Leaders of the La Canada Youth House and Community Center this week rejected the city's proposed contract, which would have cut support for its after-school recreation programs in half.
Instead, the center will continue to run the free after-school program by increasing fees in the center's other programs, which include day care and crafts classes, according to Chris Valente, executive director of the Youth House. He said the center serves between 7,000 and 8,000 people a month, and the impact of the increased fees will be minimal.
At issue is how much of the city's recreation budget should be allocated to the Youth House's after-school program and whether the Youth House is serving the community's needs in that area.
Valente said a letter was sent Monday to City Manager Donald Otterman from Nila Barkley, president of the board of trustees of the 24-member Youth House, indicating that the center would not be accepting any city funds this year for its drop-in program offered at three elementary schools.
$27,000 Contract Proposed
The nonprofit Youth House had proposed a $27,000 contract with the city, up $11,000 from last year, because of increased insurance costs and the opening of its youth program at Palm Crest Elementary School, Valente said.
But the city rejected that proposal and significantly reduced its allocation for the center's program, at the recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The council voted 2 to 1 last week to approve the commission recommendation that only $13,500, or 38.6% of the $35,000 budgeted for recreation this year, be spent on the center's after-school recreation programs.
According to the recommendation, only half the money would be turned over immediately, and the rest would be reserved until after a review of the program's performance this summer.
Valente, who has headed the Youth House for 20 years, said this was unacceptable to the board, and he recommended that the Youth House not take any city money.
Valente, who was elected to the City Council in April, criticized the council action as a carry-over from the most bitterly contested election campaign in the city's history. During that campaign, Valente's leadership of the Youth House was sharply criticized by other candidates.
"The Youth House never had a problem until I was president of the Chamber of Commerce," Valente said. "When I started speaking out, that's when they started attacking the Youth House."
However, Valente, who abstained from voting on the Youth House contract, said this week that he now feels free to pursue his plans for involving the city more heavily in recreation.
"I'm very relieved. I want to be able to go after recreation for all ages. I can now," Valente said. "It was my recommendation that the board not take the money because I felt it would leave me freer to speak out on the issues."
The only dissent in the 2-1 vote was cast by Councilman Ed Phelps, who was elected along with Valente on a reform campaign that ousted two incumbents.
Phelps said he needed more information on what was wrong with the Youth House programs and some of the alternatives.
Before last week's vote, the city's only allocation for recreation programs was the $16,000 contract with Youth House. Meredith Reynolds, chairwoman of the recreation commission, said the commission is attempting to diversify programming, with the additional funds allocated for recreation this year.
Reynolds denied any political motive for the reduction of the Youth House contract. She said the commission had spent the last seven months talking with school principals, program supervisors and conducting on-site inspections of the Youth House programs. She said the commission determined the programs were not meeting the needs of youths between the ages of 14 and 18, a group the community has become concerned about since the death of a 17-year-old boy who had been drinking at a party in 1986.
"I like to think we are looking out for the best interest of the community. We have a limited amount of money to work with. . . .," she said. "Given the program, given the participation, does it merit 70% of your budget when you have a whole town of needs?"
The new budget also calls for $16,000 to be spent on programs related to teen-agers, the most money ever allocated by the city for such programming.
Also included in the recreation budget are $4,000 for a concert in Memorial Park and $1,500 for a community-pool program.
"Whenever you start a new program, it's tough," Reynolds said. "We're trying to establish new programs. I think its a city's obligation to take on the harder recreation problems, and that's what we're doing."