Area JCC members vote to dissolve oversight body

Reacting to the potential bankruptcy of their parent organization, members of three Bay Area JCCs voted overwhelmingly Monday night to disband the United Jewish Community Centers.

The financial problems of the UJCC, brought on largely by the troubled JCC of San Francisco, were jeopardizing the stability of Camp Tawonga and the JCCs of Marin and the Peninsula.

Center members and officials seemed elated after the vote of 77-2 to grant autonomy to the individual centers and camp by dissolving the organization that had governed them for 33 years.

"I think this is a new start for the center movement in the Bay Area," said Marin JCC executive director Ron Mogel, who was grinning and hugging fellow officials after the vote. "The old system wasn't working."

Despite the initial excitement, the decision actually solves few of the financial problems that plagued the UJCC — particularly the JCC of S.F.'s $1.1 million deficit. But the decision to disband pre-empted a less attractive option.

"The alternative was probably bankruptcy," said Paul Steiner, board president of the UJCC.

Under current plans, the San Francisco center will be responsible for paying off its own deficit.

This week's decision ended a process that began in March, when UJCC's board initially decided to dissolve in the face of the San Francisco center's mounting financial problems.

In June, the UJCC board formally adopted a plan to dissolve the organization and lay off its 11-person staff. But to take the final legal and financial steps necessary to break up the non-profit organization, center members needed to approve the plan as well.

The UJCC faced bankruptcy because its $1.5 million line of credit, meant only to bridge brief fluctuations in the organization's income, became the means for covering the growing deficit.

This line of credit will be depleted by the end of August and likely will need another $100,000 to $200,000 extension, said Sandy Gallanter, who has been volunteering as the UJCC's executive director since June.

Meanwhile, officials must still decide the future of the JCC of S.F.'s pool and fitness center, which closed at the end of May.

Larry Myers, new board president of the San Francisco center, said he wants to reopen the athletic facilities. But officials still need to figure out whether the center can afford to run them.

The full schedule of night classes and programming is also still on hold.

Potential solutions to the San Francisco center's deficit are already in the works, however. Gallanter said they include paying off the deficit during a fund-raising campaign to build a new center, selling off assets, or seeking a loan guaranteed by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

Monday night's vote was particularly a relief for Camp Tawonga and the JCCs of Marin and the Peninsula.

The camp and two suburban centers ended the fiscal year on June 30 without a deficit, Gallanter said. But because all three centers and the camp shared income and debt under the UJCC, the JCC of S.F.'s problems could have affected the other centers and camp as well.

"Financially, it was very scary," Mogel said.

The UJCC, which was created in 1962 to oversee the individual centers, has owned all of the property, kept track of finances, paid bills and acted as the go-between with the S.F.-Jewish Community Federation.

Monday night's meeting was the second within a week to try and put the dissolution to a membership vote. The first meeting on July 24 attracted only about 40 members. To make the vote legal, a quorum of 50 members was required to show up.

Irving Zaretsky, who heads a grassroots group of members called Friends of the JCC, voted in favor of the dissolution.

He hopes the officials and staffs of each center will listen more to the concerns of members. He believes a lack of responsiveness contributed to the problems in the first place.

"It was very clear that the arrangement as it existed up to now wasn't working," Zaretsky said.