If anyone reading recent headlines about the infamous Orange County bankruptcy starring Citron, Raabe and Steiner (not related!) assumes that corruption and incompetence among county officials are a new phenomenon, a look at the history of the Anaheim Hills development should put that notion to rest. Our peaceful-looking hillside community, in fact, wouldn’t even exist in its present form were it not for some underhanded political extortion during the early 1970’s.
Anaheim Hills was originally part of a sprawling, 5900 acre cattle ranch owned by Louis Nohl. Mr. Nohl decided in 1969 to set aside more than half of his property, converting it into a tax-exempt agricultural preserve. It’s at this point that some major financial players bought their way onto the scene.
In 1970, Nohl sold virtually all of his property to the Grant Corp., a development firm that was in a partnership with Texaco. Over the span of the next five years, Texaco ended up buying the Grant partners out. Texaco had purchased a half-interest in the land in 1971 for $5.5 million, then obtained the rest in 1975 for an undisclosed amount (non-disclosure is also not just a recent corrupt phenomenon).
So the stage was set for Texaco to start in on the development of the community. Only one obstacle now stood between Texaco and the untold millions to be reaped from the development -- its tax-exempt status as an agricultural preserve.
Under the original provisions of Nohl’s deal with government officials, the land that he had set aside as a preserve was to remain protected from development until 1981. Needless to say, Texaco wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of waiting for a decade to begin building profits. So they decided to find a way around the preserve’s protected status.
Texaco began lobbying county and city officials to release the land from being an agricultural preserve. They presented their plans for Anaheim Hills to the City Council in October, 1970. The public argued against Texaco being allowed to develop the land. The county Planning Commission, two separate grand juries, and numerous environmental groups also weighed in against the plan (much like what is now happening at the proposed El Toro Airport).
Finally, after three years of hot debate, 17 Planning Commission hearings and 22 City Council meetings, and with the full knowledge that this area was prone to landslides, the Board of Supervisors voted to release Texaco from the preserve agreement by the vote of 3-2. The deciding vote was cast by then-Supervisor Ralph “Super D” Diedrich, a political animal who was known and feared as one of the most powerful (and corrupt) men in the county.
Diedrich was a World War II hero whose immense power and influence has been called “the closest Orange County ever came to a political machine.” Unfortunately for him, though, the secret back-room dealing that swirled around the Texaco development plan soon became public knowledge.
In 1974, Diedrich was brought up on felony charges of soliciting and receiving $75,000 in bribes from Anaheim Hills developer the Robert H. Grant Corp., in exchange for his agreement to vote to release the land from the preserve agreement. The trial had to be moved down to San Diego due to the immense negative publicity that surrounded it.
The case was tried by then-Assistant District Attorney Michael Capizzi, and in 1979 Diedrich was convicted of bribery charges. “Super D” ended up spending 20 months in prison and never returned again to the County whose political fortunes he had so single-handedly controlled.
Although it was established in court that Diedrich had illegally voted to release the preserve due to payoffs, the vote was never overturned. It was too late -- Texaco’s development had commenced almost as soon as the vote had been taken. Obviously, crime in Orange County politics does pay.
Anaheim Hills thus started its shaky life as the result of the same sort of shady political practices that still plague Orange County to this very day.
Is it really feasible that Anaheim Hills, which began its life with a scandal, could escape its dark heritage of corruption? Is it possible that its city officials could ever respect its citizens’ rights? Our current problems with the City of Anaheim are but another manifestation of a pervading aura of corruption and cover-up that has, in fact, always been part and parcel of dealing with local officials.
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