Lodi City Council reviews grant requests — disappointing some nonprofit groups - News - Mobile

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Lodi City Council reviews grant requests — disappointing some nonprofit groups

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Francisco Trujillo, a representative of the Community Partnership for Families, stood before the Lodi City Council on Wednesday and pleaded for funds to provide food, health care and basic services for families on the Eastside, several of whom were seated in the audience at Carnegie Forum.

The council members said their hands were tied, because CPF didn't apply for any money.

The community group was among several nonprofit organizations who are preparing for disappointment.

A public hearing was held to review staff recommendations of city projects and new programs all competing for a piece of the Community Development Block Grant, federal money passed down for community improvements. There was no final decision by the council Wednesday on where the money would go, but several potential winners and losers were identified.

The city has $597,871 available, according to Neighborhood Services Manager Joseph Wood. About 20 percent is set aside for program administration, leaving about $478,300 to pay for projects and programs. Legally, more than half must go to city projects. The rest is doled out to nonprofit groups with new program ideas that could offer some good to the community.

For city projects, staff recommended $115,000 go to renovating sidewalks and doorways at Kofu Park, Hutchins Street Square and other locations to keep them in compliance with regulations set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. If approved, the graffiti abatement program would get $42,000, and the spay and neuter program would receive $20,000.

That leaves about $9,680 to spare. City staff thought that money could be pushed to help the community-based programs.

Councilman Bob Johnson asked why less money was going to the graffiti abatement program than last year, when it was funded at $50,000.

"Wouldn't it make sense to give them a cushion to help them keep ahead of the problem?" said Johnson.

Wood explained the service cost less than expected, and if the money isn't used for that service, it has to be moved to another project.

City staff also laid out ideas to spend the $191,319 set aside for community-based projects, plus the spare $9,680 pushed from the municipal projects.

One request was denied outright for not fitting the criteria.

C. Sandige Associates requested $175,000 to build housing units on North Sacramento Street, but city staff explained new construction projects are not allowed.

Others were on the veto list based on limited funds, or because council members said other outlets offered similar services. That includes a program to offer frozen meals to the elderly, create a Catholic-based resource center for women and children, and a tutoring program through the Salvation Army, among other ideas.

But five programs are set to be partially or fully funded if the council decides to approve them in the next month.

The Housing Authority of San Joaquin County might receive $18,000 for weatherization improvements for an apartment complex on South Washington Street.

The LOEL Center and Gardens could receive most of their requested funds for a second phase of improvement projects. Center officials hope to combine construction bids to save on costs, which could make up the difference.

Other programs included fair housing outreach work, a mobile farmers market, and Second Harvest hunger relief.

Eight people spoke during the hearing to share their concerns.

Dave Gillespie offered support for the capital improvement project to work on the LOEL Center.

Trujillo, of the Community Partnership for Families, was not pleased to hear the city wanted to spend over $60,000 on cleaning up graffiti and to spay and neuter pets. He would like the council to focus future funding on economically disadvantaged families.

"I have nothing against cats and dogs. But families come before any animals or graffiti programs," he said, speaking of some families on the Eastside struggling to make ends meet.

Several members of the same group spoke to the council in Spanish with the help of a translator.

Maria Rosas said her family doesn't have enough money to meet their basic needs like food and medical exams, and wanted the city to address that.

"Give funds for families. As taxpayers we feel we have the right to ask for funds to benefit families and help cover basic needs. We ask that families become a priority over other programs, because for us the priority is families," she said.

Maria Luisa Rafino requested funds for a breast cancer support group and youth illness prevention. She also asked the council to fix sidewalks on the Eastside and to make sure street sweepers come by.

"I pay my taxes and I deserve those services," she said.

The council had plenty to say in response, but the main question was why the Community Partnership for Families didn't apply for a grant this year.

"We applied last year and received no funds. We intended to apply this year, but decided the odds weren't good. So we are here in person to lobby," Trujillo said.

Resident Doug Chaney said the money spent on spaying and neutering pets would be put to better use fighting gangs.

"If you're worried about animals running loose and taking over the city, what about the gangbangers taking over the city?" he said.

Councilman Larry Hansen said he would be reluctant to stop covering up graffiti. When one gang sees an opposing gang sign, violence sometimes breaks out due to territorial conflicts.

"This is a program that tries to keep the lid on those territorial situations," he said.

Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce, who lives on the Eastside, defended city services to Rafino, saying the city can't fix problems it doesn't hear about.

"If we can't get the Eastside community involved in the process, it's impossible for us to solve anything by throwing money at the problems," she said. "I will die before I will let the Eastside be forgotten, and you can bank on that."

Mayor Alan Nakanishi encouraged Eastside residents to form Neighborhood Watch groups to encourage community involvement.

Wood said there was very limited response to the call for grant applications compared to five years ago, when the city first received this kind of grant money. At this point, it is time to reconsider what kinds of problems the city wants to solve with these grants. Mounce expressed concerns that all the talk of funding nonprofits is moving away from the original intent of the community development grants.

"Local government should not be in the business of allocating money to nonprofit organizations. It's the wrong pot of money to be going after," she said.

City staff will now draft the annual action plan and open a 30-day public review and comment period. The council will vote on May 1 to approve or veto the plan and its revisions.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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