The Fullerton City Council has voted to close the Hunt Branch library and begin the process of leasing the facility to Grace Ministries International for up to two years. The Council also accepted the Library Ad-Hoc Committee’s recommendation to explore ways to maximize the value of property on Bastanchury Road originally intended for a new library branch, and to sell the library’s bookmobile, already out of action for vehicular regulatory reasons.
Two years ago public outcry over the possible closure of the Hunt Branch helped lead to the formation of the Library Ad Hoc Committee, whose report, presented to the City Council on June 4, acknowledged that the prior reduction of the Hunt’s open hours to just two days a week had made its operation as a library untenable. The emergency closure of the Hunt earlier this year initiated the effective abandonment of the facility as a site for providing access to books and other library services to the public.
Although the preference of the Board of Trustees was to see the Hunt Branch adequately funded so it could resume its role as a full time branch library to serve Fullerton’s southwest residents, the Council, in a 3 to 1 vote (Mayor Whitaker dissenting, Council Member Sebourn absent), chose the fallback position of closing it entirely. They voted to authorize City Manager Joe Felz to commence formal negotiations with Grace Ministries to temporarily lease of the Hunt Branch, located adjacent to the church’s campus. The council also unanimously approved supporting an application by Fullerton Heritage to place the Hunt Branch building on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Library Ad-Hoc Committee’s report includes recommendations by the Library’s Board of Trustees, who are very clear that, though there are suggested measures to improve the Hunt Branch as a library, the favored option is provide adequate funding to keep it open, not close it:
“The Library Board of Trustees believes that money can be found to adequately fund the two library facilities and that the Hunt Branch appears to be low-hanging fruit in the budget process. Closing a significant and valued city facility should not be taken lightly.”
Despite this clear recommendation, the City Council chose to defund the facility, and direct the City Manager to begin the process of leasing it to a church, which wants the office space while its own part of the former Hunt Foods campus is being renovated. In the meantime, the report recommends “that a comprehensive design process be initiated to address the challenges of the Hunt Branch.”
The report also notes that “It is a beautiful and significant building in a once-beautiful location. The homeless encampment and the dog park have significantly diminished the area.” The dog park was built by the city itself, and the homeless camp, recently raided by police, has been allowed to exist. Such a camp would never have been tolerated on the front lawn of city hall.
The report also contains the usual laments about the building’s supposedly remote location. Is it really so hard to find? In addition to the main parking lot reached by a long drive up Basque, past the school district offices, there is also a parking lot located just south of the Hunt, easily reached via Pacific Drive, just off Valencia, a major street (click illustration for larger view). And there is an elementary school next door.
The report is full of carefully considered alternate options for the site, from a technology branch, to sharing it with a museum, but what is most troubling is that there was no clear plan in place for the Hunt Branch library’s future prior to closing it and turning it over to a church. We have no assurances that the building will ever be a library again.