After years of fighting over whether a Vietnam War battle should be memorialized on public park space, a split Westminster City Council put an end last week to divisive monument plans dedicated to South Vietnam’s 1972 recapturing of Quang Tri overseas.
“The city council is at an impasse and there is no popular support for the monument which is too big in size for any city park,” said Councilmember NamQuan Nguyen at last Wednesday’s regular meeting, after proposing to ditch the project with Councilmember Amy Phan West.
The first concept, proposed in 2020, was envisioned at Sid Goldstein Freedom Park, submitted by a private group called the Quang Tri Victory Foundation whose board included the city’s former and current mayors, Tri Ta and Charlie Nguyen.
But the war monument met immediate questions, one being whether the city really needed another – with a plaque bearing the names of its approving city officials and donors.
The council’s split 3-2 vote also puts an end to the city-appointed committee tasked with overseeing the installation, whose concept and location were the subject of fierce debate among opposing City Council factions since the turn of the decade.
But the dynamics were different Wednesday, after the November election brought two new faces to the council who moved to end the infighting about which veteran groups would or would not be memorialized – or which sites would be deemed culturally insensitive in a city with 34,000 Vietnamese American residents.
Another question was whether one of the county’s most park-poor cities would sacrifice a portion of what little open space remained for what critics saw as a ploy for political name recognition.
In 2021, calls for an investigation into the sale of city parkland, on top of other public impropriety charges, brought the council’s political divide to new heights.
In June of 2021, council members Kimberly Ho, Carlos Manzo and former council member Tai Do voted to take the monument from the Quang Tri Victory Foundation, and thus their political foes, Ta and Nguyen, and bring it under city control instead.
In doing so, they formed the planning committee composed of 11 members with backgrounds tied to the military and war.
But rather than raising bronze off the ground, the committee, in its 18 months of existence, has been “the source of continuous in-fighting, allegations of Brown Act violations, racial bias, internal conflicts … that have caused so much division and criticism from Westminster residents,” Nguyen said during the meeting.
He and a council colleague, Amy Phan West, are both new in their offices, and after watching the Quang Tri contention as residents from the outside for years, both voted in favor of canceling the city project last Wednesday.
They were joined by Mayor Chi Charlie Nguyen.
NamQuan Nguyen’s suggestion to the disbanded committee members that day was for the monument planning “to go private.”
“Which will still give the group every opportunity to apply for and continue with the monument project, but without the restriction of law and regulations for being a government entity,” he said. “They can do everything and more for going private with this monument project.”
From the dais, West declared the committee’s disbanding “important” to saving the city “time and resources.”
Councilmember Kimberly Ho, who first proposed the city monument committee in 2021, called NamQuan Nguyen “biased,” as a close ally to Nguyen and Ta.
“You are part of a tight knit group,” she told him from across the dais.
Councilmember Carlos Manzo abstained from the vote.
“When the original monument came out from the Quang Tri Victory Foundation, my wish was for that committee to work with the veterans – the Army Republic of Vietnam Veterans and the American Vietnam veterans – but that did not happen because of the division in the Vietnamese community, and that wasn’t gonna happen because of the two different factions here in the city,” Manzo said during the meeting.
He added, “If you can cure that? Yeah, you’re the savior of the city.”
Manzo tied it to the continued struggle for power over the dais he sat along, blaming colleagues for “adding fuel to the fire” in introducing certain topics at meetings.
“The fight continues.”
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