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Burning History

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BURNING HISTORY

 

A CONFLICT BETWEEN PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT

 

This is the story of the destruction of two old historic homes in Fairfield, CA and the tragic impact this event has had on me, Carol J. Marini, one of the occupants. My story is well known in the area, and has been documented in local newspapers and television.

I am a senior citizen, former teacher, and 42 year resident of Fairfield. I was forced to move from my nearly 100 year old historic home where I lived for 38 years to make way for a still undeveloped industrial park. My house was a 1916 Craftsman style house with solid redwood construction and beautiful interior workmanship typical of the period. There was a second house on the property which was nearly 140 years old. That house was occupied by five generations of the Andrew Perry family, one of the pioneer ranchers of Suisun Valley. My home was connected to the Perry house because it was built by a member of their family.

I moved there in 1969 and rented the house from the Perry family until 1973 when the family sold their property with the two houses to Anheuser-Busch for construction of the nearby Budweiser brewery. We were allowed to stay and paid minimal rent in exchange for doing the maintenance and repairs on the houses. Over the years, my rent increased from $100.00 to $325.00 a month, a bargain unheard of in today's market. I fully redecorated and restored the house over a five year period, doing most of the work myself.

In June 2007, Anheuser-Busch sold 45 acres of their property on which the houses were located to JCM Partners, LLC, of Concord, CA for $11.6 million. This sale was initiated by the City of Fairfield in an agreement with Anheuser-Busch to put the property up for sale and market it as an ideal location for a biotech or life science company. JCM Partners wanted the tenants to vacate the property within 60 days after the completion of the sale. It was their plan to demolish the houses by the end of the year. I did not want my beloved home to be destroyed, so I tried to work with the developers to save my house from demolition.

I first asked the developers to allow me to stay in the house. My proposal was to leave the house there with me in it and give me lifetime tenancy. This was a feasible option, since the house was on only one-quarter acre on the edge of the 45 acre parcel. When my request was denied, I then asked to be allowed to remain in the house until February 2008, since the developers had no plans to do any work on the property until the following spring at the earliest. Lots of work lay ahead of me. Not only did I have to go through the entire house, but there was a garage and three sheds on the property that would require several months to sort through. I also hoped that with the additional time, I would have more time to try to save the house. My request was again denied, and the date by which I had to move was extended another 60 days to October 31, 2007. As a senior with no family and little help, it was impossible for me to move by that date, which resulted in my having to retain legal counsel to avoid eviction. All the proposals my attorney submitted to JCM Partners for consideration were denied. In the end, a final date of December 10, 2007 was stipulated by which I had to move or face eviction. I had one month in which to pack up my property and move, and would never have been able to do so were it not for the kindness of strangers in the community who helped me with the move.

JCM Partners told me that I could have the house at no charge if I could move it to another location. I hoped to be able to find a nearby landholder who might want the house and would be willing to have it moved to his/her property. The landholder would own the house, and I asked to be given lifetime tenancy. I received two offers to relocate the house in Suisun Valley, but there was too little time and it became cost prohibitive to move and renovate the house. JCM Partners was unwilling to put any money into saving or moving the house, and I could not pay for the move entirely by myself. Furthermore, Anheuser-Busch was given the opportunity to save the house by moving it to a nearby parcel they own near the brewery where another of their rentals is located; but they, too, refused to save the house.

Unfortunately, my efforts to save my house were in vain, and the house was ultimately burned to the ground as part of a firefighting training exercise on April 25, 2008. The day my house burned to the ground was the saddest day of my life. I loved that house with all my heart. The loss of my home of 38 years was like a death to me - part of me died with the house.

Not only has my beloved home been destroyed, but I have been unable to find a permanent place to live since leaving the house in December 2007. I faced the possibility of being homeless and living in my car, since I had no where to go when I left the house. For the past two and one-half years, I have been living in rented rooms in private homes with complete strangers. Everything I own is in storage, except for what I can keep in the room I rent. Furthermore, I was also forced to find a new home for my beloved cat, since most renters of single rooms do not allow pets. This type of living arrangement is unworkable - I cannot spend the rest of my life living in a rented room in someone's house. I have had no life since I left the house. The only way to get my life back is to find another place of my own where I can once again have my privacy and be surrounded by the things that I love and enjoy.

In conclusion, the tragedy of my story is that not only have two old historic homes in Fairfield, CA been destroyed and burned to the ground, but my life has been ruined as a result of it. Furthermore, it has been three years since the property was sold, and still NO tenant has been found to develop this site that the City of Fairfield was promoting to bring high profile industry to the community. It is highly unlikely that any developer will build on this site in the near future with the current recession and downturn in the economy. This is a City generated deal gone bad. I was forced to move due to projected development of the property that never materialized. I would not be in the position I am now if the City had not initiated the sale of that property for their benefit. The failure of the City to attract high profile industry to the community at the expense of two displaced, elderly, long-time residents, and the destruction of two historic homes in the process, is a blight on the City's record. The only beneficiary of this fiasco is Anheuser-Busch, who made an enormous profit from the sale of their property. To date, neither the City nor JCM Partners have derived ANY benefits from the acquisition of that property. 

So what was the rush to force two elderly, long-time tenants to vacate the property within 60 days after the sale? We could still be living there now until a tenant was found to develop the property. My house could have been saved, and should have been saved. It did not deserve the fate it received. I simply ran out of time. I firmly believe that I could have saved my house had I been able to continue to live there until a tenant for the property was found. Meanwhile, the property has been leased to a local rancher to farm. Wheat now grows where my home once stood. I hope that there is a lesson to be learned from my story from the mishandling of this situation by all parties involved, including the City of Fairfield, Anheuser-Busch, and JCM Partners. People's lives should not have to be ruined in the name of progress and development.

 

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