By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Photo by Jack GouldThey've lobbied Orange residents with glossy fliers, purchased the official support of Orange Park Acres, even set aside valuable property for future parkland. But now it seems the only way Fieldstone Homes can ensure its conversion of an abandoned gravel mine into a pricey neighborhood is to hire goons to thwart a proposed referendum by local activists.
"We were [gathering signatures] for maybe five minutes when three people showed up and started handing out Fieldstone fliers," recalled Shirley Grindle, a longtime good-government activist who set up camp along with three others in front of the Stater Bros. market at Tustin and Collins Avenue on Oct. 18. "When I would be talking to a citizen for their signature, the Fieldstone people would get up to the citizen's face and yell, 'Don't sign their petition! They're spreading lies!'
"Now, I don't have a problem with them distributing fliers, but do not interrupt me while I'm talking to someone."
Grindle eventually confronted a young woman passing out fliers who identified herself as Yolanda and said she handles "the scheduling" for Fieldstone.
"She made it very clear to me they were instructed to stop us from gathering signatures for the referendum," said Grindle. "And she also admitted she wasn't even a resident of Orange."
Grindle is a member of Orange Citizens for Parks and Schools (OCPS), a grassroots organization formed to oppose the Newport Beach-based Fieldstone's Sully-Miller project. For about a year now, OCPS has fought the developer's plan for a new housing project. Their latest mission: gather 7,000 signatures in 30 days to force a referendum on a City Council decision paving the way for 183 Fieldstone homes on 106 acres of mining land. As previous Weekly articles have revealed, the tract lies on the Santiago Creek floodplain, and the state has no records that the pit was closed in accordance with environmental-safety regulations.
After an Oct. 18 kickoff celebration, OCPS volunteers dispersed across various non-striking supermarkets in Orange to gather signatures for the referendum. Everything went well at first. Many shoppers enthusiastically signed the OCPS petition. Some even registered to vote.
Then things got weird. Marilyn Ganahl, who gathered signatures at the Stater Bros. at Chapman Avenue and Prospect Street that same unseasonably hot Saturday, said Fieldstone representatives "would approach people as they were getting out of their cars, point directly toward us, and tell the shoppers we had no business gathering signatures, that we were troublemakers, and that no one should sign our petition. They were defaming us."
Things got so bad for Ganahl and two other fellow volunteers that Knights of Columbus members, who were collecting money for charities at a nearby table, summoned Stater Bros. managers to step in. Fieldstone's employees were ordered off the market's property for not possessing permits, something Grindle and Ganahl had secured in advance. Citing "harassment," Orange activist Stefanie Holcomb filed charges with the Orange Police Department against Fieldstone for a similar incident outside the Trader Joe's next to the Orange Mall on Oct. 19.
Fieldstone intensified its harassed-earth campaign during the following Oct. 25-26 weekend. This time, Fieldstone drones picketed directly in front of OCPS volunteers urging Orange residents not to sign the OCPS referendum. Fliers distributed by the Fieldstone reps claimed that signing the OCPS referendum would raise taxes $100 million, kill new school construction, and would actually prevent the city from creating new parks and open space. OCPS co-chairperson Dan Slater alleged he caught Fieldstone spokesperson Phillip Bettencourt sifting through the OCPS office trash on Monday night.
Steve Cameron, president of Fieldstone's Orange County division, let the Weekly know via Fieldstone spokesperson Joan Gladstone that he had no comment on his company's actions. But Cameron told the Orange County Registerin an Oct. 21 story that he was "extremely comfortable with the way our people behaved" during the Oct. 18-19 weekend.
That worries Holcomb and other OCPS members greatly. "I'm sure that as the deadline approaches, their tactics will get dirtier," she said.
But Grindle predicts the company will back off—for now.
"Since when does a private developer have to hire help to infringe on citizens' rights to gather signatures?" Grindle asked. "Fieldstone is very worried; they don't want this on the ballot. But rather than wait and defeat it at the ballot box, they're trying to keep it from even getting there."For more information on the OCPS referendum, please visit www.ocps4kids.org.