While the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) closes facilities around the Southland, leaders of the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) have decided to emulate their big brother in the West Valley and try to take control of their center themselves.
Board members at the Granada Hills facility have formed the North Valley Jewish Community Center, Inc. The entity, working with business and community leaders, such as real estate magnate Stanley Black and Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, is currently raising funds to both purchase the site and maintain it as an integral part of the Jewish community.
"It was brought to my attention that there was a plan to close the center and sell the property, and we couldn't let that happen," said Bernson, who has been active in negotiating with JCCGLA on behalf of center. "They [the JCCGLA] have let us know that after July 1, they will not be responsible for paying the staff ... but we have pledges from people to keep the preschool going through the next year."
So far, NVJCC has raised more than $60,000 in pledges and donations toward a goal of $150,000 for operation of the site for the next fiscal year. Bernson and his group of backers have raised an undisclosed sum toward purchase of the property.
The group is also generating ideas to ensure that the center remains financially viable. For example, Bernson said one plan being explored involves building a senior citizens housing facility at the rear of the property and using the income generated from it to maintain the community center.
Bernson is optimistic about the group's success. He said the JCCGLA staff and volunteers have been "very cooperative" in their talks with the group. "They are very supportive and want to see us succeed," he said.
Marvin Gelfand is the JCCGLA's transition committee chairman and a past president of the NVJCC board. He said the center's parent organization would prefer the site go to Bernson's group but must also ensure that it makes the best decision in the long term for the entire organization and the community.
"It is never desirable to take property that serves the Jewish community and remove it from that realm," he said. "Obviously, if the center can be maintained, we will do everything to ensure that it happens. But if the group cannot maintain North Valley as a vibrant JCC, we don't want to see the property ultimately fall into the hands of a developer at a cheap price."
Gelfand said he would like to see the group "do as we suggested: take an option on the property and do a feasibility study to make sure the money they are planning on putting into the center will be enough to maintain it." He also pointed out that while Bernson's group and some outside developers have indicated interest, there are currently no bids to purchase the property, which is fully owned by JCCGLA.
Andrea Goodstein, a member of the NVJCC board, says she does not anticipate there will be any problem supporting North Valley as a Jewish community center. She said that as of April 28, when the new corporation announced it was taking memberships, 40 households have signed up.
"That's more than 100 people," she said, adding that even more are expected to sign up once the word gets out that not only is the center being continued but revamped. "We have renderings of a beautiful Jewish community center like the ones back East, with everything you can offer to a family.
"We want to start a capital campaign in a year to raise funds for a huge gym, exercise facility and meeting rooms, so we can cater to everybody: adults, teens, young people and seniors," she said. "We have no doubt the negotiations will come out positive on all sides and we will be able to build the center we want."
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