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Through the Red Tape: Pico Rivera Will Open Veteran Resource Center

FIle photo.

September 27, 2022

By Brian Hews

In November 2021, after much prodding from the Pico Rivera City Council, the Los Angeles County Library and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) finally began the process of establishing a Veterans Resource Center inside the Pico Rivera library.

Veterans Resource Centers (VRC) provide critical services to Veterans and supply information about state and federal education, employment, housing, health, disability and other benefits.

Pico Rivera is home to a sizeable Veteran population, and the city was already working with local Veteran service groups to disseminate information about Veterans’ benefits, education assistance, employment resources, vocational training, rehabilitation and homeless services.

City Council and city staff were excited at the prospects of having a VRC at the library, but at the time of the collaboration, Los Angeles County had indicated no funding was available for Pico Rivera’s VRC.

A small $5,800 grant was available as partial reimbursement for staff and material costs, marketing materials, training, and other support

But as for additional funds, L.A. County Library Director Skye Patrick matter-of-factly wrote, “Grants are no longer available and state funding has ended. L.A. County Library currently has no funding support for the [Veterans Resource] Centers.”

So Pico Rivera City Manager Steve Carmona, with input from the City Council, put together a pro-forma operating budget for a city-funded VRC.

The report indicated the creation of a VRC would cost nearly $16,000 to start-up, with annual expenses just over $11,000.

The City Council approved the VRC and instructed Carmona to move forward.

It took nearly four months for L.A. County Counsel to send back a Memorandum of Understanding between the county and Pico Rivera; questionable, given that it was a very basic two-page document that did not need L.A. County Supervisor Board approval.

After Pico Rivera approved the MOU, the county sent a Veteran Services Officer to inspect the site – a site the county had recommended.

To the surprise of many, the VSO deemed it “unsuitable due to privacy concerns.” That was in April of this year; after that, the city immediately began searching for another site in the city.

City staff started by analyzing data from the Norwalk VRC to estimate the demand and usage; Norwalk has a Veteran population of approximately 2,500, which is larger than Pico Rivera’s.

The study found a monthly average of three volunteers worked 20 hours, experiencing seven “interactions” that generated 18 service hours.

City staff then considered space requirements; overriding factors were accessibility for disabled Veterans and a private area where Veterans can feel comfortable sharing potentially confidential information with staff members.

When the city looked at city-owned and privately-owned spaces, only the City’s Senior Center was fully ADA accessible, with the remaining locations being partially ADA accessible and in need of additional staffing.

At their August meeting, city staff presented the facility findings and the City Council approved the use of the Senior Center for a VRC

The city has moved quickly since that approval, collaborating with the VSO to approve, furnish, and staff the center; a soft opening is scheduled for October.

“I am very proud of the work city staff has done to achieve our goal of opening a Veterans Resource Center to provide critical needs and services for our veteran population,” said Pico Rivera Mayor Dr. Monica Sanchez. “The opening of this center, staffed with an accredited Veteran Service Officer, has been a personal goal of mine given the service and sacrifice these brave men and women undertook to ensure our country’s continued freedom and independence. I would also like to thank Councilmember Gustavo Camacho for his support, commitment, and finesse in ensuring this center had the right design and infrastructure to become a reality. His support was invaluable.”

“I am honored to have worked in tandem with Mayor Sanchez to ensure the city of Pico Rivera delivers a resource center for our veterans and their families to provide them resources and information on programs they are entitled to, including education, employment, housing, health, disability, and other benefits,” said Councilmember Gustavo Camacho. “We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice, service, and dedication to duty and country, and this is our way of saying thank you.”