Elderly a Priority : W. Hollywood Tentatively OKs $22.5-Million Budget

Times Staff Writer

Adjusting its priorities to meet the needs of a city where a sizable minority of the population is poor and elderly, West Hollywood has allocated more than $500,000 for the care of senior citizens in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Additionally, more than $400,000 will go to social services for homosexuals. About half of that amount is earmarked for organizations that care for victims of AIDS and ARC, a condition related to acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Allocations totaling $1,944,562 for social service agencies, which city officials said is an unusually large amount of municipal spending, make up about 9% of the $22.5-million operating budget that received tentative approval from the City Council on Wednesday night.

"We pride ourselves on being a compassionate community and this is the way of following through on our pronouncements," Mayor Alan Viterbi said.

"It's nice when a City Council is made up of five liberals," he said. "You don't have to fight about whether to have social service programs at all. It's just a debate on how much we can afford to spend."

Police and fire services make up the biggest part of the budget, with $7.5 million allocated for the fiscal year. Capital improvements is next, at $5.8 million, then social services and community development at about $2 million each.

Despite the increase for social services from about $1.3 million last year, Viterbi said the city is trying to keep a lid on spending because of a clause in state law that will reduce its revenues by about $1 million to $1.5 million in 1991.

Incorporated with 22,000 registered voters more than two years ago, the city's tax revenues until the 1990 census are based on a formula that assumes there are three residents in the city for every registered voter.

While its tax revenue is that of a city of 66,000, West Hollywood's population is actually slightly more than half that figure.

As a result, a drop in tax revenues is expected after the census, but Viterbi said the budget agreed on last week will set aside about $80,000 to help make up for the expected shortfall.

Cuts Made

"We're liberals but we're trying to be fiscal conservatives," he said.

The new budget also allocated $875,000 to help provide housing for low-income residents, a first-time expenditure.

But savings were found elsewhere by cutting allocations for travel and office supplies, among others, Viterbi said.

"Gourmet coffee is no longer going to be available to City Hall workers," he said. "We will supply generic coffee only."

As part of the social services budget, city officials have decided to allocate $505,100 to an independent agency, Jewish Family Services, for care for the elderly.

The agency will supply hot meals at community buildings and also deliver meals to the house-bound, provide transportation to medical appointments, escort the elderly on shopping trips and maintain a telephone service to make sure that those who live alone are in good health, said Paul Castro, controller of the agency.

Census Data

"Overall, we'll probably be serving 1,000 seniors in West Hollywood," Castro said. "That's close to double the number of people we served last year. The difference is that the City Council of West Hollywood identified nutrition and transportation for the elderly as the highest priority."

According to U. S. Census data, people 65 and over make up about 24% of the population of West Hollywood, and about 35% of the population lives in households where the yearly income is below $10,000.

Slightly more than $350,000 has been allocated to several groups that provide care for AIDS victims. In addition, $290,190 will go to the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, which provides counseling, health care and other services, including an AIDS testing station.

Unofficial estimates have gays and lesbians making up about a third of the city's population, but Bernard Boyd, director of programs for the center, said about half of the clients at the testing station identify themselves as not being homosexuals.

The center sees about 3,000 people a month, about 25% of them West Hollywood residents, Boyd said.

The center also works with runaways and other problem youths, providing shelter, psychological care and employment, he said.

AIDS Project/Los Angeles, which supplies information, counseling and shelter for victims of the disease, has been granted $200,000, while Aid for AIDS, which supplies direct financial support to victims, has been given $78,750.

'No. 2 Priority'

Two other AIDS care organizations, the Shanti Foundation and Being Alive, will get $53,562 and $20,000, respectively.

After the needs of senior citizens, "AIDS is our No. 2 priority, because West Hollywood has one of the highest incidences of AIDS anywhere in Los Angeles County," said Jodi H. Curlee, social services administrator for the city.

A proposal to sponsor special services for members of minority groups with acquired immune deficiency syndrome was cut after council members concluded that few, if any, West Hollywood residents fit that category.

A grant of $99,049 has been allocated for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which provides legal help for the poor in landlord-tenant disputes and claims against government agencies.

The grant is about $12,000 less than Bet Tzedek got a year ago, a decision based on surveys showing that legal aid was not a priority for many West Hollywood residents, Curlee said. But it was more than the $75,000 suggested in preliminary guidelines issued earlier by city officials.

House of Justice

"This is not a decision we're happy about, but given the guidelines it was a victory to get what we did," said Michael N. Feuer, director of Bet Tzedek.

The agency, whose name means House of Justice in Hebrew, also deals with consumer protection, debtor-creditor problems and wills, Feuer said.

"We're not 'L. A. Law,' " he said, referring to the television show that features attractive attorneys and high-powered clients. "But we're intent on giving people a sense of dignity and respect when they come to our offices. Poor people often feel vulnerable and desperate and our job is to make them feel legitimate," he said.

About two-thirds of the agency's clients are elderly, Feuer said.

Other grants: Connexxus Women's Center, a lesbian-oriented service agency, $64,000; Westside Center for Independent Living, $40,000; West Hollywood Alcohol and Drug Center, $30,000; Southern California Women for Understanding, a Lesbian educational organization, $22,500; Jewish Vocational Center, $35,000; GLASS Youth Settlement House, $44,562; Los Angeles Free Clinic, $70,000, and L. A. County Bar/Neighborhood Justice, $50,000.

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