Conflict as part of a bigger picture between national and local organizations
By Raiza Giorgi
The small community building in Los Olivos, known to many locals as Grange Hall, has had many uses for farm meetings, community events, dance classes, and more. For more than 80 years, the Grange Hall has been a focal point not only in Los Olivos, but also in the Santa Ynez Valley, and residents are now stepping up to prevent the hall from being taken over by a newly organized State Grange.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James F. Rigali granted a motion for summary judgment for the California State Grange against the Los Olivos Community Org., Inc. and Hall, in a lawsuit that was filed in April 2020, and will appear in court on Tuesday, February 8.
This isn’t just a local story, as barn halls across the state are in the same predicament trying to maintain local control over their community buildings as they were sued by the California State Grange for taking possession of the properties.
About 10 years ago, California’s subordinate barns elected a state barn master who worked to liberalize the organization and make it more attractive to its changing local communities. This caused a rift with the national organization, which revoked California State Grange’s charter, leaving its subordinate members in legal limbo. As a result, many subordinate barns chose to become independent of the National Grange organization. This is how Los Olivos became the community organization for Los Olivos, according to John Copeland, secretary of LOCO.
“We were tired of paying dues that only fueled the fight between the state and the national barn. None of that stayed in Los Olivos,” Copeland said.
When a fire damaged the building in September 2013, neither the state nor the National Grange helped rebuild, Copeland added.
“Our members and community members rose to the occasion and raised the necessary funds to cover the gap between what insurance would pay and the cost of rebuilding,” he said. “Our members remembered this when we decided to become our own organization in 2016.”
Copeland explained that they formed the new nonprofit, Los Olivos Community Organization, and transferred title from SYV Valley Grange to LOCO. SYV Valley Grange #644 was later dissolved, and LOCO was granted nonprofit status by the IRS and holds title to the building, Copeland explained.
Copeland went further, saying the National Grange successfully sued to take the assets of California Grange, and is now seeking to bring back all of the subordinate granges that allied themselves with the more liberal organization, as part of of a newly reorganized State Grange.
“The National Grange can take control of the property ‘for the sake of order,’ Copeland said. “They’re trying to use this blanket rule to control us. their control as we are.
LOCO plans to appeal the summary judgment motion decision, which will take some time, Copeland said. However, if they fail, they will face difficult decisions.
“Are we giving up the building we love and in which we have spent so much time and treasure? Copeland questioned. “Are we trying to organize a new subordinate barn, joining the organization simply to retain control of our own property? Are we trying to buy our own property, if that is even possible? »
LOCO estimates the nonprofit needs $65,000 to cover bail fees to maintain local control. He has some of that hidden, but the hope is that his lawyer can either reduce or get a waiver at the hearing on February 8, before LOCO members start fundraising.
“If we can’t find the money for the bond, the state barn takes control of the building and can lock us out. We have sought clarification from the state’s attorney with no response at this time,” Copeland said. “We had great community support when the fire happened, and I think we can pull together again to keep our venue.”
The Star contacted State Grange’s communications department for comment more than a week ago, and no response has yet been forthcoming. We will update if and when we receive a response.
History of the Santa Ynez Valley Barn
The Santa Ynez Valley Grange No. 644 was organized on February 23, 1937, by a group of people who gathered at local schools and venues to form a Chapter of Farm Organization to unite farm families and to provide grassroots activism on their behalf. The Los Olivos building was built in 1948 by members of the Santa Ynez Grange and maintained by locals.
The Santa Ynez Grange was the first organized in Santa Barbara County and the 316th established in California.
A founding member, Fred Lang, donated land in Los Olivos for a future barn, and the group set a goal of $12,800 for the building project. He invested in US savings bonds and then redeemed them to make the building a reality.
This was written by Noozhawk’s Janene Scully in the Fire Reconstruction story published August 2, 2014. She can be contacted at [email protected]