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La Comida drops appeal, settles dispute with Avenidas

After mediation, two nonprofits agree senior lunch program will leave Bryant Street facility, relocate elsewhere

The nonprofits Avenidas and La Comida have reached a settlement in their dispute over dining space for seniors, a resolution that paves the way for Avenidas' proposed expansion of its Bryant Street headquarters.

The settlement was finalized Monday, less than two weeks after the two senior-focused nonprofits took their dispute to mediation and just hours before the City Council was set to take up an appeal that La Comida lunch program had filed against Avenidas' project. With the settlement in place, La Comida has agreed to drop the appeal.

The groups were at odds in recent months over Avenidas' proposed expansion, which would have reduced the dining area that La Comida uses for its programs. According to Bill Blodgett, president of La Comida's board of directors, the redesign would drop the seating capacity in the dining area from about 140 to between 78 and 90 (Avenidas maintains that the existing capacity of the room is 120). La Comida, which has been subleasing space from Avenidas since 1978, protested that the smaller space would hinder its ability to plan for the future of its dining program.

"The expense of relocation of the La Comida program is substantial, and not having a clear picture of the permanence of the move is financially and logistically impacting," the appeal letter from La Comida stated.

Since then, the groups worked with mediator Andrew Pierce to reach what both called a "mutually agreeable solution." The terms call for Avenidas to help fund La Comida's relocation to a new permanent facility that would offer more space than the Birge Clark-designed building on Bryant. Avenidas has also agreed to provide some additional senior services at the new location, as well as assist with transportation for seniors to the new facility.

Amy Andonian, president and CEO of Avenidas, said it's not yet clear where La Comida will end up and how much her organization will be providing. That will be hashed out in the months ahead, as La Comida surveys potential downtown locations. The mediation, she said, "forced us to look at all options and look at what was possible." She said her organization is "really excited to be continuing our partnership with La Comida, albeit in a new location."

"Together, we will continue to support a large number of seniors for a long time to come," Andonian said.

She also noted in a statement that given that the newly designed dining room is somewhat smaller than before, "We understand why La Comida de California decided that moving to a new location is their best option, and we want to help them find the right long-term home."

Blodgett told the Weekly that the mediation process reaffirmed the fact that the redesigned dining room at Avenidas would be a suboptimal alternative for the organization's needs.

He also said in a statement that while La Comida is "disappointed that Palo Alto seniors will no longer benefit from having their lunch program collocated with the broad range of services offered by Avenidas, we are pleased with the prospect of securing a much larger dining room to serve them at a nearby location."

Blodgett also said that whether the organization ends up, it is "dedicated to creating an inviting experience and great food for our seniors at a reasonable cost."

"The health and happiness of our clients are our first concerns," Boldgett said. "Wherever we do locate, we will provide a warm and congenial atmosphere where our seniors can meet with their friends."


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7 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 12, 2016 at 8:24 pm

To get the facts correct, the dining room at Avenidas that was built for La Comida and seats 140 (not 120) presently.The reduction in the dining room is projected to be from 78 to 90 which is potentially a 44% reduction in space. The information in the article makes it appear the reduction was as small as 25% which is incorrect.

14 people like this
Posted by Concerned seniot
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2016 at 8:56 pm

I cannot understand why Avenidas did not put La Comida in their minds why they design the new building?
Isn't it their priority to provide the best services to seniors?
The lunch program is definitely very important to seniors like me.

15 people like this
Posted by Correct?
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2016 at 10:15 am

Correct me If I am wrong...

The dining room extension was approved by the City specifically to accommodate lunches for the Seniors. The City also provided funding to build this extension. If all this is true, help me understand why is La Comida being chased away and eliminated from the equation?

17 people like this
Posted by Mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 13, 2016 at 10:20 am

With rents so exorbitantly high in downtown PA, where does La Comida think they will go? Maybe one of the churches? Too bad. It was so nice to have one place for seniors to hang out. I think Avenidas will see a big drop in patrons

7 people like this
Posted by Christopher
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 13, 2016 at 10:34 am

It just goes to show you what Avenidas considers important.

18 people like this
Posted by Avenidas Long Time Advocate
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2016 at 10:48 am

I am both stricken and deeply upset by the plan to move La Cominda to another place! I was part of a writing class for ten years at Avenidas and remember those elderly in our class as not only taking part in other classes, but one man in particular who epitomized the value of LaComida in his lonely life.
This man's only transportation was his motorized wheel chair and on Tuesdays he would come in the morning - enjoy the use of the computers in the lobby until lunch time, enjoy a warm and convivial lunch with friends and come to our class.

A venue that only serves food provides sustenance (Like Glide Memorial in SF) but no emotional support or conviviality in the setting. It will also attract street people and derelicts who granted - need help too -but remove any ambience from those desiring life connections and stimulation. It is just a terrible and demeaning idea and I am shocked!

7 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2016 at 11:13 am

Mystified is a registered user.

Please clarify what the dining room will be used for at Avenidas at lunch time? Will La Comida serve lunches at both places....why not? As a senior, I concur that separating lunch meals for seniors from other activities, will significantly reduce the usefulness of Avenidas to the senior community!

3 people like this
Posted by Anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2016 at 11:49 am

I am very disappointed that La Comida must move. And where? To the basement of some church? Sounds a bit depressing. And what about parking and transportation. Avenidas has agreed to help with transportation, but I agree with the writer who said that it was likely that the number of seniors who come to the new location will be fewer than those who come La Comida now. I could take years to recover the sense of community one feels at Avenidas.

6 people like this
Posted by Architect
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Since La Comida will be relocated, is that a game changer for the design of the Avenidas' addition? The Avenidas planning should be able to be lowered by one floor since a major program facility can be located on the first floor in the space planned for La Comida. This would certainly allow the building to have a more modest impact on the Birge Clark historic structure as well as reduce the cost of the project substantially.

10 people like this
Posted by Puzzling priorities
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Rich Palo Alto seniors want a computer space so they can learn to use their fancy gadgets for free. How do they feel about depriving poor and disabled seniors who need La Comida's food service?

The priorities of this non-profit puzzle me. I will be donating no money to Avenidas this year.

4 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 13, 2016 at 8:13 pm

I guess I don't understand what is happening here.

It appears that Avenidas is destroying a service that has been around for a long time and adds a lot to what they are offering otherwise. My guess is that many of the seniors don't really think about these two organizations as being separate.

So the question is: what is really going on here? This looks like a turf battle of some sort, with Avenidas trying to destroy a "competitor".

I am not giving any money to either organization until I figure out what it going on.

Any ideas?

4 people like this
Posted by Bambi
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 13, 2016 at 11:40 pm

Perhaps Avenidas could have relocated some of their services instead to reach more people in other parts of town.

2 people like this
Posted by Daisy
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 15, 2016 at 11:06 am

I take a class at Avenidas and am feeling sad about the loss of La Comida although I have never availed myself of their lunches as I am a vegetarian and all their main courses are meat based.

I never feel that Avenidas is busy or at capacity when I go there. I don't think it is "rich Palo Altans" as "Puzzling Priorities" suggests, that are driving the lunch program away. As I member, I was not consulted about the expansion or dismissal of La Comida. I think it must be the staff or board who want to see a larger organization.

I also will not be supporting Avenidas expansion due to their rejection of La Comida. I believe this is the service most identified with Avenidas, and is by far the strongest benefit to the community.

4 people like this
Posted by Active Member
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 11:43 am

Avenidas is becoming more and more an organization that doesn't primarily look to serve it's peoples' needs. Ever since Avenidas Village has become a part of the picture, focus seems to be heavily towards them. The Village serves a purpose for their clients but the majority of Seniors that go through Avenidas' doors do not belong to the Village. This majority attend for social connection, learning new skills and hobbies, free wellness checks and socializing over a hot meal. Those that use Avenidas were not asked what they want. That should be the beginning point to a remodle plans, asking the people what they need. A questionaire would be a good start. Any other organization who has paid membership would have done at least that.

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