Dial-a-Ride driver LB Brown (right) helps senior Aurora Vasquez board his bus on Wednesday outside of Wise & Healthy Aging. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — Under a plan approved in concept by the City Council Tuesday night, seniors in Santa Monica will have more ways to get around, but will have to give up a cherished activities space at the Senior Recreation Center in Palisades Park.

The proposal, put forward by the Human Services Division, looks to expand three forms of on-call transportation for seniors to close gaps in a network meant to ensure that Santa Monica’s aging population can get around.

At the same time, it presented a plan to transition control over the senior center operations to WISE & Healthy Aging, a nonprofit that serves seniors, and eventually consolidate a meal program currently offered at the 1450 Ocean Ave. site to the nonprofit’s headquarters at the Ken Edwards Center on Fourth Street.

The building would then be repurposed as an “adult activities center,” open for use by a wider array of Santa Monica residents.

Officials presented both changes as important steps to fill in gaps in services to the senior community, first by helping the elderly stay relatively independent and second by creating a “one-stop-shop” at the Ken Edwards Center to make it easy for them to get the help they need.

“We believe strongly that the best way to service seniors is to create a one-stop-shop,” said Robin Davidson, an administrator with the Human Services Division.

In terms of transportation, staff recommended expanding a program that takes seniors from their pick-up location to their home and helps them get into the building.

Dial-a-Ride, a service provided to seniors by an independent contractor and paid for by City Hall, already provides “door-through-door” service, but the program is at capacity, Davidson said.

Expanding the service by 1,000 hours would help 50 more seniors stay in their homes.

One of Dial-a-Ride’s main weaknesses is that it stops running at 6 p.m., at which point seniors have to fend for themselves. Under the new plan, seniors over the age of 80 who are registered with Dial-a-Ride would also get access to taxi rides pre-arranged by WISE & Healthy Aging after Dial-a-Ride shuts down.

Finally, officials proposed taking advantage of the door-through-door service by taking seniors out on social outings to restaurants that offer steep senior discounts.

While the transportation offerings were met with approval by council members, the idea of moving the center from Ocean Avenue to the Ken Edwards Center was received with less enthusiasm.

Beyond seniors’ attachment to the space, legal questions exist concerning the legacy of the building, which was purchased using stocks bequeathed to City Hall by financier Marcellus L. Joslyn specifically to serve as an adult center.

“If this was given to us with the intent that it be a senior center, how can we take it away from the seniors?” asked Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

Julie Rusk, human services manager with City Hall, was quick to say that the move wasn’t taking anything from seniors, but would instead return the building to its original intended use as a center for all adults.

“It would still be used by seniors because those are the ones who are around during the day,” Rusk said. “The main thing that would not be happening there would be the meal program.”

Seniors mainly visit the center for lunch, a service which would be transferred to the Ken Edwards Center where WISE & Healthy Aging staff could administer it better, Rusk said.

Details on what would happen at the site instead of senior activities were sparse, too sparse for some council members who balked at the vague descriptions of “adult fitness activities” and “more comprehensive use of space.”

“Either you don’t know or don’t want to be specific for other reasons, and that makes me nervous,” said Councilmember Bobby Shriver, who indicated that he wouldn’t vote for the plan without further study of options for the building and the potential deed restrictions on the property.

Shriver and McKeown were the only two who voted against the proposal, although other members cautioned that change would have to be approached delicately.

“I do think we should tread very carefully when it comes to programming this space,” said Mayor Richard Bloom. “Change is difficult, and we’re talking about transitioning programming in a very cherished space.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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