Proposed cafe for seniors means longtime lunch program will need new home | News | Palo Alto Online |


Proposed cafe for seniors means longtime lunch program will need new home

Palo Alto nonprofit Avenidas won't house La Comida after renovation of senior center is complete

Avenidas, the downtown Palo Alto nonprofit that provides services to seniors, plans to open a cafe in its center at 450 Bryant St. -- ending speculation that it might continue to host longtime lunch program La Comida.

In making the announcement at Monday night's City Council meeting, Amy Andonian, Avenidas' president and CEO, said the cafe will provide "low-cost, nutritious meals in small and individual seatings throughout the day," as well as social activities such as "food demos, cooking classes ... current events discussions and more."

The decision follows more than a year of episodic friction between Avenidas and La Comida that arose after it became clear an $18 million renovation of 450 Bryant, which will break ground this fall, would shrink the space currently used by the senior lunch program.

Rather than split its single lunch service into two smaller seatings, the La Comida board of directors decided last December to part ways with Avenidas and find a new location in which to feed seniors. However, in early June, the group submitted a petition to the city signed by 234 people (an additional 255 have signed an online version), calling for La Comida and Avenidas to be "permanent partners."

That, in turn, led to further mediation between the two groups, which proved fruitless.

"Avenidas proposed some options for a congregate meal program to operate out of 450 Bryant St., including a merger of the two organizations to streamline operations. No agreement was reached," Andonian told the council, reading from a statement co-signed by Board Chairman Jim Phillips.

The stalemate notwithstanding, board members of La Comida Monday night urged the council to help return the 45-year-old La Comida program to Bryant Street after the redevelopment.

"I strongly urge you to support the co-location of La Comida and Avenidas under the new remodeled arrangement. There's still time," said Jan Holiday, a La Comida board member. "If we wait until the wrecking ball starts, which will be in less than a month, there's no turning back.

"This program serves a population that would not be served by a shift in the model of how to deliver meals," Holiday said. Last year, La Comida provided 42,000 meals on a pay-as-you-can basis, with a suggested donation of $3 per person.

Some seniors, she said, come to the scheduled lunch service so that they can socialize over a meal.

"I'm not sure the same (thing) could happen under the grab-and-go casual atmosphere that's being proposed," she said.

Andonian, however, said that senior centers across the country are opening cafes, including those in Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill and San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood.

The inspiration, she said in a follow-up email to the Weekly, is Chicago's Mather's More Than a Cafe, run by Mather LifeWays, a senior residential and service organization. Such cafes, described by The New York Times as "a sleek meld of Starbucks, Bally's and Elderhostel," offer activities as well as food and are meant to attract seniors who are not inclined to frequent traditional senior centers.

Rather than see the cafe as a replacement for La Comida, Andonian said it will be complementary.

"We believe that the Avenidas cafe -- in conjunction with La Comida's congregate meal service -- will expand offerings to our growing community," she said. "More seniors throughout Palo Alto will be able to take advantage of some form of subsidized meal to improve their nutrition."

The issue was not on Monday night's agenda, so no council members could offer their comments. In a follow-up interview, however, Councilwoman Lydia Kou, who has volunteered at La Comida, called the situation "disappointing."

"I can't accept this. It's very, very logical to have the two services co-located," she said. "It's a travesty what's going on."

Kou said that the current dining hall at Bryant Street was built using funds raised by Rotary Club of Palo Alto for La Comida, and thus, in her view, the burden is on Avenidas to accommodate the meal program as it is.

La Comida has looked everywhere in downtown Palo Alto for a new home but has come up empty, Kou said.

Given the benefits that Avenidas is receiving from the city -- lease of the city-owned building for $1 a year, with 75 percent of its utilities paid for by the city -- Kou said that the council should look at the city's contract with Avenidas to see if it's providing the services expected of the nonprofit.

"The service contract is due to end at 2020. Maybe it's time to look at that," Kou said.

For the next year, La Comida will be serving meals at Stevenson House, located at 455 East Charleston Road in south Palo Alto, after which the lunch program will need to find a permanent location.

Under a settlement agreement forged in December between La Comida and Avenidas, the senior-services organization is helping to fund La Comida's relocation to Stevenson House and has pledged to help remodel the kitchen at La Comida's permanent facility, when found. Avenidas has also agreed to provide supportive services at La Comida's new location and transportation for seniors between La Comida and 450 Bryant St.

Andonian said Monday that Avenidas remains committed to the agreement.

Related content:

Behind the Headlines: Preserving La Comida


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner contributed to this report.

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34 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 16, 2017 at 5:52 pm

For some still undisclosed reason, Avenidas seems to really want to rid itself of La Comida, to the detriment of its client base. They seem to have succeeded.

This is their business and I wouldn't mind were it not for the fact that the City is providing the means to Avenidas to do this.

The City should tell these two organizations to work it out or suffer the loss of City support.

31 people like this
Posted by Not of the Elite
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 16, 2017 at 11:43 pm

Jocelyn, you forgot the $5 MILLION that the City is giving to Avenidas to expand, in addition to the subsidized rent of $1 per year and paying 75% of Avenidas' utility bill.

The expansion will not provide extra parking space, but most distressing is that the new building will not match the beautiful original historical Birge Clark building.

37 people like this
Posted by City Should Support La Comida 100%
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2017 at 6:48 am

I'm a senior and Avenidas has lost all my respect. Other seniors I know in Palo Alto feel exactly the same. La Comida is the best service for seniors in the building and when Avenidas tries to paper that over with talk of its own "cafe" as a replacement, I cringe.

Public money is supporting the rebuild. The board of Avenidas needs to get in a room, drop its arrogant we-know-better attitude, and come up with a solution that includes La Comida at its present capacity or more.

29 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2017 at 8:02 am

Marie is a registered user.

I agree with the above two posters. Avenidas should not be allowed to proceed with its remodel without providing for La Comida. The building belongs to the citizens of Palo Alto, not Avenidas. The attitude that La Comida is unimportant is part of a larger "edifice complex" that puts the desire for approbation for the institution above the basic needs that Avenidas was created to address. One more Palo Alto institution that is being "reinvented" to serve the 1% instead of the rest of us. The same thing is going on with the Children's Museum.

16 people like this
Posted by dtnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 17, 2017 at 11:25 am

I agree with all above. We need to write the city council as I am thinking no one from council reads these but they should. Why should Avenidas get so mething for free basically and they can't work with La Comida. This is a great option for our seniors. I have think we should have one in south Palo Alto and North.

6 people like this
Posted by Vicky
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2017 at 3:25 pm

I hope the renovation would deserve the historical status of the original Birge Clark

15 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 17, 2017 at 3:48 pm

LaComida is a vital service to the community. For many seniors, lunch is their main meal of the day. $3 is what they can afford.
I really question why Avenidas collects millions of city dollars, yet doesn't want to represent those of whom have a real need for their services. Be there for the grace of God....

18 people like this
Posted by Avenidas Country Club
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 17, 2017 at 4:32 pm

"Such cafes, described by The New York Times as "a sleek meld of Starbucks, Bally's and Elderhostel," offer activities as well as food and are meant to attract seniors who are not inclined to frequent traditional senior centers."

Does this mean Avenidas is moving toward serving seniors who want exclusivity? A place that is sleek like a country club setting. I wonder how they'd feel if a homeless person comes in for a meal.

The article says the Rotary Club fundraised and provided the funding for the construction of the dining room specifically for La Comida. So, it actually belongs to La Comida. The City should amend its lease with Avenidas and lease directly to La Comida the dining room and the kitchen.

18 people like this
Posted by Anti-Avenidas
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 17, 2017 at 4:36 pm

I totally agree with the above posters - Avenidas has lost its way and the city should pull support and ask them to leave the building.

They should not be able to add a huge monstrous addition to a beautiful historical building.

The city should stop subsidizing their rent and utilities.

The city should give them no money for the addition.

Avenidas should leave or let the meal program continue.

The Avenidas people care only about themselves and not about those they serve. They want bigger offices and storage spaces to the detriment of the look of the building and the people they serve.

Shame on them and shame on the city for allowing this.

6 people like this
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 17, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Hi @Not of the elite.

Yes, true. The city is contributing $5M to the project, a clear benefit to Avenidas.

Including that funding in with the lease and utilities arrangement is a bit "apples and oranges," though. The city owns the building and would be expected to fund a project that involves a seismic retrofit. The rest of the $18M is being raised by Avenidas.

6 people like this
Posted by AnotherSenior
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2017 at 8:16 pm

To the above,
So, get your butts down to the next City Council meeting and Speak UP!

2 people like this
Posted by Art
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 17, 2017 at 9:45 pm

La Comida made a big mistake by forcing Avenidas to have a one serving lunch program in the updated facility. Instead of 140, the new Avenidas facility could house between 78 and 90, and so two servings for lunch would be required. The justification from La Comida was to enable seniors to socialize. Come on Comida - How many seniors socialize with 140 people? Having two servings would have been fine for almost everyone. But by sticking to their absolutist demand, La Comida has torpedoed the La Comida at Avenidas lunches.

7 people like this
Posted by Discrimination
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 18, 2017 at 1:39 am

@Art - you are right, La Comida made a drastic mistake by their initial refusal for the lower dining room seating offered by Avenidas due to their expansion. Obviously, you have no idea the amount of work that goes into re-setting and that all depends on the number of volunteers that show up. Also, I don't think you realize how many faith-based organizations discriminates against the "perceived" homeless and if the faith-based organizations are discriminating, how much more luck do you think La Comida has with the non faith-based.

Nutrition is important. Eating a balanced diet is vital for good health and well-being. Food provides our bodies with the energy, protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals to live, grow and function properly. We need a wide variety of different foods to provide the right amounts of nutrients for good health. This does not come cheaply, La Comida provides it at $3 a meal (it consists of a salad, an entree with 2 sides, dessert and coffee/tea) and only if they can pay it but they are still fed. The "cafe" Avenidas is proposing cannot offer the 140-160 La Comida lunch patron discounted prices for meals. Avenidas wants to offer cooking classes, only the elite seniors will be able to take these classes.

@Avenidas Country Club has a point, Avenidas is pushing for an elite senior group. I see the "perceived" homeless/low income persons not welcomed into Avenidas. I also see an Avenidas employee who is derogatory to the "perceived" homeless and discriminatory just because their behavior is not customary to America's social standards. I see how Avenidas employees treat the Chinese and it is clear the Chinese are not welcomed.

Avenidas' Board of Directors are a sophisticated bunch and has a Council liaison. Based on the outcomes of La Comida's position today not having a permanent location to operate, it is pretty obvious La Comida's Board of Directors are not as sophisticated but they are the caring people and have not bias not to they discriminate.

The City can change this by stepping in and putting a HOLD on the expansion plan until La Comida's location within the 450 Bryant is secured. 450 Bryant does not belong to Avenidas. Remember that.

[Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Sharon
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 18, 2017 at 8:22 am

Another valuable community resource lost due to elitism.

Like this comment
Posted by joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2017 at 2:56 pm

La Comida made their decision to leave last year.
What sense does it make to relitigate this issue again?
Let's move forward. The city is getting a good deal by providing very limited support to Avenidas and La Comida. If the city feels La Comida is valuable apart from Avenidas, let't see the residents and city donate to them.

All these people show an outpouring of support for La Comida, but do they back this up with money? A lot of talk but NO money.

1 person likes this
Posted by Art
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2017 at 1:26 pm

How about locating Comida in the new Public Safety building? AVenidas near University Ave is NOT centrally located for MOST senior residents of Palo Alto. Traffic and congestion are also barriers.
The description of the new Public Safety buildings says: "Concepts for the commercial space frontage along Birch Street could provide 4,700 square feet of leasable retail space." Ideal!! Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by reply tp robert smith
a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 21, 2017 at 1:24 pm

The reason Avenidas want to get rid of La Comida is that they do not want to serve the lower income citizens of the community. Avenidas is charged with being the senior center for the entire city of Palo Alto but it see itself as a country club.It is as simple as that.The board of Avenidas is out of touch with anything beyond their social circle. Avenidas is a ghost-town in the afternoons once the lunch program finishes each day.

4 people like this
Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

I appreciate all the comments here.

Housing our two primary senior programs at the city-owned building on Bryant St makes sense. I think Robert Smith hit it on the head when he said the City should have the two organizations work it out. Its not reasonable to expect a separate location for our primary nutrition program for seniors.

The points about city support of Avenidas through the building lease, operational costs, and money for capital improvements are well taken. I support the city revisiting those decisions if necessary to get both organizations back into a single long term location. La Comida can accommodate a portion of dinner using a Cafe model alongside its communal meals. I hope the boards of both organizations will remain open to a solution houses La Comida at Bryant St.

3 people like this
Posted by Mr Ed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Whoa what a mess! Folks it's more than obvious that Avenidas is in bed with he city of PA...please! How crazy is this! The city forks over cash and yet has a homeless issue so bad they have to mop up the post office every morning from all the unite stains. Anyway, La Comida should be allowed to stay at their location as they are now...if not then no deal for Avenidas ....but's thats not going to happen. La Comida approach to this was a little soft and Avenidas just took advantage of this. And this new structure? Looks like a nightmare and has zero charm (which this town lost years ago anyway). Folks the almighty dollar wins again!!

1 person likes this
Posted by Avenidas
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 6, 2017 at 9:07 pm

Soon, Avenidas will break ground on an 18 million dollar project to expand the only senior center in Palo Alto. It is questionable as to the ultimate benifit of this project. This building serves more of the egos the the people developing it than it does the seniors in our community. Someone should look into how this nonprofit actually spends the all of the funding the city of Palo Alto gives to it. The monies might be better spent elsewhere on additional senior services in a town with a growing senior population.

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