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Parks Department Given Pact for Senior Services in Pacoima

Times Staff Writer

Despite protests from senior citizens who wanted the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council to continue serving them meals and providing services at the Pacoima Multipurpose Center, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14 to 0 Friday to award a new service contract to the City Department of Recreation and Parks.

About 50 senior citizens showed up in council chambers to protest a city Department of Aging recommendation that a $361,593 contract to serve meals and provide social service programs be given to the parks department.

Several of the senior citizens who spoke against the change said they fear that the center will be moved from Van Nuys Boulevard or that services will change.

“We’re just one big happy family. We love the center and love the people who work with us. Please don’t change anything,” said Gil Cagulada, 70, of Pacoima.

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The parks department originally had wanted to move the services to nearby Pacoima Recreation Center, but opted to stay at the Van Nuys Boulevard site at the request of East Valley Councilman Howard Finn.

Dennis Jackson, general manager of the Department of Aging, said the parks department was recommended to take over the center because it scored several points higher on its application than the Valley Interfaith Council, a nonprofit organization that operates food banks and other multipurpose centers.

The applications are judged on an organization’s ability to provide quality programs at low administrative costs. The parks department is able to provide both the lunch and social service programs at a lower cost, Jackson said.

Also, he said, he wanted only one agency to handle both the lunch and social services programs. Valley Interfaith now handles social service activities, whereas the parks department operates the food service.

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Finn voted in favor of the new contract, which was included in a list of grants to senior citizen centers throughout the city, stressing to the seniors that their programs will not be affected.

“There will be no interruption in services. Everything will be the same as before,” Finn said after the meeting. He said that employees at the Valley Interfaith Council, who stand to lose their jobs when the parks department takes over, “scared” the senior citizens into thinking services would be changed because their jobs are at stake.

Councilman David Cunningham, chairman of the City Council’s Grants, Housing and Community Development Committee, said no opposition to the contract was raised during committee meetings.

“It seems someone told the seniors they were going to lose the center,” Cunningham said. “The only difference is that a different agency will take over. The seniors ought to be put at ease.”

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Avenelle Smith, executive director of Valley Interfaith Council, said she was “disappointed” that her organization did not receive the contract and that 12 employees will lose their jobs. “But my main concern was that the program would not be moved.”

William Huling, president of the citizens advisory committee at the senior center, said that, although programs will remain the same, the “real loss will be the staff.”

“You have to understand that it took a long time to build up trust with the seniors. This will be like starting all over again,” Huling said. “Now they are going to have to deal with people they do not know.”


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