Dispute part of a larger one between national, local organizations
By Raiza Giorgi
The little community building in Los Olivos known to many locals as the Grange Hall has had many uses from agricultural meetings, community events, dance lessons and more. For more than 80 years the Grange Hall has been a center point in not just Los Olivos but the Santa Ynez Valley, and locals are now rallying to save the hall from being taken over by a newly organized State Grange.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James F. Rigali granted a Motion of 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 come before the court on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
This isn’t just a local story, as grange halls all around the state are in the same situation trying to maintain local control over their community buildings as they have been sued by the California State Grange to take possession of the properties.
About 10 years ago, California subordinate granges elected a state grange master who worked to liberalize the organization and make it more appealing to its changing local communities. That caused a rift with the national organization, which revoked the California State Grange charter, leaving its subordinate members in legal limbo. As a result, many of the subordinate granges elected to become independent of the National Grange organization. That is how Los Olivos became the Los Olivos Community Organization, according to John Copeland, secretary of LOCO.
“We were tired of paying dues that just went to feed the fight between the state and the national grange. None of it stayed in Los Olivos,” Copeland said.
When a fire damaged the building in September 2013, neither the state nor the National Grange helped with rebuilding, Copeland added.
“Our members and people in the community rose to the occasion and raised the required funds to cover the gap in what insurance would pay and the cost of rebuilding,” he said. “Our members remembered that when we decided to become our own organization in 2016.”
Copeland explained they formed the new nonprofit, the Los Olivos Community Organization, and transferred title from the SYV Valley Grange to LOCO. The SYV Valley Grange #644 corporation was then dissolved and LOCO received nonprofit status from the IRS and holds the title to the building, Copeland explained.
Copeland went further to say that the National Grange successfully sued to take the California Grange assets, and now is seeking to bring all the subordinate granges that allied with the more liberal organization, back into line under a newly reorganized State Grange.
“The National Grange can take control of the property ‘for the good of the order,’ Copeland said. “They’re trying to use this blanket bylaw to control us. Some other halls have walked away and some are fighting to keep their control like we are.”
LOCO plans to appeal the Motion for a Summary Judgement ruling, which will take some time, Copeland said. However, if is not successful, they will be faced with difficult decisions.
“Do we surrender the building that we love and into which we have poured so much time and treasure?” Copeland questioned. “Do we attempt to organize a new subordinate grange, joining the organization simply to retain control of our own property? Do we attempt to buy our own property, if that is even possible?”
LOCO estimates the nonprofit needs $65,000 to cover bond fees to keep local control. It has some of that tucked away, but the hope is that its attorney can either reduce or get a waiver at the hearing on Feb. 8, before LOCO members start doing fundraising. They do have a GoFundMe page set up.
“If we don’t come up with the cash for the bond the state grange takes control of the building and can lock us out. We have asked for clarification from the state’s attorney with no reply yet,” Copeland said. “We had great community support when the fire happened, and I think we can rally again to keep our hall.”
The Star reached out to the State Grange Communications department to get comment more than a week ago, and no response was given as of yet. We will update if and when we get a reply.
History of the Santa Ynez Valley Grange
The Santa Ynez Valley Grange No. 644 was organized Feb. 23, 1937, by a group of people who gathered at local schools and places to start a chapter of the agricultural organization to unite farming families and provide grassroots activism on their behalf. The building in Los Olivos 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 was the 316th established in California.
A founding member, Fred Lang, donated land in Los Olivos for a future grange hall and the group set a goal of $12,800 for the building project. It invested in U.S. savings bonds and later redeemed them to make the building a reality.
This was written by Janene Scully of Noozhawk in the fire rebuilding story posted on Aug. 2, 2014. She can be reached at email@example.com.