Council rejects effort to save Wintersburg

Local preservationists tried convincing Huntington Beach council members Monday to support efforts to save the buildings on the Wintersburg site.

Despite many pleas, the City Council voted 3 to 4 against asking Mayor Matthew Harper to send a letter to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in support of getting the property included on the organization's list of 11 most endangered places.

Council members Jill Hardy, Connie Boardman and Joe Shaw voted in favor of taking the action.

Boardman, who brought the item to the council Monday, explained that the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., helps the sites on its list by bringing them to the attention of national donors and coordinating fundraising efforts.

"By us writing this letter, it's not going to change the position you're going to be in," Councilman Joe Carchio said to preservationist Mary Urashima during the meeting. "We have supported this fundraising effort. Everybody's bent over backwards to support this fundraising effort… I don't think that the letter is going to make that much of a difference."

Rainbow Environmental Services, which owns the 4.4-acre property at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane, objects to efforts to get Wintersburg on the list, citing legal reasons. Rainbow Executive Chairman Jerry Moffatt said the company fears that endorsing such an endeavor would jeopardize its plans for the site.

Rainbow plans to demolish the buildings at Wintersburg, home to the first Japanese Presbyterian church in Orange County, and since November has given preservationists 18 months to raise funds to move the structures off the property.

The Wintersburg site was recently nominated for inclusion on the list of the 11 most endangered places in the United States. Recent inductees include the Chinatown House in Rancho Cucamonga, the Astrodome in Houston and the James River in Virginia.

"This proposal does not commit Rainbow to anything," Shaw said. "It is not changing the date of demolition. It is not changing anything. [It's about] giving the [Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force] a tool. That's all we're doing."

While Boardman, Shaw and Hardy saw the letter to the National Trust as a way to speed up the fundraising process, others on the council said they thought such an effort would continue the seemingly unending debate over Wintersburg.

"This has to end," Councilman Dave Sullivan said. "I feel that with this trust business, it will further extend [the process] and add another few years, and then Rainbow is left unable to use their property."

Sullivan added that although he believes Wintersburg is a historic site, it wouldn't be on his top 11 most endangered places in the United States.

Urashima said Tuesday that she was disappointed with the way the discussions went during the meeting.

She said she was surprised that the council majority didn't support the item despite stating in previous meetings that they would help her in fundraising efforts.

"Despite our efforts to educate all members of the council, it is disappointing that they've not taken up that opportunity," Urashima said.

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