The Anaheim Hills Fourth of July Celebration remains without rival in the city with its grand displays of patriotism. Residents marked Independence Day earlier this month with an array of happenings, including a cute Yankee Doodle dog show, prideful parade and, of course, a spectacular fireworks show. The Anaheim Hills Community Council organized the homage to American ideals of freedom, democracy and opportunity with the help of major sponsors.
But did the lead-up to the big birthday bash for America become an avenue of political corruption before a council vote on a gas station in Anaheim Hills?
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu invited nearly 50 people by email to join him for a private Fourth of July Celebration luncheon on May 30 at the Catch restaurant near Angel Stadium. Representatives from Angels Baseball, the Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Ducks were among those to receive the mayor’s direct solicitation but not Isa Bahu, a businessman now mired in a fight with City Council over trying to revive his family’s Arco gas station on Imperial Highway and La Palma Avenue after its demolition by eminent domain years ago.
Following two contentious council meetings where Sidhu opposed Bahu’s proposed project slated to open across the street from a Shell station owned by Navaz Malik, a political supporter of the mayor, Bahu requested a rehearing on his Arco station, a question that goes before City Council tonight.
But before the gas station battle heated up, Bahu opened his checkbook on May 30 and became a $5,000 Firecracker Sponsor for the Fourth of July Celebration. He didn’t get Sidhu’s solicitation email directly, but the charitable donation appears on a Behested Payment Report filed by the mayor that the city clerk’s office received on June 20.
Did Bahu seek to sway Sidhu before council rejected the Arco station at a June 4 council meeting? Or was the contribution made in good faith, adding another notch to the businessman’s community support of Anaheim Hills?
Bahu declined to comment, citing this evening’s rehearing request before City Council for his Arco station.
Either way, Behested Payment Forms are a rarity in Anaheim. Since March 20, 2018, only three such filings appear on the city’s website; two of them concern Sidhu’s most recent Fourth of July Celebration solicitations.
California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) considers several factors for when a payment is “behested” and subject to the state’s transparency laws. Such a payment must be made at the “request,” “suggestion” or “solicitation” of an elected official. It also can be made in “consultation,” “coordination” or “concert” with them. The payment itself has to be made for legislative, governmental or charitable purposes. It can’t be considered a gift or an election-related contribution to an elected official. There’s no law limiting the amount of behested payments like there is for campaign contributions or gifts.
The Form 803 in question lists four major donors the mayor solicited for the Fourth of July celebration, including SA Recycling, Angels Baseball and Shopoff Land Fund. Bahu’s contribution is documented as a charitable one and, at $5,000, it meets the minimum threshold for required reporting from a single source.
How Bahu came to contribute to the event is unclear. An amended Form 803 filed on June 20 by the mayor and received by the city clerk’s office on July 11 clarifies matters after the fact by striking his donation from the record. Sidhu didn’t respond to a Weekly request for comment, but Jeff Flint, a spokesman for the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, addressed the matter.
“Even though mayor Sidhu did not solicit Mr. Bahu for a Fourth of July sponsorship, the mayor filed a behested contribution report when the Bahu donation was received and appeared to come from that solicitation,” Flint writes the Weekly. “After remarks made by Mr. Bahu’s representatives at the June 4 City Council meeting, the mayor asked us to return the contribution. At that time, we were contacted by the bank and told a stop payment order had been issued against that check by Mr. Bahu. Mayor Sidhu subsequently amended his behested contribution form, deleting that donation.”
Bank records provided to the Weekly show that Bahu’s check to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce was deposited on June 13, the same day that, under the penalty of perjury, Sidhu signed the 803 disclosure form affirming the information it held to be true and complete. The Chamber learned of the stop payment order four days later.
As the Weekly previously reported, City Council reversed the Planning Commission’s recommended approval of the project on June 4 by a 5-0 vote with one abstention, overriding staff analysis favorable to the Arco station along the way. Malik had appealed the Planning Commission’s decision alongside Aslam Dada, a local car dealer. Craig Hunter, a former Anaheim police deputy chief and private investigator hired by Bahu, inflamed temperaments when claiming Malik boasted around town that he had the mayor under his thumb.
Malik does have clear, documented political ties to Sidhu. In the past, Malik donated to Sidhu’s various political campaigns, including his successful bid to become mayor last year. Malik is even pictured attending Sidhu’s Christmastime victory party to celebrate the win.
On June 18, Sidhu and a council majority followed up their initial June 4 rejection of Bahu’s Arco station with another vote against it.
The gas station saga returns before Anaheim City Council this evening. After being voted down, Bahu formally requested a rehearing on July 1. The businessman alleges that he didn’t receive a fair hearing the first time around, that relevant evidence was improperly excluded from it and that council members engaged in a “prejudicial abuse of discretion” under civil procedure law.
“There were no traffic, circulation or safety issues of any kind warranting any legitimate concern much less denial of the proposed project,” Bahu’s rehearing request reads. “Fairness requires that the City Council grant a rehearing of the matters sought for approval in connection with the proposed project. There is no substantial evidence warranting denial and the City Council’s decision constitutes an abuse of discretion.”
Bahu even alleges a Brown Act violation happened as it appeared to him that council members discussed a hotel project plan away from the public that’d involve the land sought for the Arco station. “There is evidence that Malik may be interested in advancing the hotel project alone, with Dada, and potentially with others,” the rehearing request states.
Whether or not the $5,000 donation arises during this evening’s council meeting, the Anaheim Hills Fourth of July Celebration already proved to be an intriguing enterprise. The Anaheim Hills Community Council heaped praise upon Sidhu last year for donating $7,500 to the event, essentially bestowing him savior status for closing its funding gap. Months later, the group endorsed him in the Anaheim mayor’s race.
As mayor, Sidhu solicited donations this year for the celebration and Bahu opened up his checkbook in response. According to the 803 filing, payments made went to the Anaheim Economic Development Corp., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that lists Todd Ament as principal officer. Ament is also the president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, but his organizational affiliations don’t stop there. He’s listed as a committee member of the Anaheim Hills Community Council and an Anaheim First board member.
Anaheim First, a new nonprofit at the center of much political controversy, donated $10,000 to the Anaheim Hills Fourth of July Celebration.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!