ENCINITAS — After hours of public testimony March 22, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to slash funds to a popular grant program. A handful of local organizations were represented among the 108 speakers who spoke in opposition to cuts in the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program.
Encinitas Chamber of Commerce CEO Marshall Weinreb said he was saddened to hear the news that the $10 million fund was cut in half. “I thought of the many of us who stood up to speak, it would have some impact on the decision,” he said. “But apparently not.”
In fact, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1, with Bill Horn opposed, to reduce the amount of grant funds available to $5 million. Supervisor Greg Cox, who proposed the reduction in funding along with Supervisor Dianne Jacob, said that the difficult economic conditions require cuts although he would rather see the program funding increased.
Each supervisor will now have $1 million instead of $2 million to award to applicants beginning July 1. The $5 million savings will go into the county’s general fund.
Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, whose district encompasses Encinitas, was criticized recently for accepting tickets to performances at the Old Globe Theatre and the San Diego Opera — two organizations that received past grants from the fund. Slater-Price apologized for the oversight in reporting the gifts and has since paid for them from her personal account.
Horn said the fallout from the controversy didn’t undermine the effectiveness of the grant program. “I make no apologies for the way we have spent the money,” he said. The supervisors were in agreement that the funds used since the inception of the program in 2003 have been critical to the success of community groups.
While some have concluded the grants are a “slush fund” for supervisors, others maintained that the funds were integral to the success of community organizations. “During these tough economic times, nonprofits that are already living on the margins were able to count on the possibility of grants from the county for important community programs and services,” Weinreb said. “The fallout (from the vote) is like an avalanche for a lot of smaller organizations.”
According to the county’s Web site, the program “provides grant funds to County departments, public agencies, and to non-profit community organizations for one-time community, social, environmental, educational, cultural or recreational needs.”
The chamber has been the recipient of several grants in the past according to county records. Weinreb said the long-running annual Oktoberfest was off-set by a grant from Slater-Price’s office. “The event brings over 30,000 people to Encinitas but it is a huge expense to put on,” he said. “The grant was the difference between losing money on the event and meeting our expenses.”
Other local organizations, including the Encinitas Historical Society, Rancho Coastal Humane Society, Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, Lux Art Institute, San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy and the Encinitas Rotary Foundation have also been recent recipients of the grant program.