Members of one of the most active senior centers in East Los Angeles were earlier this week considering going on strike because they say new policies being implemented by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation will threaten their fundraising ability.
But there seems to be some confusion over what those policies are, and who they should cover. Park officials and the office of Sup. Gloria Molina are reportedly in the process of working those details out.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Jubilados del Parque Salazar Consideran Iniciar una Huelga 
But earlier this week, Friends of Salazar Park Seniors told EGP they feel like they are being punished for demanding that park officials take action against an exercise instructor who they claim was pocketing a considerable profit from classes she teaches without giving anything back to the park.
The Zumba instructor has since entered into a special recreation contract with the park, under which she keeps 70 percent of the class fees she collects, and gives 30 percent to the park.
As the result of the dust up over the instructor and an audit earlier this year, park officials have sought to impose new, or, depending on who you talk to, enforce existing parks and recreation guidelines for holding fundraisers at park facilities.
But seniors say the so-called policies are hindering their efforts to raise funds for events like the Annual Thanksgiving lunch at the center, since they now have to turn over a portion of the proceeds to the park department’s general fund.
According to Salazar Seniors’ long-time coordinator and volunteer Chris Mojica, he started Salazar Park’s exercise program 20 years ago. At the time, it was free to all, but $1 donations were welcomed.
Mojica told EGP that his many complaints to park staff about a Zumba instructor pocketing all the money she collected were ignored for a long time, and now its the seniors being told to pay up or they will no longer be able to use park facilities for fundraisers they say benefit programs at the park.
“The rest of the seniors are being punished for your staff blunder,” he wrote in a letter to Frank Gonzalez, deputy director of the LA County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Acting Regional Parks and Recreation Director Albert Gomez told EGP the park was audited last April after someone anononimously called the county’s fraud hotline. About three weeks ago he learned that the audit showed the park was violating several department policies, he said.
Any non-profit group that fundraises at the park has to give 10 percent to the county, and some groups should have been on a special recreation contract with a 70/30 split, 30 percent of their proceeds going to the department, he said. In addition, all the groups need to have insurance.
Friends of the Salazar Park Seniors, made up seniors active at the center, would have to become a 501(c)3 non-profit in order to avoid entering a 70/30 split, Gomez told the seniors who were shocked by the news.
Getting 501(c)3 status could cost up to $1,200 and take almost a year, Gomez said.
Seniors say they shouldn’t be treated like any other group coming in off the street. They have produced an itemized list and two shoeboxes full of receipts they say shows their group has donated over $40,000 to the park in equipment and furniture. And that’s in addition to the countless hours they have donated in labor and programming, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals they put on that feed some of the area’s neediest residents.
“Everything that is here [in the conference room], was purchased by us,” said 84-year-old Gaby Salazar who has volunteered at the site for 22 years.
Raul Ornelas, also a volunteer, calculates the park has saved over a million dollars in labor through the volunteer’s participation.
The seniors, under Mojica’s leadership, have also brought programming such as aerobics for seniors, ceramics and craft classes, pool playing, musical instrument classes, English classes, bingo, trips, birthday celebrations and more.
Seniors say the new policy has thrown a wrench in their plans for the annual Thanksgiving meal that usually feeds 1,000 or more people. They are now planning to scale back their efforts and just donate turkeys with all the fixings to approximately 40 families.
Gomez says the parks department will now provide the Thanksgiving meal.
Groups have to follow the rules, he said
“His [Mojica’s] intentions are obviously noble but there are rules and regulations,” Gomez said. “I understand, they haven’t been following the policies for a number of years, but my job is to ensure they are in compliance.”
Ray Guerrero, also a volunteer and senior coordinator, says the park makes promises all the time but never follows through. “It doesn’t get done [without us], we have no support,” he said.
His claims are hard to discredit. According to Gomez, all the senior programs at the park were brought in by Mojica.
Friends of Salazar Seniors is not the only group being impacted by the change in policy. Club Victoria, which holds dance parties twice a month for seniors as well as trips and lunches, will now have to give the department 30 percent of their proceeds and get insurance.
“The irony is that some groups can make profits, others cannot… We don’t want to go somewhere else,” Guerrero said.
Mojica says giving 10 percent wouldn’t be so bad if it were going back to fund programs at Salazar Park, but the money goes to the department’s general fund, a fact confirmed by Gomez.
But according to Sup. Molina spokesperson Roxane Marquez, the seniors are co-sponsored by the park and things can continue as they have in the past. She said Gonzalez said the group doesn’t have to become a non-profit, though that would enable them to have more autonomy. She also said they would not have to pay either the 70/30 split or 10 percent of the funds they raise.
Yesterday, Gomez was still confirming that information. As of press time, it was unclear if the situation had been resolved.