Developer Scraps Plan for Bridge in Little Saigon
A developer has abandoned plans for a Harmony Bridge in Orange County’s Little Saigon amid complaints from residents who said the planned link between the community’s two main shopping hubs did not accurately represent Vietnamese culture.
“The controversy created by a few members of the Vietnamese community has discouraged us from moving forward,” developer Frank Jao said Tuesday of the project he was heading with six other property owners.
“It’s dead in our hearts, and in our plans,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of members of the community that want it, and the city wants it, but it’s not in my agenda.”
The 500-foot-long, 30-foot-wide bridge would have been a major landmark in Little Saigon, spanning Bolsa Avenue and connecting the Asian Village Mall and the Asian Garden Mall.
But the project sparked controversy because initial drawings for the bridge’s exterior decoration included dragons and other motifs that were criticized by some residents for their Chinese influence. Opponents said they feared the structure would have diminished Little Saigon’s Vietnamese ambience and cultural identity.
“I feel very relieved,” said Mai Cong, a community leader who formed a committee of about 200 residents to oppose the bridge’s design. “If it was to be built, it should have the flavor of Vietnamese culture, not Chinese.”
Cong said she hopes the experience will prompt city planners to be more culturally sensitive in the future.
“We would like to see the city work with the community to have design standards for future developments so we don’t have to go through all of this again,” she said.
The Westminster City Council already had endorsed a plan to issue bonds to finance a $3-million bridge, with the property owners paying the bill over a 30-year period.
Cong’s group protested the bridge’s design at recent meetings of the city’s Planning Commission, which approved the structure but withheld a final decision on the design. The City Council also delayed a final vote on the project last week until design details could be worked out.
Westminster Mayor Charles V. Smith said the city and Little Saigon business owners would have benefited from the bridge.
“I’m very disappointed,” Smith said. “This would have helped promote Little Saigon as a tourist destination and as the cultural and economic capital of the Vietnamese free world.
“It will cost the Vietnamese community because [the bridge] would have brought shoppers and tourists to Little Saigon, and from the city’s standpoint, it would have brought tax dollars.”
City Councilman Tony Lam said Tuesday that he now hopes to step up other projects in the area, including a cultural heritage center.
The council “just finished a brainstorm session, where we established the development of Little Saigon as a priority,” Lam said. “There’s a lot that can be done.”
Jao first suggested the idea of building a bridge nearly a decade ago. The developer withdrew his proposal Monday amid criticism that he was trying to diversify Little Saigon into a more general Asian community.
He said Tuesday he is continuing work on other plans to draw tourists to the mile-long commercial strip, including a large outdoor plaza with sculptures, fountains, kiosks and dining areas. He said those future projects do not include a bridge.
“We’ll refocus our attention on other issues that will be more profitable for us,” Jao said.
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