Former San Leandro city manager ousted in Anaheim and his fall seems familiar

Chris Zapata had a successful, but stormy stints as San Leandro's city manager, before leaving to take the same job in Anaheim two years ago.

Former San Leandro City Manager Chris Zapata’s departure two years ago ended one of the strangest periods in the city’s political history. He was accused of sexual harassment by the head of a well-known local profits that included, depending on the point of view, romantic texts, and featuring multiple rendezvous for ice cream at the local Foster’s Freeze parking lot.

San Leandro beatAn independent investigation by the city later threw cold water over most of the allegations. Zapata was reinstated as city manager, but he later resigned. But on the way out the door donated his $350,000 severance package to San Leandro charities. He later parlayed the incident into a plum job as Anaheim city manager, essentially transforming his image from alleged sexual harasser at the height of the MeToo movement into a philanthropic darling.

(Zapata received a $475,000 severance package from Anaheim, the Orange County Register reported on Friday.)

But while Zapata’s is credited with negotiating a successful stadium deal with Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels, and, by at least one Anaheim councilmember, had led the city admirably through the covid-19 pandemic, he was pushed out by the Anaheim City Council on Tuesday, according to the Voice of OC.

Zapata’s demise in Anaheim, a city government dominated by Disney, came after he questioned a $6.5 million bail out of Visit Anaheim, a group that promotes Disneyland properties and other local businesses, according to the Voice of OC. Zapata also pushed for reductions in the salaries of some top Visit Anaheim officials, along with his own.

Some details in the reports from Anaheim may sound familiar to San Leandrans. The fact Zapata also pledged to reduce his $300,000 a year salary by 10 percent, appears to be a hallmark of his administrative style. Zapata routinely lowered his own salary while in San Leandro in order to boost the pay of his assistant city manager and the chief of police. He believed the charity would act as an enticement to keep talented employees in the city.

Moreover, a local Anaheim politics blog offers that Zapata was notified by the city’s mayor that he could be relieved of his duties at a closed session meeting on Tuesday. The blog suggests Zapata then allegedly leaked the emails that contained his pay cut proposal and criticisms of Visit Anaheim.

If accurate, Zapata employed a similar strategy of attempting to control the narrative in San Leandro two years ago when the San Francisco Chronicle was preparing an article on Davis Street Family Resource Center CEO Rose Padilla Johnson’s allegations against Zapata.

Just prior to the article being published, Zapata fired off a 23-page letter to the East Bay Citizen and others that showed, in some cases with great detail, his side of the story, and later, text messages that undercut Johnson’s allegations. With the letter, it also appeared like Zapata was attempting to blow the whistle on some of San Leandro’s less savory actors and actions.

It would no surprise if Anaheim leaders were indeed upset by Zapata leaking emails to the press. San Leandro elected leaders also found fault with Zapata publicly airing City Hall’s dirty laundry in his 23-page letter two years ago.