Shakedown For Transparency: Anaheim’s People WIN one!

Thanks for the Three Firefighters, Mayor Ashleigh!
They won’t even need a pension.
(h/t Fred Sigala Jr.)

So, long story short, which it never is, the Anaheim Council – three weeks after balking at giving investigators JL Group another $750k on top of their first $750k to complete their independent city-financed report on Anaheim corruption – gave in and agreed to the extra money and time. But not before shaking their fists and letting JL know they’re not pushovers! As well they should have – on one level this was a contractor coming back and demanding twice as much as they said they’d get the job done for (after GETTING that job by being the lowest bidder!)

But on another level, this is the People of Anaheim’s Investigation – we demanded it and we are paying for it – so Council did the right thing to not cut it short. And there were plenty of angry and concerned residents there Tuesday night to remind them of that. (And we’ll discuss who exactly that movement was, while making fun of Matt Cunningham, down below!) But this also raises the question: Would this have turned out the way it did without enormous pressure from the public and the press?

Which brings up another thing – thousands of residents watched this in fascination, not only because we want the investigation completed but also because WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT SORT OF COUNCIL DO WE HAVE NOW? We are used to the worst, and have learned to EXPECT the worst. In the wake of Sidhu-gate we elected four new members who ran on a platform of “reform” (yes, even the two Natalies used that word!) Yet we also know that 4 of our 6 elected members were backed by hundreds of thousands from Disney and their PAC SOAR; and then they went and appointed a new member who was actually a SOAR Board director! And should we really expect that our City’s biggest special interest actually wants reform and transparency?

Well, maybe this Council is not QUITE as bad as we feared – much less bad than the last one – as THIS ONE APPARENTLY LISTENS TO THE PEOPLE (sometimes at least.) Remember Jordan Brandman, Harry Sidhu, Trevor O’Neil? They wouldn’t give a damn how many people showed up to complain about what they were doing. Oh, or Lucille Kring? She would look at 100 speakers all saying one thing and then claim “I got ten times as many e-mails saying the opposite, and they just don’t show up here because they’re afraid of YOU people!

We’d been watching the new Council for telltale signs of Group Think, which in turn can be a sign of being run by a “CABAL” as previous Councils were. Remember? With the exception of Dr Moreno and sometimes Avelino, they’d all come to each meeting with their instructions and talking points digested, and anything the public said would hit impregnable plexiglass. CABALS give “Hall Passes” – meaning that 1-3 members are permitted to vote the correct, moral, popular way and look like good guys, as long as a majority is lined up to vote the other way. Would Hall Passes be granted and used on Feb. 28, we wondered?

The folks who LEAST want a full investigation are the Chamber of Commerce; and their blog spokesman Matt Cunningham (whom we will certainly ridicule below) provided them with plenty of talking points on his Anaheim Obscurer – some of which we heard echoed on the dais, by members closely tied to the Chamber, all of whose first names begin with N.

But I knew we were winning when Natalie Meeks, the member who seemed most hostile last time, piped up, sounding like it was a done deal and only details of the Council’s acquiescence remained to be ironed out. (Even though the 2007-16 insider Meeks fretted aloud about the Statute of Limitations for various crimes JL was looking into, and again expressed hope that “good people” could have their names redacted from JL’s public report.)

Maybe it WAS pre-determined, maybe there WAS group-think, but for once that was in favor of what the people wanted. Not one member opposed extending the investigation to July 1 and doubling JL’s money, BUT it was necessary, a point of pride, for each to show they were not pushovers. In this spirit, several slings and arrows were dispatched in JL’s direction, some well-aimed, some far off mark, some rubbery. Let’s examine:


🙂 1. It was a SHAKEDOWN! 🙂

  • Shakedown, colloquial = extortion, especially through blackmail
  • Extortion = the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats.
  • Blackmail = the action, treated as a criminal offense, of demanding payment or another benefit from someone in return for not revealing compromising or damaging information about them.

The “Shakedown” narrative had its genesis on the far left of the dais with the West Anaheim councilmen, spreading and flowering eastward to Natalie Rubalcava who gave it its fullest and ripest expression.

First Jose Diaz, after making it clear that he supported continuing and funding the investigation (and thank you Jose), expressed as best he could that he felt inappropriately pressured by the two recent Voice of OC “profiles” of the Jeffs and the Judge. “Why? Why you did that? I don’t understand that,” Diaz forlornly asked investigator Jeff Love, who, after having the question repeated and clarified, answered “Well… it’s my RIGHT to do that, first off.” Diaz sank back in his chair, taken aback, as Love continued his explanation that the piece was only a “profile” that VOC requested to write.

But Carlos Leon had his fellow Westie’s back – even as he made the motion to approve the request for funds, he added, “I don’t appreciate the recent press coverage that, as Mr. Diaz said, appears to be driven as some way to stronghold the Council” [He probably meant “strongarm.”] He moved on from that, but the Shakedown meme was not yet fully developed.

Inching eastward, Natalie R took up the baton, enthusing with utterly cool sarcasm, “GREAT profile by the way – although the Voice of OC is not generally considered a ‘profile’ type of outlet.”

No People magazine, that VOC – I believe that was intended to be a zinger.

In Natalie’s world, the Voice is a tireless, tiresome, unfairly “partisan” critic of the establishment of which she is part. Natalie recited a quote Love had provided the Voice that she found particularly inappropriate and “sensationalistic,” and that was this:

“We have done investigations like this, but what we haven’t seen is the depth and breadth of all the tentacles involved… There are just numerous entities, nonprofits, organizations, different developers, different lobbyists, different players…”

Well, damn you, put yourself in poor Natalie’s shoes. She spent half her life in the OC Business Council, the last several years as its COO, the nonprofit has been good to her and it’s certainly one of the nonprofits Love is referring to, and now he is calling it a “TENTACLE!” No wonder this most aggressive of councilmembers was mad enough to accuse JL of orchestrating a “SHAKEDOWN” of the Council.

And the august Judge Clay Smith reacted with as much outrage as a retired jurist who is there requesting more money could muster: “I am extremely … EXTREMELY CONCERNED with your use of the term ‘SHAKEDOWN.'” .

And Natalie, apparently a lady who relishes rough play, DID NOT BACK OFF! Rather, interrupting the Judge, she shot back with subtle but unmistakable threats of “Breach of Contract” and a “new RFP” which would mean giving the work to some other firm.

Finally Judge Smith replied emphatically,

“I’d like to assure you that we have had no intent whatsoever to use the media, to bring any pressure, to exert any influence, on the City Council or anyone else. When the Voice of OC reached out to me, they did that through my firm Judicate West, and I declined, specifically for the reasons that you’re suggesting, because I assumed they wanted to do an interview about the investigation. And then it was clarified that what they wanted to do was a profile on me, as they did also on [the Jeffreys.]

“When I reflected on that, I felt that quite frankly it was IN THE INTEREST OF EVERYONE – the City, the residents and stakeholders of the city and everyone else, to just have a little better picture of WHO WE ARE. What our background is. How we came to be involved in this. I’m just going to speak regarding my own profile that appeared in the OC Voice [sic], I think it was limited to being a profile about me.”

And STILL Natalie went on arguing with the Judge, even as he skillfully refuted every sentence. You’d almost think (as rumor has it) that her old OCBC boss Lucy Dunn had charged her with stopping this investigation – the OCBC sure doesn’t want too much light shed – and Natalie was at least gonna go through the motions even as she intended to vote with the rest of the Council.

And somewhere in the midst of all that, THIS happened:

2. Natalie Plays the Vern Card

Yes, at precisely 6:03:37 in this video, Natalie played the Vern card. “You’ve been talking to Vern Nelson,” she charged the three investigators.

What could she have been thinking? It’s possible that, if she indeed thinks of the Anaheim people as Disney/Chamber-worshipping automatons, she may have been intending to strike fear into their hearts, by connecting this firm with the legendary rebel activist-blogger-musician. But it was a risky move.

Because at the same time, she was imbuing the trio with a glamorous je ne sais quoi of ribald, devil-may-care revolt, a patina of tireless adventure and Quixote-like idealism, a musky and bracing odor of masculine joie de vivre, and a riotous joyous sense of fun and humor, all the while undergirded by sturdy spine and flawless moral compass.

Judge Smith and the two Jeffreys, wisely, reacted to this Vern allegation with smug silence, folded arms and Mona Lisa smiles, as if to say, “SURE we talked to Vern Nelson – and we would do it again if the circumstances arose. Every day and twice on Sunday.”

3. Carlos Assigns Homework

It was Carlos Leon, the young, newly elected District 2 Councilman, who, to thunderous applause, made the motion to give in, continue, and fully fund the investigation, as the people and JL Group requested. But, NOT BEING A PUSHOVER, he gave one big stipulation – the trio must appear at EVERY COUNCIL MEETING from now till the July 1 completion date with a progress report.

It was little things like this that make me think that these guys aren’t planning things offstage together or taking orders. I’m sure that stipulation seemed firm and punitive to Carlos, but did he actually think it through?

Half the audience and half the dais began doing quick math in their heads. We KNOW how much these guys charge, and we’re sure they don’t drive up to our Council meetings and sit there for five hours for free. In fact, how much did it cost us to have the three of them there JUST THESE LAST TWO MEETINGS? And is that EXTRA money, or are these hours SUBTRACTED from their real work on our behalf? EITHER WAY!

Mayor Ashleigh quickly changed that stipulation to written reports twice a month, and Meeks reduced THAT to written reports ONCE a month. Good quick thinking, blond ladies from the Hills!

Other contributions, all coming from the three “N” women, seemed more like half-hearted attempts at sabotage, or else were just kind of dumb, and fell flat:

4. Nice Tries! (but no cigar.)

While the “Shakedown” meme seemed indigenous to the left side of the dais, the “Can’t we just hand it all over to Todd Spitzer?” meme originated on the right end with Meeks and Norma Kurtz – Norma being the newly appointed member who’s still a cipher to us. Let’s back up.

Todd Spitzer is the Orange County District Attorney, who – like his hated predecessor Rackauckas – has NEVER in six years shown any interest in political corruption, and who was just last week bitching to the Board of Supervisors that he doesn’t have enough resources to prosecute the real violent Bad Guys. Apparently he contacted our investigators in October (expressing some concern about Statutes of Limitations running out on some crimes they might be investigating), and our guys needed our permission to share their information with Todd, which they got.

But this discussion caused LIGHT BULBS to appear over the heads of Kurtz and Meeks – maybe, they mused, we can both save money and dodge a bullet by wrapping up this investigation just as it is, and sending it off to our dear DA Spitzer!

Close, but no cigar. JL gave plenty of good reasons why that was a bad idea, and Mayor Ashleigh, the “Former Federal Prosecutor,” was helpful as well. But the BIGGEST reason is, WHAT A WAY TO BURY IT ALL – HAND IT OVER TO TODD! (Was Todd aware that Kurtz and Meeks were thinking of that? Was it even maybe his idea?) If I turn out wrong and Todd DOES prosecute someone based on this investigation, I will be SO happy to eat my words and give him credit, but count on that happening? NEVER.

Then there was the other dear Natalie, of the Rubalcava variety, who mentioned that she “finds it odd” that our own City Attorney Rob Fabela is not involved in this independent investigation into the City. REALLY!? EVERYBODY including Fabela looked at NATALIE oddly when she said that. It was an odd thing to say. Apparently, aside from her enthusiasm for dissing the firm, she has not put any thought into the fact that THE INVESTIGATION IS SUPPOSED TO BE INDEPENDENT AND NEUTRAL. Hmmm. ODD.

A little flotsam and jetsam here as we start to wrap up: Mayor Ashleigh, the Former Federal Prosecutor, expressed that her greatest interest in this is not so much the criminal referrals that might come, which she would have no control over, but rather unethical but legal behavior that might be uncovered, which she could attempt to prevent in the future, “as an elected official,” with new policies and ordinances. Okay. Not exciting, but SOLID.

Also ears perked up when the investigators reported that SOME consultants, lobbyists, former politicians etc. are wary of speaking to them because they don’t want to be branded as “rats” or “snitches.” Our thoughts which should have gone to mobs and movies went instead to Donald Trump and his circle. Except for Donna, who got the idea that our own Councilman Steve Faessel may be one of those so-called “snitches,” which is why he has been so silent, uncomfortable, and abstaining – everyone had just assumed he knew he was under investigation himself. But either or both could be true… no?

Okay, I know I promised you we’d make fun of Matt Cunningham…

Twilight of the “Anaheim Obscurer”

It is said, in intellectual circles such as Varsity Burgers, that “Mental sclerosis is the hobgoblin of the faux conservative,” and there is no better illustration of this principle than blogger Matt Cunningham, proprietor of the Anaheim Observer and husband of the Chamber head. For months Matt had been neglecting his Anaheim blog and focused on pleasing other well-paying clients at his “OC Independent.”

But the controversy over this investigation (of which the Chamber is certainly one of the biggest targets) roused him to churn out TWO SMALL OCEANS OF SCARED ANGRY WORDSMITHING in as many weeks. Here’s Matt, stirring the Chamber-pot just before this last meeting:

“The Voice of OC, for its part, has abandoned any pretense of journalistic detachment or objectivity, and made itself the media arm of a concerted lobbying effort by a special interest coalition composed of UNITE-HERE Local 11, OCCORD, OCCCO to manipulate a city contract for political ends – a lobbying effort with which JL Group and Judge Smith are obviously colluding.”

Hey! The origin of the “shakedown” meme. Except Matt is sclerotically blaming everything on his list of boogiemen from ten years ago. I even told him (but he didn’t listen) that UNITE-HERE and OCCCO were nowhere to be found in this struggle, nor were the DPOC or Ada Briceno. OCCORD, yes. They did stellar work along with Chispa, the Anaheim Democrat Club and the People’s Homeless Task Force, which together we’ve named the “Clean Up Anaheim Coalition.

Beyond that, there’s the constant refrain that the Voice of OC is “biased” or “partisan” – but nobody in Matt’s small but loud circle has managed to say who or what “Party” or person or group they are biased for or against. They are INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS – so of COURSE they come down in favor of more investigation, more light, more truth.

And if there are any “Parties” in this matter, they are:

Those who have something to hide vs. Those who want to know. .

In his first piece, Matt focused on ridiculing the investigators for speaking to ME and my wife – knowing that this would result in our anonymous Troll posting six nasty comments about us under six different names, and giving birth to Natalie’s use of the Vern Card. But I’m getting tired. We won, Matt and his crowd lost. And in closing,

Let’s Keep This in Perspective

Okay, this was a victory, and it was exciting because we don’t get many in Anaheim, but let’s remember – all we did was stop the new Council from limiting a promised corruption investigation. This was very reminiscent of January 2016 “When The Kleptos Caved” – that was when we stopped the Brandman majority from delaying our hard-fought District Elections reform for another two years. We need bigger victories, POSITIVE ones, ones that aren’t just preventing the Council from taking away the little progress we’ve already made.

The REAL victories the People of Anaheim need are true Campaign Finance Reform that covers Independent Expenditures, and a reasonable (2%) Gate Tax on Disneyland and other entertainment venues. And it’s clear that we will NOT get either of those from this Mayor and Council. These will have to be won by the People themselves.

Good work, Clean Up Anaheim Coalition!
Good work, OCCORD!
Good work, Anaheim Democrats Club!
Good work, Chispa!
Good work, People’s Homeless Task Force!
Good work, people of Anaheim!
Good work, Voice of OC!

La Luta Continua.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.