City officials are considering closing the Senior Center in Palisades Park and moving services for the elderly to the Ken Edwards Center a few blocks east where WISE & Healthy Aging operates. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

KEN EDWARDS CENTER — A stroll north from the Santa Monica Pier through Palisades Park will take a pedestrian past a row of historic cannons, newly-established pétanque courts and a building full of seniors gathered for a bite to eat, movie or improvisational acting class.

The view might be nice, but City Hall is considering a move out of the seaside building and into the Ken Edwards Center, where officials say elderly patrons will have better access to services they need.

The change would consolidate most of the city and county-funded senior services into one place, creating a “one-stop-shop” that would make it easier for seniors, said Robin Davidson, City Hall’s human services administrator for families, seniors and disability initiatives.

“When you’re 75 or 80 and you’ve never accessed social services before, it’s a horrible experience,” Davidson said.

That initiative will be cemented in July when WISE & Healthy Aging, a nonprofit that serves seniors, takes over responsibility for providing senior day activities.

Consolidation of senior activities at the Ken Edwards Center (1527 Fourth St.), where WISE & Healthy Aging is headquartered, began three years ago when the organization took over a nutrition program that currently provides meals to seniors at the Senior Recreation Center on Ocean Avenue.

It also serves home-bound seniors through a subcontract with Meals on Wheels West.

The lunch program is central to what goes on at the recreation center, and City Hall approached WISE & Healthy Aging to see if it would take over activities at the site, wrote Grace Cheng Braun, executive director of WISE & Healthy Aging, in an e-mail.

If WISE & Healthy Aging accepted, the idea was that things would shift from the current location on Ocean Avenue to the Ken Edwards Center.

There are major benefits to that, Davidson said.

“Right now, it’s two rooms, no parking and not very accessible,” she said.

Ken Edwards Center, on the other hand, has a multitude of small rooms for activities and already houses social services, benefits enrollment help, care management, the Dial-a-Ride program and other help directly targeted at seniors.

It would mean a lot for Santa Monica’s seniors, 45 percent of whom live on less than $30,000 a year and need help connecting with programs that they already qualify for but don’t know how to access, Davidson told the Commission on the Senior Community at its meeting Wednesday.

Commissioners embraced the idea, saying that it just made sense.

“We agreed that it would be a good move to consolidate it gradually so seniors don’t feel a void of some kind,” said Commissioner Nel Bullard Steele on Thursday. “It’s a beautiful setting there on the beach and ocean, but it’s just not practical.”

Logical, maybe, but a sure thing it is not.

Staff will go before the City Council next week to propose the idea as well as ideas on how to improve transportation for seniors in Santa Monica.

Making the transition will require their approval and another $20,000 for WISE & Healthy Aging through June 30 and then $150,000 for the next fiscal year to take over management of the center, Davidson said.

That would allow staff from the center to introduce themselves to seniors at the current location on Ocean Avenue before the move to Ken Edwards Center, which is expected for early 2013.

Staff is working on a study of the Ken Edwards Center to make sure it’s capable of taking on the new load. That report is expected in May.

If the transition happens as planned, it’s unclear what would happen with the building in Palisades Park at this point. It might become a community cultural center, Davidson said.

According to a staff report for the April 24 City Council meeting, Santa Monica provides an estimated $16.2 million in services to seniors aged 65 and over, excluding police department costs.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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