Archives for category: Fullerton Heritage

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Matthew Leslie

On May 15 the Fullerton City Council voted to form Library Ad-Hoc Committee to consider recommendations to explore future uses of the Hunt Branch Library. The library is currently closed, and leased out to neighboring Grace Ministries on a month-to-month basis. Although the Library Board of Trustees seems generally to favor retaining the Hunt as a city facility, opinions on that board differ about what can, and should, be done with it. The City Council is more sharply divided, with two members, Bruce Whitaker and Jesus Silva, voicing support for keeping it in city hands, while Mayor Doug Chaffee has openly advocated selling it. His position is evidently shared by Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald, who was quoted in a May 24 OC Register story as speculating that a sale of the property could help fund library services on the east side of the city. Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn remains uncommitted on the matter. Although some of his comments in the recent meeting could be taken as encouraging by anyone advocating for the Hunt to remain a city asset, he has not ruled out a sale.

Formation of the ad-hoc committee was ultimately approved on a 4-0 vote during the May 15 meeting (Jennifer Fitzgerald absent), but only after extensive discussion by the council. The city staff report proposed a committee of seven that would include two members of the city council, but just one library trustee, in addition to one member each from the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Commission, Fullerton Heritage, and the Fullerton Planning Commission, and the Fullerton Public Library Foundation*. Council member Jesus Silva, who had suggested establishing the committee at an earlier meeting of the City Council, objected to populating the ad-hoc with “a lot of ‘inside players,’” and suggested expanding it to “include some members of the surrounding community” because they would ultimately be most affected by whatever plans were eventually made for the property. Mr. Silva also said he wanted to include representatives from “cultural and educational organizations to see if we can really generate some ideas,” referring to the possible use of the Hunt as a center for cultural and education programming.

Council member Bruce Whitaker agreed, saying that it was “time to step back and take a wider view as to what the beneficial use of this city-owned property might be over time. And that would be the effort of the ad-hoc committee—to bring people who are creative and who might help forge partnerships that would allow us to renew that facility in a part of town where we need that, where we don’t have much in the way of city facilities.”

Mr. Silva suggested reducing the number of city councilors on the ad-hoc to one, and adding a member of the elementary school district board, another library trustee, and members of the public. Mayor Chaffee objected to including any library trustees at all, stating “I hear way too much bias when I listen to that group.”

Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn called the ad-hoc an opportunity for “getting the community engaged.” He supported including a mix of public members, and didn’t see the need to include a member of the city council. His motion to get the committee started by having each member of the council simply appoint a person of his or her choice was the plan eventually adopted at the meeting. These five initial appointments are expected to be announced at the June 3 meeting of the city council. Library Director Judy Booth will be included as an ex-officio member.

Once convened, the new ad-hoc will appoint four additional members. A link is present on the city’s website for applications for the committee, but does not yet lead to an actual application. Interested parties are encouraged to call or email the City Clerk’s office to find out how to apply at (714) 738-6350 or CityClerksOffice@cityoffullerton.com.

Though not technically required to do so, the new ad-hoc will proceed in accordance with the Brown Act, announcing meetings in advance, and open them to the public, and keep minutes. Rather than the sixty days recommended by city staff, the committee will continue for at least ninety days. During this time City Manager Ken Domer will contact “educational and cultural arts organizations interested in utilizing the property” in advance of an anticipated City Council Study Session later this year.

Some of the many members of the public who spoke to the issue that night didn’t see the need for the formation of an ad-hoc committee at all. Elizabeth Gibbs recalled that another such committee had already existed five years ago, whose recommendations had been adopted by the Fullerton Library Board of Trustees. Others agreed that the trustees themselves were the appropriate body to explore options for the Hunt, but Mayor Chaffee characterized the Hunt as “a building owned by the city without any purpose or restriction on it,”

Area resident Maria Hernandez recalled visiting the Hunt Branch Library frequently with her children, and told the council that if they “converted Hunt Branch library into a cultural center, (they) would be creating jobs, family activities, and come to the rescue of a historic site…” 

Library Trustee Ryan Cantor, who was himself a member of original 2012 ad-hoc  committee, took issue with the agenda item’s reference to the Hunt as a “former library,” as did current Fullerton Library Board of Trustees President Sean Paden. “It’s not the former library, it is the library. It’s closed, but it’s still our library,” said Mr. Paden.  In response, the  city council agreed not to refer to the Hunt Branch in those terms from that point forward. Trustee Cantor recommended issuing Requests for Proposals from interested community groups who might be able to provide funding and/or programming for the Hunt, something also discussed during Library Board meetings.

Nine days later the Library Board itself considered several items regarding the Hunt during their regular May meeting. Rather than meeting in the small boardroom in the west part of the building, the May 24 meeting was held in the Main Library’s Osbourn Auditorium to accommodate the unusual presence of nearly forty public observers. The trustees adopted a document intended to “Define the Intent of the Gift of the Hunt Library.” 

As requested in their previous Special Meeting of May 5, a representative from the office of the City Attorney was present in the person of Deputy City Attorney Kim Barlow for consultation about legal actions the trustees might choose to take over any proposed sale of the Hunt. Ms. Barlow promised to respond to questions in a confidential email to the trustees.

*The Fullerton Public Library Foundation is a non-profit that raises supplemental funds for specific library projects, and is distinct from the Fullerton Public Library Board of Trustees, and from the Friends of the Fullerton Public Library who organize periodic book sales and operate the library’s book store.

Two Fullerton City Councilmembers speaking about the closed Hunt Branch Library on August 15, 2017:

“With a partnership with some local groups, non-profits, we might be able to keep it as an asset and make it available to the public.” — Jesus Silva

“I favor selling it.” — Doug Chaffee

 

Matthew Leslie

The Hunt Branch of the Fullerton Public Library became the topic of a brief discussion by members of the Fullerton City Council last Tuesday night during a budget update from City Manager Ken Domer. Noting a line in the budget about the below market rate currently paid by mega-church Grace Ministries International (GMI) to lease the property, located adjacent to their church, Councilmember Jesus Silva asked for a workshop to discuss opportunities in which local non-profits might use the closed library to benefit the community instead.

“I know we don’t have the funding to operate it ourselves, the city,” Mr. Silva said, “but maybe with a partnership with some local groups, non-profits, we might be able to keep it as an asset and make it available to the public.”

Mr. Silva’s suggestion that the landmark structure donated to the city by Norton Simon in 1962 might once again be made available to the public was too much for Mayor pro tem Doug Chaffee, who immediately responded by saying that there was no need for such a workshop, and “I favor selling it.”

Hunt Register

The Hunt Branch Library, given to Fullerton by Norton Simon in 1962, now leased to a neighboring megachurch for private use for less than the cost of a two bedroom apartment. Image from OC Register, used without permission.

The Hunt Branch Library, is a mid-century modernist gem designed by world famous architect William Pereira. It was operated as a branch of the Fullerton Public Library for five decades, serving generations of Fullertonians, until successive city councils began routinely underfunding it.

Following budget cutbacks that led to the library being mostly closed all for but two days a week, the facility was closed entirely in 2013 because library staff felt unsafe due to the presence of a sizable homeless camp that developed (enabled by the city who provided portable toilets and regular visits from the four Fullerton Police Homeless Liaison Officers) along the railroad tracks directly behind it. Not long after its closure, the council approved a month-to-month lease of the 4,500 square foot library and the surrounding property to GMI for $1,500.00 per month—less than the cost of a two bedroom apartment in Fullerton. No competitive bids were sought by the city in advance of this agreement.

GMI and the Hunt Library

Left to right: GMI’s 2008 sanctuary building, Norton Simon’s Hunt office building, the Hunt Library.

Four years later, the Hunt Branch is still closed to the public and is still being leased far below market value, but the homeless camp that was the stated cause for its closure has long since been removed by the city–“cleaned out” so that an agreement to lease the property could be approved by the council.

Meanwhile, the city council has rejected requests from the public to consider appropriate funding to the Fullerton Public Library to enable the operation of the Hunt as a second library branch for a city of 140,000 people.  Awaiting a budget for the branch, the Fullerton Public Library Board of Trustees has held off on presenting a long term plan that would define unique uses to complement the Main Library branch while also serving the southwest quadrant of the city as a library resource.

Now more than half century old, the Hunt Library is a distinctive example of mid-20th century modern architecture, but, alarmingly, enjoys absolutely no historical protections against being significantly altered or razed.  When the city council voted in 2013 to authorize then City Manager Joe Felz to commence formal negotiations with Grace Ministries to temporarily lease the Hunt Branch, the council also unanimously approved supporting an application by local non-profit Fullerton Heritage to place the Hunt Branch building on the National Registry of Historic Places. To date, no such listing has taken place, reportedly because of complications arising from the attempt to concurrently list Norton Simon’s Hunt office building, located adjacent to the library, and also designed by Pereira. (GMI purchased the Hunt office property several years ago, adding a large contemporary structure on the west side of the site that dwarfs the original office building.)

The prospect of selling off the Hunt Library might be attractive to anyone hoping to partially stave off the looming financial deficiencies facing Fullerton in the next five years, as reported by staff during the city’s 2017-2018 budget hearings. However, one has to wonder just how much money Doug Chaffee thinks the city can get for a building that is so devalued by this council that they rent it monthly for a mere $ 1,500.00.

The Hunt’s value might increase dramatically, however, if none of the promised historical protections were delivered, allowing a new owner to tear it down and use the property for something else entirely. With nothing to legally prevent the building from being razed or significantly altered, a much larger and different structure might be built on the sight.

If Doug Chaffee has his way, and the Hunt Branch Library is sold, the public will lose not only a valued public library in an underserved part of the city, but also a priceless part of the Fullerton’s history, with nothing in place to protect a unique building that once showcased sculpture by Giacometti and Rodin, and served as an emblem of commitment to a community and it’s future.

huntbranch

The Hunt Branch Library once served Fullerton’s families, but is now a hostage to the city’s impending budget shortfall.

1934cornerview

The Firestone building next to the Fox Theater circa 1930’s. Things change, but they don’t have to be made worse.

Matthew Leslie

On June 21 the Fullerton City Council voted 4 to 1, Bruce Whitaker dissenting, to award an exclusive negotiating agreement with Dick Hamm’s Pelican Communities to develop a plan for the Fox Block. The so-called Fox Block concept has been around for several years, dating back to the days of Fullerton’s Redevelopment Agency. Although Redevelopment has gone away (for now), there is still money set aside for the project. The stated rationale for the project is an agreement between Cynthia Peck, owner of the adjacent Angelo’s and Vinci’s Restaurant and the RDA (now the city’s “Successor Agency”) to provide adequate parking for the theater when and if it ever opens so the restaurant will not be left without convenient spaces for its patron’s vehicles.

Six members of the public spoke out against entering into an exclusive agreement with Pelican, citing such concerns as:

  • Pelican’s inability to build anything on the Amerige Court site they were supposed to develop nearly ten years ago,
  • Their record of insensitivity to historic resources
  • The lack of transparency in the process because the decision to prepare the original Request for Proposals was made by the Fullerton City Council in a Closed Session meeting in 2015.
  • The vagueness of the staff report, in general

Only one member of the public spoke in favor of the agreement, Leland Wilson, who was a member of the three person board who rated the applicants for Fullerton’s Community Development staff, who ultimately made the recommendation to the Fullerton City Council last week.  Leland Wilson is President of the Fullerton Historic Theater Foundation, overseeing the restoration and eventual operation of the Fox Theater itself. He has also filed papers this year to run for Fullerton City Council, an office he held for a single term between 2002 and 2006.

One speaker who expressed concerns about Pelican’s lack of sensitivity for historic resources was Jane Reifer, who was herself a principal figure in saving the Fox Theater from destruction. Several years ago it was Jane Reifer who pointed out that Pelican’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of the Amerige Court site downtown characterized several 1920’s era historic structures as “inconsequential 1960’s style” buildings.

Community Development Director Karen Haluza vouched for Pelican’s record of sensitivity to historic resources in their recent Tustin project, Prospect Village. Here is an image of it, you be the judge.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.15.40 PM copy

Watch out Fullerton, this is what Pelican built in historic Downtown Tustin.

Perhaps Ms. Haluza was referring to the scale of the new buildings, but, comically, or tragically, if you value historic buildings, one was actually torn down to clear the site for Prospect Village. Here is a quote from an OC Register article published at the time of its groundbreaking:

Old Town merchants and developers from Pelican, Tustin LLC, were on hand Monday for the groundbreaking for the long-awaited Prospect Village, a 13-building retail and residential complex to be built at the northwest corner of Main Street and Prospect Avenue.

They gathered next to the remaining two buildings of the historic Utt Juice Company, which will be razed to make way for the new project with 40,000-square feet of new retail space.

Only one speaker, council candidate Joe Imbriano, asserted that the Fox Theater itself was in danger of being eventually torn down. Director Haluza properly assured him that there were no plans for razing the structure, of course, but the larger point of what kind of structure could be appropriate to build next to the Fox was left for later consideration. Commenter Roy Zartman, a local sound engineer with decades of professional experience, cautioned the council that unless “forty foot” equipment trucks can ultimately access the rear of the Fox, no large touring acts would be able to play at the venue.

Most disturbing was Pelican’s Dick Hamm expressing admiration for what we’ll charitably call the “restoration” of the Firestone Building on Chapman Ave., adjoining the Fox Theater. The Firestone is certainly a functional space for its current tenant, Dripp coffee shop, but no one could seriously say that the building much resembles one that had been restored with historical accuracy, with its metal mullioned windows and lego brick-looking roof. If this is what Dick Hamm and our planning staff admire, watch out…

Firestone Today

The Firestone Building. (Image borrowed without permission from Roadside Architecture.com).

As developers do, Mr. Hamm expressed great enthusiasm for building of the site, but one has to wonder why there were so few responses to the Request for Qualifications issued by the city. Director Haluza spoke of evaluating just four, and though she repeatedly noted that Pelican had scored something like 95 out of 100 possible points in the evaluating process that involved Mr. Wilson, it does seem curious that if it is a site with such potential, no more than four responses were evidently received. Is it even realistic to think that adequate parking can be provided on the site without building a structure that is radically out of scale with the neighborhood to the north? As Leland Wilson himself wrote in an email announcing his 2016 council candidacy: “I believe we can ask for better projects that fit Fullerton’s character. Putting 6 stories next to single story homes is just plain wrong.”

One issue that went entirely unaddressed at the public hearing was the potential conflict of interest presented by having Leland Wilson, a declared candidate for Fullerton City Council, participate in the evaluation process that included Pelican, a developer who contributed no fewer than $ 1,500.00 to Mr. Wilson’s unsuccessful re-election campaign in 2006. Although the evaluation process began prior to Mr. Wilson’s March 10 announcement of his candidacy, “Follow-up” interviews are identified as having taken place that same month on the city’s Fox Block web page. The Rag will be very attentive to Mr. Wilson’s campaign filings to see if Pelican is as generous to him in this year’s election as they were in the past.

Leland Wilson Pelican Donaton 2006

$ 1,000.00 from Pelican for Leland Wilson’s failed 2006 campaign…


Wilson Pelican Donation II

…and another $ 500.00 from Pelican for Leland Wilson, for a total of $ 1,500.00.

 

And while we’re on the subject, we ought to consider who else’s political campaigns have been the beneficiaries of Pelican’s largesse. I’ve reproduced all the filings I could find from the city’s website, recording the following contributions to current members of the Fullerton City Council who voted in favor of entering into the exclusive agreement with Pelican last Tuesday:

Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald received $ 500.00 from Pelican in 2012; Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory received two separate $ 250.00 contributions, one in 2012, another in 2013, for a total of $ 500.00.

Fitzgerald Pelican Donation 2012

$ 500.00 from Pelican for Jennifer Fitzgerald’s 2012 campaign.


Flory Pelican Donation 2012

$ 250.00 from Pelican for Jan Flory’s 2012 campaign…


Flory Pelican Donation 2012 2

…and $ 250.00 more from Pelican for Jan Flory in 2013, even though she is not running for re-election.

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