With just a few months on the job, Director of Recreation and Community Services Julian Venegas has a new dilemma he needs to sort out.
In his first three months, he’s had to deal with a troublesome baseball league at Las Palmas Park. And now, at the same park, he needs to address complaints from Las Palmas senior’s program whose participants showed up to the April 3 City of San Fernando council meeting to complain about rising costs to their senior club.
In small groups of two and three, they filed into the council chambers and nearly filled all seats but the center rows. But only a handful of them addressed the council.
Maria Miranda spoke first, and said that in the past five years their club has changed completely. She explained in Spanish how their club for many years has had three annual events: one for Mother’s Day where mothers don’t pay to attend, another for Father’s Day where fathers don’t pay, and Thanksgiving Day. Now they are being notified that mothers need to pay $15 and fathers $25.
“Never in the past years that I have been in the club, which have been more than 40 years, were we ever in need of money for these expenses, which, yes, are now bigger but we are paying more in membership,” said Miranda, 87.
She asked council members to attend their advisory board meetings so that they may know “what is going on in our club.”
Martha Lucero said the concept of the club is being forgotten and is now being run “like a country club.”
“There are some of us that cannot pay the rising costs. Perhaps for some people it’s only five dollars, but five dollars for someone receiving a pension, which we are all familiar with, it does affect us,” she said.
Lucero also took a moment to announce that Councilmember Joel Fajardo agreed to donate $1,500 for the Mother’s Day dance, which earned him a round of applause and a few thank you’s from the public.
Continuing with their complaints, another woman said the food was better before the city took over the club.
Former club presidents said they were wrongly accused of stealing thousands of dollars and were banned from the club.
Fred Olivas, one of the ousted former presidents, said, “You know, the years that I’ve been there we have never asked for any charity, we never asked for any donations, we never had to. So what’s going on? What are they doing with the money?”
For 40 minutes, the senior residents addressed the council members present (Mayor Sylvia Ballin and Councilmember Jaime Soto were absent) until public comment ended.
There was an awkward moment afterward when Fajardo took a break from the next agenda item, which the council had moved on to, and addressed the elderly faces that were staring at the council in anticipation of a response to their complaints.
“Muchisimas gracias por venir esta noche,”he started. He told them in Spanish that he agreed that they need to keep costs low for their events, that is why he is donating $1,500, but is also looking to help them. Fajardo then invited them to the budget study meetings, and also announced an upcoming event where they will learn how to communicate with their family members via Facebook.
This closing announcement earned him (and the rest of the city council) another round of applause, and the senior citizens started to file out.
Venegas stepped outside the council chambers to address the club members and told them that he and City Manager Alexander Meyerhoff will organize a meeting with the club to review and discuss the program budget.
The seniors insisted that members who have been booted should be able to attend this meeting, and Venegas reassured them that they will be able to.
Venegas later told the San Fernando Valley Sun/ El Sol that he believes the “disconnect” is that the seniors still believe they are an independent club, which they are not.
“It is a program that we offer, and we left the same name, but it is no longer an independent club. It is a program that we facilitate for the senior population,” he said.
The Las Palmas Senior Club has been around for more than 40 years and was formed at Las Palmas Park when younger senior residents saw the need to care for the more elderly members of the community, according to city staff. It now has 300 members.
It was previously an independent, autonomous club
that had an agreement with the city to use space at the park. However, accusations of financial mismanagement prompted members to vote to allow the city to take over the club as a city program.
The city then started implementing rules and regulations. So now, Venegas said, instead of selling tamales to raise funds like it previously did the club — as a city entity — needs to hire a licensed caterer with the proper permits. It increases the costs, which means no more free Mother’s Day or Father’s Day dance.
As for the meals, those are not part of the Las Palmas Senior Citizens Club. The meals are provided through a county grant at Las Palmas Park, according to Maribel Perez, recreation supervisor.
Venegas said he needs to clarify “these dynamics“ to club members and see if they wish to continue under this structure or possibly make changes.
“What I want to do is make sure that the experience that our seniors are having is the best, and maybe it is removing the advisory board. Maybe it’s giving back the program to them. I don’t know yet, that’s something we need to explore,” he said.
Venegas is projecting to meet with the club either this weekend or next.
In other business, the council discussed approving a contract for street improvements to Toro Enterprises, Inc., a professional service agreement with Terra Form Inc., for the Layne Park Improvement Project; and aligning the city clerk’s benefits package with other department heads.
According to Assistant City Attorney Richard Padillas’s report to the council, there was a disparity with the clerk’s technology stipend, auto allowance, and annual leave cap WHY. The amendment, which was unanimously approved within the consent calendar, will increase the technology stipend from $60 to $100, increase mileage reimbursement to $300 a month, and increase annual leave cap from 300 to 400 hour, making it equal to the other department heads.
The council also amended the city zoning code, clarifying the methodology for calculating lot area with R-1 residential zoning to allow lots to annex the portion of the width of abutting streets, alleys, and/or highways if the street, alley, and/or highway is vacated.