By Jim Tortolano
It was 2003. The sleepy rural stretch of Gilbert Street in Garden Grove lined with tall eucalyptus trees was about to become something else entirely, and some local residents – including Maureen Blackmun – sprung into action.
“The developer wanted to build a gated community with 16 houses,” said Blackmun, on lots where two houses had stood. “This was one of the first grass roots movements” which led to the establishment of the Garden Grove Neighborhood Association. Fearful of the precedent such a project might create along the rustic stretch, a new group and a new civic leader emerged.
Blackmun, 64, a resident of Garden Grove since 1979, is now the president of the GGNA and is an often-seen and influential figure in community civic affairs.
“I think she’s wonderful,” said Mayor Steve Jones. “We’ve all been kind of growing together in the last 10 years as the city has done better at public engagement and the stakeholders in the city develop more of a sense of direct communications and trust.
“I think she’s blossomed and become very positive, critical but in a positive way. I really look forward to working with her and engaging with her,” said Jones.
Blackmun and others organized the Central Garden Grove Neighborhood Association and battled Brandywines Homes both in court and at the ballot box. The CGGNA – forerunner of the GGNA – gathered enough signatures to put the proposed development to voters. The result? The city council backed off on planned variances and what was built instead were 12 homes in a non-gated project.
The CGGNA has since evolved into the GGNA and has spread its net more widely. According to Blackmun, it has 312 members on its rolls and about 100 attend annual meetings.
Since its inception, the association has been key to many issues in the city. When districting first was considered in Garden Grove, the initial plan was to divide the city into five districts, with the mayor chosen from among those five. The GGNA went to court and won a judgment which resulted in the expansion of the council to seven members – six elected by district and a mayor chosen by voters at large.
The association is active in many fields, including the Adopt A Senior program, which donates gift cards to needy elderly residents around the winter holidays and gives gift cards at the Acacia Adult Day Center and H. Louis Lake Senior Center around Valentine’s Day.
“We monitor all city council meetings,” said Blackmun, “and provide input on upcoming projects. We have an active city council member – Stephanie Klopfenstein – on our board.”
These days, the association is focusing on several issues. “Right now highest on our Richter Scale is our homeless population,” she said. It’s also interested in the animal care services program started this year in Garden Grove, as well as various developments in the downtown area.
She’s full of praise for both City Manager Scott Stiles and Jones. “I think Steve Jones is a very dynamic mayor.” As for Stiles, she says the GGNA was crucial in pushing for the hiring of an outside city manager when Matt Fertal resigned amid controversy.
Blackmun also has kind words for both Fertal and former mayor Bruce Broadwater. “I think history is going to treat Bruce very well,” she said. “What he did on Harbor Boulevard wasn’t always popular but we wouldn’t have a budget if it wasn’t for him and Fertal,” referring to the tax revenue brought in by the development of a hotel row there.
For now, she sees the GGNA as a go-between connecting residents to their local government. “Our job is to coordinate, to put in our two cents,” she said. “In the beginning we were adversaries and now they look to us as a voice of the community.
“I’m very excited about the future of the community,” she said. “I feel like I’m working for my investment in the community. I feel that Garden Grove is headed in a great direction.”
Categories: Garden Grove