Development/Gentrification

Community Pressure to Save Vera Davis Center Services Intensifies

By Roger Linnett

The reassignment of the Vera Davis Center to the auspices of the L.A. Cultural Affairs Department is proceeding apace despite the hue and cry of Venice residents that both use and support its many charitable services.

However, the city miraculously found $60,000 to pay for keeping the Center open during the coming year, which activists attributed to the continuing pressure, particularly from Oakwood residents.

As originally reported in the Beachhead in April, the property is to be taken over by the Cultural Affairs Department, which may evict the service providers that presently operate from the center. The manner in which the transfer from the Community Development Department(CDD), to Cultural Affairs was handled has led to the appearance of another governmental end run. Venetians were advised of the impending transfer only after the city had apparently already made the decision and, as too often in the past, the residents of Venice had no input in the matter.

Five of the six organizations working from the center have banded together as a the “Friends of Vera Davis Center” Collaborative: the Latino Resource Organization, Venice 2000, Westside Bulldogs, Tech Team Computer Learning Center and the Mildred Cursh Foundation. They are working to stop the Community Development Department from turning over the historic building to the Cultural Affairs people on June 30 and removing much needed services from the building.

The center accommodates Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, distributes free groceries to the needy twice a month and assists area residents with Food Stamp applications. These services and all the good done by the aforementioned groups will be terminated, and efforts to find alternative sites have yet to provide new quarters for these much needed and appreciated community services.

“As far as the city is concerned, it’s a done deal,” said VNC’s Ivonne Guzman in a recent telephone interview. Guzman, who has been working with the collaborative, says that  stopping the transfer is still a possibility.

According to an email from L.A. City Engineer Neil Drucker, “…we anticipate going to Council for final approval of the next year’s (FY2011/12) 5-year plan in mid-June. The proposed plan already includes the following funding recommendations for Oakwood Junior Arts Center:   FY2012/13 – $100,000,  FY 2013/14 – $ 400,000.”

He went on to write that pending Council approval, pre-design activities would begin July 2012; and that, “per the City Attorney opinion, this facility can ONLY [his emphasis] be used as an arts center once the Prop K funds are spent on it, any other such use (such as social services) can only be minimal and ancillary to the use as a Youth Art Center,” according to Drucker.

The line item specifying the Vera Davis Center (formerly the Venice Branch Library) from 1998’s Proposition K – L.A. for Kids reads as follows: “Oakwood Junior Arts Center  CD11 – Refurbish, retrofit and convert the Venice Library into a Junior Arts Center,” $500,000.

But when was the Vera Davis Center ever named “Oakwood Junior Arts Center?” And if these plans really did exist for the last 13 years, why didn’t anyone in Venice know about it?

Venetians proudly named the center after a revered community activist, Vera Davis. It was converted into a community center after the library moved, to serve the poor and the needy in Venice.

To Guzman’s question about CDD requesting Prop K funds, Drucker made clear that, in the case that a project was found “infeasible” by the Council, “the funds would be transferred to the Prop K Competitive Grant Program, and would be made available for other projects.”

Asked if a non-profit could access Prop K funds, Drucker said yes, if the City Council authorized a Request For Proposal (RFP), but indicated that it would most likely have to  include plans for design and construction, and that the successful bidder might have to provide funds for any shortfalls, a very certain likelihood, in his opinion.

According to some observers, the Venice Neighborhood Council has waffled on taking a strong position in support of saving the services at the Vera Davis Center. Its failure to put an action item on its agenda raised debate at the last meeting on whether its subsequent vote in favor of the Center would be valid.

On June 16  at 6:30 pm there will be a Venice Town Council meeting at the Vera Davis Center to discuss saving the services at the Vera Davis Center.

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