Even though an old bus-turned-motorhome has been peacefully collecting dust in a dirt lot for almost a year, it’s kicking up a small cloud of controversy in Sun City, Calif.
The motorhome’s presence, albeit motionless, has upset some people enough to spark a lawsuit, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
At issue is whether the motorhome, stamped with a few faded black-and-white cartoons of horn players and pianos, should be allowed to stay in Corbett Park, an RV storage lot owned by the Sun City Civic Association that sits next to an empty field on Shadel Road.
Association leaders contend the motorhome must go because they suspect it’s being used as a “band bus.”
But owner Armand Blais, the 54-year-old Sun City resident sometimes known as the “man with the red trombone,” isn’t planning on moving his beloved vehicle because he contends he hasn’t broken any Corbett Park rules. Whether the 1967 converted Crown bus is a commercial vehicle has become a sticking point in the dispute. The park rules do not make mention of commercial vehicles.
Blais said at $150 a year the storage rate is hard to beat. The last space he rented in Orange County cost him $150 a month, he said.
Blais contends that the association’s repeated efforts to oust his camper constitute harassment, and in March he filed a restraining order against association board president Tom Thurman.
“I have been not only stalked but harassed since October … to the point that my wife and I have had to move to a different home,” Blais told a Riverside County Superior Court judge in June, according to a court transcript. “And they keep calling my vehicle a band bus, Your Honor, and it’s registered by the state of California as a private motorhome. What I choose to do with my private motorhome — there are no rules under the Corbett Park rules and they’ve been threatening to tow my vehicle…”
In July a letter from the association’s attorney, Peter Racobs, demanded that Blais waive any claims against the association and that his RV immediately leave Corbett Park. After the bus didn’t budge, Racobs filed a motion that, if granted by the court, would force Blais to pay the $14,600 in attorney’s fees the association has spent on this case. The Sun City Civic Association is funded mainly by dues paid by homeowners living within a 55-and-older community known as Sun City’s “Core.”
Racobs did not return phone calls seeking comment. Thurman declined to comment on the situation.
On several occasions, Blais said he’s tried to explain to the association board that his RV may have “Armand Blais’ Orchestra” painted in red cursive on the back, but it’s a hobby not a commercial vehicle. Blais said he’s dreamt about making a living from playing his trombone in an 18-piece swing orchestra, but that hasn’t exactly happened yet.
The New Hampshire native earns his paycheck as what he calls an “advanced planner,” helping people plan out their future burial arrangements at the Miller-Jones Mortuary in Sun City.
He added that he has not taken the behemoth with the “SWNGN” license plate for an outing since November, when he and his wife camped out before volunteering to help set up Menifee’s tree-lighting ceremony.
Since then, Blais’ assortment of drums, amplifiers and other sound equipment, as well as a giant pair of 5-foot high heels used as stage decoration, have sat in silence.
Though he doesn’t like to admit it, Blais said the dispute has caused him to shy away from his musical motorhome. For one thing, he’s afraid if he takes it out for a spin, one of his legal opponents might change the locks while he’s away.
Blais admits that should he lose the dispute, he stands to lose more than $14,000. But he refuses to budge on principle.
“I survived a six-way bypass in March 2005. I didn’t survive that surgery so that people can dictate to me what I can and cannot do with my passion. That ain’t gonna happen,” he said.
The dispute, ongoing since December 2008, will be aired again before a Riverside County Superior Court judge on Friday.
Until then, Blais said, he plans to leave the RV where it’s parked, all the while hoping it can stay for the long haul.