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Transfer Riford Center to La Jolla Foundation

For months, the Friends of the Riford Center have been talking about how to renovate and expand the adult center on La Jolla Boulevard to make it a more attractive community resource.

Now they think they’ve found the answer: Have the city of San Diego deed the property to the La Jolla Community Foundation, which announced its formation last week and said that it wants to make the senior center its first beneficiary.

Built in the ‘50s as a nursing home, the single-story structure took on a new life for a while as the Oceanic Library Building when it was a social club associated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Then, in the 1960s, Florence Riford purchased it and turned it into a bridge club for her friends. Then, in the ‘70s, she established a trust “for the purpose of creating, operating and maintaining a lounge or club house” to be used by people 50 and over. The city agreed to become the trustee and the Salvation Army agreed to operate the center.

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In 1988, though, the Salvation Army decided that running a center in La Jolla was not in keeping with its mission of helping those in need.

Since then, the center has been run by nonprofits, with funds from the Riford trust. But two years ago, with the funds running out, Friends of the Riford Center was formed (with aid from local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and volunteers) to keep the facility’s mission intact.

They’re faced with several challenges: updating an old building much in need of renovation and expansion and reluctance from donors to invest in property owned by the city.

Another obstacle is that although the Riford trust requires the property be operated as a senior center, it contains a clause that, among other points, states the city can sell it if it finds the center isn’t needed or is not economical.

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Knowing that, the Friends asked the city to sell them the property, but an appraisal done with the “highest and best use” of the property as the guideline came back at $2.5 million.

The Friends board counters that the valuation is unreasonable in light of the fact that the property was given to the city with restrictions as to its use as a senior center.

They have initiated conversations with Councilwoman Sherri Lightner to transfer the property to the new community foundation so the center can expand its efforts as the number of La Jollans over 50 grows with its demand for services.

So far, the door is wide open.

John Rivera, Lightner’s communications director, said Monday, the councilwoman recognizes that “Riford Center is the only senior facility of its kind in La Jolla and provides much-needed services to our senior residents.”

He added that she “supports examining the steps that will need to be taken in order to transfer ownership of the Riford Center from the City of San Diego to the La Jolla Community Foundation.”

That’s great news and hopefully a positive sign for the future of the Riford Center. Thanks to Councilwoman Lightner for listening.

We hope Mayor Jerry Sanders and the rest of the council will be open to the idea as well.

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Stay tuned.