A heart once nourished - Page 7

A murder in front of children leaves Ella Hill Hutch Community Center reeling
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But it was renegade in the sense that the city neglected to supervise properly."

In November 2007, just after residents hijacked a chaotic board meeting with an extended public comment period, Frazier told the directors in closed session that the Redevelopment Agency was planning to restrict future funding for the center due to its management problems.

One month later, the mayor dispatched an aide, Dwayne Jones, along with redevelopment agency director Fred Blackwell, to a meeting at Ella Hill with an ultimatum. Jones told the assembled that new interim appointees would be taking over the center's bank books, recreating its bylaws, and electing a new board and executive director. The old board would essentially be dissolved. According to observers at the meeting, Jones told them that if they resisted the plan, funds received by Ella Hill from various city agencies would be jeopardized, as would its low-cost lease of city property.

Two defiant board members viewed the move as a "hostile takeover" of a private nonprofit organization by the mayor and voted against it, but the rest of the board agreed to the restructuring. Mirkarimi says there was simply no alternative.

"Right now it needs to be shrunk to what it can do really well, instead of doing what they had to do in the last five years, an incremental sloppy way of programming," he said.

The interim board in April named a former Ella Hill employee and Park and Rec administrator, Howard Smith — unrelated to George Smith — to be the center's new executive director. But after all the changes Ella Hill made to fix its leadership problems, there are no assurances the city won't leave Ella Hill without the money it needs to keep the doors open next year.

It's noon on a recent Friday and Ella Hill's new executive director is scrambling to keep things together. An employee wants him to glance at a form. Another man wants to come in and play basketball. Smith has a board meeting minutes from now, but he's scheduled an interview with the Guardian at the same time.

Smith's a well-built man dressed in a pressed suit, polished shoes, and a sharply-knotted tie. He'd mostly avoided our calls for weeks. Word spread in the neighborhood that the Guardian was planning some sort of hit piece on Ella Hill.

But it won't be a newspaper that capsizes the center.

A significant portion of the center's funding will be threatened over the next year. The redevelopment agency is scheduled to end its 45-year reign in the Western Addition by then, a blessing of sorts since so many people in the neighborhood feel it's done nothing but upend the lives of black residents. But the end of the agency means that redevelopment funds for Ella Hill's job placement programs, about $400,000 annually, will disappear.

In addition, about $300,000 more a year will dry up since the San Francisco Human Services Agency hasn't renewed an emergency homeless shelter contract with the center. Mirkarimi believes the mayor, too, will try to stop providing Ella Hill with funding through his community development office next year.

If Newsom does back away, Mirkarimi warns, there will be "a very loud showdown."

"What I'm worried about is that the Newsom administration is basically cutting and running on this, and I'm not going to allow that to happen, at least not without a fight," he said.

The alternative is for Rec and Park to take over managing Ella Hill's facilities with DCYF continuing to fund youth programs there while the Redevelopment Agency commits community benefits dollars from a legacy fund to the center — the least it can do after a half-century of transforming the neighborhood, locals be damned.

An interagency council made up of the center's primary funders could collectively watchdog its performance, Mirkarimi says.

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