Garden Grove to Review Residency Requirements for Planning Commission

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The Garden Grove City Council will review the city’s residency requirements for its planning commission after Voice of OC reported last week that commissioner Vu Mai appears to live in the city of San Clemente.

Mai was present and addressed the council during public comment, emphasizing that while his family lives in San Clemente and he claims a tax exemption on his home there, he spends most of his time in Garden Grove, where his dental practice is located, and is invested in the city.

“When it comes to my home, the way I look at it, I’m going to get the most tax write off, that’s why I put in for San Clemente…the home here is not worth as much as San Clemente,” Mai said.

“There is no lie here, no malicious intent on my part, to do anything wrong for the city. There is no financial gain or political gain for me. I do it because I love the city,” Mai added.

Although Mai does own a home in Garden Grove, which he uses for rental income, he is registered to vote in San Clemente and as of last week hadn’t updated his registration since 2012, according to the county Registrar of Voters. He said he hadn’t registered in Garden Grove because he typically doesn’t vote in local elections.

At the meeting, City Attorney Omar Sandoval said Mai is now registered in Garden Grove. Several residents called for the city to clarify its requirements for residency.

“You can’t have it both ways. It’s one or the other…and the message is simple here,” said Tony Flores. “If you’re going to be on our commission, live in our city. Don’t play in any games.”

Resident Josh McIntosh praised Mai’s work on the commission since he was appointed by Councilman Phat Bui in 2015.

“He’s one of the most engaged, he asks questions, he partcipates. He always wants to dig deeper into the issues,” McIntosh said.

Although planning commissioners must be residents and registered to vote in Garden Grove, the city operates on an honor system when processing applications and does not follow up on residency claims.

Some cities don’t require their commissioners to be residents. The city of Emeryville, Calif., for example, allows business owners to serve as well.

Councilman Kris Beard suggested requiring all commissioners to be registered to vote in the city. At the next meeting, council members will also consider any appointments or removal of commissioners.

There is currently one vacancy on the Planning Commission after Commissioner Joe Pak stepped down from his seat early. The seat has been left open since Mayor Bao Nguyen’s first appointment, Julie Vo, failed to gain support from his colleagues.

Bui said that, given the relative inexperience of the current commissioners, they should appoint a more experienced candidate to serve out the last year of Pak’s term. Vo has never served on a city commission.

Nguyen said he plans to fill the seat at the next council meeting on Jan. 26.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.