For three years, Rosa Pech has been taking her children to a small day-care center in the Pico Union district so she could go to her housekeeping job. On Wednesday, she became the victim of a bureaucratic dispute between the center’s operators and the Los Angeles Community Development Department.
The day-care center on Hoover Street in a predominantly poor Latino neighborhood provides care to 40 children ages 3 to 5, said Terry Timmins, executive director of the Pico Union Neighborhood Council, the nonprofit organization that operates the center.
“We need this center for our children,” said Pech, whose 4-year-old son attends the center. Pech was one of about a dozen parents who protested the eviction of the neighborhood council and closing of the center by marching from the Community Development Department’s 6th Street headquarters to City Hall.
“We’ve tried to look for other places but haven’t found any. A lot of places have two-year waiting lists,” Pech said.
Owned by City
The property where the center is located is owned by the city of Los Angeles, said Steve Porter, assistant general manager of the city Community Development Department. Porter said the day-care center’s no-cost lease on the property expired in January and had not been renewed because of the center’s “unsuccessful performance,” including the alleged failure to adequately account for parents’ fees.
The city ordered the center to close its doors by Wednesday afternoon, Porter said. But center leaders said they will defy that order and planned to open as usual this morning. Under a program administered by the city, the center received federal funds until 1986, when the Community Development Department placed the center on probation, in part because it charged parents a flat rate, rather than on a scale based on ability to pay, said Susan Cleere Flores, director of human services for the department.
Timmins acknowledged the center charges a flat rate of $40 to $45 per child per week, but argued that the city’s requirement for a sliding scale is unjust and not a reasonable basis for the eviction.
“This is our center, this is what we’ve worked for. To all of a sudden take it away from the community is not fair,” Timmons said.
Parents said they would be hard-pressed to find other child care if the center closes.
“This is the only place that’s close to my house,” said Maria Alicia Torres, 34, whose 4 1/2-year-old son attends the center while she works on the assembly line at a Long Beach plastics factory.
Lydia Chico, director of the center, said that low-cost child care is especially difficult to find. "(The parents) feel the fees are reasonable and affordable. They know that many of the centers in the area are not offering affordable fees. There’s a lot to lose.”
But city officials said they believe another operator can be found to provide a better service for less money.
Porter said the city has already begun looking for new operators for the center, which has been open since 1977. Until the center can be reopened, Porter said, his office will provide parents with referrals to other day-care facilities.