Nancy Oda, Evelyn Shimazu Yee and Tom Fujii wait to testify during the Planning Commission’s Aug. 13 meeting. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Report

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Three votes taken by the Huntington Beach Planning Commission on the development of the Historic Wintersburg site, also known as the Warner-Nichols property, have been appealed to the City Council.

The council is tentatively scheduled to take up the issue on Monday, Oct. 7.

The site contains buildings, including the Furuta family farm and Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, that represent the thriving Japanese American community in Orange County prior to World War II.  The buildings are no longer in use and are in need of renovation.

The property owner, Rainbow Environmental Services, is seeking to have the buildings either relocated or demolished, arguing that they are an obstacle to development as well as a blight and a magnet for crime. A draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which Wintersburg advocates have challenged, states that rehabilitation and reuse of the buildings on-site is not feasible.

For those advocating preservation, relocation would be the more expensive option. Funds for relocation and rehabilitation would have to be raised privately as the city would not be involved.

On Aug. 13, after hearing testimony from more than 20 people, including representatives of Rainbow and the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, the Planning Commission voted 4-3 to certify the draft EIR; voted 5-2 to approve the General Plan Amendment (GPA) and Zoning Map Amendment (ZMA) to rezone the property to commercial/industrial; and voted 4-3 to deny the Statement of Overriding Consideration (SOC), which would have allowed demolition.

Some commissioners said they felt “torn” between the needs of the company, which says its employees would be adversely affected if demolition is not permitted, and community advocates who say that a valuable historic resource would be lost forever.

Anyone objecting to these votes had 10 days to appeal.

Mayor Pro Tem Mathew Harper on Aug. 22 appealed the denial of the SOC. “The reason for my appeal is to enable the City Council to review and act on the matter,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the Ocean View School District has appealed the certification of the EIR and the rezoning of the property, citing concerns about increasing industrial uses adjacent to a school. The appeal was submitted immediately after the commission’s votes.

“The problem … is that the project site is situated immediately adjacent to Oak View Elementary School and OVSD’s adjoining childcare facility,” the district said in a statement. “As such, for the city to knowingly allow industrial uses to operate right next door to the school district’s childcare and elementary school facilities would violate the most basic land use planning principles and would give rise to serious environmental justice issues in light of the low-income minority student population at Oak  View.”

“These actions mean the entirety of the EIR package, including the GPA, ZMA and SOC, will go before the Huntington Beach City Council for review,” said Mary Urashima, chair of the task force. “Issues such as rezoning impacts, analysis of project alternatives and justification of demolition will be reviewed again …

“Continued support for the preservation of Historic Wintersburg will be needed … Thank you again to all the supporters who came forward to speak.  We will continue our effort to save Historic Wintersburg.”

A video of the three-hour Planning Commission meeting can be viewed here.

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  1. The Historic Wintersburg property—an almost five-acre Japanese pioneer farm and Mission complex—remains intact, the buildings standing where they were a century ago. A rare Japanese-owned, pre California Alien Land Law of 1913 property, it contains six structures that tell the story of pioneers who arrived around 1900 and the Wintersburg Village, which became the heart of activity for the Japanese community in coastal Orange County. The Mission supported language schools all around the County and was a focal point for the pioneer generations.

    This important and unique history is in danger of being erased. The Issei and Nisei helped fuel the economic development of Orange County, playing a vital role in its success. Yet, much of this history was not included in local records or in the community memory.

    Most recently, an inspection by the U.S. National Park Service in May confirms what has been documented by several historical research firms since 1983: this property is considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

    We need you to come to the October 7 city council meeting (the current date), speak on behalf of the historic preservation of Historic Wintersburg, and help us save it for future generations. Learn more about Historic Wintersburg and the latest updates on the upcoming city council meeting at