Thursday evening the Board of Trustees of the Fullerton Public LIbrary voted to close the Hunt Branch, currently open only two days per week, because, the Board was told, the library staff did not feel safe opening and closing the facility. With trustee Marlena Carrillo absent, board members Chris Meyer (Chair), Ryan Cantor, Vince Buck, and Ellen Ballard all voted for the closure. The item did not appear on the agenda for the regularly scheduled meeting, but was instead added as an emergency item. There may be an emergency meeting scheduled some time in the next two weeks regarding the sudden closure.
Reportedly, the library staff felt unsafe around a growing homeless population and at least one menacing dog (presumably not within the adjacent dog park). Both City Manager Joe Felz and Police Chief Dan Hughes attended the meeting. The Board’s members were told that new homeless people were arriving from Anaheim, and that they were not behaving in a way the population there generally has in the past. Officers were reported to have escorted staff to and from the building. It is not clear why OC Animal Control has not been able to take care of the dog.
According to the City of Fullerton’s website, “The Hunt Branch was a gift to the City of Fullerton from the Hunt Foods & Industries Foundation, headed by Norton Simon. It was dedicated on September 12, 1962. The building’s architect was the world famous William L. Pereira. Mr. Pereira also designed the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the Geisel Library at UC San Diego, the Disneyland Hotel, and the master plan for the City of Irvine.” (Pereira also designed the original buildings on the UC Irvine campus). It should be understood that the gift of the Hunt Branch was, and is, contingent on its use as a library. The city cannot simply close it, sell it, or change its primary use without the consent of the Foundation that originally gifted it to the people of Fullerton.
Though awkwardly located at the end of a long street adjacent to railroad tracks, the Hunt is within walking distance of an underserved population of apartment dwelling children lacking reliable transportation to the main branch located on Commonwealth Ave. And the library’s bookmobile is indefinitely out of service. The library’s projected budget 2013/2014 fiscal year budget is not expected to include plans for the Hunt to remain open.
In 2011 a public meeting was held to discuss the fate of the Hunt Branch in the face of budget cuts. There was overwhelming support from those in attendance to keep it open. In 2012 an Ad Hoc Committee was formed to “Study Library Services, Assets, and Properties” in an environment of fiscal distress. The committee’s report recommended that the library staff and Board explore ways to share the Hunt Branch with “community stakeholders.” (For a three month period I was a member of the Library Board. I tried unsuccessfully to modify the language of the report to insure that uses for the Hunt would remain related to its function as a library).
The Hunt Branch is located directly adjacent to what used to be the headquarters of ConAgra (formerly Hunt-Wesson Foods), but is now owned by Grace Ministries International, a large Korean-American congregation that built a 180,000 square foot building next to the Pereira designed Hunt-Wesson building five years ago. The city already allows Grace Ministries to use the Hunt Branch parking lot for overflow parking on Sundays, and has had discussions with the church to take over at least some form of management of the property. It is not clear that it would remain a library under these circumstances. And let’s not forget that the city built a dog park around it several years ago.
The combination of funding cuts, talks with a “community partner” about taking over the Hunt, and now an emergency closure, would seem to point to the end of its operation as we know it. One wonders what the facility would become under new management, and how they would deal with the resident homeless population any differently than the city has. Is this the end of the legacy of Norton Simon’s gift to Fullerton?