Fullerton may end negotiations with two cultural arts organizations regarding future use of the Hunt Branch Library. An agenda item prepared by City Staff for the June 21 meeting recommends that Council terminate all lease negotiations with Heritage Future and ArtsOC. After publication of the agenda, Council decided to continue the item to a future meeting to give stakeholders a chance to weigh in on the issue.
Following the work of the Hunt Library Ad Hoc Committee with Save the Hunt and community activists, ArtsOC and Heritage Future were chosen by the City in 2020 from eight other applicants to do community outreach and prepare a proposal for possible uses of the Hunt for literacy, arts, and culture programs. The City has secured over $5 million in state funding to revitalize the Hunt, from efforts by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva and State Senator Josh Newman.
ArtsOC and Heritage Future’s report/proposal may be viewed here: https://artsoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Fullerton-Hunt-Library-Report-Oct3.pdf.
City staff is recommending that Council pursue a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Tenant/Operator.
As part of their contract with the City, ArtsOC conducted community outreach, which included 36 stakeholder interviews, three visioning sessions, and over 800 responses to surveys, and prepared a programmatic plan for the Hunt Library in 2021.
According to a City staff report, “Negotiations regarding the site occurred over several months and resulted in various revisions to plans and changes in agreement language. The City drafted a term letter to both Heritage Future and ArtsOC in November 2021. Both groups, however, had concerns with the terms of the lease due to the requirement to pay for utilities and maintenance. Heritage Future’s board would not move forward to agreeing to any lease.”
CEO of ArtsOC Rick Stein said that he had received no communications from the City regarding termination of the agreement.
“Until you sent me the agenda item, I was unaware of it,” Stein told The Observer via e-mail. Stein said that he has not been asked by staff or councilmembers to even present the report that was the result of all that community outreach.
“We have encouraged City staff and Councilmembers to allow us to present our report, and when I saw three Councilmembers at our Día del Niño Festival at Pacific Drive School on April 30, they said they had not received our report from staff and requested we send it to them directly. We did so and also sent it to the other Councilmembers and alerted staff that we had done so,” Stein wrote. “Since that time, we have received no communications from the City. We remain believers in the future potential of the Hunt Library as a cultural center for the community and to presenting our report to Council.”
It appears there is a dispute over whether the City or tenants will be required to pay for security and maintenance.
“The original RFQ issued by the City sought a ‘programmatic partner’ to work with them in activating the Hunt as a community resource,” Stein wrote via e-mail. “Over time, the City’s semantics changed to talking more about it all as a landlord-tenant relationship and negotiating a lease.”
Stein said that the City also had expressed increasing interest in using a greater portion of the space for Library Services that would “limit severely the revenue-generating opportunities to make the operations sustainable without the City bearing responsibility for utilities and maintenance.”
When asked for comment, Janet Kim, CEO of Heritage Future, wrote via e-mail, “We are thankful for the Hunt Library Literacy and Cultural Innovation Programming Partnership opportunity…We are hopeful that our work during this time will help bring success to the future of The Hunt. We do not plan on submitting for the Tenant/Operator agreement RFP.”
Ellen Ballard, Chair of the Library Board of Trustees, submitted a letter to City Council expressing disappointment that more Hunt stakeholders were not consulted in the process, and urging them to remove the item from the agenda.
“What happened to consulting with all the many, many stakeholders in the Hunt Library restoration?” Ballard wrote. She went on to list some of these key stakeholders, including the Ad Hoc Committee, Sharon Quirk Silva, Josh Newman, the panel who reviewed and selected Heritage Future and ArtsOC, and The Fullerton Library Foundation.
“All are committed to restoring the Hunt Library as a viable, valuable community center, open to all Fullerton citizens…This action [terminating the agreement] will set the Hunt Library back years,” Ballard wrote.
Jane Reifer from Save the Hunt pointed out that an important aspect of maintaining the Hunt is security, as many windows have been broken recently and subsequently boarded up. At their June 8 meeting, the Planning Commission discussed putting up fencing around the Hunt Library area to protect against vandalism.
Planning Commission Chair Doug Cox shared recent photos he’d taken of the Hunt Branch Library showing many smashed windows, graffiti, and other vandalism.
“Security issues are paramount, or we won’t have a library left,” Reifer told The Observer.
Gifted to the City in 1962 by the Norton Simon Foundation, the Hunt Library at 201 S. Basque Avenue was designed by renowned architect William Pereira and sits on 2.2 acres of what was originally the campus of Hunt Foods Corporation. The Hunt Center and Library were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
To learn more about the history of the Hunt Library, visit fullertonheritage.org.
To learn about efforts to save the Hunt, visit www.savethehunt.com.
To view the agenda for the June 21 meeting, visit https://fullerton.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.