Council queries candidates for historical foundation board

The long-closed Red Car Museum and Little Blue Cottage, shown above, are among the Seal Beach’s historic resources. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

There are five seats open on the Seal Beach Historic Resources Foundation board. Seventeen people have applied to the board. Two of the applicants are from nearby cities and a third lists homes in both Seal Beach and Palm Desert.

Residency in Seal Beach is not required for board membership.

The City Council interviewed the applicants late Monday afternoon, Oct. 25, during a special meeting. The council then held its regular meeting at 7 p.m.

The council will announce the five board members at a future date. No votes were taken during the Monday afternoon Zoom meeting.

According to the mayor, the council members will each pick their top five choices as part of the selection process, then see how that shakes out.

The foundation was envisioned as an independent non-profit entity that was created by a City Council resolution earlier this year. The resolution that created the non-profit allowed individuals from outside Seal Beach to serve on the board.

During one of the interviews, District One Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick said the appointment of the board is the only time the city would be involved.

Later, citing the number of applicants, he said the city needed people with fundraising ability and management ability.

He said he would like to create a mechanism where the other 12 candidates would have some sort of non-voting association with the foundation.

He said they would need staffing to open the Red Car Museum.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Sustarsic said.

Kalmick said he would discuss it with City Manager Jill Ingram and City Attorney Craig Steele.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore said there was a pretty amazing set of people applying to the board. He said it would be difficult to narrow down to five people.

Moore said it was difficult because some of them have strong history backgrounds; some have strong financial backgrounds.

District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic said she agreed with Moore.

Sustarsic said with all the enthusiasm, she hoped to keep all of the people who are not selected to the board involved.

District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa said he was excited that the council had a great selection.

District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt said she had selected five people and four others as her runners up. “This is very hard,” she said.

The applicants

According to the staff report to the council, the 17 applicants were:

1. Mechelle Lawrence Adams of Seal Beach City Council District One. During her interview, Adams said many businesses and restaurants would be interested in historic preservation if they knew how they would benefit. According to her application package, Adams led a $10 million fundraising effort for the Mission Preservation Foundation and the Diocese of Range.

2. Robert Cohen of District Two. Cohen said he had been a Seal Beach resident since 1965. He said his father helped to put together the police substation. According to his application, his parents were community volunteers. He is a licensed Realtor and owns RJC Organizational Training.

3. Christopher DeSanto of District One. DeSanto told the council that he has lived in Seal Beach for seven years. He said he’s reached the point where it is time to give back to the community. He said financial sustainability is part of conservation. According to his application, he has spent 15 years working in finance and accounting.

District One Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick asked if DeSanto thought he would have time to participate. Kalmick speculated that initially the Foundation would require a lot of time.

4. Rick Foster of District One. Foster, a Seal Beach Lion, said he was chair of the Red Car preservation and cleanup. (The Red Car currently belongs to the Lions.) He said he was recently asked by the White House to be a historian for a USDA project.

District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt asked if he thought he would have enough time if he is appointed to a Federal commission. Foster said he had plenty of time. He also said he has staff that does his daily business.

According to his application, Foster is a fifth-generation Seal Beach resident, a former history writer and journalist.

5. Tom Gibbons of District One (and Palm Desert). At the start, Gibbons said the city had great candidates for the Foundation board. He said he was a retired educator and historian. Gibbons said he remembered going to the Bay Theatre. He remembered attending Zoeter school. He said he is an ex-officio member of the Orange County Historic Commission.

According to his application, Gibbons lived here from 1950 to 1952 and from 2006 to the present. He was director of History-Social Science Education, Graduate school of Education, UCLA.

6. Nathan Kranda of District One. Kranda, a Lion, said Seal Beach has always been a special place for him. He said his grandfather built 150 houses in Old Town. He said he wanted to continue his grandfather’s legacy. He said he made the railroad crossing sign himself.

According to his application, he worked on the Fire Station Open House for the city’s centennial celebration.

7. Lorenz (Larry) Krueger of District Three. Krueger said he had created three foundations. He said he was also part of writing a book about the piers of California. He said old people’s garages are filled with Seal Beach memorabilia. According to his application, he has also written about the Belmont Shore Pier.

8. Deb Machen of District One. Machen said she raised funds to restore the Little Blue Cottage. (The cottage, now owned by the city, is located on the Greenbelt next to the Red Car.) She said she was co-author of the Centennial memory book.

According to her application, Machen gave 13 years of dedicated community service, including three years on the Planning Commission and was co-chair of marketing for the Centennial Committee.

9. Emily Sandler of District One. Sandler said she read about the Red Car saga in the paper (apparently a reference to the Sun). She said with her background in non-profits, she found it disgraceful.

According to Sandler, if the board members can’t all contribute, how can they ask corporations or others to make contributions.

According to her application, Sandler has more than 12 years of experience as a professional non-profit fundraiser.

10. Nancy Smith of District One. “I’m a little bit sad about the Red Car,” she said. She said the former museum was more like an abandoned truck than something people can enjoy. “I just think we could do a lot to make history come alive,” she said. According to her application, Smith has lived in Seal Beach for 25 years.

Smith has been a physician in Leisure World for more than 20 years.

11. Linda Stauffer of District Three. Stauffer said she is fairly new to Seal Beach. She grew up in Long Beach. She said she was a history major at CSULB. She said she was devastated to learn Seal Beach had lost its ephemera. (This was apparently a reference to late February 2021, when the former owners of the Red Car Museum, the Seal Beach Historical Society, removed the contents from the repurposed railroad car. The Seal Beach Lions Club announced the purchase of the Red Car shortly after that.) “We need to acquire our historical artifacts; see what we can recover,” Stauffer said. She also said she would like to find people who actually rode the Red Car.

According to her application, Stauffer was in charge of $500,000 in State and Federal funds.

Stauffer reported she has excellent speaking and writing skills, including grant writing.

12. Larry Strawther of Los Alamitos. Strawther, a local historian, said he wrote a history of Seal Beach. He said it was a tragedy what happened with the Red Car Museum organization. He said he believes the materials from the Red Car can be recovered. He said he knows where to jump start a lot of the research.

According to his application, Strawther conducted Seal Beach history tours during the 2015 centennial celebration.

13. Dino Syrengelas of District Four. Syrengelas said he thought joining the Historical Resources Foundation would be a good way to get more involved with Seal Beach.

According to his application, Syrengelas has been a Seal Beach Lion for 25 years and has worked on numerous projects for the city. He has been chair of the annual festival at his church for the past seven years.

14. James Villanueva of District One. Villanueva said there was no centralized source of Seal Beach historical information. He said he wanted to bring Seal Beach history into the 21st century. He also said he would like to see the Red Car reopen.

According to his application, Villanueva is currently a construction manager specializing in public infrastructure and improvements. He was a docent at Santa Fe Springs Heritage Park and Carriage Museum while he was in college.

15. William Ward of Long Beach. Due to technical difficulties Ward was interviewed out of the planned order.

Ward said he was a former member of the Seal Beach Historical Society. He said he has researched the history of local Native Americans.

According to his application, Ward is a member of the Orange County Historical Society, the Artesia Historical Society, and the Downey Historical Society.

16. Tim Way of District Three.  Way, a 25-year resident, said he thought serving on the foundation would be a great way to pay back the community. He said he was co-chair for the Car Show and chair for the Car Cruise.

According to his application, he is a seasoned board member with four years of experience on the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce.

He wrote that he was looking forward to continuing to serve Seal Beach by building a new historical venue for the city.

17. Scott Weir of District Three. Due to technical difficulties, Weir was also interviewed out of order. Once Weir rejoined the meeting, he said Seal Beach has been a city for 106 years. Weir, a Lion, said he was chair for fundraising for the Seal Beach Centennial. He went to Zoeter and McGaugh. He said he watched the pool being built. He said he wants to be sure that what happened with the historical society doesn’t happen again.

According to his application, he led the Seal Beach Lions Club’s efforts to acquire the Red Car.