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County Ax May Cut Deep : Area's Health Services, Libraries and Parks are Main Targets

July 22, 1993|TINA GRIEGO | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Times community correspondent Emily Adams contributed to this story

LONG BEACH AREA — Not long ago, a group of Lakewood residents, with help from the city and county, raised nearly $25,000 to give the old George Nye Jr. County Library a face lift. Walls were repainted. New carpet laid. Furniture reupholstered. The place looks new, but in a few weeks, it may be boarded up.

Down the street in Cerritos, weekend swimming and fishing expeditions at the county regional park might become summer memories because the park may be closed, the pool drained and the lake not stocked with catfish.

In Long Beach, Paramount, Bell Gardens, Compton, Norwalk, Hawaiian Gardens and Pico Rivera, residents who rely on their local county health clinic for immunizations, prenatal care and other medical services may have to travel to other cities and wait in longer lines for help if the nearby clinics are shut.

And this could be just the beginning.

Sometime next week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt a budget that cuts deeply into parks and recreation programs, library and health services. In Southeast Los Angeles County, home of some of the state's poorest, most densely populated cities and a region where youth younger than 18 make up a third of the population, local officials keep using one word to describe the impact of the proposed cuts: disastrous.

The hit list includes four of the 10 county-run parks in the Southeast, six county-run swimming pools, seven of 12 county-run clinics, including the Long Beach Comprehensive Health Center, and a dozen of the 23 county libraries.

In addition, funding for gang diversion programs such as the South Gate-based Juvenile Assistance Diversion Effort, which counsels thousands of school-age children and their families, would be slashed.

"It's sad and it's scary," said Bell City Councilman George Cole. "You know, there was a Town Hall meeting in Bell with all the top county departments--the head librarian, the top guy from public works, the head of parks and recreation, the captain of the East L.A. Sheriff's station, the head of the Health Department. And there they are, each making a hundred grand a year, telling a group of about 150 people, most of whom probably make $12,000 a year, why it was necessary to close their parks and their pools.

"Our priorities are all screwed up," Cole said. "What are kids going to do? We are closing parks, swimming pools, libraries. In a lot of these communities, there are too few positive influences and we are going to take away what little exists. I think it's a really big mistake."

Nothing is final yet. The board is still hearing testimony from officials and residents, and, as is typical during budget hearings, everyone is presenting doomsday scenarios of what will happen if their funds are cut. Rumors of layoffs and program reductions are swirling through every department, and until the board adopts a budget, no one is certain what will be sacrificed and what will be spared. But, city officials and county employees say, the county really is facing its worst budget shortfall ever, and that means someone, somewhere down the line, is going to suffer.

Gerry Hertzberg, chief legislative aide to County Supervisor Gloria Molina, said that because of the size of the budget shortfall, "a lot of drastic things can happen and will happen." Hertzberg said Molina, who with Supervisor Deane Dana represents much of the Southeast area, is trying to garner money to keep the libraries in her district open. But, he said, many people do not realize the severity of the problem.

"It takes some time for all this to sink in," Hertzberg said. "A lot of stuff has been thrown out there, and yeah, some of it is politics. And I guess, in the past there has been a lot of crying, 'The sky is falling, the sky is falling.' No one believes now the sky is falling. The sky is getting pretty close to the ground here."

For James Sweet and Roy Snoderly, the budget battle transcends money and politics. It is about life and death.

Sweet, 35, and Snoderly, 27, are battling HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. For the last year, both men have been receiving treatment from the Long Beach Comprehensive Health Center, which houses the only county-run AIDS clinic in southern Los Angeles County.

If the clinic closes, the pair say they will be forced to take an hourlong bus ride to Harbor UCLA--Medical Center, where the best they can hope for is a long wait in the emergency room.

Sweet said a friend, also an AIDS patient, died at Harbor after waiting more than eight hours in the emergency room with pneumonia. Most frightening, the men said, would be the absence of ongoing, personal care.

"If I had to go to Harbor, I would be sick all the time," Snoderly said as he stood outside the clinic. "Here, I can see someone before I am real sick. They look after me."

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