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 the Friends of the Fullerton Public Library who organize period book sales and operate the library’s book store.