Anaheim Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava faces recall election in June

Anaheim City Council voted to schedule the Natalie Rubalcava recall election for June 4.
(Gabriel San Román)

An effort to recall Anaheim City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava will go before voters in June.

The Anaheim City Council voted to schedule the recall election during its Feb. 27 meeting after Rubalcava’s opponents submitted enough qualifying signatures.

Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hotel and convention center workers in Anaheim, backed the recall and welcomed the upcoming June 4 election.


“Our members are fighting to clean up Anaheim’s politics,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11. “Council member Rubalcava is connected to a corrupt cabal and has been criticized by the city’s corruption investigators. The recall process exists to remedy this exact kind of situation.”

Rubalcava soundly won election in November 2022 and represents District 3, a central area of the city with the highest proportion of Latino voters.

Support Our Anaheim Resort, a political action committee powered by Disney contributions, spent roughly $380,000 in favor of her election.

“Serving on my hometown city council over the past year has been an honor,” Rubalcava said in a written statement. “Although I don’t agree with the arguments made by the recall proponents, I respect the process, and I’m looking forward to making my case to voters in the weeks and months ahead.”

Rubalcava claimed her seat in the wake of an explosive FBI political corruption probe that surfaced in Anaheim in May 2022. The probe halted the city’s sale of Angel Stadium that same month and led former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu to plead guilty to corruption related charges.

As part of early reform efforts, Anaheim hired the JL Group to conduct an independent investigation.

In a 353-page report released to the public last July, investigators accused Rubalcava of making an unsolicited campaign call to a voter in her district by using contact information from a binder for Anaheim First, a nonprofit founded, in part, by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

The probe also alleged that she improperly directed city staff to work with her former employer on a small business loan program.

Rubalcava denied any wrongdoing following the report’s release and criticized its accusations against her as “inaccurate.”

Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava speaks during a Feb. 27, 2024, meeting of the Anaheim City Council
(Screenshot by Gabriel San Román)

Alongside Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken, she has since pushed for a number of reforms over the past few months to tighten up transparency and campaign finance rules in the city.

But recall proponents seized on the report’s earlier claims in making their case against Rubalcava.

Canvassers began gathering signatures in September after the councilwoman also did not support Measure A, a ballot initiative backed by Unite Here Local 11 that sought to raise the minimum wage for Anaheim hotel and event center workers to $25 an hour.

Ahead of an October special election on the issue, Rubalcava supported a law requiring panic buttons for housekeepers experiencing violent or threatening harassment on the job, which was similar to a key component of the ballot measure.

Anaheim voters rejected Measure A at the ballot. The panic button law took effect this year.

During the Feb. 27 council meeting, four council members expressed disappointment with having to set a date for the Rubalcava recall.

“This is very distasteful,” said Councilman Stephen Faessel. “We’ll just have to get through this.”

The Rubalcava recall is the first in Anaheim since an effort to oust two council members in 1980 failed by wide margins.

It will also be the first in the city since state law reformed local recall election rules.

In September 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that bars replacement candidates from appearing on the ballot of such elections.

“There’s no perfect system,” said Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College. “Not having replacement candidates on the ballot eliminates one of the incentives for funding a recall. It also eliminates the chance that historic low turnout in a special election would open the door for a candidate who would never win a regular council election.”

With the Anaheim election set for June, Balma is concerned with how many voters will show up at the polls — recall candidates or not.

“We’re already seeing record low turnout for the March primary, which is statewide with millions of dollars being spent by U.S. Senate candidates,” she said. “For a small district-based recall of one council member, turnout is going to be pathetically low.”

Recall proponents submitted more than 9,100 signatures to the Anaheim City Clerk in January. The Orange County Registrar of Voters verified more than 5,100 signatures as valid, which surpassed the required threshold.

Anaheim estimates that the recall election will cost $700,000.

If voters recall Rubalcava, remaining council members would have 60 days to decide whether to appoint someone to her vacant seat or call for a special election.