By Jim Tortolano
After a rowdy and loud public hearing, the Westminster City Council on Wednesday night reversed a decision from two weeks ago and voted 3-2 to approve a controversial apartment complex.
Mayor Tri Ta, Vice Mayor Tyler Diep and Councilmember Kimberly Ho supported the proposal to build a 24-unit project in the 13800 block of Milton Avenue on a 1.01-acre site. The council had voted 3-2 on Sept. 5 against the development; it was Ho’s switch that made the difference.
Ho defended her change by referring to the fact that while the city zoning allowed only 18 units on the site, state law allowed a developer to get a high-density bonus of additional apartments if some were rented to tenants at low- or very-low income rates.
The vote took place toward the end of a meeting that lasted nearly three and one-half hours. Part of the delay was that Ta didn’t arrive until over an hour after council convened.
Another complication was that residents at the meeting opposed to the project called on Diep to recuse himself from the vote because he had received a political contribution from developers Christopher Albers Sr. and Jr. Diep is the Republican nominee for the 72nd Assembly District.
While the city attorney said that the receipt of a contribution did not constitute a “disqualifying” financial conflict of interest, some in the audience complained that it created a “perception” of possible corruption.
There were actually two votes on the matter. Since the council voted previously to reject the project, what came before it on Wednesday was approval of a resolution outlining why they had opposed it. Diep abstained, but the resulting 2-2 vote meant the motion to approve the resolution failed.
The developers had made some changes from their original proposal, reducing the plan from 25 to 24 units, increasing available parking and making some changes in traffic circulation.
What followed was a contentious public hearing in which residents of that area voiced their opposition based on concerns about traffic, parking, sewage and other environmental issues.
A city traffic official and a police traffic officer told the council that their study of the area showed there was adequate parking nearby, and no serious traffic problems. But council members Rice and Contreras rebutted that. “You can’t say how many cars will come in after this is built,” Contreras said and Rice suggested that some of the rental units might have five residents with seven or so cars.
Ta struggled to keep members of the audience – most of which were in opposition – in check as some people shouted out remarks while the council was discussing the issue or when other people were speaking at the podium.
The next regular meeting of the city council is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 10.