By Jim Tortolano
Another struggle in the Vietnam War was fought – symbolically – at the Westminster City Council meeting Wednesday night. Loud, angry arguments among council members and shouting from the audience punctuated the gathering, as several issues related to the long-ended conflict were taken up.
Much of the meeting was consumed by a verbal battle over a March 5 resolution commending Vietnamese actress Ngo Thanh Van (also known as Veronica Ngo) for her work on a film combating human trafficking.
Councilmember Tai Do objected to the commendation and wanted his name removed or the commendation rescinded. That began a lengthy – at times heated – argument between Do and Mayor Tri Ta.
A motion to rescind the commendation and issue a new one with the names of members Do and Sergio Contreras removed failed on a 3-2 vote. A new motion to remove the names of Do and Contreras from the resolution for the record was approved on a 5-0 vote.
While politics were not explicitly mentioned during the debate, Ta defended himself by saying “I am anti-Communist.”
Another issue, a resolution to ban representatives from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and members of the Vietnamese Communist party from visiting the U.S. also proved to be contentious.
Do argued that the resolution was “purely symbolic” and was “all bark and no bite.” He went on to say that council members were using the resolution and other issues that might be of particular interest to the Vietnamese community “as a way to cover up for our mistakes.”
He added that “Vietnamese are 50 percent of the city, but what about the other 50 percent?” and called for better risk management and lower taxes. Do nevertheless joined the council majority in backing the resolution.
During Do’s lengthy statement, Ta eventually sought to cut him off, saying it was time to move on with a vote. Do objected, saying “I have a right to speak,” but City Attorney Richard Jones upheld the mayor’s prerogative to limit debate. “I am the chair,” said Ta. “I am the chair.”
Another item produced controversy. The council approved on a 5-0 vote a request to establish a memorial in a city park to South Vietnamese sailors killed in a 1974 sea battle with Chinese naval forces in a territorial dispute.
A woman in the audience repeatedly voiced her opposition during the meeting and even sought to speak at the podium after the council had made its decision. She tried to talk anyway, and Ta sought to regain control of the meeting by repeating “This is not the time for a public hearing.” Finally two police officers escorted her from the podium.
Some of her supporters present said the reason she did not speak at the public communications portion was that the meeting starting time had been moved up from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. and she could not leave work.
You missed the main point Jim. Tri Ta has no authority to issue a resolution on his own, rather it MUST be brought in front of the council for agreement by the entire body. This was the point of Tai Do’s lengthy comments. He correctly pointed that out to Ta and the other two council council supporters of Ta, one of whom tried to shut him up. (Ho) During my eight years on the Westminster School Board we had many resolutions brought up with each and every one of them having to be voted on by the board. Ta, Ho and Nguyen are trying to run this council as if it’s a backwater village in some banana republic somewhere.
I am the woman in the audience who repeated voiced her opposition during the meeting.
The entire meeting was a mockery – including moving the meeting start time from 7pm to 5pm for the first time in the recently history of the Westminster City Council Meetings. This resulted in many people not being able to arrive at 5pm (including me) but also the Mayor limited public speaking times to only 2 minutes instead of the 5 minutes allowed under the Brown Act.
Please understand I am not in opposition to the Vietnamese American communities desire to construct a museum and monuments to share and memorialize their experiences and loss. I fully support their interests.
However, I am strongly in opposition to the proposal to allow the addition of additional monuments at Sid Goldstein Freedom Park. In this case the addition of the Paracel Monument Freedom Park to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of 74 sailors in the Republic of Vietnam Navy during the battle of the Paracel Islands on January 19, 1974, during the Vietnam War era.
Sid Goldstein Freedom Park is the location of the Vietnam War Memorial which memorializes the duty, honor, and sacrifice of all members of the South Vietnamese and American military. This quiet park is considered by many to be sacred and was designed with input from both American and South Vietnamese veterans.
It is not appropriate to place monuments or museums specific to South Vietnam at this location. Particularly one that will also honor by name the Mayor,City Council Members, City Staff, Architect…and the sponsoring group and donors. This smacks of politics and influence to allow private interest groups to place their own memorials (or museum) at this location directly across from City Hall.
The sponsoring group Hoi Ai Huu Hai Quan Cuu Long had its IRS 501(c)3
tax-exempt status permanently revoked by the IRS in 2012 for failure to file the required IRS Form 990 for three consecutive years. This group cannot represent themselves as a charitable organization and donors cannot claim a charitable deduction for tax purposes.
Once again, we have the Mayor (and a vice-mayor) proposing to allow special interest groups place a monument (or museum) at Sid Goldstein Freedom Park, and the organization has a gray cloud over it. We had a similar situation in October 2018 when a group wanted to construct a quonset hut museum at this location to tell the story of the war and relocation from the South Vietnamese perspective.
The Westminster City Council is being short-sighted and is overlooking a much larger opportunity! Why not look into setting aside an area at nearby Liberty Park to host a Museum and memorials for the South Vietnamese experience? Liberty Park is 1/4 block walking distance from our Vietnam Memorial, bus stops, and there is ample parking at Westminster City Hall. This would be a fascinating historical enhancement and also attract many visitors to this part of Westminster.
The Rose Theater could be used for scheduled historical presentations and oral histories. The Westminster Museum is also a short distance away.
Let’s take a step back to identify an appropriate location and develop a comprehensive plan rather than going about it in a hodge-podge fashion. The current Mendez project is a great example of what we can accomplish by working together from a cohesive plan.