Phoenix Rises – Milken JCC Readies for Big Splash


The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which was damaged but not destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, has survived another peril and is looking toward a brighter future and a recovery of lost members.

Negotiators for the Jewish Community Center at the Bernard Milken Community Campus and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles confirmed Monday that they had reached full agreement, following nearly two years of frequently tense discussions.

The agreement’s key provision calls for a cost-sharing arrangement in the future operation of the four-acre Milken campus, which, besides the JCC and its recreational facilities, also houses offices of The Federation and its agencies.

Starting in 2010, the JCC will pay a rising percentage of the Milken campus budget, hitherto borne entirely by The Federation, leveling off at 65 percent by 2013. Projections for the total annual budget range from “well over $1 million” to $1.6 million.

Steve Rheuban, chairman of the Milken JCC board, and Richard Sandler, The Federation vice chairman, both declared the agreement a win-win solution.

The Federation, which owns the campus property, will be relieved of much of its financial burden.

The Milken JCC, in turn, is assured of its continuing tenancy as the “primary occupant” of the campus, as long as it pays its share of the cost, and can plan for the future on that basis.

Perhaps no one welcomes the resolution with greater joy than the young campers and the mature seniors who have been deprived of the JCC’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, shut down two years ago during an impasse between the two sides.

Following reconstruction of some of the facilities, the pool is scheduled to open in the early summer, said Paul Frishman, the JCC executive director.

When that happy day arrives, it will also reverse the precipitous decline in JCC membership, Rheuban hopes.

With the closing of the pool and uncertainty about JCC’s future, membership dropped from a peak of 1,500 to a current figure of 350, he said. In parallel, nursery school enrollment dropped from 125 to 70.

The roots of the Milken JCC go back to the West Valley JCC, which was founded in 1969 and bought the Milken campus, then a horse ranch, in 1976.

Subsequently, the site was deeded to The Jewish Federation, which put up $15 million to build up the campus, completed in 1987, and came up with additional funds to restore the buildings after the 1994 earthquake.

At one point, the protracted negotiations seemed near a breakdown, when the JCC was facing a $250,000 deficit but rejected a one-time bailout offer of $350,000 from The Federation.

Both JCC leaders and members balked at a condition of the bailout that they would have to surrender JCC’s right to remain as the major tenant of the campus.

But on Monday, both sides were eager to forget the past and look ahead to happier days.

“This outcome is a triumph for the community as a whole,” Rheuban said. “Both sides treated each other with respect, and I am pleased that we were able to get together.”

Sandler observed that “During some of the negotiations, you could hear horror stories from both sides, but that’s in the past. Now everyone wins and the best interests of the community are served.”

Frishman is busy planning for the future. He is aiming for an eventual membership of 2,000, including 100 nursery school kids in the fall.

With the pool in shape and new equipment for the fitness center, he anticipates an enrollment of some 200-300 kindergarten to eighth graders for the 10-week summer camp.

A major attraction for the summer camp will be the swimming school, conducted by Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelberg.

Some 150-200 seniors, whom Frishman refers to as “active adults,” visit the JCC daily and consider it a second home. Frishman hopes to expand their activities, which include trips, musicals, discussion groups and card playing.

He envisions an upswing in the participation of young couples, as well, with the parents dropping off their toddlers at the nursery school and then heading for a workout at the fitness center.

Frishman also plans a further outreach, to involve the Russian and Israeli communities in JCC’s activities.

Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer


The future of the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which serves thousands of Jews in the West Valley, including 125 preschoolers and 700 seniors, is still uncertain.

Despite a debt of $250,000 and the loss of nearly one-third of its members following the closure of its pool by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, Milken JCC leaders chose to reject a bailout plan.

The proposal from The Federation would have required the center to surrender its right to be the major tenant on the 4-acre campus.

By a unanimous vote on Sunday, June 10, the New JCC at Milken’s executive board rejected a rescue-and-restructure plan proposed by The Federation. The plan would have provided the financially strapped center with a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing its historic right to the center.

“Nobody should believe we’re fighting for blood here against Federation. They are our brethren,” JCC Executive Board President Hal Sandler told a standing-room only crowd of almost 500 JCC members and supporters at an emergency meeting held on the Milken campus.

During the nearly two-hour gathering, members donated $54,000 toward the $250,000 needed to break even and confirmed the board’s vote by a near unanimous show of hands.

According to The Federation’s plan, the JCC could continue to operate in its present space, except for the now-closed pool and adjacent areas, until July 1, 2008. At that time, its space and budget could be greatly diminished if The Federation, currently “in discussions” with former tenant New Community Jewish High School, rents a substantial portion of the Milken campus to the school, with a possible option to buy.

Sandler and Steve Rheuban, a new center board member and former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles president, explained that the board had no alternative but to reject the offer when The Federation refused to approve an addendum requesting a guarantee of nine early childhood education classrooms, parking for preschool parents, shared use of the gym and space for senior programs and JCC administration.

Sandler believes that if The Federation had signed the addendum, the JCC would more likely have agreed to the restructuring proposal.

Milken JCC board member Marty Hummel, who supported The Federation’s plan to
guarantee the center’s operation for one more year, changed his mind during
the meeting to allow for a unanimous vote. Afterward Hummel abruptly
resigned prior to the general meeting, where he spoke out against the vote.

Hummel and his wife, Jill, both cited concerns over their preschool child’s ability to attend the center next year. “My greatest concern is my child,” Jill Hummel said during the meeting. “If monies don’t come in there could be a chance the center might have to close for a few months. Where do these children go?”

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon and vice president of planning Andrew Cushnir, neither of whom had authorization from The Federation’s board to approve the addendum, left the meeting after the JCC board turned down the proposal. In previous interviews, they have consistently reiterated The Federation’s support for continued services for seniors and preschoolers in the West Valley.

While the JCC has struggled financially for years, one ongoing stream of funding was cut on April 25 when The Federation closed the pool with little advance notice, citing possible mold problems. But even prior to this date, on April 11, The Federation had already requested and been issued a permit by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool, a step taken to cover all possible work scenarios, according to Dragon.

Dragon said the JCC’s financial difficulties predate the closing of the pool and the timing was merely coincidental. She and Cushnir maintain that the JCC, which is the third-largest local recipient of Federation funding, receives on average $1.3 million a year, including program funding, occasional supplemental allocations and “rent subvention,” which covers maintenance, utilities and security costs. The Federation provides 34 percent of the JCC’s budget, Dragon said, while nationally Federation support averages 12 to 15 percent of a JCC’s budget.

Up to now, the New JCC at Milken has avoided closure and selling off its property, the fate of many former Los Angeles JCCs, because of its unique history.

Founded in 1969 as the West Valley Jewish Community Center, it bought and moved to its current site, a former horse ranch consisting of a cottage and a converted garage on four and a half acres, in 1976. Unable to afford construction, the JCC parent organization, in a complicated deal signed in 1984 and reaffirmed in 2004, deeded the property to The Jewish Federation, retaining “primary use of the real property.”

The Federation purchased an adjoining acre and a half and raised the $15 million needed to build the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, completed in 1987 and refurbished in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake. In 1999, the $4.5 million Ferne Milken Youth & Sports Complex was dedicated, adding a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, an Olympic-sized pool and a fitness center.

“We’re asking you to support us,” Sandler told Sunday’s audience. “This is your pool, this is your building, this is your center.”

Most members supported the JCC during the meeting, but voiced concerns about financial accountability, management, open communication and viability of the services, especially the preschool, summer camps and pool.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said.

She and many board members trace the JCC’s financial distress to the dissolution of the parent organization. “When JCCGLA broke up, we were left with a lot of debt,” she said.

Some, like Maureen Sloan, who joined with her husband for the pool and fitness center, felt betrayed by both the JCC and The Federation.

Briefs: The Milken JCC pool; Valley Cities JCC fundraiser; Iran divestment bill moving forward


Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights

With little notice, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at The New JCC at Milken on April 25, citing possible mold damage but having already been issued a permit on April 11 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool.

Now The Federation appears to have more extensive plans for the financially troubled JCC, offering them a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing their historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

After June 30, 2008, the JCC’s space and budget could be greatly diminished as The Federation intends to rent the space to former tenant New Community Jewish High School, giving them a substantial portion of the Milken campus.

In response to that proposal, which was faxed to the JCC on May 22, the JCC board of directors has scheduled a membership meeting on Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m., to present and vote on The Federation’s rescue plan. Prior to that meeting, however, JCC officials are hoping to raise $500,000, giving them the ability to consider other options.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said. “But we do serve people and it seems that Federation is not interested in the people we serve.”

Those people include 125 preschoolers, many from single-parent, working-parent and immigrant families who depend on the extended daycare hours. Additionally, the JCC serves more than 700 seniors who come for classes, cultural events and fitness programs.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said that it is a coincidence that the pool closure happend at the same time as the JCC’s financial distress. She added that The Federation wants to see the best communal use of the property and intends to work with the JCC to continue a downsized version of its early childhood and senior programs.

Dragon and Andrew Cushnir, Federation vice president of planning, said that without signing the quitclaim deed, the JCC will not receive supplemental funding and, like all Federation agencies, must apply for a 2008 allocation, with no guarantee.

“The JCC is losing members in droves because of the pool closure and the lack of information that Federation is giving out,” said Marty Rosenthal, JCC treasurer and past president.

Meanwhile, the pool remains closed with no set demolition date.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Valley Cities JCC Holds Fundraiser

In what could be a last hurrah, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) will hold a BBQ social on Sunday, June 10, 2-7 p.m., complete with a bounce house for children, face painting, bands and silent auction. The entrance fee is $10.

The center, which uses property owned by the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp., is facing closure as soon as June 15. The development corporation had agreed in principle to a Burbank philanthropist’s $2.7 million offer to buy the property and turn it over to Valley Cities JCC. But in April everything fell apart.

“We keep making them offers, and they just keep turning their backs on us,” said Michael Brezner, the center’s board chair. “They are not nice people.”

The BBQ is part fundraiser, part public relations initiative.

“We want people to know we are here. We want to stay,” said Lori Brockman, a concerned parent who helped organize the event.

Valley Cities JCC is in Sherman Oaks at 13164 Burbank Blvd. For more information, call (818) 786-6310.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Iran Divestment Bill Passes Assembly Appropriation Committee

[SACRAMENTO] — A proposed California State Assembly bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran, took one step closer to become law on May 31 after being approved by the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.

The bill, also known as AB 221, was first introduced by freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Anderson has said the primary goal of the legislation is to secure the California Public Employees Retirement and the State Teachers Retirement pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.

AB 221 has received wide support from 14 national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime, as an economic means to bring down the already crippled Iranian economy. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have been the only groups opposing AB 221. The Assembly will have a final vote on the bill in the first week of June and supporters said they expect it to become law by January 2008.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

+