Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Standing Room Only At Senior Commission Meeting

Today the Costa Mesa Senior Commission held its meeting at the Senior Center before a packed house.  It was a standing room only crowd - all 30 seats were filled, plus a few walkers and wheelchairs were jockeyed around like a Rubik's Cube, and a few younger folks were standing in the back.  At the peak, my count had three dozen audience members in attendance - plus staff and commissioners.

All commissioners were present except Kirk Bauermeister, who began the new school year in a new job with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.  Chairwoman Ernie Feeney called the meeting to order promptly at 9:00 a.m. and generally stuck to the agenda.
When the commission considered the minutes from the last meeting Feeney asked staff about the web site - the internet presence that apparently was hijacked by a member of the former staff who refuses to turn it over to the new, city-run administration.  She was told by Recreation Manager Travis Karlen that the legal department has determined that there is nothing to be done at this time, so the staff is acquiring other domain names and is building a new internet presence for the Senior Center.  This residual pettiness gives those of us who didn't pay much attention to how things ran before a little peek into the previous operations.


Three people spoke during Public Comments.  Margie White addressed the question from a prior meeting about the possibility of scheduling shorter trips, but she and her cadre of members who operate the Travel function determined that it is not cost effective.  She deferred to Sharon Margulies, who coordinates the "Gypsy Group", an ad hoc group who coordinates short trips to nearby venues using carpooling and ride-sharing and suggested it might fill in the perceived hole in the activity schedule.  Pauline Eline stepped up to address the departure of the Security Guard and the new one, an older man who, according to Eline, doesn't appear to have the stamina to deal with the homeless folks who wander in.

Old Business #1 was the results of the contest to possibly re-name The Chronicle - the monthly newsletter distributed to members.  The short version of the report was, the staff recommended that the name remain the same based on the results of the survey.  The commission voted to do just that on a unanimous vote.  High praise was given to the staff for the new look of The Chronicle, and for the information provided.
Old Business #2, the discussion of the fees for Computer Classes.  Senior Center Program Administrator Yvette Aguilar told the commission that the fees matched those of Huntington Beach for the same classes.  No word yet on scholarships for those who cannot afford the classes.  Karlen indicated a more in-depth fee study would be included in the overall Recreation Department Fee Structure that will be presented to City Council.

Next up was New Business #1, the issue of Bus Reservations - and the reason most of the people were in the room for this meeting.  Aguilar began a discussion of the staff report and their proposal, which included significant schedule changes.  A "Hot Line" was discussed to provide a dedicated telephone line for folks to address bus issues.  Eleven (11) people made their way to the podium, or found a more convenient microphone, to address this issue.  All of them were very concerned about the modification of the process and what appeared to be the abandonment of the current procedures.  Among the issues were the need for a later bus departure - 3:00 - than was proposed.  Two younger individuals rose to speak about their specific situations - elderly relatives who depend on them to help with their daily activities.  Both described the important part the Senior Center meals/companionship means to them.  Both received applause after speaking.
Commissioner Janet Krochman addressed the issue by stating that it seems to be a capacity issue.  The senior center now has 1,600 members - four times the number under the previous administration - and the bus capacity remains the same.  Apparently we have two buses - one a 16-person bus with lots of miles on it and the other a 12-person bus with fewer, but still many, miles on it.

Staff explained one of the problems is the work hours for the bus driver, who must be back at her home base by 4:30 p.m.  A question was asked about two part-time drivers, which could address the late schedule.  The answer was there is no budget for that right now, but the council would have to consider it.

Concern was expressed by members about losing the capability to be taken to the market or hair dresser.  Aguilar and Commissioner John McGlinn reminded the audience that it is the primary mission of the bus to get members to and from the Senior Center - with side-trips being accommodated only when it doesn't interfere with the primary mission.  Later he told the audience that "You have to take responsibility for yourselves.  The Senior Center is not an ambulatory care center."

At the end of the discussion McGlinn made a motion, seconded by Krochman, that the current program remain in place as-is for three months, during which the staff will gather data and present a report on the results in January.  Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau reminded all present that it will be important to funnel ALL concerns/complaints/scheduling issues to the staff - through the "hot line" or directly to Aguilar in the interim - so they have good data on which to base a future recommendation.  The vote was unanimous.  As a note, it was clear that not all complaints were being funneled to the staff.  This will hamper a real analysis of the issue if it continues.

In her report to the commission Aguilar introduced the new leadership of the Senior Advisory Committee (SAC).  She also spoke of recent successful events and of upcoming events.

She addressed the need for a nurse by indicating that the staff has been in touch with both Hoag and Orange County and were advised that there is a shortage of nurses, but that they continue to work on it.

She mentioned that the Albert Dixon Memorial Foundation Board has donated $2,000 to pay for the MELT class that had been unfunded by The City and agreed to donate $15,000 to the Senior Center for the purchase/training on electronic devices - laptops or tablets.  The details are being worked out.  She also mentioned that the Foundation donated $25,000 to Senior Serv to subsidize meal costs for The Senior Center.

Aguilar confirmed that the membership now stands at 1,621, of which 1.098 are Costa Mesa residents.

During Commissioner Comments McGlinn congratulated the staff on the first anniversary of the new administration - a celebration was to be held this afternoon to mark that milestone.  He observed that things are moving rapidly and seem to be on the right track.

Janet Krochman echoed McGlinn's comment and observed that things don't always move as fast as we wish, but the staff is doing a good job.

Sue Healy thanked the staff.

Stella Adkins observed the anniversary and said it has been a lot of hard work.  The thanked the staff for the recent volunteer dinner and hoped the commissioners would make an effort to attend more of those kind of events.

Anne Perry said she was impressed with the changes in The Chronicle and admired the quality of the product.  She said she's been impressed by the staff and appreciated all their hard work.

Ernie Feeney said the staff work has been outstanding.  She added that she, also, hoped more commissioners would attend events at the Center.  She said everything is going really well and adjourned to the next meeting on November 9, 2015.

It appears to me that the members of this brand new commission are getting their sea legs and are adapting to the pace of city administration.  It will be interesting to see what kind of a turnout there is for the next meeting.  The January meeting - the one at which the bus issue will again be addressed - will likely have another full house.

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