There will be some changes when the Long Beach Senior Center on Fourth Street reopens post-coronavirus pandemic, and some people aren't happy about that.
Most of the changes were being discussed, and some decided, before the center closed in March — along with all other public city facilities — in the face of the pandemic. The biggest change was the creation of a new technology center, according to Steve Scott. Scott stepped down Monday from his post as interim director of the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department with the arrival of Brent Dennis as the next permanent director.
There is a small computer lab on the second floor of the center now. Scott said the decision was made to create a much larger tech center on the main floor of the building due to the high need and demand for computer access and training.
But the prime location for that center was where the gift shop had been located, and that upset Donna Attwood, a frequent contributor to the consignment section of the gift. shop. In December last year, she circulated a petition at the center to fight the gift shop removal and wrote letters to newspapers and city management.
In May, after the Senior Citizen Advisory Commission had approved support for the technology center at the former gift shop location, Attwood renewed her public opposition. She said that the decision had been made without consulting the seniors, and once the plan was known, the plan remained despite opposition.
"Despite meeting with almost everyone in the management hierarchy in PR&M, and meeting with two of those in the governing hierarchy, and despite two petitions, signed by almost 195 of those who attend the senior center in opposition to the closing and/or moving of our beloved gift shop, these individuals are going to plow forward with their pet project of driving the gift shop out and forcing their technological learning center into its place," Attwood wrote in a letter.
In a later interview, Attwood said she attended both of the Advisory Commission meetings where the issue was discussed. She still called the process of making the change "surreptitious," and said her campaign is about changing the pattern of unilateral decisions as much as it is about the gift shop.
Scott said that early in the planning process, there was some talk of closing the gift shop. The idea has been dropped, and the shop will not only remain, but stay on the first floor. A separate thrift store will be moved to the second floor where the computer lab was located.
"The importance of access to technology, the digital divide, is more than ever before," Scott said. "Especially for seniors, there's a big gap. You need computers for medical issues, for Social Security, for almost everything… We needed a bigger space for tech, and this is a more secure room, with no door to the outside. With all those computers in there …"
Attwood said she and her supporters have no objection to a technology learning center, but do object to the location. She also said there has been a pattern of decision-making without talking to the end users — the seniors.
Karen Reside, secretary of the Long Beach Gray Panthers and an almost constant presence at the center when it was open, said she agreed there needs to be more surveying of seniors about the programs provided. That is about the only place she agrees with Attwood, though, Reside said.
"This issue went before the Senior Citizens Advisory Commission who represents older adults in city actions and they approved the conversion of the gift shop to the technology center," Reside said. "The prior location was not ADA accessible and was in a small, cramped space… The gift shop was not well visited and required supervision by staff because there was cash handling involved. It consumed more resources than it generated."
Scott said the city is working to have the new technology center ready to open when the Senior Center is allowed to reopen. The space can hold 24 computer stations, but that number will be considerably lower at opening due to social distancing requirements.