Fullerton City Council discussed the future of the Hunt Library Building on Tuesday July 19. It is not clear why the future of this building is in doubt at this time. I fear it may be the most recent installment of the attempt of several councils ago to get rid of the building. However, that is not my issue here. What I want to address is building community in Fullerton and the role of this facility and this Council in doing that.
At Tuesday’s meeting, former Mayor Molly McClanahan read part of the Vision Statement written by the Ad Hoc Committee that was created to consider the future of The Hunt over four years ago. The part she read emphasized community building:
The Vision Statement from the Ad Hoc Committee underlines this:
* The restoration and revitalization of this architectural treasure provides Fullerton with a unique opportunity to rebuild and strengthen a sense of community and belonging in our diverse and remarkable City.
* We envision a variety of compatible and creative uses that bring residents together in a place that is welcoming, a place of learning and sharing knowledge, a place that encourages curiosity, a place that serves as a hub of activities, programs, events, and classes.
* We envision the possibility of a renaissance of literacy, in its broadest sense, for Fullerton, our Education Community.” (February 5, 2019)
In other words, a major purpose in restoring and revitalizing this building is to provide a location and opportunities to strengthen our community. We are a large city with a diverse population with many different interests. I think that Molly would agree with me that the Council should view enhancing our community as a priority. If the Council majority has a vision for community building, it is not apparent to me. Ofttimes it seems like Council is only interested in Public Safety, street infrastructure, and maybe encouraging businesses. Essential though those things are, they are not enough to make living in Fullerton special. A safe community is a means to an end: creating a place where we can thrive by joining with our friends and neighbors in events and activities that bring us together, that enrich us, and that make us value our community and our neighbors.
While the City does provide some facilities, activities, and events (and perhaps staff or a Council member will provide a full list), there are fewer than in the past and they seem to be continually threatened with reduction or elimination to meet budget shortfalls. In particular:
– Founders Day: Up until 1993 this event that highlighted City activities was held yearly. There was a parade and a street fair where each City department and community-oriented organizations had booths where attendees could find out what was happening in Fullerton. There was even the opportunity to dunk the City Manager or other notables by hitting a target with a baseball. Very popular.
– The Muckenthaler: Again in 1993, the City decided to cut this City-owned and operated facility loose and substantially reduce funding.
– July 4th and New Year’s celebrations: Many cities cut back events with COVID restrictions, but now many of those have been brought back. Not so in Fullerton.
– Thursday Street Fair: Previously this very popular event ran past Halloween. This year the music groups are only budgeted until August 25, eliminating the fall months when everyone is back in town and the weather (marginally) cools off. The beer garden provides a substantial source of income for the Fullerton Museum Center. It is not clear if there will be any activities after the music ends.
– The Fullerton Museum Center: As it did in 1993 with the Muckenthaler, the City seems about to cut the FMC loose and reduce or eliminate funding and let it die.
– Library: The Library is a key element in the Education Community. It provides a forum for lectures, concerts, and other events, as well as a place to study and meet with others. The Library staff has been decimated and open times cut back to 36 hours over 5 days per week. Recently Mayor Fred Jung requested a discussion about outsourcing Library Services. The discussion did not happen thanks to an outpouring of support for the Library.
This is only a partial listing of community-building facilities and events that have had funding reduced or eliminated. Additionally, the Day of Music (not a city event) was reduced to a single stage due to lack of City support. The Fox theater project and the opening of Coyote Hills languish. The recently opened Bicycle Boulevard, important in providing a safe bicycle and family route downtown for families and other riders, had its center closed. And the narrowly-named Parks and Recreation department, a department that should be central to community-building, does not have a director.
All the above are examples of the continuing eroding of Council support for community-building events and facilities. The Hunt fiasco is only the latest example. Two council members, Jesus Silva and Ahmad Zahra, expressed their dismay at this pattern, asking, in effect, what are we here for if we cannot provide our constituents with these important and valued things? Mayor Jung argued that arts and cultural events are a priority, but then immediately mentioned other higher priorities. Presumably being a low priority is still being a priority.
Ideally there would be a Council and community vision that would form the basis for policies to strengthen our community. There is more to community than churches, schools, and sports leagues, and the Council should be playing a key role in making Fullerton a richer community.
Perhaps we need a Community Building Task force or perhaps Parks and Rec should be directed to suggest a vision or policies to vitalize our community and to bring our very diverse neighbors together. The current Council seems incapable of doing so.