HUNTINGTON BEACH — A leader of the Ocean View School District has called on the Huntington Beach City Council for a full investigation of last month’s fire at the Historic Wintersburg site, located at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane.
Immediately following the Feb. 25 fire, the property owner, Republic Services, demolished two of the historic Wintersburg structures, one of which had not been damaged by the fire and both of which were irrreplaceable parts of Orange County Japanese American history.
In a March 4 letter to the City Council, OVSD Board of Trustees President Gina Clayton Tarvin wrote:
“It was reported in The OC Register that an arson investigation was conducted by the Huntington Beach Fire Department (HBFD) on the fire that took place at the Wintersburg property on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Patricia Singer, Ocean View School District Board vice president, was on the scene that day and interacted with Fire Chief [Scott] Haberle.
“Vice President Singer was informed by Chief Haberle that the fire was extinguished by HBFD and that they recommended venting the roof of the structure to prevent further fires. He indicated that neither he nor the HBFD recommend the demolition of the structures. Sadly, Republic Services ordered the demolition of two of the historical structures.
“In recent months, on behalf of the Ocean View School District, I have reached out to Chris Kentopp, Republic Services manager, and Dave Hauser, Republic Services market vice president, to inform them of a potential buyer for the property that intended to preserve the structures and to share concerns regarding the poor maintenance of the property.
“The Ocean View School District’s Oak View Preschool is adjacent to this property, and we were concerned that the property had become overgrown with brush, posing a fire danger. Unfortunately, the Republic representatives were non-responsive.
“It should be noted that OVSD has a restrictive covenant with Republic in the form of an Agreement Between Land Owners from a prior litigation settlement. Therefore, we have a vested interest in what occurs there, as well as its future use. In addition, part of Nichols and Emerald streets, and all of Belsito Street, are within OVSD boundaries.
“We join the many voices from the Japanese American community, preservationists, and community of Huntington Beach that are appalled by the actions of Republic Services, and we are calling for accountability.
“I would like to formally request a copy of the arson report and, if there was simply a cursory arson investigation conducted, I would like to urge the council to direct the HBFD to complete a thorough investigation on the cause of this fire.”
Copies of the letter were also sent to Chief Haberle and Interim City Manager Sean Joyce.