Rivals Battle for Control of Troubled YWCA

Times Staff Writer

Who speaks for the YWCA of Central Orange County?

That seemed to be the question Friday after a meeting the night before where upstart members voted to oust the majority of the board of directors and replace it with a slate of their own.

Each side accuses the other of acting illegally.

Left hanging is the future of the ailing 81-year-old chapter and its 47-year-old building at 146 N. Grand St. in Orange.

At issue is which of three competing offers to purchase or take over the facility affords the organization the best chance of survival.

"We did everything right by the book," said Arianna Barrios, a member of the original board who questioned the actions of its majority and organized the meeting of dissidents.

Shannon Tucker, the YWCA's executive director, had a different take on the meeting, attended by 35 of the Y's 130 members: "It may have been a nice little information sharing session for them, but it's not something that's going to be recognized by this corporation."

Ultimately, a judge may decide that.

The ruckus started in November, when Tucker announced that the YWCA, no longer able to cover program costs, would close its doors in June. Later she said the organization was negotiating with the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana and Tustin to take over some of its services.

Last month the board approved terms under which the club would take title to the YWCA building by assuming its $306,000 mortgage and providing up to $50,000 to help pay off debts. The Boys & Girls Club also would take over operation of the child development program.

Barrios, however, took exception. "The terms are fairly egregious to the YWCA," she said.

She said she took another offer to the board -- from a local businessman willing to donate $60,000 to help clear the organization's debts and refinance the building with a no-interest loan -- but that it was rejected.

"It wasn't an operating plan," Tucker said, defending the action. "It was a Band-Aid to take away some of our initial debt. But the next month the debt would be building up again."

When Barrios got wind of a third potential offer, she and her supporters decided to call a meeting of their own.

In accordance with the organization's bylaws, she said, they submitted a petition signed by 34 members requesting a special meeting. The request was rejected, Tucker said, because many of the signatures were unverifiable. So the dissidents submitted a second petition, this time including addresses and phone numbers. But by then, Tucker said, there was no time to properly alert the full membership before the requested meeting date.

Tucker sent a letter to one of the dissidents threatening legal action -- including arrest -- should the meeting be held on YWCA property. Instead, the group gathered at a church next door, where, besides voting to replace eight of the 11 board members, it rescinded the tentative agreement with the Boys & Girls Club. It also received an offer from a group of businesspeople willing to pay $1 million for the building while allowing the YWCA to use it rent-free for at least two years.

"What we're trying to do is stop the Y from going away by giving it a second chance," said Al Ricci, a real estate agent and one of five investors brokering the deal.

Barrios says she plans to send the minutes, attendance list and a videotape of Thursday's proceedings to the secretary of state, attorney general and regional YWCA to legally certify the group's actions. And after meeting to plan strategy this weekend, she said, the new board will go to court to prevent the YWCA from moving forward with its merger plans.

Going to court may be the only recourse for both sides.

The president of the YWCA's Pacific Regional Council, Jackque Warren, said each chapter is considered autonomous. "We have been recommending a mediation process to bring the two sides together," she said.

A spokesman for the secretary of state's office said his agency lacks authority to determine who is in charge.

And Jim Cordi, supervisor of the state attorney general's Charitable Trust Section, said his department would stay out of the fray. Meanwhile, the YWCA's future looks murky at best.

John Brewster, president and chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana, said his organization is in the early stages of a feasibility study on the proposed deal with the YWCA. In addition to the $306,000 required to assume the organization's mortgage, he said, about $500,000 would be needed for remodeling and repairs."If it were me," he said, "I think I'd take that million dollars [offered for the building].

"It's been interesting to watch all the time and energy going into this infighting."

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