An uncivil war and Willowick worries


The end of the year is traditionally a time to reflect on the important, tragic and weird of the previous 12 months. 2019 is no exception, so here’s some thoughts about the good, the bad and the ugly for Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Stanton and Westminster looking back.

The Great Westminster Mud Wrestle

If you’re the kind of person who likes to watch train wrecks or to marvel as people trying to get to their feet on a slippery sidewalk, the Westminster City Council chamber in 2019 was the place to be.

For weeks on end, the chamber was a sometimes tragic, sometimes comic collision of politics, guilt, ego and self-interest. The council majority – Mayor Tri Ta and council members Kimberly Ho and Chi Charlie Nguyen – battled the minority – council members Tai Do and Sergio Contreras – over a wide variety of topics including nepotism, council procedure and old wounds.

The memory of the conquest of South Vietnam by the Communist north nearly a half-century ago still hangs over this city of nearly 100,000 people. When a verbal scrap develops, one side or the other accuses the other of being a communist, or at least a dupe of Hanoi.

Do once – with sarcasm – proclaimed Westminster to now be “Ho Chi Minh City” in response to the somewhat autocratic way that council meanings were being run. In response to criticism from the minority, the majority  – called “The Gang of Three” by opponents – passed a resolution “Condemning Campaign of Political Disruption and Misinformation to Foment Disorder in the City and the City Council.”

Most neutral observers saw that as a clumsy attempt to connect opponents of the council majority to the ever-present – and likely fantastical – attempts by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to somehow seize control of this “All American City.”

The next step in this whole mind-boggling soap opera is a recall election which could remove Ta, Ho and Nguyen from office next spring. Regardless of the outcome there, it would sure be nice to see community finally stop clinging to past injuries and start looking forward to a better future.

Willowick hits one into the rough

Everybody dreams of an inheritance that lifts us out of the mundane. A rich uncle, an oil strike in the backyard, that thing you’ve been trying to invent in the garage … It seemed that Garden Grove was about to hit El Dorado with the modest Willowick Golf Course, a 101.5-acre duffer’s paradise located in Santa Ana but owned – since 1964 – by the taxpayers of the Big Strawberry.

The lease on the parcel is expiring and the two cities have been seeking to figure out how best – and how lucratively – that big flat chunk of land in the middle of central Orange County could be developed.

That effort has been slowed by lawsuits and protests seeking to make affordable housing and open space the focus of any new project. The requirements of two cash-poor cities and nearby poor citizens fighting sky-high California rents might appear to be in mortal conflict.

Does that have to be? It’s been said that a good compromise is when both sides go away disappointed. The possibility of some kind of middle ground does raise some thorny issues, such as:

  • Which would be a better economic benefit to the neighbors of Willowick? An affordable housing requirement or the jobs (and wages) from a more upscale development?
  • As far as open space goes, how likely are Garden Grove taxpayers going to be willing pay for a park located in another city (Santa Ana)?
  • Where does the need for a homeless shelter fit into the equation? Court rulings are pushing cities quite firmly into establishing facilities for the under-housed. 
  • There is already a small park right next to the site, the Cesar Chavez Campesino Park. Would an expansion of that facility with land chiseled from the Willowick site be enough to meet open space demands?

This and other factors may be become front and center as the process moves forward. As with the rich uncle’s will, things sometimes get a little complicated once the lawyers get involved.

More on this theme to follow. Usually Reliable Sources is posted on alternative weeks.

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