By email, Godwin tells me that the project “was originally managed by the City’s Disability Services Program. This project was then transferred to our office (Economic Development) so that we could work directly with the agency [Riford] to refine the scope of work and complete the improvements.”
The Riford Center has yet to receive any money. It will be reimbursed for all work it completes up to the grant maximum only if that work follows the agreed-upon plan and satisfies the City’s conditions for an acceptable block-grant project.
A key Housing and Urban Development expectation for block-grant recipients is that they consult with the communities where the projects will be completed. On that score, Friends of the Riford has taken heat. Early this spring, neighbors began reading in La Jolla news outlets about the Riford’s new entrance on Bonair Street. What would it do to neighborhood traffic? They read also of the possible new activities in the building, including weddings and parties. Wouldn’t alcohol be served at such events? Would the new disabled entrance be part of a bigger expansion? A group of the neighbors, most preferring at first to remain anonymous, were not satisfied with answers Glen Rasmussen gave them. They wanted to attend a meeting of his organization’s board. But Rasmussen told them his group had lots of other business and changed the meeting’s location. “The problem is he tells different people different things and won’t put anything in writing,” one of the neighbors told me.
In late May, the City’s Paul Godwin convened the executive board of the Friends of the Riford Center together with complaining neighbors. Participants came away in a better frame of mind. Glen Rasmussen had become more conciliatory, said the neighbors. By phone, he already told me that his board was now planning to return to the Riford’s main entrance on La Jolla Boulevard as the site of the disabled entrance. But Rasmussen didn’t know whether a costly lift would have to be built at that entrance. It looked as though a planned district ordinance might prevent a ramp being built from the building to the sidewalk. The Riford Center could appeal to the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee, but if it did, Rasmussen would have to recuse himself from voting, since he sits on that committee.
As a result of the uncertainty, Rasmussen told me by email, a south-side disabled entrance on Bonair Street cannot be abandoned “as a less desirable alternative.” I asked whether weddings and parties might still be in store for the Riford. “The lease has not been amended in many years, and in light of a growing demographic of people reaching age 62 (the baby boomers now becoming ‘seniors’) we are exploring new uses and what we can offer our adult members [that]…might generate additional income for our non-profit business [to] make it successful. Whether alcohol could be served at any events is subject to California law. So far, all alcohol served at events has been donated. We have in place guidelines to keep all events orderly, in accord with legal requirements and the valid concerns of our neighbors.”
Members of the neighbors’ group are now opening up, saying Rasmussen’s new conciliatory attitude was short-lived. Grace Zimmerman, who lives on Bonair Street, tells me a recent Rotary Club party staged at the Riford caused considerable traffic problems at the entrance to her neighborhood and “was very noisy. From the beginning, the Riford was intended to be a senior center, not a clubhouse,” she says. Zimmerman maintains her group is being reasonable in trying to keep some control on what happens at the center. The City’s lease with the Riford stipulates that its hours of operation shall be 11:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. “But so the center can become more financially viable, our group has agreed to allow weekly hours of 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and, on Saturdays, 9:00 to noon. That’s a substantial concession. We’ve also agreed that there can be four events a month, as long as they’re for the center’s own fund-raising.”
But the disabled-entrance location remains a bone of contention. Architect David Singer, a member of the neighbors’ group, tells me that the lift Rasmussen worries will bust the project’s budget should take only $12,000 to $15,000 out of the $207,152 grant the Riford received. Another neighbor thinks Rasmussen wants to save as much money as possible for disabled-service improvements to the Riford’s interior patio, where the parties are staged.
Meanwhile, the City of San Diego’s Community Development Block Grant program has made changes. For one thing, “council-district-based geographic allocation” of grants is a thing of the past. According to a City Annual Action Plan, “Funding allocations were approved on a citywide basis for fiscal year 2011."