Note: This article has been slightly edited for clarity
“City Hall is for Sale” is sometimes heard as a derisive comment about local politics, but Fullerton’s City Hall may actually be for sale. City Council met in closed session on February 2 to discuss “Price and Terms” with City Manager Ken Domer acting as the negotiator with 3 parties for the sale of City Hall and several surrounding city owned parking lots under agenda item 5, titled “Conference with Real Property Negotiator.” The properties were only identified on the agenda by eight Accessors Parcel Numbers (APNs), with no descriptions of the properties supplied for the public. One of the 3 developers listed as Negotiating Parties on Item 5, is City Ventures, who bought the city of La Habra’s civic center several years ago and built housing in its place after the city’s government offices were relocated across the street to buildings on land acquired in a swap with the developer.
Fullerton City Hall.
The discussion about a possible City Hall sale came to light after research by The Observer revealed the addresses of the APNs in the Feb. 2 discussion to include 303 W. Commonwealth Avenue, the address of Fullerton’s City Hall, as well as some other surrounding properties. City Manager Ken Domer confirmed that the other parcel numbers referred to the parking lots north of City Hall and lots east of the Fullerton Police Station. According to Domer, the idea had its origins in discussions over a year ago that identified the parking lot north of the current City Hall as a possible site for development in cash-strapped Fullerton. Potential developers balked at the idea, however, unless they could include City Hall itself to enlarge the site to accommodate required parking. “This opened up the possibility that City Hall could be relocated to east of the current police station, protecting the historic former City Hall building [now the police station] thus allowing a larger housing development.” The historic former City Hall, built with support of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) between 1939 and 1942, now houses the Fullerton Police Department.
Though the Feb. 2 item on the Council’s agenda was marked “Price and Terms,” Domer said no action was taken that night. He emphasized that any concrete action would require “an extensive public process and many questions answered.” The concept is expected to be included in a March 9 Study Session about the City’s Housing Element, Housing Incentive Opportunity Zone, and City-owned properties (the Planning Commission will hold a similar session on February 17, but the possible sale of City Hall will not be part of their agenda that evening). The Council was originally scheduled to discuss the idea in a January meeting, where the agenda inadvertently left off one of the 8 parcels but the item was postponed until the Feb. 2 meeting with all 8 parcels listed. No report from the item was offered during the public session of the same meeting, leaving some concerned residents to wonder if their City Hall was being sold behind closed doors. Domer, however, said the project was “not a priority” and characterized its current progress in steps, as 4 out of 100.
“Most importantly, like other cities that include La Habra and Long Beach, the potential was to build a new City Hall for no cost as part of the transaction,” Domer said. He didn’t know if any proposed plan would resemble what was built in La Habra. The city of La Habra relocated its government operations in 2017 to a set of existing buildings renovated by developer City Ventures in a deal based on the sale of the city’s existing civic center complex across the street. City Ventures razed the old city buildings and constructed 71 residential housing units on the site.
Located adjacent to the City’s Main Library, Fullerton’s 48,000 square foot modern New Formalist-styled City Hall opened in 1963 just across Highland Ave. from the old Spanish Revival-styled building, which now houses the police deparment. Domer said of the current City Hall building, “Technology, conference rooms, even Council chamber space could be described as lacking.” The Council chamber was redesigned and renovated in 2002. Since 1960, Fullerton’s population has grown from 56,000 to more than 137,000 today.
The 3.75 acre City Hall property includes a substantial lawn in front, which faces Commonwealth Ave. Most new multi-story housing complexes built in Fullerton have minimal setbacks from sidewalks, suggesting that the lawn area would likely not survive development on the site. The lawn is a favorite location for demonstrations, including several Black Lives Matter events last summer. No properties on the south side of Commonwealth Ave., including Amerige Field, are considered part of any possible development plan.