided a website and e-mail address, inviting us to join them.  The format of the website reminded me of a local blog, but I thought that this was just a coincidence.  The information asked of those who wanted to join made me feel uneasy. One’s name and e-mail were requirements, which is understandable, but it also asked for one’s street address, phone number and occupation.  I thought it was strange that such additional data would be needed at this early stage of organizing efforts, and which these days can be easily obtained anyway without one’s knowledge.

At the council meeting I mentioned the website to some friends, as its name BetterSolutions4Anaheim gives the impression that its scope is larger than a neighborhood issue. One of my friends made the observation that the name sounded something like a Public Relations project. My curiosity about whoever was behind this website increased when I received a response to a follow up comment I had made:

I got this response:

Date: Wed, 6 May 2015 15:07:23 -0700
Subject: Re: Hello
From:
bettersolutions4anaheim@gmail.com
To: xxxxxxx
@hotmail.com 

Richard:

Apologies – I don’t see an e-mail from you in our inbox, but thank you for reaching out.

Both the Anaheim and Fullerton city councils voted last night to appropriate $500,000 to assist the County of Orange in purchasing 1000 N. Kraemer Place.  Our information is that this purchase could be on the Board of Supervisors agenda as soon as June 2. 

In the meantime, anything you can do to inform your neighbors about this issue, including directing them to our website, would be very helpful. The more voices the supervisors hear from affected residents, businesses and property owners, the more likely we can slow this train down and persuade the county to work collaboratively in finding an alternative site.

Matt 

BetterSolutions4Anaheim

I was no longer merely curious; I was now developing serious qualms.  I sent a follow-up question:

Hi Matt,

May I ask whether you could disclose some information about yourself, such as your last name and where do you live in the neighborhood? This is the same information I provided, as it was requested in your website. I am kind of uncomfortable not knowing who is behind this organization.

BTW I attended the council last meeting. The very few neighbors who attended, were again in the minority among the speakers.  

This is the response:

From: BetterSolutions 4Anaheim

Date:05/07/2015 10:34 AM (GMT-08:00)

Good morning! I understand your concern. This is Matt Cunningham. Some property owners who own buildings by the proposed shelter site asked me to help them conduct public outreach in order to inform the surrounding community about what is happening. There was very little community awareness of what the county is planning, so I’m helping them in that regard, but while trying to keep the focus on the issue and the concerns of nearby residents and businesses, where it belongs.

I live in Orange, just off the intersection of XXXXXX, which is nearly as close to the proposed site as you. Feel free to call me if you like at 714-XXXXXXX. I could actually use your help – a resident named XXXXXXX who lives on XXXXXXX Rd. called me to learn more, but she speaks very little English and I hardly speak any Spanish. Would you be willing to speak to her and help answer her questions?

My first reaction was a feeling of being cheated, tricked, if this was the same Matt Cunningham who, among other questionable actions, had made a mockery of the memorials to dead people. I did not think that I was dealing with an impostor. I called the number posted in the flier and there was no answer. Even if had talked to him I would not have been able to recognize who this person was, as I have never talked to Cunningham. A commenter in the OJB under the name of Riverview Robb had characterized my opinions at the council meeting as one of a fool. I indeed felt like a fool when I reached out to this new website, if it belongs to the real Cunningham.  (I have given information from the emails to someone who might be in a position to tell.)

Presuming that it was Cunningham, he could have disclosed right in the flyer that he is operating the website, especially if he was acting out of self-interest as a property owner.  Even if he did not reside close to the proposed location, his involvement on behalf of business owners would have been legitimate as a PR effort.

One of his most prominent clients, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, is probably aware of this operation that involves some of its members.  It presumably knew that Cunningham was secretly promoting or providing fodder to the opposition that Murray referred in her impassioned speech at the last council meeting.  Murray’s well-received speech (which started here at 3:02:53) included this language at the 3:05:20 mark, which she seemed to be reading off of a script:

It’s very disconcerting, when so much energy and effort and passion and faith have gone into an effort, to have just an absolute, a sort of opposition campaign form, and I think it’s very unfortunate.  It’s important for people to realize that compassion is not just an expression of sympathy, it is an action to relieve the pain and suffering of others, and we have an opportunity to act with genuine compassion tonight.  As a city, as a Council, and as a community, everyone here acknowledged that there is a homeless problem that needs to be addressed, and the resolution of that problem cannot be to defer, deter, or delay action.

Is it possible that the paid task of Matt Cunningham — her major supporter in the political blogs in the past election and the person whose work she found “disconcerting” and “unfortunate” in the paragraph above — was to raise “selfish-seeming” opposition to Murray’s position?  By giving Murray a ripe target for in-person attack, did he intend to make her look unselfish and good?  If, as advocates claim, homeless people won’t be wandering around outside of the center, what would be wrong about siting it in the fresh air near Murray’s home in Anaheim Hills?  It is the making of a personal sacrifice that shows “genuine compassion,” not having the “courage” to export the homeless to some distant part of the city.

My final reaction, by the end of the meeting, was that I felt that the issues of the homeless people and concerns were being manipulated by an unethical Public Relations guy, a guy who now has the contact information of everyone who, like me, swallowed his bait.  If I have been dealing with an impostor, my apologies, but I don’t think that I was.

I’ll have more to say on this tomorrow here.


About Ricardo Toro

Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, another area of interest is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly. http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2013/12/caterpillars-crossing-in-a-city-at-a-crossroads/