COMMENTARY: Gearhart’s museum offer mystifying
April 23, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
Generosity occurs for very few reasons.
Kelly Gearhart, a North County property developer known for his altruism, has donated space to the Atascadero Historical Society for its museum. Gearhart wants to let the society house its treasured collection of community memorabilia in The Printery.
If, that is, the building ever gets back in the game, structurally damaged as it was in the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. If plans for reconstruction are ever submitted. And if those plans are historically compliant. In other words, fat chance.
To put it mildly, there’s something quite odd about this particular gesture of supposed generosity and the attention it received from a local daily paper.
The Printery is the very same building that has been at the heart of ongoing scrutiny regarding error-laden city applications for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) documents which contain a litany of false assertions and incorrect information. So FEMA doled out $4 million to construct a replacement youth center for a building that wasn’t the city’s youth center at the time of the quake.
The deed restrictions implemented by FEMA specify that The Printery has to be preserved for a minimum of twenty years, and that it be maintained in good condition and in compliance with code. Those restrictions are not being followed… further risking the city’s ability to hang on to federal funds.
To date, no plans have been submitted to the city to retrofit or renovate The Printery. Vandals have periodically inflicted damage; windows have been left broken for months on end, promoting further deterioration of the currently uninhabitable historic structure.
So what was it Gearhart really “donated” that warranted its “reporting” in a syrupy column by Lon Allan in a local daily newspaper? Allan (past president of the historical museum’s board and now a member; a city spokesman regarding FEMA applications after the quake; and unabashed cheerleader for city management) may have forgotten all this unpleasantness, because it got no mention in his writings.
Nor did Allan note the fact that Gearhart’s last such donation – space for the Atascadero Main Street Committee – turned out to be, well, not really a donation, after all. Gearhart presented the committee’s board last week with a little surprise, a totally unexpected invoice for 10 month’s rent at $4,000, which the committee approved for payment.
Allan’s prose repeated the mantra of City Manager Wade McKinney in trying to trace The Printery’s twisted history and justify the city’s attempt to use it for FEMA prospecting:
“The (Masonic Temple) Association gave the building to the city but retained a small percentage of ownership and a stipulation that if the building was no longer used for youth activities, they’d take it back,” wrote Allan. “The city did utilize the building for youth and adult community activities, such as Friday Night Live and other youth services, and banquets. The Historical Society itself held one of its annual dinners in The Printery.”
City hall records suggest otherwise:
In a February 24, 2000 letter, the Atascadero Masonic Temple Association requested a decision from the City of Atascadero regarding its intentions for future use of the Atascadero Masonic Temple/Printery Building: “The Masonic Temple Association has since requested the return of the building in accordance with the original intent and spirit of a joint occupancy agreement, as the city does not plan to use the building for a youth center.”
Allan probably has a good reason for not mentioning any of this, but we haven’t been enlightened.
Of course, we tried repeatedly, by telephone and by e-mail, to reach Gearhart about his seemingly phantom contribution. We wanted to ask about The Printery’s future, and whether he planned to eventually slip an invoice into the hands of the Historical Society board folks, and if he was having money problems.
Gearhart, however, has uncharitably declined to respond.