Piecemakers Not Ready for War

Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1998
By John Canalisspecial

COSTA MESA - The Piecemakers and the city have made peace.

Members of the religious commune agreed to a plea-bargain on misdemeanor charges that they hosted special events at their Country Store without city permits and allowed unsafe conditions in a storage warehouse.

Terms of the agreement, reached Friday and announced Monday, require three members to serve probation, perform community service and pay a total of $2,000.

"They've admitted their guilt for breaking the city's laws," said Steven H. Rosenblit, a Huntington Park attorney hired to prosecute the case. "The court accepted their plea. They waived their constitutional rights to a jury trial."

Claiming they were following instructions from God, Piecemakers refused to secure permits for a musical performance, crafts fair and peddlers' market last year. They had vowed to challenge the case on grounds that property rights in the Constitution and Bible supersede municipal law.

The agreement was reached after Piecemakers met with attorneys for the city and Judge Susanne S. Shaw to discuss the case at Municipal Court in Newport Beach.

"One time [God will] tell you to pick up the sword and fight, and another time he'll tell you to lay down the sword," said Marie Kolasinski, 76, a defendant and leader of the group. "Sometimes you have to humble yourself and back off."

Under the agreement, Kolasinski pleaded no contest to conducting a crafts fair without a permit Oct. 11-12 in the Country Store parking lot, on Adams Avenue near Harbor Boulevard.

Anne Sorensen, 68, pleaded no contest to staging the musical "Big River" without a special event permit on Sept. 27 in the parking lot. Piecemakers Inc. also pleaded no contest to this count as a corporation.

"It doesn't really bother me," Sorensen said of her conviction. "I don't really feel like a criminal."

Steven Lee Brenner, 39, pleaded no contest to sponsoring a peddlers' market at the store on Nov. 8, again without a permit.

Each will serve two years of summary probation, meaning they must obey the terms of the settlement but do not have travel restrictions or a probation officer.

Community service must be performed by May 29. To satisfy that requirement, Piecemakers plan to make two large quilts, a specialty of their group, for the Orangewood Home for Abused Children. Or each of the three can pay a $100 fine in lieu of community service.

But troubles are not over for the 40 members who live communally in homes in the Mesa Verde neighborhood and abstain from sex, marriage and other trappings of mainstream life.

They are being evicted Wednesday from their Logan Street warehouse and said they haven't been able to find another warehouse because of the publicity about their fight with the city.

"We still have no place to go, like Christ had no place lay his head," Kolasinski said.

They may apply for a permit to erect a temporary warehouse on the store property.

Under the settlement and as a condition of their probation, they must secure permits for any future special events.

Kolasinski said she and her members will comply "for now."

"We'll see what happens," she said. "We're trying to be peacemakers."

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