Voice of OC Misses The Real Story On City Manager Chris Zapata

Anaheim Insider here.

It’s been a while.

Yesterday, the Voice of OC once again showed it participates in, rather than reports on, Anaheim politics. We get it. But how about getting their facts straight?

The article starts out:

Anaheim City Manager Chris Zapata raised concerns about the high pay of top executives at the Disneyland area resort promotion group, Visit Anaheim, after the city offered the group a $6.5 million bailout, according to an email memo Zapata sent the City Council yesterday [April 16] morning. 

That same afternoon, an online city agenda item began circulating for a closed door discussion about Zapata’s firing or resignation.

In his Apr. 16 memo, Zapata questioned Visit Anaheim’s CEO Jay Burress’ $433,000 annual salary as well as the salary of Senior VP Christina Dawson, set at $318,000. 

Zapata proposed reductions for both.

Reporters Brandon Pho and Spencer Custodio dispense with their customary “obtained by the Voice of OC” description of the e-mail. We all know it was e-mailed to them by Councilmembers Jose Moreno or Denise Barnes or their political activist staffers. Or, all of the above.

However, Custodio and Pho paint an inaccurate picture by misleading readers into thinking Zapata may be shown the door because of his e-mail.  They reported a false chronology.

According to multiple sources from City Hall, here’s the real sequence of events:

  • On Thursday morning, April 16, Mayor Harry Sidhu and City Attorney Roger Fabela met with Zapata. Sources say Sidhu intended to give Zapata a courtesy notice before the City Council Agenda posted, which would include the Closed Session Agenda item that Sidhu intended to ask the Council to remove the City Manager. We hear Zapata stormed from  the meeting before Sidhu could discuss the matter with the City Manager.
  • Within minutes, the lengthy e-mail cited in the Voice of OC was sent by Zapata to the City Council, and then leaked to the Voice of OC by either Zapata or one of the councilmembers (or their staff).

In other words, Zapata’s e-mail did not precipitate agendizing his dismissal, contrary to what the Voice of OC article misleadingly and deliberately implies.

Brandon Pho explicitly draws this false causality in this self-congratulatory atta-boy tweet:

We can assume the desire to dismiss Zapata has been building for some time, and is not a snap reaction to an e-mail, contrary to what Pho and Custodio write. It’s not unusual for City Councils to change city managers, especially when there’s a change in the composition of the City Council. After Tom Tait gained his own council majority, he forced out the City Manager, the City Attorney and the Assistant City Manager.

By contrast, it has been nearly a year and a half since Sidhu’s election, with a largely supportive Council majority, indicating that Sidhu has given Zapata ample time to prove his worth.

Voice of OC Inaccurately Describes Visit Anaheim
Custodio and Pho also described Visit Anaheim as “the hotel tax-funded advertising arm of the resort industry.” That misleads readers into thinking Visit Anaheim receives general tax revenues from the city, which isn’t true. Visit Anaheim is funded by private memberships and a portion of Anaheim Tourism Improvement District revenues, which is a fee that participating Resort businesses voluntarily assess on themselves.

That’s an important distinction. Custodio has been covering Anaheim long enough to know it.

Burying The Lede
There’s a disconnect between the article’s inflammatory headline and the facts reported in the article. The headline “High Pay for Disneyland Area Resort Promotion Group, Visit Anaheim, Called Out in Email Memo From Anaheim City Manager After City Bailout” is plainly misleading.

Custodio and Pho knew that Visit Anaheim’s executive leadership have slashed their own pay. They also knew that Zapata didn’t know or didn’t bother to find that out before he tried to use cutting their pay in an apparent gambit to save his job. That’s the story.

Instead, they carry Zapata’s water and write a headline that’s at odds with the facts. They then bury those inconvenient facts deep in the article.

Voice of OC’s Lack Of Curiosity About Zapata Disconnect
Custodio and Pho write:

To bolster his point, Zapata pointed out in his memo that, “The required 2019 990 form lists salary, bonus and incentives for all employees of the Visit Anaheim non-profit.  Information provided in these reports listed compensation for the CEO/Secretary at $432,954 which includes a base salary, bonus and incentive compensation and $318,154 for the Senior Vice President.”

Form 990s are annual financial reports that non-profits are required to file with the IRS. Non-profits typically file them a year or more after the end of the calendar year in question, i.e. a non-profit’s Form 990 for 2018 would have been filed in This is a long way of saying Zapata didn’t get his info from Visit Anaheim’s Form 990 for 2019, because there is no Form 990 for 2019.

Zapata apparently got those figures from a public comment that gadfly Duane Roberts submitted for the March 26 special City Council meeting. And Roberts got his numbers from Visit Anaheim’s Form 990 for 2017.

What’s the old journalism axiom?: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”  This stuff isn’t hard to find or figure out.

Not until well into the article do Custodio and Pho report what they learned from Anaheim Chief Communications Officer Mike Lyster, which contradicts Zapata’s assertions about Visit Anaheim:

Anaheim City spokesman Mike Lyster late Friday responded to questions about Zapata’s memo by noting that there have already been cuts to Visit Anaheim staff. 

“In March, Visit Anaheim cut its staff by 55 percent, or from 71 to 32 people. The remaining 32 staff members have all taken pay cuts in the form of mandatory, unpaid furloughs,” Lyster said in a Friday email. [emphasis added]

“For executives and senior staff, they are on two weeks unpaid furlough each month, a 50 percent reduction in salary,” Lyster said. “Lower level staff are on one furlough week per month, a 25 percent reduction in salary.”

Asked whether Zapata still supported a reduction in pay for Visit Anaheim executives in light of this information, Lyster said the city didn’t have “anything additional to share.”

You’d think Custodio and Pho would be more curious why Zapata was so in the dark, or why he told his bosses on the City Council that he’d seek cuts in Visit Anaheim pay without first determining if they had already done that? Or why they weren’t curious about why other senior staff were aware of Visit Anaheim’s significant cut backs while the City Manager did not.

Also, its worth noting Visit Anaheim undertook dramatic staff furloughs and pay cuts (heaviest at the top) weeks ago, while Zapata is only now offering to reduce his pay by 10%.

Compounding Error
Voice of OC articles typically regurgitate content from previous articles. Here, Custodio and Pho repeat an error from earlier coverage of the City Council’s decision to allocate $6.5 million support Visit Anaheim in bringing conventions and business into Anaheim:

Zapata said he wanted the Council to give him the ability to negotiate with Visit Anaheim and draw up a strict performance review so he can track what the money is doing. 

But his concerns were disregarded by the majority. 

That is untrue.  The City Council disagreed with Zapata’s request to disburse the $6.5 million in chunks. But contrary to Pho and Custodio’s reporting, the Council did not oppose performance reviews, tracking the money or otherwise tracking and measuring progress and outcomes. The Council gave Zapata authority to negotiate contract terms. The City didn’t just cut a check to Visit Anaheim, but entered into a contract with Visit Anaheim which includes a work plan, reporting provisions and the ability for the City to audit.

Furthermore, the City has two seats on the Visit Anaheim board, and receives regular from reports from the organization.

Which begs the question: why do Custodio and Pho ignore these relevant and critical facts, and instead write stories that mislead the public to believe the opposite?

As I said, it’s been a long time since I chimed in. But the inaccuracies and omissions in the Voice of OC article need correcting. The real story is much different than what the Voice of OC reported. Maybe Pho and Custodio didn’t know all the facts. Maybe reporting all the facts was inconsistent with their preferred narrative. Regardless, their article is inaccurate and misleading.


  1. Let me guess the 2 city seats are part of the council majority. This is all a power grab by the Disney and Chamber puppet Sidhu. He couldn’t have come up this on his own he’s not that smart. An example of that is when he was running for mayor he said he was not aware that the city had its own utility company. Just another reason that the recall will succeed after the current stay at home orders are over.

    • I’d forgotten, you’re right. Sidhu had to be educated by Cynthia Ward, during a debate, that we owned our own utilities. There’s a video of that, I’d post it here if I could.

      • Which version of Cynthia Ward was that? 3.0? 4.0? 5.0? I’ve lost count.

        • The Cynthia I’ve known since 2012 who has been remarkably consistent and honest.

          • Matthew Cunningham

            Cynthia Ward’s views are as stable as a weather vane. She flips and flops and flips and flops. She does have some consistent traits: she is consistently judgmental and harsh, and she is absolutely convinced of the rightness of her positions, even if they are 180 opposite what she believe six months earlier.

          • Don’t sugar coat Cynthia Ward. She’s volatile and vindictive. Occasionally, she posts a public promise to be a good Christian and treat others with respect, and then falls of the wagon and back to her old ways.

            Since you’re so close to Cynthia, you doubtless know about the multiple “Sorry” letters she wrote to burned friends in the Colony as she prepared to run for mayor? The leaf didn’t stay turned over very long/

  2. West Anaheim Resident

    Once again the Voice of OC is Mr. Moreno’s mouthpiece. They want to be taken seriously as a news source but consistently post political and misleading diatribes proffered to them by their buddies on progressive left. This is sloppy and irresponsible. Thank you for correcting the record.

  3. Most people who read Voice of OC take it for what it really is… an advocacy blog. Nothing wrong with being an advocacy blog, but it is disingenuous when it masquerades as a balanced news blog. There is no balance in anything VOC has ever written when it comes to Anaheim. Saint Tait could do no wrong (see the Ducks deal) and Mayor Sidhu can do no right in VOC’s eyes. For VOC they will advocate through their “reporting” and print the information that supports their pre-decisional bias. It truly is unfortunate because if they offered anything even close to balance in their reporting, they would garner more respect from the greater Orange County community.

  4. One little thing, Insider – “hotel tax-funded” IS an honest and accurate way to describe an entity that is funded by hotel taxes.

    • The hotel tax is the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which Visit Anaheim doesn’t receive. That is different than the ATID, from which Visit Anaheim gets most of its funding. So no, it is not accurate.

      • It would have been very simple for Pho and Custodio to explain the ATID funding. They don’t have a word count limit. But they went the lazy route, thinking they had their big “scoop” from Moreno, Ward or whoever sent them the e-mail.

        Be honest for a moment, Vern, and admit the Voice of OC chose sides a long time ago and cannot claim to be an objective chronicler of Anaheim (with the exception of Thy Vo, who was a real, fair reporter).

        • Well I suppose I’m biased too, but it strikes me that Voice reporters long ago come to conclusions about Anaheim that any objective, not-paid-off observer would.

          • Matthew Cunningham

            That is so you, Vern. Anyone who does not agree with you is “paid off” or otherwise corrupt or suspect.

          • Spencer Custodio is a less talented version of Adam Elmharek, who was himself very partisan in his coverage of Anaheim. Nobody on either side had any doubt who Adam was shilling for. Kid glove treatment for Tait and Moreno. Dignifying the gadflies as mere “community members” while never failing to flag the political sympathies of community members Adam disagreed with. No wonder you clowns worshipped him.

  5. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers

    Why does anyone care what Vern Nelson has to say when he is a repeat DUI offender? He gets behind the wheel of his car and puts his own and other lives at risk. He has zero authority to admonish anyone.

  6. Anaheim Insider, it’s good to see you again, but the pieces you wrote for the Orange Juice Blog were better. Such as “$ave Mayor $idhu! $500 to $10,000 a Plate Dinner at Brewery X,” “The Silence of the LoGal,” and “Jordan Gets to Play with Matt’s Teddy Bear!”

    • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Vern. Too bad your fake Insider is such weak sauce. Try digging deeper for some talent.

      Maybe you can answer a question while you’re here: did they give you back your drivers license? Can you give us tips on how to get convicted for Driving Under the Influence FIVE TIMES without going to prison? Since you have time on your hands, maybe Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney Myles L. Berman has a spot for you on his team.

  7. Concerned Anaheim Citizen

    Sorry Mr. Cunningham you and Lying Mike Lyster have lost all credibility. I knew Mr Zappata would be Fired during the last Council meeting when Mr.Zappata was gone we he answered Dr. Moreno Question about the 6.5 million dollar theft by the puppet Council to give to visit Anaheim. And did not agree with the puppet council. So go peddle you lies somewhere else the TRUTH is out .

    • Concerned Anaheim Citizen, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t care about facts or truth. You’re just going to believe what you want.

  8. City Employee and Colony Resident

    Lying Mike Lyster? This is clearly a member of the Moreno Mafia who doesn’t like Mike Lyster and other city staff members who refuse to spread or cater to Moreno’s misinformation tactics. You give away your position by attacking staff members who have integrity and act with professionalism.

  9. Of course you can always retreat to pouting “the Mayor has the right to fire the City Manager at will whenever he wants,” and of course he does.

    But should he? And don’t give me, “We don’t know the real reasons,” the reason is that he gave a SLIGHTLY critical response, when asked, regarding the $6.5 million “emergency” gift to Visit Anaheim.

    This is a REALLY BAD TIME to be firing our City Manager for such petty reasons, in the middle of this economic and health crisis, when he’s overseeing most of the city’s response to that. And it’ll also cost us at least $300K, probably more. For petty reasons.

    As much as we enjoy adding to the list of these people’s sins, I hope that cooler heads prevail today, and Harry loses some of his council amen chorus on this.

    • Matthew Cunningham

      “the reason is that he gave a SLIGHTLY critical response, when asked, regarding the $6.5 million “emergency” gift to Visit Anaheim.”

      Vern, you have NO IDEA what the reason or reasons are. You talked to Moreno and Barnes and dreamed up a ridiculous reason and put it in your blog, and now you’re trying to spin that as the reason. Stop presenting your uninformed conjecture as fact.

      It’s funny. You never demanded that Tom Tait give his reasons for forcing Tom Wood and Paul Emery out of the city manager spot. You cheered Tait on for pushing out Paul Emery – who carried out the will of the council majority. Tait never gave a reason during the council meeting, and afterward told the Voice of OC:

      But Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said after the meeting that the action – which he requested – was part of his new vision for the city.

      “Appointing Linda Andal, I want to move the city to a new direction toward the neighborhoods. That’s why I did what I did tonight,” Tait said in a phone call.

      As I noted, Emery – a decent, well-liked guy – carried out the will of the Tait/Moreno majority, just as he had for the previous council majority. Tait wanted his own person, and Moreno supported that. Neither of them – or Barnes, for that matter – gave a reason during the council meeting for voting Emery out.

      During council comments at that meeting, Moreno said that if anyone wanted to know why he voted to request Emery’s resignation, he would meet with them one-on-one and explain those reasons “within the limits of the law.” And nothing more.

      If Zapata is dismissed and Moreno puts on his “tribune of the People” act tonight and carries on, demanding the mayor of his colleagues expalin why, then Moreno is an even bigger hypocrite than we thought.

      Shortly after Tait forced Tom Wood out, in November 2011, I saw him at an even and asked why they did that. Tom replied – quite rightly – that he couldn’t talk about a closed session item. I’m not sure I ever found out why Tait wanted to get rid of Tom Wood – a decent, well-liked guy. I do know that Tait’s council aide had painted a target on Wood’s back before Tait was even sworn in as mayor.

      Please get off your high horse.

      • Reasons for getting rid of Emery were self-evident, and many folks were happy to see him gone.

        But it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like Chris.

        • As a new resident of Anaheim I am sad that this is happening. I hope you plan to address the issue with an Op/Ed in the Voice. Otherwise I can only go with the voice that is not afraid to speak using their name.

          • Melody Marker, welcome to Anaheim. I do use my real name, but I’m not going to write an op-ed in the Voice, because I have my own blog, the Orange Juice Blog. You can get there by clicking on my name here. It’s a good place to find the other side of Anaheim stories from what you get here.

            • Matthew Cunningham

              At least, it’s a good place to get Vern’s half-baked speculation camouflaged as fact.

              Vern is a cheerleader for his favored politicians. He tends to keep criticisms of those politicians to himself.

            • And I would use roughly the same words about Matt, LOL. But I’m not making any money doing what I do.

              You make up your own mind, Miss Melody!

              • Matthew Cunningham

                Funny how you equate that with virtue and truth. Vern. When you write things that aren’t true or impugn the motives and characters of others (all things you have done many, many, many times), it isn’t elevated by the fact that you do it for free.

          • Melody:

            There’s something about Vern Nelson you ought to know: he has FIVE (5) convictions for Driving Under The Influence. The most recent was about two years ago.

            Don’t take my word for it. Look up “Vern Patrick Nelson” in OCCourts.org

        • Matthew Cunningham

          “Reasons for getting rid of Emery were self-evident, and many folks were happy to see him gone.”

          “Self-evident”? Translation: Vern can’t provide any. And who are the “many folks” who were happy to see him gone?

          Sorry, Vern. A lot of this is just in your own head. It’s like the names Denise Barnes read off during her council comments last night (and way to skip the open session, Councilwoman Barnes): it was a list of her supporters, the usual gadlfies, and progressive Democrat activists. Talk about astroturf.

          You and Moreno and Barnes and the rest are just plain hypocrites.

  10. Does the City Council have the sole discretion to hire and fire a City Manager or do they just give their recommendation? What is the procedure?

    • David Michael Klawe

      The City Manager is hired by a vote of the Council, after the staff does a recruiting search. A contract is signed, but they are an “at will” employee, meaning they can be fired at any time, usually with a buy-out clause written into the contract.

      So many times over the decades here in Anaheim, the Mayor has scheduled a Closed Session meeting to discuss replacing the City Manager, usually due to the fact there is some sort of personal disagreement,

      In the end, a majority of the city council must agree to terminate the employment, and name a replacement.

      On the other hand, the City Manager can also walk away at any time, such as finding a better job.

      In the contract, there are certain actions, usually criminal, that can force a termination without the buy-out clause. I can’t remember that happening in Anaheim.

      • Thanks, David! From what I read online this morning, it looks like Zapata is out and will receive a $450,000 severance package. Greg Garcia was named as interim until December 2020.

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