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Santa Monica to Revamp Senior Services  


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

April 30, 2012 -- From moving operations to expanding programs, Santa Monica's extensive senior services were given a major overhaul last week.

The City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to transfer Senior Center operations to WISE & Healthy Aging, expand the City's Dial-A-Ride services for seniors, and eventually create a “one-stop shop” Senior Center at the Ken Edwards Center on Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue.

The plan will also expand the programming at the current senior center in the Camera Obscura building in Palisades Park, which offers scenic park and ocean views, to a general adult audience. But it likely will remove the free meal program for seniors from the site.

The change would create “more opportunity for more comprehensive use of the Ocean Avenue building,” said Grace Cheng Braun, president and CEO of WISE & Healthy Aging.

Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis agreed that opening the center to adults of all ages would be beneficial.

“The notion that seniors want to just hang with seniors... and not be engaged in activities with people in their 30s and 40s I think is really problematic and wrong,” Davis said.

Mayor Richard Bloom agreed, calling inter-generational programming a “best practice” for senior care.

Council Members Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver cast the two dissenting votes.

McKeown said that he was hesitant to “re-purpose” the building in Palisades Park, adding that he felt such action was “premature.”

Shriver felt similarly. “Why aren't we being more specific about what we want to do" at the Palisades Park building? Shriver asked.

He said he wouldn't feel comfortable moving forward without further community input and a “very specific statement” regarding future programming at the Camera Obscura building.

One major change could be moving the senior lunch program -- which WISE & Healthy Aging runs out of the Camera Obscura building Monday through Saturday -- to the Ken Edwards Center.

“If we were to adopt staff's recommendation, we would be consolidating programs so people who come to the Ken Edwards Center for lunch” can also take part in other senior-specific programs, said Davis.

For Shriver, this was a deal-breaker.

“To get my vote to move [the lunch program] is going to be tough,” he said.

However, the Commission for the Senior Community has fully supported the staff recommendations, according to Chair Barabara Browning, who testified Tuesday night.

“We are all very much in favor" of the proposal,” said Browning, who is also on the community advisory council of WISE & Healthy Aging.

Browning spoke of the benefits of setting up a “one-stop shop” for seniors at the Ken Edwards Center, which she pointed out was easily accessible by public transportation.

The senior center at the Camera Obscura building was made possible partly with a donation from Marcellus L. Joslyn, a Chicago manufacturer and philanthropist who retired to Santa Monica. Joslyn, who died in 1963, stipulated that the building be used for “adult activities,” according to City staff.

McKeown said that he would like more research to assure that the new programming would remain true to Joslyn's original intention.

The other element of the plan will favor the current Dial-A-Ride program, which is run by WISE & Healthy Aging, over a taxi voucher system, which Staff says isn't cost-effective

The door-through-door services of Dial-A-Ride have reached capacity, according to City staff. As a result, they recommended increasing funding by another $22,000 (an additional 1,000 hours).

“If taxicab franchisees covered the cost, the result would be an increase of between 54 per cent to 69 per cent of their current franchise fees for only 100 seniors, not including additional business license taxes of $14,500 to $15,750,” staff wrote in its report.

The door-through-door services help seniors with mobility issues with shopping and other activities that may be difficult for them.

“The enitre mission of WISE & Healthy Living is to allow for the independent aging of seniors in place and to make sure they have the opportunity to stay in their homes instead of being institutionalized," Mayor Pro Tem Davis said. "And for that reason I think the transportation services component is very important.”

A robust Dial-A-Ride program, she said, would allow seniors a “a reliable opportunity to get to the things they have to do.”

Staff also recommended expanding the after-hours taxi service for seniors, which would supplement the Dial-A-Ride program and would operate when the shuttles don't.


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