Seal Beach Red Car Museum’s condition in dispute

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The Red Car Museum as it appeared Aug. 20, 2019.

A petition calling for change in leadership of the Seal Beach Historical Society/Red Car Museum had gathered 534 signatures, as of 11:43 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 13.

The city attorney reports he is looking into the city’s options regarding the Red Car Museum. The former railroad car is owned by the Historical Society but stands on land owned by the city government.

The Red Car Museum has been the subject of two recent opinion pieces published in the Sun, one by Elizabeth Kane, who started the online petition, and one by Marie Antos of the Historical Society.

Marie Antos of the Historical Society reported in a recent opinion piece that they received a $5,000 donation from Linda and Gene Stegman to continue work on the Red Car, following publication of Kane’s own opinion piece on the same subject.

The visibly poor condition of the Red Car, located on the Green Belt on Electric Avenue, and the reasons for its condition, are at the heart of the differences between Kane and Antos. In her opinion piece, Kane held the current leadership of the Historical Society responsible for the condition of the former railroad car now repurposed as a museum. Antos argued that the Historical Society repairs all damages to the Red Car as soon as possible. She also cited what she described as a lack of cooperation from the city

The condition of the Red Car has come up before. In August 2019, the Historical Society reported it was making improvements to the Red Car Museum in an unsigned email. The email was in response to questions from the Sun. One of the questions was “Are there any plans to renovate the Museum?

The Historical Society’s reply: “Yes, hopefully soon. We are currently working on raising the money for the supplies.”

In January 2020, District One Councilman Joe Kalmick said the city was “going to continue to work with the owners of the red Car, the Seal Beach Historical Society, to continue with the repairs and restoration that was begun last fall and are badly needed.”

The Sun emailed several questions to the Seal Beach Historical Society on Friday, Oct. 9, and Monday, Oct. 12. On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Marie Antos of the Seal Beach Historical Society sent the following reply:  “There was an article I wrote in response to Elizabeth Kane’s located in the guest opinion column of the Sun. Read that! My article answers most of your questions.”

“We will not be commenting on anything else at this time,” wrote Antos.

Antos has filed a $100 lawsuit in Orange County’s small claims court, accusing Kane of libel and slander. The court date is currently set for Feb. 1, 2021, in Department CX101, which is in Santa Ana. However, according to the Orange County Superior Court website, the Westminster small claims court is the venue for cases  from Seal Beach.

The California Attorney General’s Office on Sept. 24, 2020, notified the Historical Society “re missing reports to the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts.”

The document  said the organization needed to file the Annual Registration Renewal Fee Reports for May 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2017, along with the renewal fee. The Attorney General’s notice also required complete copies of IRS Form 990, 990-PF, or 990-Ez for the same period.

However, that last document appears to be boilerplate language. “Note, the 990 is only required if Gross Annual Revenue is $50,000 or above,” said the Attorney General’s notice.

The Seal Beach Historical Society’s 990-EZ for 2018 (voluntarily made available by the SBHS on the GuideStar website), showed that the society made $1,313.78 that year. (IRS 990 forms are considered public record. Charities are supposed to make them available on demand.)

On Monday, Oct. 12, the Sun emailed a copy of the Attorney General’s document to the Historical Society and asked if the society had a comment.

On Oct. 13, Marie Antos wrote, ““We are taking care of it (Notice from Attorney General).”

City’s land; non-profit’s Red Car

The lease agreement between Seal Beach, a public record, has been automatically renewed since 2015 on the first day of October. “The agreement can be terminated by either party with 30 days notice,” wrote City Manager Jill Ingram in an Oct. 12 email.

“With respect to the annual lease fee, the City leases the portion of the Greenbelt occupied by the Red Car as well as a portion of the adjacent area at an annual lease fee of $1.00.  The Seal Beach Historical Society made a payment to the City in 2010 in the amount of $40.00 to cover the $1.00 annual payment for the years 1981-2020,” Ingram wrote.

The Sun recently asked City Attorney Craig Steele what the city’s options were concerning the Red Car.

“I have recently been asked to look into this issue and don’t have a specific answer for you at this time,” wrote Steele in an Oct. 5 email to the Sun.

The Red Car is located in City Council District One.

Asked if he’d heard from his constituents about the Red Car, District One Councilman Joe Kalmick said he had only heard from Elizabeth Kane.

Kalmick said City Manager Ingram hopes to have substantive discussions with the city attorney later this week concerning the Red Car.

Kalmick expressed frustrations about his dealings with the Historical Society.

“It’s like arguing with a feather pillow,” Kalmick said of discussions between the city and the Historical Society.

“Ultimately, my goal is to perform bloodless surgery,” Kalmick said. He wants a new group to take over the Historical Society.

He said the Historical Society recently called him about a missing sign promoting the museum. (The Red Car Museum has been a part of the Seal Beach community since the 1970s. It’s Electric Avenue location is a former railroad right-of-way.)

Kalmick doesn’t object to replacing the sign, but doesn’t want to put up a new sign for the Red Car in its current condition.

“My concern would be if the dispute becomes protracted, the Red Car would deteriorate even more,” Kalmick said.

He also expressed concern for the outcome of the dispute over the Red Car.

He said the city needs to stay on top of the issue.

Questions emailed to the Seal Beach Historical Society on Oct. 9:

“We are going to be reporting on the Red Car Museum in next week’s paper. My deadline is close of business Tuesday, Oct. 13.

“Can you confirm that the Seal Beach Historical Society recently received a significant contribution. For how much?

“Has the Historical Society considered a Go Fund Me fundraising campaign?

“Are there any plans to renovate the Museum?

“When was the last time the Museum was painted?

“When is the Historical Society’s lease for the land on which the Museum stands up for renewal?

“A petition on petition.org, “Demanding Change of Leadership to the Seal Beach Historical Society,” has garnered 456 signatures as of Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. Do you have a comment?