Acknowledging that Town Hall is in need of serious and major rehabilitation, the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce voted to deed the iconic building back to the Johnson family who currently holds a reversionary interest. Gerald Johnson, grandfather of Jay and Steve Johnson, donated the land for Town Hall and helped build it. He later deeded the edifice to the Chamber to hold in trust for the town as a recreation venue and facility.
Jay Johnson, present with son Jason and brother Steve, announced his family intends to deed the structure and land to the county, to be used only for recreational purposes. As now, the family would retain their reversionary interest, should the facility or land use be changed from recreation.
“Our family agrees on this,” Johnson said, “the Chamber does not have the money to restore this building. The county has the funds to make it happen.”
Johnson and Chamber Director Mimi Lamp have met with 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone who told them that the county would rehabilitate the building, preserve it as a community recreation site, and keep it public.
“The thing that was stressed by Stone was that this would remain a community hall,” Lamp said. The county CSA 36 recreation program, currently headquartered at Town Hall, is funded by taxpayer assessment.
Johnson, who has a background in building and construction, estimated that needed repairs to Town Hall would be costly but that Stone had told him they would begin once title was transferred. “First will be playground replacement and repair of the front stairs and heating,” said Johnson. He also noted that county ownership makes county government accountable to the people of Idyllwild. “People will have a vote,” he said.
Chamber President Chris Titus said the decision came because the building has serious issues that the Chamber cannot address. “Right now I don’t see anything better for the town,” she said. “Town Hall is woefully underutilized because of its condition,” Director Gary Taylor said.
Johnson noted that he could see Town Hall rehabilitation complementing the Idyllwild Community Center if and when built. “Let’s get this up and running in the meantime,” he said, “and make it great for the kids and the people of the town.”
Of the transfer to the county, Lamp said, “If they [the county] don’t fix it [building problems] they will be liable.”
“They’ll [the county] make it healthy,” Steve Johnson said.
A clearly dispirited Chamber acknowledged the difficulties of facing a lawsuit which places their personal and Chamber finances at risk. They said they would play a limited role in the community until the lawsuit is settled, which may not be until 2013.
Lamb, the Chamber treasurer, reported the Chamber is solvent.
In other business the board announced the tree monument would be fenced off to prevent people from climbing on it. Citing “loose board” and pieces that are beginning to fall off, the board stressed the safety issue and will fence the monument as soon as they receive a feasible bid.
“We need to fence it because the liability issues are beyond our ability to address,” said Chamber Director Lanny Hardy. And Taylor described the monument at present as “an attractive nuisance that invites climbing.”
Phyllis Mueller reported that the Tree Lighting Ceremony is proceeding well.