Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
BAYSIDE – Bayside Community Hall is at crossroads – one offering only painful, risky and uncertain paths forward – those being: walk away from the hall, surrendering the building and its assets to the National Grange organization, fight to keep it as an independent entity, or have those willing to do so rejoin and be part of the national organization.
Late update: An interim decision has been made. In next week's "Bayside Corners" column, Hall President Carolyn Jones reports that "The Hall’s attorneys will file a notice of intent to appeal by the June 28 deadline, so that we can continue to gather information from the community and await info about the bond."
The hall’s leadership had just days to choose from among those unpalatable alternatives, making its best guess as to what will preserve the historic Bayside landmark’s mission of community service.
Following a series of court rulings in its favor, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry is poised to resume control of what had been renamed the Bayside Community Hall in 2017 in an effort to cement its independence.
Tamara Myers of Freshwater Hall began with a history of the litigious power struggle between state and local granges and the national organization, dating back to 2006.
Over ensuing years, a succession of court decisions fell in favor of the National Grange, culminating in an April ruling affirming that the state Grange, aligned with the national group, may reassert control of the Bayside Grange.
All three alternatives – walk away, fight or rejoin, are problematic.
• Hall leadership finds “walking away” galling, in that it has organized over $400,000 in improvements to the hall, which would be surrendered to the national organization.
• Rejoining isn’t a decision the hall’s board can make. It would require 14 individuals to formally join the Grange, take the “oath of fealty” and be responsible for managing the property and meeting the numerous requirements of both the Grange, and of local, state and federal non-profit law.
Hall president Carolyn Jones said members of the hall’s Board of Directors have no interest in being part of the National Grange. Any new Grange leadership would have to arise from individuals in the community.
• Fighting to retain control would require putting up a bond and mounting a costly, multi-year legal battle. Further, the hall’s legal arguments are untested and their effectiveness uncertain.
In online comments as the meeting proceeded, Grange members extolled the national organization as welcoming, locally oriented and responsive to community needs.
"The Grange is a fraternal organization," said Kent Westwood, California Grange president, in Zoom chat comments. "I do not find the National Grange as being so onerous to the individual member. The more you participate the greater the individual rewards. Granges like any other local organization, works to improving projects within the community."
"Please think of this as a local organization," said a Grange member posting as Pacific Watershed Associates. "I have conflicts with National Grange, But as a Granger I can affect my local community. Think not what a grange can do for you, but you can do with a Grange."
As the chat comments continued, Hall loyalists took the opportunity to confront the Grange advocates directly.
"Why don’t you and the National Grange stop these lawsuits?" asked Margie and John Plant. "You didn’t purchase these properties. In all things charity! Let’s find a better solution."
"Who is taking the halls? As we see it, you are taking the halls," Westwood replied. "We would have liked to avoid these suits but no one wanted to sit at the table with us."
"Sit at the table, really?" replied the Plants. "One day we just got mail that said we were being sued."
In live remarks at the hall, California State Grange Deputy Will Shaw was less diplomatic than the chat commenters. He starkly declared that the court’s decision is a done deal, and told hall loyalists to give up their attempts at independence.
“I’ve come here tonight to make you a spectacular offer to come home to the Grange,” Shaw told attendees. “The court has ruled; the court will not change its mind... You will not win... This is a Grange hall, and will always be a Grange hall.”
A number of speakers aired their thoughts, much of the speech distorted and unintelligible in the recording of the meeting.
Hall Treasurer Sue Moore offered a concise encapsulation of the position of those who want no association with the National Grange and its many rules and requirements.
"I categorically will not remain. I will not join the Grange. I will not be part of the fraternal order," she said. "I have read every single digest, law and rule of the Grange. I'm not a person who will sit in a room and pretend to be a part of something which I cannot agree with."
Moore characterized the Grange's dictates as onerous and irrelevant, and resistant to it a matter of ethics. "The language, to me, is... it's archaic. It is also completely in many cases, I would say, discriminatory."
She noted that the national and state Grange organizations have done nothing to save and sustain the hall in recent years. Hall leadership – Jones in particular – and the community have done all the heavy lifting and contributed $400,000 to keep the doors open, she said.
"I love Bayside Community Hall," Moore said. "The National Grange did nothing to save this hall when all the piers and posts had to be replaced. The state Grange did not show up."
Continued Moore, "This is an open community. We don't have secret passwords, you don't have to apply for membership, you don't have to make an oath, you don't have to do those things that I personally cannot do. So for disclosure, I will not join the Grange. I will not be part of the organization, and that is because I have read every single word that I would have to commit to, believe in and practice were I to honestly be a Grange member. And that, I cannot do."
Jones offered a compromise – that the state Grange create a new “historic membership” category under which it would become a non-voting affiliate of the National Grange, but remain independent. The proposed compromise:
“Acknowledge the Grange history, but let these halls that don’t want to be Granges do what they can for their communities,” she said, to thunderous applause.
Meanwhile, an online survey asks for community input on the decision.
‘Save Humboldt’s Community Halls’ – the change.org petition
Former grange halls across California, including five in Humboldt County (Bayside, Fieldbrook, Freshwater, Redcrest and Van Duzen), are being sued by the California State Grange, which seeks to take possession of all of their property because these communities are no longer interested in being part of the fraternal Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry.
For more than 80 years, these halls have been built, funded, managed and maintained solely by their local communities, with no support from the grange organization.
These halls play critically important roles in their communities, tailored over many years to the unique needs of each. They provide crucial support to schools, fire districts, emergency response groups and the nonprofit community, as well as providing a venue for both private and public events. Loss of these buildings would be devastating.
The grange organization insists that local individuals have the right to manage and maintain these buildings for their communities only if they join the grange; however, the grange organization has not been successful in making itself attractive to potential members in our communities. Over a dozen halls have been lost in Humboldt and Del Norte counties since 2000. It does not make sense to require people to join an organization in which they have no interest for them to serve a role in stewardship of their local community hall.
We acknowledge our grange past and honor the men and women who built these halls. We are committed to continuing their work, and broadening it to our entire community, as 501c3 non-profit organizations. We seek a mutually beneficial compromise that ensures that our halls serve the entirety of our communities, not just those who might be interested in being grangers.
We petition the California State Grange to declare that all halls are owned by their local communities. We petition for development of a membership option that allows a former grange to become a non-voting affiliate, to pay dues and provide a meeting place for a chartered local chapter, but to otherwise function as an autonomous organization. We believe that this would provide the best opportunity for success for both local halls and the grange organization.
Some of the historic artifacts on display during the hall meeting: