Garden Grove City Council Approves Tattoo Shop on Main Street

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Garden Grove City Council members Tuesday approved a tattoo parlor and art studio for its historic Main Street, ending a months-long debate among residents about the street’s character and relevance to a changing city.

Young residents and supporters of Black Umbrella Tattoo filled the council chambers Tuesday night, many of whom said the meeting was their first foray into local politics.

The council voted 3-2 to reverse an August decision by the previous city council to reject the tattoo parlor, with council members Chris Phan and Phat Bui voting no. Both said they opposed rescinding council actions on principle.

They then voted 4-0, with councilmember Phan abstaining, to approve the conditional use permit for the tattoo shop.

The tattoo shop has been a source of tension among merchants and property owners of the historic corridor, who have long been split over what direction the declining Main Street district should take to preserve its character and revive business.

Some opposed to the tattoo studio have said it is an adult-themed business that doesn’t fit into the street’s family-oriented character.

Main Street Commissioner Charles Mitchell, who voted against the zone amendment, said the samples of art that might be displayed in the applicant’s gallery were not “wholesome pictures — they were more goth.”

He also pointed to requests by existing business owners on the street that have been denied by the city, including requests by restaurants for live music and a stage for performances.

“If you’re going to consider making special dispensations, there are also businesses that would like a second chance,” Mitchell said.

Scott Weimer, a member of the Downtown Business Association and a former city firefighter, argued the amendment would diminish the integrity of the street’s protective zoning and constitutes arbitrary spot zoning.

Weimer and other residents have also taken issue with councilman Kris Beard, who voted against the tattoo shop in August but decided to bring the issue back before the council after the November election.

Weimer accused Beard of flip-flopping. 

“It’s very disappointing […that] we the business and property owners could lose, simply due to a shift in power here on the council,” Weimer said.

City attorney Thomas Nixon said the zone amendment would not be spot zoning.

“The proposed action is not something that meets the definition of spot zoning. Spot zoning is not necessarily illegal…it’s only illegal if an action is arbitrary and serves no public purpose,” Nixon said.

Yet the tattoo shop’s critics were outnumbered Tuesday by more than three dozen supporters of the shop, many who said the new business would inject life into a downtown in need of new flavor.

“My number one complaint about the city is it lacks a cornerstone to a balanced life. The city has almost no entertainment, very few parks and restaurant options, other than fast food,” said Linda Zamora, a Planning commissioner and 12-year resident.

“Garden Grove has nothing except a dying Main Street,” Zamora said. “For me personally, when I search for entertainment I leave the city.”

Several young speakers pointed to the debate over Main Street as indicative of their alienation from the city’s culture and its elected leaders.

Joey Vargas, who works at a bar on Main Street and supports the tattoo studio, told the council that he had never voted or paid attention to city politics until he attended a meeting to support the tattoo studio.

“I just did not care — because you guys didn’t care about me,” Vargas said of the city council. “Listening to Mr. Broadwater talk about art…he said we would never sell art [in Garden Grove]. The person who gave me my first guitar saved my life. The two options where I came from in Westminster were violence and music.”

“We are going to get louder and more active in this community, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he added.

Krystin Gibson, the applicant and spouse of artist Kurtis Gibson, said her experience lobbying for her business was what spurred her to take interest in local politics for the first time, and she is nursing a newfound addiction to city council meetings.

Many speakers also personally addressed the newly sworn in Mayor Bao Nguyen, who campaigned on making the city more attractive for younger residents to live and work in.

“I registered to vote for the first time because of you,” Gibson told the newly elected Mayor. “I realized that local politics is the most important politics to me.”

Although Nguyen did not weigh in on his feelings about tattoos, he said the studio would be an exciting development for the street.

“What I see is a property owner leasing his property to an applicant,” Nguyen said.

Phan, who voted for the tattoo shop in August, said that he supported the tattoo shop but abstained from the vote to approve the amendment, saying he needed to hear from more Main Street business owners himself.

Responding to criticism, Beard said that back in August he had a personal dislike of tattoos but “evolved” in his views after speaking with voters during the campaign season.

“This is a generational issue,” Beard said of tattoos. “If it’s not already, it’s definitely mainstream.”

Councilman Steve Jones, who was appointed Mayor Pro Tem at the meeting, voted for the tattoo shop in August.

“I think it’s sort of commonly known that Main Street is fragmented in its visions for the future. Whether its fifty-fifty, sixty-forty, it’s irrelevant in some sense,” Jones said. “This is an item that has broader implications than Main Street’s act of interest…it should be the living room for the entire city.”

Contact Thy Vo at thyanhvo@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter, @thyanhvo.

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