City calls for changes to Red Car lease

Pictured above is the Red Car Museum as it appeared Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

Officials request reorganization of the Seal Beach Historical Society, offers to buy old railroad car

City officials want to change the lease agreement between Seal Beach and the Seal Beach Historical Society/Red Car Museum. If the leaders don’t agree to those changes, officials will advise the City Council to cancel the lease, according to a Nov. 13 letter to the leadership of the non-profit. The letter is a public record.

The Historical Society owns the iconic Red Car Museum. However, the non-profit leases the land on which the museum stands from the city of Seal Beach. The rent: $1 a year.

The proposed changes included a call for the reorganization of the Historical Society, with none of the board members related to the other board members and one city representative on the board. As an alternative, city officials offered to buy the Red Car.

The city made these demands in a Nov. 13 letter that also offered to buy the Red Car from the Historical Society.

The Sun requested a comment from the Historical Society, which has twice before stated they will comment no further on the matter. They were given until 10 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2 to reply.

The letter—signed by City Manager Jill Ingram, Mayor Schelly Sustarsic, and District One Councilman Joe Kalmick, specifically asked—Charles and Marie Antos, the leaders of the Seal Beach Historical Society/Red Car Museum to reply by Dec. 10. Charles Antos is a former city employee and a past member of the City Council.

“The condition of the Red Car is deteriorating so significantly that it is in danger of becoming a public nuisance and a liability concern to the City,” the letter said.

“If SBHS is not willing to make these changes in the very near future for the benefit of the community, and to ensure that a community resource is preserved, we see no path forward where the Red Car can remain on City property,” the letter said.

“In that event, we will have no choice but to recommend that the City Council take action to terminate the lease between the City and SBHS and direct that the Red Car be removed,” the letter said.

In related news, the Sun on Nov. 27 asked City Attorney Craig Steele, “What, if anything, can the city do about the Red Car Museum? Article (or it item) 8 of the lease states that the “Society shall maintain the Site in a neat and orderly condition so that the activities thereon will have a minimum impact on adjacent properties to the satisfaction of City.” Is this enforceable?”

Work was apparently being done on Red Car on Monday, Nov. 30.

As of Tuesday, Dec. 1 there were 672 signatures on an online petition calling for changes to the Historical Society’s leadership. (The same number reported as of Nov. 9.)

‘The challenge’

“With regard to the Red Car, all of the provisions of the lease are enforceable, including the one you mentioned,” Steele wrote in a Monday, Nov. 30 email.

“The challenge is that the ultimate remedy for breaching a lease is to terminate the lease. Nobody wants to see that happen, because it’s unclear what would happen to the Red Car in that instance,” Steele wrote.

“The City respects the efforts of the SBHS to acquire and maintain the Red Car, and absolutely prefers to work with them to maintain it and preserve it as a community asset. To that end, the City recently wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Antos with some suggestions for a more sustainable path moving forward. You could obtain a copy of that letter from the City Clerk,” Steele wrote.

City Clerk Gloria Harper provided the Sun with a copy of the letter to the Antoses late Monday afternoon.


Summary of letter

The letter specifically asked that the Historical Society amend its bylaws. Requested changes to the non-profit included:

• The members of the Historical Society appoint a board of at least five members. “No member of the Board of Directors may be related by blood or marriage to any other member of the Board. A representative of the City shall be appointed as an ex officio member of the Board,” according to the letter.

• Anyone who pays the membership feel would be allowed to join the Historical Society.

• That the SBHS file all required corporate documents.

• That the Historical Society would hold an annual meeting and provide annual financial reports to the members.

The letter also called for operational changes to the Red Car Museum.

• “SBHS will undertake annual fundraising efforts and commit to spending a mutually agreeable amount each year on maintenance and repairs of the Red Car,” according to the letter. The city offered to waive fees for special event permits and to provide insurance coverage.

• “As soon as practical after raising the necessary funds, SBHS will rehabilitate the Red Car completely and, thereafter, maintain it in a condition suitable for public viewing and tours in the opinion of the City’s Building Official,” according to the letter. The city offered to hire a historical consultant. The letter said the city would waive fees for rehabilitation permits.

• The city offered to pay for construction of required improvements such as access for the disabled.

• “Once rehabilitation is complete, and when safe to do so, SBHC will allow public access to the Red Car through docent-supervised tours on a regular basis, and as often as practical,” the letter said.

(Note: Under current pandemic restrictions, no indoor museums are open in Orange County.)

Offer to buy

“In the alternative, we take seriously Mrs. Antos’ apparent suggestion recently in the Sun Newspaper that perhaps another entity should take ownership of the Red Car and preserve it. The City is willing to do so if the City and SBHS could agree on that alternative. We are willing to explore the City’s acquisition of the Red Car from the SBHS to relieve SBHS of the future cost of maintaining this asset. In so doing, we would be willing to reimburse SBHS’ documented costs of maintaining and repairing the Red Car over the past 5 years,” the letter said.

For the complete text of the letter:

Text of city letter to Seal Beach Historical Society

City calls for changes to Red Car lease