It’s the Battle of Liberty Park

THE SALE of a portion of Liberty Park (Monroe Street north of Westminster Boulevard) in 2016 as “excess property” has prompted a call for an outside investigation (Orange County Tribune photo).

The finger-pointing and insult-hurling among members of the Westminster City Council has long been confined to personal animosities, political rivalries and – sometimes – legitimate differences of opinion.

But now, information has emerged suggesting that wrong decisions may have been made for wrong reasons. At its Oct. 13 meeting, the city council majority asked for inquiries by outside investigators about two issues: possible undue influence in the selection of former City Councilman Tyler Diep for a consulting job for the city (since cancelled) and the 2016 sale of a portion of Liberty Park to a private party.

As troubling as both instances might be, the one that has “legs” is likely to be the sale of a 10,000 square foot part of the park to a private party known as STT Westminster Property LLC (it’s since been sold to another private party).

Terry Rains, a self-described watchdog of local government, has dug into the paperwork and brought up some key points. Who decided the land was “excess”? Why was the action buried in the consent calendar, which is usually the catch-all for routine items? Why was the price at the time so low? Why was the address not listed, just a parcel number?

At the council meeting, Mayor Tri Ta – the only council member from 2016 still serving – and City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen – kind of shrugged and disavowed much knowledge of the nature of the transaction.

Ta said he just “assumed” that the city manager – Eddie Manfro at the time – had “vetted” the matter to make sure it was proper. Bettenhausen claimed he knew little about the transaction, although Rains says that city records show he was present – as assistant city attorney  – for one closed council session on the sale at the time.

“This is the first time I’m aware of this. I don’t recall this. It’s highly irregular and I think we should look into it,” he said on Oct. 13, adding that listing the sale of part of the park on the consent calendar as a “routine matter” was “highly problematic. We don’t ever sell property in consent. It’s also sold by quit-claim, which is not normal.”

Problematic is a good word for it. As the investigation moves along, other words may be used.

The urbanization of suburbia looms …

Land use issues seldom attract the attention that the public – and journalists – give to holdups and car crashes, but in the long run, they have a much bigger impact.

A LARGE mixed-use development on Beach Boulevard in Stanton (City of Stanton).

At tonight’s meeting of the Garden Grove Planning Commission, the panel will consider (and probably approve) a series of actions that amount to one of the biggest rezones in recent city history.

In order to comply with state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), Garden Grove is required to zone for 19,168 units for “all income levels” by the end of the decade.

Now, that doesn’t mean all that housing will actually be built. But considering the areas to be rezoned, it’s a fair bet that some of it will eventually come to fruition.

The areas generally affected are:

  • along Garden Grove Boulevard at the Beach Boulevard and Harbor Boulevard intersections
  • along Harbor between Trask Avenue and Westminster Avenue
  • along Westminster Avenue at the Taft Street and Euclid Street intersections
  • Brookhurst Street south of 15th Street and
  • the southeast corner of Katella Avenue and Magnolia Street.

The areas designated would be converted from a land use designation of commercial or industrial nature to mixed use (housing and retail, typically) or residential uses.

A couple of noteworthy aspects to this are worth pointing out. First, there’s no rezoning of single family areas to higher density, although the advent of accessory dwelling units and new rules about how many houses you can have on a single family home lot will certainly make a difference in the character of some neighborhoods.

Second, planners have rather wisely picked locations that could – in our opinion – use a refresh, consisting in some cases of vacant lots or less-than-wonderful uses.

The two takeaways are these. Garden Grove, like most Orange County cities, is going to get a lot denser. Suburban is becoming at least semi-urban. And if you want to see the future of arterial streets, drive along Beach Boulevard in Stanton and see the apartments and condos going up. The future isn’t quite here, but you can see it from there.

“Usually Reliable Sources” alternates weekly with Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” column.




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