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Hunt Register

The Hunt Branch Library, which has been closed to the public since April, has been encumbered with problems for years.

Matthew Leslie

The second of four planned meetings of the Library Ad Hoc Committee took place in the Community Room of Fullerton’s Main Branch on Monday, August 6. Though fully constituted, the Ad Hoc’s agenda still reflected a committee searching for basic information about the Hunt Branch Library, the disposition of which the committee is intended to consider, and the scope and efficacy of the committee itself. The ambitious agenda laid out for the evening gave rise to the hope that essential questions about the actual cost to operate the facility as a property library, requirements for bringing the building up to current accessibility standards and needed repairs, and even an accurate map of the property might finally be forthcoming.

Picking up where they last left off, weeks earlier, the Ad Hoc moved to choose a Chair and Vice Chair—the decision having been postponed until ninth member Molly McClanahan was seated to break a tie between Pete Beard and Randa Schmalfield. The revelation that Ms. Schmalfield was “delighted” not to serve as Chair led the committee to unanimously elect Mr. Beard Chair and Ms. Schmalfield Vice Chair.

With one clear decision under their belt, the nine Ad Hoc members surged on to the next item, existentially entitled Prioritizing Council Direction Regarding the Purpose of the Library Ad Hoc Committee, precipitated by a July 30 memo by member Barbara Kilponen , who suggested therein prioritizing, in order, Funding, the Library building’s use, and Landscaping. Library Director Judy Booth, an ex-officio member of the Ad Hoc also unreasonably tasked with staffing it, attempted to locate a map of the Hunt and its surrounding grounds on the city’s own website. Attendee James Cho, an affiliate of Hunt leasee Grace Ministries International (GMI) and unsuccessful applicant to the Ad Hoc, called out navigational instructions from the audience. Once found, the map led to more questions from the committee, including whether or not the adjacent dog park should be considered part of the Hunt Branch proper. Eventually, Molly McClanahan requested a more accurate map. Several members suggested that a Request for Proposals/Request for Qualifications (RFP/RFQ) be issued to solicit possible uses and occupants of the facility, referred to by Jan Flory as a “dying library.” Former council members on the committee explained that the Ad Hoc itself was not procedurally allowed to itself issue RFPs or RFQs, but there was general agreement, that the committee could recommend the City Council to do so.

For many years people have asked how much money it would cost to repair and reopen the Hunt Branch Library building. A definitive answer was not to be had that evening as the Ad Hoc moved on to its next item of business, but Director Judy Booth did provide a Preliminary Inspection Estimate totaling around $ 2.5 million. $ 1 million of the figure, characterized as a “guess” by Director Booth, was dedicated to the cost of replacing unbroken windows that had been painted black because they had been repeated etched by vandals. Replacement of interior lights was the second highest expense at $ 720,000, followed by $ 120,000 to replace the roof and another $ 160,000 for new heating and air conditioning systems. Other expenses included fending repair, exterior lights, and a fire sprinkler system. Other costs, like seismic retrofit and landscaping and internet connectivity were classified as “Unknown,” while gas, sewer, and water systems were not inspected.

A staff report estimated the cost of operating the Hunt Branch as a library once again as $ 832,956 for seven days a week or $ 679,630 for five days per week. Director Booth explained that an additional $ 200,000 would need to be spent on new collections, since the books currently housed at the Hunt were evidently assumed to be in such poor condition, presumably due to being shrink-wrapped for years while the building has been leased out to GMI. Technological upgrades were not included in the estimate either. Former Fullerton City Council member Jan Flory doubted that the current City Council would allocate $ 2.5 million to refurbish and repair the Hunt, but didn’t think the public would support selling the building and grounds either, and so supported finding an alternative use for the Hunt.

And so the committee moved on the next item, to considered Publicly Beneficial Uses of the Building and Grounds, including, but not limited to, a CSUF reading program satellite facility, a “maker-space” for robotics, a “creative space” for seniors, and different permutations of art and science spaces for kids. All the Arts for All the Kids was said to be interested in submitting a proposal. Committee member Michael Williams wondered whether or not the Hunt Branch was the best site for many of the suggested uses.

Committee member Elgeth Nuncii reported that Robert Pletka of the Fullerton School District had been about being a partner for programming at the Hunt, but no realistic suggestions for programming partners who might bring the necessary funding to repair the facility were forthcoming. Overall, fewer funding ideas were presented than uses for the site. They included Barbara Kilponen’s suggestion to invite architectural firms to lease the site for 99 years, and selling off portions of the property to fund the remainder, or to transfer the open spaces surrounding the building to the Parks and Recreation Department to take advantage of Park Dwelling Fees.

One audience member asked why the committee was presupposing that the city would ultimately be the owner of the Hunt Branch, to which Jan Flory responded that “there are two council people who are hot to sell it,” while the other three were “too chicken to say so.” In the recent past Doug Chaffee and Jennifer Fitzgerald have voiced support for selling the Hunt, while Bruce Whitaker and Jesus Silva have supported the city retaining it, while Greg Sebourn has remained noncommittal on the issue.

Ultimately, the Library Ad Hoc Committee voted to invite members of the public to submit ideas about possible funded uses for the Hunt Library at the Ad Hoc’s next meeting, to be held on Tuesday, September 4, 5:30 p.m. at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave.

Hunt Flyer color

Matthew Leslie

Save the Hunt invites you to Hunt 101, a free presentation about the past, present, and future of the Hunt Branch Library.

Monday, June 25, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Orangethorpe United Methodist Church – Chapel Hall, 2531 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, CA 92833 (Near the northwest corner of Gilbert and Orangethorpe).

Featured speakers will provide a history of the facility, its architectural significance, and place in the community for over fifty years.

This event is organized by concerned community members, and is not affiliated with either the City of Fullerton or the Fullerton Public Library.

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A member of the public addresses Fullerton’s Library Board of Trustees during a special meeting held in the Hunt Library on May 5, 2018.

Matthew Leslie

About 45 members of the public attended a special meeting of the Fullerton Library Board of Trustees held on the morning of Saturday, May 5 at the now closed Hunt Branch Library located at 201 S. Basque Ave. The meeting was called, in part, to address concerns about the possibility of the city council selling the property, which is currently leased to neighboring church Grace Ministries International. In addition to library staff from the Main Branch, observers of the meeting included Councilmember Bruce Whitaker, who, along with Councilmember Jesus Silva, has advocated for keeping the Hunt building as a public facility.

Before the meeting, Library Director Judy Booth led visitors on a rare tour of the mid-century modernist building’s spacious interior, meeting rooms, and charming atrium spaces, which all appeared to be in good condition. The William Pereira designed structure was donated to Fullerton by Hunt Foods Chairman and art collector Norton Simon in 1962. Norton Simon once had his offices in the adjacent Pereira office building now owned outright by Grace Ministries. The campus, including the library, was home to sculptures by Rodin and Giacometti, but were eventually moved to the Pasadena museum that now bears the collector’s name.

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Community members enjoy a rare opportunity to tour the Hunt Branch Library, now leased to a church, and normally closed to the public.

Most of the Hunt Branch’s books were moved to the Main Library when Grace Ministries moved into the space three years ago. White plastic chains were strung across shelves now filled with books owned by the church. Other stacks still holding parts of the library’s collection were shrink-wrapped to prevent access to the books.

The meeting was called to order at 10:35 a.m. with all five trustees present: Chair Sean Paden, and members Ellen Ballard, Ryan Cantor, Joshua Dale, and Carl Byers.

Following public comments on items unrelated to the agenda, Library Director Judy Booth reported that at it’s most recent meeting on May 1 the Fullerton City Council decided in closed session to schedule a study session about the Hunt Branch, that the Hunt Branch would also be on the agenda of the council’s May 15 meeting, and that Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald stated that she favored the Fullerton City Council appointing themselves as members of the Fullerton Library Board of Trustees and establishing a new library advisory council.

Before proceeding to Regular Business, Chair Sean Paden asked his fellow trustees to consider all six items on the agenda, listed below, concurrently in order to allow members of the public to address their comments to all of the items at once.

Thirteen people, including two former members of the Library Board of Trustees, spoke during the public comments period. All favored keeping the building in the public realm, though suggestions about its ultimate use varied among speakers.

Several speakers recalled attending the library on a regular basis, either as young students themselves or as adults with children of their own. Lauralyn Escher of the nonprofit All the Arts for All the Kids recalled seeing Norton Simon’s August Rodin sculptures installed at the Hunt.

One speaker noted that most of the parents in the immediate area served by the Hunt Branch could not afford to pay for summer camps in other facilities, and that adding programming from cultural non-profits at the Hunt site would benefit lower income children.

Elizabeth Gibbs spoke of the building as an heirloom that should be cared for instead of sold. Others advocated working with the Los Angeles Conservancy and seeking funding related to the building’s significance as a mid-century modern building, now over fifty years old and eligible for various historic designations.

Several speakers thought that the park surrounding the Hunt could be incorporated into programming as well.

Vince Buck, a former library board member, stated that the library was shut down not because of nearby homeless people, but because the city council had cut the budget to the library, and the former library director made the choice to use all funds for the main branch. He suggested partnering with the Getty, among other institutions, as well as Cal State Fullerton. He noted that a representative of Senator Josh Newman had appeared at the last meeting of the trustees, suggesting that the office might be able to find money for the Hunt.

5th District City Council candidate Ahmad Zahra challenged the library trustees to provide a solid argument to keep the facility open (which he favors) in order to counter an anticipated argument that not enough money was available to operate the library.

Two speakers wanted the Hunt to become a shelter for the homeless people, suggesting that the Hunt could be leased out and paid for with housing vouchers.

The trustees responded to public comments and questions before proceeding to the six agenda items. Trustee Ellen Ballard stated that the public comments reflected the view of the library board and expressed support for involving other non-profits in the Hunt’s operation. Carl Byers cited the public’s participation at the meeting as a reason for maintaining the library board as a separate entity from the city council. Ryan Cantor stated that the Hunt would need a separate identity distinct from the Main Branch and adequate funding to re-open. An appropriate use of the building would require that the facility be open free of charge and indiscriminately to the public, and have a literary focus. If the facility were to be sold, however, the funds should go directly to the Fullerton Public Library, and not the city’s General Fund.

1. Define the intent of the gift of Hunt Library

Copies of the original grant deed to the property were include in the agenda, and passed around the room. It was reported that the so-called Reverter Clause, which stipulated that the property’s ownership would be returned to the Norton Simon Foundation if the Hunt was ever to cease its function as a library, was no longer in effect.

2. Renegotiate the lease of Hunt Library to Grace Ministries International

Saying that “we were supposed to have had this conversation three years ago,” Ryan Cantor moved that the trustees recommend increasing the month-to-month lease for the Hunt to $ 5,000.00 per month from the current rate of $ 1,500.00, based on his own “rough capital assessment” of the site. Trustee Cantor emphasized that the $ 5,000.00 figure was just a starting point, and was not meant as a long term solution. The trustees discussed whether or not rent could be structured in such a way that payments would directly benefit the library instead of into the city’s General Fund.

Chair Paden suggested staying with the current lease rate, but adding a significant maintenance fee, acknowledging that such fees are normally less than the actual rent, but could represent a higher figure than the rent in this case. Trustee Byers predicted that GMI would opt to vacate the building rather than pay such a dramatically increased rent. Mr. Paden’s motion failed to secure a second, and failed.

Addressing the question about what repairs might be needed for the building, Director Booth said that the heating and air conditioning system would need to be replaced. Trustee Ryan said that no study had been made to determine what facility’s needs would be over the next ten years.

Trustee Cantor formally motioned that the lease rate be raised to a market rate of $ 5,000.00 because GMI was not acting to fulfill the mission of the library with its occupancy. In making this qualification, he announced that he would support leasing the Hunt for a symbolic one dollar per year to an agency that would operate it in a way that supported its mission. Some trustees were concerned that recommending such a dramatic increase in rent would only antagonize the city council. Ultimately, the motion failed on a 3 – 2 vote.

3. Formally request the City Council to appropriate funds to operate the Hunt Library as a branch library

Sean Paden suggested tabling this item pending more information about the actual cost to operate the Hunt as a library. Ryan Cantor maintained that the figure of $ 1.3 million per year estimated in 2012 a report was still valid for an operating budget that would fund the library being open for two shifts a day over a five day week.

Trustee Ellen Ballard didn’t think the Hunt could operate viably as a branch library in the way it had in the past because it was too small to hold a significant collection of books.

Ryan Cantor motioned that $ 75,000.00 be allocated from the budget to develop a long range plan for the Hunt for fiscal year 2018/2019. This motion passed on a 3 – 2 vote.

4. Consider possibility of partnering with community organizations at Hunt Library

Mr. Cantor led the discussion with a list of possible partners who might provide programming at the Hunt. His list included the Fullerton Arboretum, The Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fulleton School District (All the Arts for All the Kids), La Habra Children’s Museum and others. Other trustees and members fo the public suggested additional names, which were added to the list. The trustees agreed to divide the names among themselves and contact prospective non-profits to gauge their interest in responding to a potential Request for Proposals that might eventually be issued by the library.

5. Library Board of Trustees and outside legal representation

Director Judy Booth reported that, at the direction of the trustees, she had asked Fullerton’s City Attorney, Dick Jones, about the process for the trustees to hire separate legal representation. Mr. Jones was reported to have referred her to Fullerton Municipal Code, Section 2.16.40 (“The City Attorney shall be attorney for the Library Board. When required he shall attend their meetings, and shall perform such other services for the Board as may be necessary,” suggesting that the city council would not recognize any difference between legal representation of the library and of the city itself. Trustee Cantor motioned that the trustees request the presence of the city attorney for their regularly scheduled meeting in June “to discuss possible pending litigation.” The motion passed on a 3 to 2 vote.

6. Schedule further meetings about Hunt Library at Hunt Library

Further actions were deferred to the next meeting of the trustees on May 24 at the Main Branch. At meeting’s end, Ryan Cantor commented about the actions and attitudes of the trustees by stating that “we’re working hard on this, and we’re not giving up.”

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The Hunt Branch Library’s rear entrance and grounds.

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