Fullerton is the home of two quite significant developments in our efforts to ameliorate the effects of domestic violence upon women and children. The first major event was the establishment of the third a shelter for battered women in this country– thanks to our federal government– the third in the state of California and the very first shelter in Orange County.
The second event was the initiation of a process that led to a completely new protocol in the Superior Court’s Family Law department to deal with mediation of child custody issues, Chapter 2 of this Domestic Violence History.
The shelter was named Women’s Transitional Living Center in 1976. The ‘70’s was a time of resurgence of the feminist movement. Women were re-thinking their statuses, making changes in their lives, reconsidering the roles they had accepted early in life. The founding feminists of this shelter sensed that a blatant allegation that men were beating their wives would grate upon the powers that held the money which was needed to open an escape route to abused women. So the facility was called a “transitional” place for women. In fact, our first client was not a physically abused woman.
The need for services for abused women had been established by the Orange County National Organization for Women in their Task Force on Family Violence. The funding to begin those services came from a Great Society program established in 1964, the Office of Economic Opportunity, otherwise known as the War on Poverty. Community Action Councils were locally established . The watchword was, “Maximum Feasible Participation.” The councils were later termed Community Development Councils to tone down the demands for “action.”
(See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Action_Agencies for full description and discussion.)
Karen Peters, head of Orange County NOW, learned of the Orange County Community Action Program (CAP) and its Council. She learned that neighborhood boxing clubs for boys were being formed and other such services. “We need some of that money for a woman’s program,” she said. Taking a proposal to the Orange County CAC, a large number of women attended the council meeting one summer night in an upstairs meeting room in a strip mall shopping center in the barrio of Santa Ana.
Having won CAC approval, the county Board of Supervisors had the last say as to what programs were funded. Again, women, this time with children, arrived en masse one morning at the county recorders building in the county civic center where the supervisors met in a basement room. Harriet Weider, Huntington Beach city council member, was there for an issue of her city. Frances Wood, Fullerton city council member, was there for an issue of her city.
Councilmember Weider asked why so many women had come to the supervisors’ meeting. She then spoke to the supervisors in support of the grant to establish WTLC, a place of safety for women. Frances Wood remained silent about the women’s cause. WTLC was later opened in her city. Harriet Weider went on to establish a shelter for women in Huntington Beach, “Human Options,” using a book written by the original WTLC staff, Susan Naples and Sherry Janes, titled, “How to Establish A Shelter.”
After approval by the board of supervisors, the task was to find a suitable location. A Fullerton real estate man, —-?, helped in the search. One location was a home in Anaheim for sale, now the White House restaurant. Too small. Next was a set of four houses on a lot near the edge of Orange; easy to fence, making a compound which could also contain a playground for children.
Somehow, word got out, the men of the neighborhood rose up in protest, and a shelter in view of, possibly, their wives was NIMBY’d.
The eventual location was what seemed to be a former medical establishment owned by the Florence Crittenden Services of Orange County. They were next door in a similar building on Harbor Boulevard in Fullerton. The place was basically one long hallway leading from a front parlor with rooms opening on each side, and ending in a kitchen. Two bathrooms, one on each side of the hallway. And a small office at the front of the building across the hall from the parlor.
By this time, a board of directors had formed, and I had been asked to be one of them. I was just starting my last year in law school. Mary Swain, a NOW member and librarian in Santa Ana was our chair. Other members were Jane O’Grady, I think a county employee, Gerald Klein, also law student and token male, and Karen R. Peters, NOW president. Gerry and I graduated from law school in June 1976.
WTLC was established as a non-profit membership organization. To become a member, one paid five dollars, raised to $20 by 1981. I recall that a person could become a voting member by completing10 hours of volunteer work, but I don’t see that in the old by-laws. The voting members elected the board of directors. That was significant in our early years. We had strife with our staff. The staff consisted of one full time and one part time person.
We also had strife with the county agency that oversaw the community action programs. They wanted to require that all women be sprayed for lice and be interviewed by a psychiatrist before being admitted into the shelter. We successfully resisted those dehumanizing strictures. However, our full time staff person was dating a psychiatrist, and she contrived to have him begin seeing the women. This in the year 1978.
On learning of the psychiatric intervention, the board called a halt to that. Staff went on strike. Board members, 11 of us by this time, one a judge, pitched in and ran the shelter. Strike settled after many strenuous meetings. Strikers went back to work, but began organizing to sign up new members who would vote for new board members. Board members began signing up new members who would re-elect them. I was chair that year, and the next and the next.
Meantime, we were not so kindly evicted from Crittenden facilities, and the board having been not sufficiently diligent, we scrambled for new digs. Our real estate man realized that his church owned an old two and a half story house on Amerige Avenue, next to the church. We took it, cockroaches and all, and set about finding a permanent home and funding to acquire it. Housing and Urban Development monies were at hand.
Just down the street at the corner of Amerige and Pomona was the original hospital of Fullerton. It was for sale, owned by John Bloesser, the carpet tycoon. Such a nasty negotiation. It nearly fell through, and Lila Macdonald, chief of staff of Supervisor —–, threatened me with losing the whole $50,000 HUD grant if the supervisors should hear of our shaky status. Our staff, seven by this time, really wanted that location because it was across the street from Rutabegorz restaurant, of which they had become mightily fond.
We made a deal with Bloesser and bought the place. Came the first rain storm, a large hole opened in the roof and water poured in like Niagara Falls. Bloesser refused compensation. Lawsuit ensued. Settlement offered. Board discussions. The judges had recommended a lawyer, and the county counsel, we thought, would assist to protect county interests. They didn’t. The judges seemed to be suggesting carrying on with a trial. I and other board members went along with the idea.
And we lost. Lost big. The court ordered WTLC to pay Mr. Bloesser $50,000 for attorney fees. I felt responsible. I had had the nagging thought, or a nagging thought that I ought to think, that a settlement is better that risking a judgment. I took out a lien on my property to pay the debt. Well, being entirely stressed, I said I would do that if David Winton would handle the whole transaction. And he did. And WTLC set to work to get the money to pay off my loan. And they did.
At the fiscal year ending in June 1981, I retired after five years. By this time we had thirteen board members, most of them more competent than I. I seem to have recovered at last. I had survived the reign of a dictatorial executive director who raised chaos with our staff. Called to task as a result of a plea from that staff, she defensively accused me of dishonesty in giving away tickets to a $100 fund raiser. Her predecessor, the wonderful Glee Cantalibre, had developed our staff into a competent and collegial conglomerate. Many many meetings. That woman was later shot dead on her driveway by her teen-aged daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend. She and her children had been with me and my children at Community Open School.
Next had been a director who missed the deadline for filing the application for a substantial grant. After her, a very competent woman who, unfortunately, was in the throes of a divorce, the husband and his lawyer being without scruple in everything, including parenting of their young child. She perforce left for a steady job in the Los Angeles court services, and went on to be a significant person in my Chapter 2.