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Many candidates call for more spending on seniors at Senior Center forum

Posted: March 4, 2014 7:12 p.m.
Updated: March 4, 2014 7:12 p.m.

The 80 or so attendees of a Santa Clarita City Council forum held Tuesday afternoon at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center sat in chairs on a floor scuffed, scratched and worn from use.

That floor was mentioned repeatedly by some of the 13 candidates running in April’s election as an example of the facility needs of Santa Clarita’s senior population — needs candidates said range beyond just refurbishing a floor.

“It’s not just the floor. It’s the entire facility itself,” said candidate Duane Harte. “There’s so much that can be done here. Unfortunately, we’re out of room, folks; we need another facility.”

Candidates were largely united in their calls for at least another senior center somewhere in Santa Clarita, with suggestions to locate additional facilities in Canyon Country and Saugus.

Candidate Alan Ferdman said he also would like to see the existing center refurbished.

“I wouldn’t be happy as a council member until this building looked as pristine as City Hall,” he said.

Another candidate, Dante Acosta, said he thinks the city should consider developing satellite locations to provide more accessible senior services.

“I would continue the work that is being done and continue the pledge to get a new senior center but also look for something more centrally located, in addition to satellites, so that folks who have to come in and rely on transportation have a much easier time,” he said.

City Councilwoman Marsha McLean, one of the two incumbents running for re-election in April, said work is ongoing to address those facility needs and that she works hard personally to raise money.

“I don’t just talk about helping the senior center raise funds; I put my own sweat equity into it,” she said. “And I don’t just serve on committees; I work the committees.”

Part of the equation is working with the senior center to determine what exactly is needed to serve the local population, said Mayor Laurene Weste, the other of two incumbents running for re-election.

“This building has expanded as far as it can go. We need another structure,” she said.

As with many things, discussion of facility needs turned invariably to how to fund such developments.

Candidate Stephen Daniels advocated for increasing the city’s budget, suggesting the city could dip into its reserves if need be.

“I think the seniors have earned it; they deserve it,” he said of increased funding.

Another candidate, Sandra Bull, said part of the funding equation is ensuring the city is prioritizing funds for seniors.

“We need to prioritize and we need some action,” she said. “Not just the same rhetoric year after year after year.”

Some candidates said securing additional funding for seniors is tied to the overall economic health of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Candidate Dennis Conn said if the city was able to attract more tourism dollars, it could make more senior funding available through tourism-related taxes.

“Folks, every one of you built this through taxation,” he told the crowd.

What the city can or should do to increase resources available for seniors was also a topic of discussion at the forum.

Candidate Gloria Mercado-Fortine said she thinks the city needs to vest itself in senior issues and suggested creating a senior advocate to help answer questions and identify available services.

“If we truly want a class-A senior citizen center, then the city needs to get involved because there’s a lot of needs here,” she said.

One candidate, Berta Gonzalez-Harper, said she would like to see creation of a commission on aging that would include city and community stakeholders.

“I think that it might be time to take a look and see whether or not we’re at a point in our cityhood where, maybe, we should think about having municipal senior centers, plural,” she said.

Another candidate, Maria Gutzeit, suggested creation of an ombudsman of sorts that can help families who take care of seniors know what sort of services are available locally.

“It’s a maze of legal and financial and health-care issues that people have to deal with under times of great stress,” she said. “And I think what we could do as a city is offer some kind of ombudsman service to help the working caregivers that are just trying to get through it.”

Another candidate, Moazzem Chowdhury, said he thinks the city could do more to educate seniors about health-care resources and push for additional senior housing.

“We have to have affordable housing in the city for seniors,” he said. “It’s a major issue we have to deal with.”
Candidate Paul Wieczorek said he thinks the city would benefit from more community outreach.

“The city should listen, first off,” he said. “And then the city should act. Not talk about it, but act.”
on Twitter @LukeMMoney




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