Today’s history smells pretty bad

Trash truck passes by the old Japanese Presbyterian Church in the WIntersburg area of Huntington Beach (Tribune photo).

Trash truck passes by the old Japanese Presbyterian Church in the Wintersburg area of Huntington Beach (Tribune photo).

A three-way collision in Huntington Beach. And no, that’s not the story of a car crash. This smashup involves efforts at historical preservation, environmental concerns and public education. Geographically, it occurs in the general area of Nichols Street between Warner and Slater avenues, a region sometimes known uncharitably as “Slater Slums.”

retortsI could do the standard history patter here, but the best introduction is to just go there and follow your nose, as I did the other day. Parking is a problem because the area, stuffed with low-income apartments, is overflowing with vehicles. You have to hike in a mile or more just to get anywhere.

But wherever you go, especially in the case of an unfriendly wind, there is the smell. Decaying garbage. Odiferous biomass. Diesel fumes. The smell of despair.

The three key places in the area signify the issues. Right at the corner of Warner and Nichols is what was originally the Japanese Presbyterian Church, dating back to 1908. The current structure was built in 1934. It was the center of a small but vital Japanese-American community primarily involved in agriculture. Other similar communities, which also operated private schools in their native language existed in Garden Grove and what is now Fountain Valley.

The church, long-since closed, sits on a roughly four-acre site which is occupied by several buildings also part of the area’s Asian-American heritage. But the land and church, mostly ringed by chain-link fencing and green canvas, is owned by the nearby Republic Services, which provides trash pickup and recycling service for much of west Orange County.

That campus sprawls along Nichols and is directly across the street from the beleaguered Oak View School, an elementary campus in the financially-troubled Ocean View School District with the back luck to be located next to the smelliest and dirtiest place in all of the otherwise pristine “Surf City.” The school looks beat up from one end to another: the playground is full of holes and dead grass, and the adjacent Boys & Girls Club building has bars on the windows, never a good sign.

The trash people want to expand to the church site. The historic people want to preserve it. The school people want to get rid of the trash facility, which blows refuse across the street and attracts waves of incontinent seabirds, if you know what I mean.

The cornerstone for the old Japanese church (Tribune photo).

The cornerstone for the old Japanese church (Tribune photo).

Every side has, no doubt, a good reason for its desires. Preservation of an important historic area such as Wintersburg is a worthy cause. Having adequate facilities for the disposal and recycling of waste is important as well. There’s not much chance that people will be generating less refuse in the future. Demand will only increase. But paramount, to me, is the welfare of those kids and teachers at Oak View, who exist in what seems to me to be an intolerable situation.

How a huge garbage dump (to put it impolitely) got located across from a school and next to a residential neighborhood will bear some scrutiny. I don’t know what disaster of land use planning allowed for that, but it seems like past time to rectify it. To borrow from “The Godfather,” it’s time to “Keep the church, and move the dump,” or move the school. As important as historic preservation is, let’s not be still making bad history in the here and now.

Help for the kids at Oak View, that’s what should be in the air right now. Not the stench of last month’s swill.


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