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Jewish Center in Sherman Oaks Is Slated for Closure

Funding problems have put the Valley Cities site in jeopardy, but leaders vow to keep it open.

March 13, 2004|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles said Friday that it would close its Valley Cities center in Sherman Oaks because of ongoing deficit spending and inadequate funding from the parent agency's main financial source.

However, Valley Cities leaders vowed to keep the facility's doors open, even if that meant breaking away from its parent organization.

The popular Sherman Oaks center, which has offered educational, recreational and social activities for 50 years, is due to close June 30.

Forty employees will lose their jobs, 80 seniors will have to find a new meeting place and the parents of 180 children in the preschool and after-school programs will have to find alternative care, center officials said.

The decision to close Valley Cities is the latest development in an ongoing financial crisis that brought the JCC of Greater Los Angeles to the brink of collapse three years ago, officials said.

The agency's $5-million budget deficit resulted from more than a decade of deficit spending and declining monetary support from its umbrella organization, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said Nina Lieberman Giladi, executive vice president.

The JCC of Greater Los Angeles now owes $2.2 million to the federation, its main financial backer, Giladi said. It must also repay a $450,000 bank loan and $1 million it borrowed from its contingency funds.

To make up for the shortfall, agency officials decided to close Valley Cities, which has operated at a loss for years. They also agreed to sell the building currently occupied by the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, which severed its financial ties with the agency two years ago.

The Bay Cities center in Santa Monica was sold to a nonprofit organization that provides low-income senior housing. The North Valley Center in Granada Hills severed its ties with the agency and reestablished itself as an independent center, which offers swimming lessons, summer day camp and other programs. The money raised from the sale of both properties, Giladi said, was used to pay off the debt and reinvest in continuing programs.

The West Los Angeles center, which remains under the auspices of the JCC of Greater Los Angeles, is a profitable facility offering performing arts instruction and early childhood education, and is in the midst of a capital campaign, Giladi said.

"These have been very tough decisions," Giladi said. "Trying to manage a crisis is not easy and to this board's credit, they take their fiduciary responsibility extremely seriously. They do not want the mistakes of the past to be repeated."

On Friday, Valley Cities board President Michael Brezner said he was surprised by the agency's decision to close the community center, which came during a meeting late last month with Giladi and Randy Myer, agency president.

"I assumed it was a meeting to talk about our budget for next year," Brezner recalled. "But I was told that Valley Cities would close on June 30."

Although the center had been operating with a deficit, Brezner said its fortunes were beginning to turn around after it raised $120,000 and opened its doors to more outside groups, including Israeli youth scouting programs and a seniors group from Adat Air El synagogue in Valley Village.

Determined to keep the center open, Brezner said the board would focus on becoming financially self-sufficient through alternative funding sources and increased membership.

"This place has done a great deal to bring the Jewish community together," Brezner said.

In Silver Lake, community center members continued to run their thriving nursery school and kindergarten program after severing their financial ties to the JCC of Greater Los Angeles.

Janie Schulman, president of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, said center members were angry that the JCC of Greater Los Angeles rejected their $1.8-million offer to buy the building because it could fetch a higher price on the open market.

"To try to put a value on this center, the same way a developer would, is a shame," she said.

The Silver Lake group has asked Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents the area, to set up a meeting among federation, JCC of Greater Los Angeles and community center officials to discuss the building's sale.

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