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NEWS ANALYSIS: “We are going to actually start amputating.”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday April 22, 2010 - 09:59:00 PM

A “Director’s Roundtable Discussion” was held on Tuesday morning, April 20, 2010 at the North Berkeley Senior Center (NBSC), corner of MLK and Hearst, in the dining room section of the multipurpose room. NBSC director Larry Taylor spoke for about 35 minutes.  

Of the approximately 35-40 seniors present, most were waiting for the lunch process to begin. Tickets are purchased earlier in the morning and seats self-selected/reserved using numbered cards. The published menu for the day: “Tuscan bean salad, Cheese ravioli with tomato-basil-meat (turkey) sauce, Green beans, Seasonal fresh fruit.” 

Director Taylor opened with “Once in a while we do have misunderstandings, and we do try to be sensitive to the diverse cultures.” Reference was made to family orientations.  

On to “the bad news… The budget situation here in the City and how it’s manifested on the future of the Center… We have already made cuts. A plan is being considered to make further cuts.” Turning to his notes, Taylor alluded to the City Manager, and “We will be seeing some additional cuts in staffing. We are going to actually start amputating.”  

That things may worsen was also attributed to the state budget, which has a history of not being passed on time. A senior interjected a comment, which elicited sarcasm: “I am glad we have the mathematician here to calculate for you.”  

Lenora Waters (84) focused on communication as she queried what is to be done as we contribute to the sense of community. “The health of all residents is being considered... We have case managers that can assist you in directing you and by providing referrals… The Center van (seats approximately 10 persons) is among the things that provide reductions in seniors’ daily expenses…The City has a web site you can go to. You are able to read the monthly schedule. We have an Advisory Council…” 

Another woman declared: “There is no connection between the administration of the city of Berkeley and the people of this facility.” Taylor responded: “Well I am sorry you feel that way. Today ‘s meeting was put up on the wall at the front so you can be here.” (In point of fact, it was not listed there; the latest monthly posting of NBSC classes, events and menus on the web site is for the month of December 2009; April 20 NBSC events listed in the April newsletter -- i.e. “Tri-Center Nugget” -- consists of “Blood pressure w/Alice Meyers, R.N.” 

The Berkeley Adult School is also facing a budget crisis. There is no final word from them. Volunteer instructors will continue to provide classes. 

“Now to share the good news:” “The contractor has been selected” for NBSC capital improvements in the exterior and disabled access to the stage. It will be proposed at the Council meeting tonight. (Council agenda lists total construction at $355,968. Bids were opened on November 5, 2009 for the NBSC siding replacement and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements project.)  

Following the director’s remarks, I strolled among the tables, where seniors waited noon lunch trays distribution. Little time was provided for comments or contributions from the seniors who were there for the round table. Responding to Allen Stross’s question regarding whether the “Senior Resource Directory was available yet. “No, it is not.” (The last “Older Adult Resource Guide for Berkeley” was dated 2007.) 

A few couples were present, mostly women and men at separate tables. I greeted one couple, alone at a table, who responded with gestures that they know no English; their language is Turkish. Roxana Halvonik (age 72) approached me about having attended a class I had taught at NBSC for the Berkeley Adult School (BAS); as to any activist response to the ‘message’ that director Taylor was delivering, she replied that “ostrich” is her philosophy. (My class was “Strong Women”!) I pushed on to a “men’s table”: Bouce Bodell (80) described it as “Salami tactics” – explaining “it’s one slice at a time.” Larry Phillips, a member of the NBSC Advisory Council, responded: “Keep hope alive. The problem is political.” Others, including a former NBSC Advisory Council president, uniformly responded “I just got here” or “I can’t hear…”