Michael Yee, JACCC director of finance, gives a financial report during the JACCC annual membership meeting on Nov. 14. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)
Michael Yee, JACCC director of finance, gives a financial report during the JACCC annual membership meeting on Nov. 14. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor in Chief

New faces and new leadership, but also ongoing difficulties, were the focus of the annual membership meeting of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center on Nov. 14.

Henry Ota will become board chair, effective Jan. 1. He succeeds Sandy Sakamoto, who served as chair for the past seven years. Ota, an attorney, is a longtime board member and chair and founder of the Japan Business Team at Reed Smith LLP, one of the top 15 global law firms. He is a former chair of the Board of Trustees for the Japanese American National Museum and former chair of the Pacific Commerce Bank, and currently serves as a vice chair of the U.S-Japan Council.

“I have accepted the chair position for 2014 based on my desire to support Leslie and her team’s efforts in moving the JACCC forward and to continue laying the foundation for the future,” said Ota in a statement, referring to JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito.

“We would like to thank Sandy for her leadership, dedication and commitment to the organization during very challenging times. I am looking forward to forging a new partnership with Mr. Ota with particular focus on cultivating next generation leadership on the board of directors,” said Ito.

The six new board members are:

Kanako Yokoi Chung, compensation manager, Human Resources at Toyota Financial Services;

Glenn Inanaga, executive director of the Legal Department of Panda Restaurant Group;

Daren Mooko, associate dean of Student Development and Leadership at Pomona College;

Tony Nobuyuki, managing principal at Montana Avenue Capital, a real estate investment, management and development company;

Jan Perry, former member of the L.A. City Council and current interim general manager of the Los Angeles City Department of the Economic and Workforce Development Department;

Craig Tomiyoshi, management supervisor at IW Group, a marketing and communications firm.

Anthony Jones, who formerly worked as tour manager of the L.A. Opera, was introduced as the new director of performing arts. He said that the Aratani Theatre will be focusing on customer service in the coming year, improving the ticketing process and the website.

He also announced the return of the Live at the Aratani series, which will feature Society of Seven, Tierra and an encore performance by Hawaiian musician Willie K.

Ito said that the JACCC has taken to heart the views of the community, raised in last year’s membership meeting. Ito, who was hired in March, attended the 2012 meeting and shared what she thought were the main issues at the time.

“I observed concerns regarding treatment of staff and leadership transition, an alarm about a potential sale of the building, and an alarm about the organization’s financial status,” Ito said. “We’ve made concerted steps to ensure that our staff are valued and supported and working on bringing back the focus on mission and ultimately the passion, joy and teamwork to the JACCC.”

However, she warned that the financial situation for the organization remained dire. In 2012-2013, the JACCC reported a deficit of $1.14 million. Of that deficit, $299,000 was being written off as expenses that were incurred over the last 12 years associated with capital projects in the form of a building project that never came to fruition. They will be removed from the JACCC financial statement moving forward.

In a statement, Ito explained that the remaining $800,000 deficit was “due to having more expenses then revenue coming in, and this was exacerbated by extraneous circumstances of the year. The drastic management changes came with expenses as well as the loss of a major donor pledge.

“A new nonprofit organization was created to operate the Taiko Conference and restricted funds held at the JACCC for that project were transferred to that new organization. But for the most part, the deficit is due to spending more money than we could bring in.

“Fortunately, the JACCC has a line of credit and the ability to borrow money — however, this is by no means a long-term solution. We are currently reevaluating our business strategies in order to cover the costs of operating this large facility through both earned and contributed income and how to balance this with properly serving the community’s arts and cultural needs.”

Among the positive steps reported at the meeting was that tenant occupancy is now at 93 percent and the JACCC has implemented new problem resolution procedures in its employee manual. JACCC will also bring back the Chibi K Children’s Festival, which will be renamed Fiesta Matsuri.

Ito said that the JACCC has taken proactive measures to address its financial problems.

“The organization has cut expenses down to the bone so the only way to remedy the current financial situation is by revenue generation,” she stated. “Cash flow is a huge issue, but the plan is that if we can find approximately three more tenants for the building, have at least one rental a week in the theater, 12 more sponsors at the annual dinner, pick up approximately 10 more private grants, and increase membership and donor giving, we can get closer to a balanced budget. It is not impossible, but will take diligence, a very focused effort by myself, staff and board and the generosity of the community.”

Founded in 1971, the JACCC has been a center for multi-generational cultural and community programs for Japanese Americans in Little Tokyo. It is home to 18 civic, business, cultural and arts organizations.

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