Pasadena officials steer CDBG awards toward city’s priorities


The Pasadena City Council continued a public hearing at its meeting on May 21 to receive additional public feedback on remaining funding allocations for its Community Development Block Grant program.

The city approved all areas of CDBG funding on May 14 except for local organizations applying for non-public service allocations.

The council approved a total of $2,250,125 for the 2012-13 CDBG program activities based on the staff-recommended application. However, with the city facing a reduction in CDBG funding by more than $717,000 over the last two years, not every organization would make the cut.

Non-public service allocation selections were made by the Northwest Commission, a citizen advisory body, which recommended a total funding allocation of $298,850 that included GRID Alternatives, Pasadena Enterprise Center, IDEPSCA, and Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative.

But staff recommendations differed from that of the Northwest Commission, changing the lineup and suggesting a total allocation of $359,887, according to Pasadena Housing Director William Huang. Staff added Lake Avenue Community Foundation and Rosemary Children’s Services to their list but cut Pasadena Enterprise Center, whose application scored (based on the Request for Proposals process) the same as IDEPSCA, a street vendor program.

“A tie-breaker was given to the IDEPSCA program because of an ordinance requiring street vendors to prepare their food in a commissary (to meet public health standards),” said Huang. “So because of this, IDEPSCA became our staff’s recommendation.”

Marlon Portillo, director of IDEPSCA (Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California, which is interpreted as “Reading reality to write history”), thanked the City Council and staff for including his organization in the final approval for funding. “This is a very positive issue for us because without these funds there are many aspects of our service that we could not address,” said Portillo.

Michelle Richardson-Bailey, chair of the Northwest Commission, which has a say in economic development in Pasadena’s working class Northwest neighborhood, said she would have preferred to see each vendor receive some funding. But since that was not the case, she suggested that staff provide technical assistance to applicants who did not make it through the screening process, who were not funded, or even those organizations who use CDBG funds to remain in business from year to year.

“Such assistance would be in an effort for the vendors or businesses to develop a plan to achieve sustainable revenue,” said Richardson-Bailey.

Vice Mayor Margaret McAustin asked Huang how the city could work to help applicants learn how to be more successful in applying for grants. Huang responded that a process is already in place with the Flintridge Center providing technical assistance for all grant writing for the applicants.

“So as part of the Request For Proposal process, they were there at every mandatory bidders conference, and they offered their services to critique, to guide, and even to proofread applications even before they were submitted,” said Huang.

Huang said that staff is currently talking with them about being able to provide consulting services to assist with long-term sustainability, noting that CDBG funding levels for local organizations have been trending downward for the last 10 years. “So it really is important that we try to convey that same message that applicants need to diversify their revenues and not be only dependent upon Pasadena CDBG,” he said

Councilman Victor Gordo also suggested that the mayor and city manager should request any available county support from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich to help organizations that were rejected for funding this year, such as the Armenian Relief Society and El Centro de Accion Social, both of which provide services that extend outside the City of Pasadena.

El Centro requested $25,000 for its youth programs, and the Armenian Relief Society, which serves low-income residents, seniors and political refugees of Armenian descent, had requested the same.

These disappointments are cause for the City Council to rethink its formula for awarding grants, especially in light of having made fewer grants available to organizations this time around. The city’s reason for this was an attempt to make its grants more effective this year by awarding the full amount requested to those organizations that ranked highest among the city’s priorities.

Twenty-three eligible organizations applied for public and social services grants this year, including eight first-time applicants. However, ten groups did not receive any funding.

Cities across the San Gabriel Valley are facing tough decisions regarding which local programs to support as federal funding for community social services are being decreased by Congress. Cities are contending with 25 to 35 percent in cuts to CDBG funding that help support everything from housing programs to counseling services for those in need.

May 29, 2012

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