By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
When newly-elected city council member Chris Phan looks into the future, he sees a Garden Grove that will be beautiful, diverse but unified, and living up to its name as a grove of gardens.
Phan, 39, who has never run for public office before, won one of the two open seats on the city council in the Nov. 6 election. He will be officially sworn in and seated in December.
“I love the diversity of Garden Grove,” he said in a recent interview. “You have people of all backgrounds, Asians, Caucasians, Hispanics, all living together.”
Phan came to the Big Strawberry by a roundabout path. His father escaped from Communist-dominated Vietnam and was able to get his son out in 1981, when Chris was 8 years old. He grew up in Indiana, which was not exactly a hotbed of multiculturalism.
“I doubled the Asian population of my school when I enrolled,” he said.
Phan’s uncle lived in Garden Grove near Euclid Street and Trask Avenue and when visiting, Phan became enamored of the thriving Vietnamese culture in Orange County.
A lawyer by profession (he is a partner in a law firm in Fountain Valley), Phan served in the U.S. Navy as a judge advocate general (attorney) and is still in the Naval Reserve, holding the rank of lieutenant commander (analogous to a major in the Army).
He moved to Garden Grove in 2008 and has become involved not only in various Vietnamese veteran’s organizations, but also serves on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Garden Grove.
The first and most pressing issue facing him will be who to appoint to the vacancy on the council created by the elevation of Bruce Broadwater to the mayor’s post. The third-highest vote-getter was Phat Bui, but the council is under no legal obligation to select him.
“It’s going to be a tough decision,” he said. “I’m still thinking about it.”
Phan has a list of priorities and projects. Aside from making sure that the municipal budget is balanced, he wants to emphasize beautification of the city. That could include volunteer help to upgrade properties as well as tough code enforcement.
“If Garden Grove looks good, it will attract people and business,” he said.
On that theme, he would like to see the city have a botanical garden. “No other city around here has one, and it would help us live up to the name Garden Grove.”
Phan generally supports the city’s efforts to develop Harbor Boulevard into “International West,” studded with hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues. But he also wants to see the city pay more attention to other parts of the community, including West Garden Grove and the city’s center.
“One thing I think Garden Grove needs is a real downtown,” he said. He believes that city officials need to “sit down with all the stakeholders” and work out a plan to expand and enliven the community’s original central business district.
“I want there to be family-friendly places and activities there for during the day, and a lively place at night, more of an entertainment venue,” he said. “The city has a responsibility for that area.”
There’s more he wants to do – he admired council candidate Josh McIntosh’s call for community benefit agreements with developers – but he’s got some other pressing business to take care of early in his term.
He’s pre-engaged to Cindy Pham, and will make the betrothal official in March.
“I just want to say thank you so much to the community for having faith in me,” he said. “I promise you one thing; I will always work for what’s in the best interests for every one. I will never let you down.”