AIDS testing and programs for residents with the deadly disease will be moved out of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center next month so the building can be made earthquake-safe.
The move is temporary, but critics said the way that board members handled it will disrupt vital services and typifies several years of problems at the center.
The programs to be moved include an HIV-testing facility, AIDS counseling, assistance for people homebound with AIDS, bereavement groups, AIDS-prevention education and Project AHEAD, which provides household necessities, companionship and assistance to people with AIDS.
The center, where 1,000 people a week drop in for services and support groups, offers the only free HIV tests in Long Beach outside the public health department. It is one of two social service agencies in the city for gays and lesbians.
No agreement has been signed on the temporary location, but the center's programs are expected to move out of the current building by Aug. 15. The programs will probably be relocated for about six months to a storefront in the Marina Pacifica Mall, said Rick Snyder, a board member of One in Long Beach Inc., an umbrella group that oversees funding for the center.
"We will not discontinue programs that get state and local funding, but we will be somewhat limited at the temporary location," said Steven Tosha, a spokesman for the board.
About a dozen groups, including discussion groups for homosexual senior citizens and Latina lesbians, may have to change the times of their scheduled meetings or find other places to meet. The new location may not have enough space for those meetings, Tosha said.
"Some of the groups that have been using the center may have to meet in people's homes until we are ready to move back in," he said.
Moving on such short notice could hurt some of the major programs, such as the anonymous HIV-testing clinic, which has a long waiting list and caters to an already skittish clientele, said Kelly Butler of the center.
"If we're moving in August, that's no time for me to set up a whole new place," said Butler, who has been with the center for seven years. "The word has to get out in the community that we've moved, and we don't even know where we're moving to yet. It's ludicrous."
The testing program must have confidential office space, a private entrance, and facilities for drawing blood and disposing needles, Butler said.
The move will be made with as little disruption as possible, Tosha said.
The center has to empty the building to comply with city regulations requiring the structure at 2017 E. 4th St. to be reinforced to make it safer in an earthquake. In addition, the board decided to add a four conference rooms, restrooms and a memorial wall to commemorate area residents who have died of AIDS. The renovations are estimated to cost at least $90,000.
While renovations are being done, the board also will change the center's management structure.
"When we open up again, we'll be a whole new center inside and out, and things will be handled differently," Tosha said.
The board plans to cut out services that are being duplicated by other groups in Long Beach and cut back the number of managers at the center. Accounting procedures will be revamped and closed meetings will be eliminated.
The board of directors is trying to counteract widespread criticism that the center is unresponsive to the gay and lesbian community.
A crowd of more than 150 people gathered at a recent board meeting. Signal Hill Councilman Michael Noll, a former board chairman, told the group: "I've been unhappy with the board for the past two years, but I'm happy to see things may change now for the better."
"They need to find out what the community wants," said former board member C. J. Derby. Derby quit the board two years ago but remains involved in center activities. Earlier this year, he became frustrated with the center's services while taking care of his brother, Bill, who died of AIDS in March. His brother had trouble getting simple necessities such as taxi vouchers to get to chemotherapy treatments, which the center provides, Derby said.
Board chairman Walton McNulty said he has heard nothing but negative comments about the center. "If I had known the full story when I took this position in January, I'd have said I would lock the door and throw away the key," he said.
Board members blamed many of the problems on past boards and former director Barbara Storm, who was fired May 7 after serving 14 months. She was the third center director in three years.
"We just had different philosophies of how things should be run, and she wasn't giving us the answers we wanted," said board secretary Charles Elias.
Storm said she wasn't told why she was fired and has scheduled a July 22 hearing with the state Labor Board to request $8,000 in back pay. Storm said she believes the board didn't like her because she is a lesbian.
Other women also have complained about their treatment by the board. Last year, Time to Play Inc., a woman's program, left the center because the group felt women's issues were not taken seriously.
"We're far from proving that we're not the good old boys that some women think we are, so now we're pushing women to get involved," said Tosha. Five vacant positions on the 14-member board are expected to be filled next month, mostly by women and minorities.
Most of the current board was elected in January, except five-year member David Martin, who said he remembers when One in Long Beach Inc. had only $200,000.
"I know the past boards have made mistakes. I'm partly to blame for that," Martin said. "But I'm a gay man and I think the community needs a center. We don't want to ever throw in the towel and close the doors."