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Jewish Community Center Closes Friday

Parents taken off guard by Wednesday email about financial difficulties at Tice Valley Boulevard center.

An angry knot of parents and senior citizens gathered Thursday morning in the lobby of the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center and buzzed about the surprise announcement that the revered institution would close Friday.

"We were blindsided," said Linda Hacohen of Walnut Creek, whose son has been at the preschool for five years.

There was no official comment from JCC administration Thursday morning. A parent shared an email that parents received from Robert Rich, JCC president, Wednesday evening, talking about economic difficulties. That is excerpted at the end of this article.

Hacohen said parents had no information about the shortfall in funds and were not given the opportunity to organize fund-raisers to try to save the popular facility on Tice Valley Boulevard that houses the preschool, adult day program and educational programs.

"None of the parents knew about the financial problems," said Greg Berkowitz of Walnut Creek. "They were talking about expanding."

Parent Julie Rabinovitz of Lafayette said she was concerned about staff that was being laid off as of Friday. She said she had prepaid for preschool (for a discount) for the entire school year through June and had been told it would take awhile to get some of her money back.

Rabinovitz said her child had flourished in four years at the preschool and she is scrambling to find another preschool.

Patch learned of this news from an announcement posted by Patch reader Loren Elise Sherdel Schoenstein. Thanks, Loren.

Excerpts from the Dec. 14 email from Robert Rich, president of the JCC:

" … the JCC has struggled to reach and maintain membership and revenue growth sufficient to sustain the many programs the JCC offers. Certainly a difficult economy has not helped matters in recent years.

At an urgent Board meeting last week, it was determined that we are now at a point where the current offerings and corresponding fund-raising activity cannot generate sufficient cash to cover the programs at the Tice Valley facility. Given this, the only course to take was, and is, to suspend the activities of the Millman Adult Day Program, the JCC Preschool, and all other on-site programming, effective Friday, December, 16, 2011. As part of this move, employees will be released and the property will be sold."

Rich writes that the JCC has contacted local Jewish organizations to ask assistance in placement of students, teachers and staff.

Deborah Burstyn December 16, 2011 at 02:23 AM
Wow! Why was there no effort to save the JCC? What kind of meshugeneh mismanagement has been going on? My kids went to pre-school here and my parents went to the senior center. Many families belong to use the pool in the summer.
srl99 December 16, 2011 at 02:35 AM
A $400K shortfall (which reads operating budget shortfall) would need 400 super-mitvahs, or 800, 1200, 1600 mitzvas. Seems doable - why is there no effort to save the CCJCC? Further - why doesn't the center's web site have a big splash on the home page asking for donations to save the center?
Deborah Burstyn December 16, 2011 at 02:52 AM
Maybe somebody's brother-in-law wants to put a condo development on the property? Or somebody embezzled a bunch of money and they don't want any adverse publicity? Something does not seem right.
Triple Canopy December 16, 2011 at 03:34 AM
My endowment is ready! ...... BRING ON THE CONDOMINIUMS!!!!!! Us old folks need a place to live without being under the thumbs (actually more like feet) of the Golden Rain Foundation.
Deborah Burstyn December 16, 2011 at 03:54 AM
And there you have it. Somebody must be getting kickbacks to close the place down and make way for upscale residential development.
David December 16, 2011 at 04:20 AM
The KRON story was very poor. They had Cindy Stein (board member) on crying and said they could not speak to administrators. She should (and the rest of the board) should be at the center tomorrow and face the music. The money issue did not just happen. This is the result of gross mismangaement. Have thge Sunrise donate some money to reimburse those families that will lose money because they paid in advance.
Janice Litvin December 16, 2011 at 05:19 AM
Tice Valley Gym, thankfully is a City owned & operated facility. The land, I believe, is or was owned by the JCC & the City has a 99-year lease, established back when Tice was first being planned. Luckily all of the wonderful Tice Valley Gym activities are not affected. I'm sorry for all of the families, seniors, staff & tenants (including Laura for Dogs & Weight Watchers) who are adversely affected by this situation. Someone needs to step up & take care of the pre-schoolers & seniors. Janice ZumbaContraCosta
Melys December 16, 2011 at 05:42 AM
That's ghoulish, don't you think? Yes, those parents need spots for their children, but harvesting in the wake of a tragedy? Really?
Melys December 16, 2011 at 05:44 AM
Doesn't that seem rather presumptive? Are you not making an assumption that they didn't make any efforts?
DBCooper December 16, 2011 at 08:00 AM
This place was poorly mismanaged, and by more people with management-type roles than the facility required, cronyism at the top . . . and the hard working folks on the staff were given 3 days notice, being told on Wednesday they would not have a job after Friday. To make matters worse the JCC had told employees to schedule their vacation if they wanted to be paid during the JCC's annual closure set to begin Friday, so these employees who were expecting vacation were laid off! It's no surprise that these people are not commenting on the mess . . .
Susan Bigham December 16, 2011 at 04:55 PM
I want to clear up a misunderstanding. The $200,000 was not a gift from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund. A separate, Supporting Foundation chose to donate the money through the JCEF to the Walnut Creek Education Foundation. The Supporting Foundation provided specific instruction that the money be use for technology at the high school level. At no point did the $200,000 belong to the JCEF or to the JCC and neither of those entities were involved in deciding where or how the money was to be spent. Here is a link to the Walnut Creek Education Foundation's page on the subject: http://www.wcefk12.org/events/archives/laslomas_grant.php My thoughts go out to all people affected by this sudden closure. This is a terrible loss for our community.
Carol Olmert December 16, 2011 at 05:05 PM
I, as well as most of my friends in the local Jewish community, was stunned to learn the JCC was, seemingly abruptly, being closed. What a shame. Call me naive, but it seems to me that money could have been raised to sustain it with a proper fundraising campaign. If only we had known...
The Merry One December 16, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Bad form, Saklan!
The Merry One December 16, 2011 at 06:02 PM
We have neighbors, connected to JCC leadership, that told us a while back that when the condo project that was proposed a couple of years ago was not approved by the City of WC, the JCC was devastated. They were counting on the sale of the property to sustain programs, make improvements to the facility, etc. In fact, at the time, there had also been discussion that the Safeway shopping center nearby, would also be remodeled and upgraded to prepare for the hundreds of new residents (families, etc.) that would be purchasing the condos. We were relieved because the infrastructure in this area cannot sustain the added traffic, added student enrollment, water usage, etc., without significant upgrades. Who would pay for these needed upgrades? It'll be interesting to see if the new owners (perhaps the condo developer?) will try to push through a "new and improved" housing development plan. Imagine that.
michael frederick December 16, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Yes, Merry One. I knew the (Skrel) and the city played a big role in the gym, specifically. As mentioned in The Times today, apparently the city has a 99 year lease on a good portion of the facilities used by the general public. I think you have it down pretty well -- the classrooms, nursery, etc. were the areas the JCC was seeking to develop...
michael frederick December 16, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Thanks, Susan. I referenced this off the Patch article on the LL gift. I guess my point remains, however -- there was a group affiliated with the "Jewish Community" that cared enough about education to come up with a $200,000 grant.
michael frederick December 16, 2011 at 07:05 PM
Merry One, Of course they will!!!! That's the principle of INCREMENTALISM upon which this city runs. NO ONE conforms to the General Plan limits which the city has (theoretically, tho not actually) studied -- they're just a base from which the redevelopers' rocket ship launches. The new proposal will be expanded to just an extent that it WILL NOT trigger any further study or review -- this is included as "SMART" growth, in an ironic twist... Deborah, I agree that the SURPRISE! nature of this seems inconsistent -- there seems to be a supportive community that wasn't given an opportunity to participate. TC, there are plenty of condos available already outside Rossmoor -- from affordable to luxury, all at dramatically reduced prices in this fouled-up market. If you have the $$$ to get into what would be projected at this site -- take your pick. If you are living in a less expensive model, it is available precisely because it is in Rossmoor and doesn't reflect market rates outside -- there is a lot of inventory in Rossmoor that is well below anything else you will find in WC... My sympathies on GRF.
Bruce the Bald December 16, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Hmm. Reminds me of Three Little Kittens, "... and hung them out to dry..." -- but hush, hush! I smell a rat close by." What an incredible place, what an incredible faculty, what a great educational start for our grandchildren -- who would have thought its management was so oblivious to the community it served to think that we would not step forth to serve it in return. Bah, Humbug!
WC-Independent December 16, 2011 at 10:32 PM
MF, it's not as much SMART growth anymore but 'green' growth that will reduce the acceleration of global climate change. We don't need traffic impact studies,we won't be driving cars anyway, we'll be using sustainably powered buses. Should we adhere to the general plan or prevent the destruction of this planet! What would Al Gore say? Think I can get my rocketship fired up for this one? Ok, off to my indoor tennis game at the Tice Valley facility.
brennan December 16, 2011 at 10:49 PM
Part of the JCC property was rezoned from community use to medium density luxury rental units to provide cash for a future expansion of the JCC. Closing down the JCC completely will perhaps allow even more units to be built. For a long existing organization, this sudden separation form the national organization, a quick dive into bankruptcy with no time to inform the parents or try to raise funds form the community is very bizare.
Deborah Burstyn December 17, 2011 at 01:06 AM
I am not privileged to be in the heavy duty philanthropic bracket. But I would have done without something to give something to help keep the J open. And I bet a lot of others would have, too. What is going on?
michael frederick December 17, 2011 at 11:29 AM
WCI, I honestly am having a hard time following that... In any case, let me say there is some thought and merit behind "smart growth", "sustainability", etc. -- not by the locally indifferent hired guns at City Hall that ape it, however. In their case, these are excuses used to further their natural interest -- empower themselves and advance building-out the city without study or thought. It empowers and elevates the locally challenged over all local interests, by simply shutting them out. It completely ignores the most locally impacted to focus on things like polar bears and Al Gore. Another prime example of this is the threat of reduced state funding, should WC not achieve its allotment of regional housing. Unfortunately, staff promoted unlimited growth in GP2025 that EXCEEDED ABAG projections (and any potential state requirements) by over 30%. Here again, we're looking at politically contrived BS designed to further a building agenda that serves the same building interests that buy elections in this city and the staff that runs it... What a coincidence, huh? I'm not against smart growth or sustainability -- I've actually done some. I am against using buzz phrases as a tool to curtail thought and empower those with only a mercenary's interest. When these folks say they "LOVE Walnut Creek" -- what they really mean, as with the razing of the most historic building in town, is that they LOVE razing and redeveloping it. An important distinction.
Stu Weinstein December 17, 2011 at 04:10 PM
I agree with the comments of some of the posters above that the board of the center should have "come clean" a long time ago when they realized the financial position that they were facing. In fact, the separate incorporation of an agency that was cash flow negative at the time raises questions about the former parent corporation board as well. However, the "after the fact" proclamations by some of you that you would have helped had you known the extent of the problem rings hollow to me. There were ample opportunities to assist with fundraising each and every year but I did not see a lot of names on those lists. This is what we get and deserve if we leave the funding of our important institutions to others instead of participating. Had you funded the center over the years, perhaps it would not have come to this end.
Deborah Burstyn December 17, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Well said. But there is a big difference between "give us money" and "give us money or we will have to close the facility."
Phyllis Ceaser December 19, 2011 at 02:39 AM
I understand that both the preschool enrollment and that of the respite program were way down. There is now competition for Contra Costa families who want to send their children to a Jewish preschool. I also heard that many if not the majority of children in the preschool were not from Jewish families.
Deborah Burstyn December 19, 2011 at 03:09 AM
Thank you for your comment, Phyllis. Forgot about that expanding campus over there at Temple Isiah. So that facility cannibalized the JCC. Isiah is on track to become something like the Marin Osher Center. But for seniors in Rossmoor, the JCC was a convenient easy bus ride. Lafayette is not as accessible.
Carol Olmert December 19, 2011 at 04:25 AM
Phyllis and Deborah, thanks for adding your comments. From where I sit, it just seems the JCC Board gave up the fight without trying hard enough. Did I somehow miss some red flag alerts that were sent to the local Jewish community?
michael frederick December 19, 2011 at 11:06 AM
Carol, I agree + some. JCC was a partner to not only the Jewish community but the Rossmoor community and greater WC, particularly the city. I hope they'll provide a bit more info surrounding their dramatic change of fortune. Because of its ongoing partnership with the city, the JCC received sympathetic review of its plans to transform land it purchased with park zoning -- into condominiums. Thankfully, the city stopped short of approving high density development, offensive to most, to settle on medium density. Nonetheless, we have a JCC group that, after a number of years of presumably successful operation, made a decision to go independent. The only difference being that now the group has a land asset that the city gifted to them worth ~$20 Million -- this is a very rough ball-park figure, based upon JCC's stated objective of erecting ~$35 Million of new construction with the proceeds... Despite this assistance from the city, things are suddenly hopeless??? Now, the group announces plans to sell off its land. Where are the proceeds, particularly from the city's largesse, headed? Will they stay in WC or be sent elsewhere? Does the local group's decision to go independent influence how, where, and to whom the proceeds will land? I don't have any answers, just questions. But, it reminds me of "Andronico's is coming!"... They came and went and now we're all left for the next century with the development they inspired.
Becca December 20, 2011 at 08:04 PM
We've started a facebook page for anyone who would like to leave a JCC memory/photo or read others memories. Thanks! https://www.facebook.com/CCJCCSupporters?sk=wall&filter=1
Jonathan Winchell December 28, 2011 at 09:02 PM
I want to thank everyone for their comments. As a former Board Member I knew they had financial problems but as time went on it was clear there was no programs and no sustainability for the current Preschool and the Millman Center for the elderly to even move forward. In my opinion there were no supplemental programs to keep the Preschool and the Millman Center active because of the separation that happened between the San Francisco Jewish Community Center and the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center and Rabbi Greatz was disappointed when this had happened. I know this from first hand experience. As of know I'm reaching out for people to come to B'nai Shalom and Temple Isaiah to reach out for the people that need our assistance. I have even taken upon myself to promote and work together with the different Synagogues in getting people to come in. This is how I'm opening my heart and soul to this community. I want to take this time in apologizing for the heartache that each parent is going through with the closure of the JCC.

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