Community Pressure Saves Vera Davis Center

By Roger Linnett

The City tried to push one past the Oakwood Community, and the Community pushed back. The result is that the city’s “done deal” of turning the social service center into an art gallery run by the Cultural Affairs Department (CAD) won’t be happening. Instead, the Community Development Department (CDD) will continue as the managing entity of the Center.

Venice and Oakwood residents in need will not be turned away when they seek help at the Center, located at 610 California Ave. While the majority of people seeking help are Black and Latino residents, Venetians of all colors and neighborhoods rallied to say no to the City’s plans.

A meeting of the Venice Town Council galvanized a standing-room only crowd of mostly Oakwood residents on April 21. Out of that meeting came petitions, coordinated phone calls and personal contacts with Councilmember Bill Rosendahl’s office and with officials of the CAD and the CDD. Neighborhood Council Board member Ivonne Guzman was instrumental in demanding answers for the sudden change in function for the Center,  answers that City bureaucrats usually didn’t have.

Self-government of the Center became a real possibility with the formation of the Vera Davis Collaborative, made up of representatives of a number of service agencies operating out of the Center that included the Latino Resource Organization, Venice 2000, Venice Bulldogs, the Tech Team and the Mildred Cursh Foundation. Outside agencies such as the Holiday Venice Tenants Association, Venice Community Housing Corporation and the Beachhead also lent their support.

In a letter to the “Tenants of the Vera Davis Community Center” dated June 20, Carolyn Weiss, Director of the Central-West Regional Area of the CDD, stated that, “Although it was the intention of the City to transfer the VDC management to the Cultural Affairs Dept., the research and discussions showed that the transfer is ‘unfeasible’ at this time.”

There were several issues that influenced the decision against the transfer, chief among them that the CDA had no staff or funding available to run the center at this time. Furthermore, an RFP (Request for Proposal) to select an agency to manage the facility would not be ready for release by the City Council for approximately 12 months.

Another factor, as reported in last month’s Beachhead, was Councilman Rosendahl’s office finding $60,000 in General Fund monies, now grown to $80,000 to run VDC for the coming year. As such the CDD intends to keep the current operating days and hours at VDC, and are amenable to schedule changes to accommodate program activities.

There will be some changes, however. Long-time Center Director, Cliff McClain, will be transferred to the Central-West administrative offices. He will be replaced by three part-time staffers under the supervision of Eddie Nuno, who will be working out of the Tom Bradley Center.

This change creates a crisis in continuing the food distribution activities, which many local residents depend on. These new staff personnel will not be able to use a City-owned vehicle for the twice-weekly trips for food procurement for the center’s free food program, which McClain had always done.  According to Ms. Weiss’ letter, the “tenant agency staff” will have to assume the expense and logistics for continuing this service. Also, Court-ordered Community Service workers will no longer be available for the center due to the lack of on-site supervision.

In a recent telephone interview, Ms. Weiss was asked about the status of the Prop K funds, and the Bureau of Engineering’s plans for the VDC. She said that the Prop K funds, $100,000 for FY2011-12, and $400,000 for subsequent years were allocated and will be available when needed.

For the next year, all the current tenants and programs will continue to operate as usual; however, tenants will need to relocate while the improvements are carried out. A portion of the $100,000 from Prop K will be used to help tenants in that effort.

When asked about the VDC’s status as an L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument, and the attendant laws concerning changes to the structure, Ms. Weiss advised that the improvements under consideration by the BOE were things like expanding restroom facilities to make them ADA compliant, and replacing old plumbing in the Spanish Colonial Revival-style edifice that was built in 1930. The structure and appearance of the building would be unaltered.

Greta Cobar and Jim Smith also contributed to this article.  

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