Essential California: Disney, the FBI and an Anaheim election

A woman in an orange jacket and hoop earrings sits and applauds.
Ashleigh Aitken, an Anaheim mayoral candidate, attends a May 24 City Council meeting.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Oct. 18. I’m Gabriel San Román, an Orange County Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times. I also may be the tallest Mexican in O.C. (6-foot-6) , which is great since it means that no matter where I stand, I can see almost everything!

Including what’s going on at Anaheim City Hall.

That’s where, months before a secret recording upended L.A. politics, the FBI’s intercepts of conversations among a self-described “cabal” of Anaheim power brokers unleashed a scandal of their own.

In May, the FBI alleged that then-Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu had obstructed an Orange County grand jury investigation into the sale of Angel Stadium, leaked confidential information to team officials and expected $1 million in campaign spending from the Angels in return for his political efforts.


A week later, in the aftermath of the explosive allegations, Sidhu resigned. Remaining councilmembers terminated the $320-million sale of Angel Stadium. Former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament pleaded guilty to several white-collar crimes as part of the sprawling investigation.

Since then, the probe has been about as hushed as Angel Stadium every October.

“The FBI has no further information to be made public at this time,” a spokesperson told The Times.

What is known is fueling an election season like no other in Anaheim.

“The FBI is watching Anaheim City Hall,” declared one mailer, with a depiction of an agent looking through binoculars. Ashleigh Aitken, a former federal prosecutor who is pledging to restore trust in city government, paid for the ad through her mayoral campaign. It blasts Trevor O’Neil, her opponent and current City Council member, as a “close political ally” of Sidhu.

Before running for mayor, O’Neil said publicly that he’d attended a December 2020 retreat organized by power brokers in the alleged cabal, as outlined in the investigation. He has tried to distance himself from the former mayor while framing the probe as one focused on a few bad actors.

Each campaign has slung mud at the other through mailers that reference the FBI.

City Council candidates have already returned contributions received from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

But not Disney dollars.

The Times reported that Carrie Nocella, Disneyland Resort’s director of external affairs, was referred to as a ringleader “to some extent” in an FBI affidavit, but neither Nocella nor Disney have been accused of wrongdoing.

Before the probe became public, the Disneyland Resort poured $1.3 million into the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee.

Whether SOAR would bow out of the election, like the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce has, didn’t become clear until campaign finance forms started rolling in.

As of Friday, SOAR had spent $535,000 in support of three City Council candidates: Gloria Sahagún Ma’ae, Natalie Rubalcava and Natalie Meeks.

Some of that money funded Spanish-language ads for Sahagún Ma’ae and Rubalcava, complete with a narrator who sounds like the voice that tells us “permanecer sentados” before the Matterhorn bobsleds bruise our tailbones!

Unions that represent Disneyland Resort workers have set up two independent expenditure committees to support their own preferred candidates, including Aitken for mayor.


So far, those committees have spent $64,000 — a fraction of SOAR’s tally — with half of that sum in support of Aitken.

With election day just weeks away — and no new developments on the FBI front — it looks as if it will be up to Anaheim voters to decide if the scandal leads to further political shakeups.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

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L.A. council members stripped of posts. Los Angeles City Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo have been removed from key committee posts by acting council President Mitch O’Farrell following the scandal over a leaked recording of racist remarks. The pair have so far refused to heed calls to resign. Los Angeles Times

Nury Martinez’s resignation is not enough. The focus on whether a few politicians will resign from the L.A. City Council, rather than on a culture that nurtures anti-Black racism within Latino communities, can obscure the prevalence of racist beliefs, experts told The Times. Los Angeles Times

Section 8 waiting list in L.A. reopens. For the first time in five years, eligible Angelenos are able to apply for federally subsidized Section 8 housing. The lottery opened Oct. 17, and housing hopefuls can submit applications over the next two weeks. The last time the waiting list opened, in 2017, nearly 188,000 people applied for 20,000 vouchers. Los Angeles Times

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These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


The California midterm voting guide you’ve been waiting for! Ballots are arriving in the mail ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm election. Political ads about propositions are bombarding the airwaves. What does it all mean? We’ve got you covered. Los Angeles Times


Escondido sergeant reunites with 22-year-old woman he rescued when she was a baby. Sgt. Jeff Valdivia thought a sickly 6-week-old girl would die if she wasn’t taken away from a drug house in 2000. Last month, Valdivia flew out to pin an El Paso County deputy badge on her during a graduation ceremony in Colorado. San Diego Union-Tribune

Long Beach stabbing spree. The arrest of a suspect in the stabbing death of a woman in Long Beach was filmed on an Instagram story Monday morning. “He’s out here with a knife chasing people off the beach,” said Nichole East, who ran the social media account, before police arrived. Three other stabbings that morning may be linked. Long Beach Post

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Southern California’s ports of pollution. Supply chain bottlenecks during the pandemic are being blamed by port officials in L.A. and Long Beach for harmful emissions and greenhouse gases surging in 2021. Los Angeles Times

Removing nutrients from wastewater that goes into S.F. Bay could cost San Francisco up to $1.5 billion. The city is trying to address the impacts of wastewater in red tides that are expected to be more frequent with climate change, such as the algae bloom that killed tens of thousands of fish in the San Francisco Bay in August. San Francisco Chronicle

New electric car ride-share program aims to connect rural communities in Fresno County. Launched earlier this month, the EV ride-sharing program aims to beef up transportation options in and around Fresno’s rural, unincorporated communities. The initiative builds on previous attempts by hiring drivers and subsidizing riders’ fares. Fresno Bee


Most people who work for S.F. don’t live in the city. Data show that 58% of San Francisco’s public workers live outside of the city as of 2022. Stockton, in particular, is attracting many more city workers than it used to, despite the significant commute. Lack of affordable housing is likely a main factor, experts said, but improvements to public transportation (like a BART extension to San Jose), as well as improvements to schools and amenities outside the city, could also be a factor. San Francisco Chronicle

Tortilla titans crowned! East L.A.’s La Princesita takes home “Golden Tortilla” honors at the end of Gustavo’s Great Tortilla Tournament, named after our very own columnist and podcast host Gustavo Arellano. La Princesita’s corn tortillas beat out Sonoratown’s flour tortillas. Does that settle the corn versus flour tortilla tiff? Maybe just for this year! KCRW

Where it’s Halloween all year long. From South Gate to Woodland Hills, these 13 spine-chilling shops keep “spooky season” going for all seasons. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: 85, sunny. San Diego: 83, sunny. San Francisco: 74, partly cloudy. San Jose: 81, partly cloudy. Fresno: 87, partly cloudy. Sacramento: 85, partly cloudy.


Today’s California memory is from Michael Hayes:

In the early 1960s, my mom, my sister and I moved into a new two-story apartment in Gardena. When I excitedly went to check out the view from my new bedroom window, I discovered that just up the street was a trucking company that shipped the giant fiberglass Paul Bunyan statues that became roadside attractions all across the country. It was such a thrill for this 10-year old boy to see those giants oozing down the street on the slow flatbed trucks.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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