By Jim Tortolano
The planned Little Saigon shuttle bus service will roll starting on Halloween, but not before some scary issues were raised at the Westminster City Council meeting Wednesday night.
On a 3-1 vote – with Councilwoman Margie Rice dissenting and Councilman Tyler Diep absent – the council approved an agreement with the Orange County Transportation Authority to begin a service to serve the city’s largest Vietnamese business district.
The free shuttle will run on a quadrangle including Magnolia Street, Bolsa Avenue, Brookhurst Street and Bishop Place. Each bus will seat about 20 riders, and there and there will be a new bus along every 20 minutes or so between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.
However, before the council took action to approve the agreement, there were some bumps along the way. Rice took exception to the city’s $61,000 share of the expense of the project. “We have a $5.3 million deficit. I can’t support this,” she said. According to City Manager Eddie Manfro, Westminster’s piece of the cost will come from funds provided by the Air Quality Management District, which gives money to cities to reduce air pollution.
But two other council members raised concerns as well. Diana Carey noted that the original plan was to raise the city’s share by selling advertising on the buses and soliciting donations, something that wasn’t done.
Carey and Councilman Sergio Contreras wondered why the rollout of the project was being set for Oct. 31. Carey had a theory.
“I didn’t want this moved up to before the election,” she said. “It’s political.” The Little Saigon project has been championed by Andrew Do, who represents the First District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. He is involved in what’s believed to be a tight re-election race with Michelle Martinez of Santa Ana.
Worried about the start schedule and financial issues, council members mulled whether it would be possible to postpone a decision until the meeting of Oct. 12. The OCTA project manager for the agreement said, “It has to be tonight.”
Mayor Tri Ta implored his colleagues to approve the deal, arguing that changes and details could be worked out later. The total cost of the project is $4 million, with $3.6 million coming from Measure M sales tax revenue.
Also Wednesday, the council voted 4-0 to give final approval to the city’s 2016 general plan update, which includes the creation of a new downtown along Westminster Boulevard from Beach Boulevard west to where the San Diego (405) Freeway crosses that thoroughfare, along with the widespread application of mixed-use planning.
Resident Charles Ponti raised objections about potential parking and land use issues on the street, and expressed skepticism about the concept of combining residential and commercial uses. “Mixed use doesn’t work everywhere,” he said.
City officials replied that the general plan was a broad outline for development, and that details about parking and other concerns would be discussed and approved later.