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Beverly Hills Argues Over the 'C' in YMCA

August 21, 1988|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Is the Beverly Hills Family YMCA a Christian religious association of young men as its name implies, or is it a secular, multifaceted community organization as its supporters, many of them Jewish, claim?

Or is the debate merely an attempt to politically embarrass Mayor Robert K. Tanenbaum, who also serves as president of the YMCA's board of directors, as Tanenbaum suggests?

Committee Approval

Those questions are at the center of a controversy over whether the YMCA should be the major tenant of a proposed city-owned human resource center.

A 15-member advisory committee studying the need for a human resource center and reviewing potential tenants recommended to the City Council earlier this month that the Y be included.

The committee concluded that the city "does not provide, or has limited facilities to provide certain human services essential to the community," such as mental and physical health development services, recreational and cultural activities for youth, day-care facilities and services for senior citizens.

It pointed out that the YMCA and the Maple Center, a nonprofit counseling center, provide such services, but need more space.

The committee proposed building a center of 94,000 to 157,000 square feet, with the YMCA and Maple Center as anchor tenants. The YMCA, which has about 30,000 square feet at its Little Santa Monica Boulevard location, would get between 50,000 and 100,000 square feet. The Maple Center, which rents about 5,200 square feet in a Civic Center Drive office building, would get about 8,000 square feet.

However, among the criteria the committee established for prospective tenants is that organizations have no religious affiliation.

Thus the question of whether the Young Men's Christian Assn. can be a tenant.

The city attorney is expected to issue his opinion within 90 days.

'Christian Society'

Meanwhile, attorney Richard A. Stone, the committee member who initially questioned the YMCA's secularity, pointed to the organization's national constitution, which lists as one of its goals to develop "a faith for daily living based upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, that they may thereby be helped in achieving their highest potential as children of God."

He also noted the organization's statement of purpose, which says: "The Young Men's Christian Assn. we regard as being in its essential genius a worldwide fellowship united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of developing Christian personality and building a Christian society."

To Stone, the meaning is clear.

"It would seem to me that if the national constitution states a purpose which is fundamentally religious in language . . . and the local group affirms that in writing, that can't be ignored or passed over," said Stone, who was on the City Council from 1968 to 1980 and twice served as mayor.

Stone also questioned whether the community's need for YMCA services justifies the city's paying for additional YMCA space.

"The people of this city have to speak on this issue," he said. "The city is contemplating providing new services that have historically not been given to the community by government."

Tanenbaum said the YMCA's programs and services prove that it is secular.

Directors Jewish

He also points out that about two-thirds of the Beverly Hills YMCA directors are Jewish, including five of the eight top officers.

Tanenbaum said questions about the YMCA's purpose should not focus on the national constitution, written in 1855, but rather on the deeds of the local organization.

He said he considers the constitution "institutional rhetoric that acknowledges the historical roots of the association and in no way mandates a religious commitment on the part of the Beverly Hills Family Y."

"What I think it really expresses, in a historical document, is a desire to adhere to a moral . . . to a standard to which individuals can subscribe.

"The Y is a place where individuals of all races and religions gather together in an effort to destroy stereotypes. In our city, the one place that is the most ecumenical, with respect to that, is the YMCA."

Torrance City Councilman Bill Applegate, who is immediate past president of the Torrance South Bay Family Y, agrees that the national constitution is not a mandate.

Abiding by Principles

"It does not profess--all it indicates is that you have principles that you are trying to abide by," Applegate said, adding that his City Council assisted the Torrance Y in obtaining municipal tax bond financing to expand its facility.

Larry Rosen, director of operations for the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, which oversees 23 community branches of the YMCA, said the question of whether the YMCA is a religious organization is an old issue.

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