By Jim Tortolano
It took over a half-hour of sometimes heated debate, but the Westminster City Council on Tuesday night approved a “community improvement initiative” suggested by Councilman Sergio Contreras.
The panel voted 5-0 to implement the three-part plan following a verbal tussle between Contreras and Councilwoman Kimberly Ho over one component relating to dealing with the homelessness issue.
- establishment of a pilot program with City Net – an organization that works with cities on homelessness issues – to provide support services for people living outside of conventional housing. Anaheim, Buena Park, La Habra, Santa Ana and Stanton are currently involved.
- hiring of two part-time code enforcement officers to combat blight and launch a commercial area sweep program aimed at issues such as illegal banners, abandoned shopping carts and decaying shopping centers.
- addressing “troubled businesses” with special attention paid to massage and reflexology operations so they have a more “aesthetically pleasing appearance.”
The total net cost of the initiatives to the city budget was put at $95,000 in a report prepared by Assistant City Manager Chet Simmons.
It was the use of City Net as the provider for homeless services that raised Ho’s objections and led to the sharp words between her and Contreras. Ho wanted to choose from a wider variety of service providers, while Contreras wanted to start the programs as soon as possible.
She also raised the point that, according to some studies, up to 30 percent of the homeless preferred not to go to the shelters or use other services. “What are we going to do about them?” she asked. “I’m not interested in the 30 percent who don’t want help,” Contreras replied. “I’m interested in the 70 percent who do.”
Ho continued in saying “You can’t solve a problem by throwing money at it,” while Contreras said that he had been re-elected in November because he had a reputation with voters for frugality.
Finally, Ho agreed to support the initiative with the provisos that the pilot program last six months, and that by the three-month point a review on the progress and results of City Net’s efforts be made.
Tuesday’s action did not approve any specific contract with City Net; that will have to be negotiated and approved by the city council.