The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve Tuesday doubling the size of a special fund that all five members can use for projects without going through the traditional budget process.
The fund is called the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, and the supervisors all favor bumping it up from $5 million to $10 million, according to an inewsource tally of the board this month. If the increase is approved, each supervisor will have $2 million in what essentially are discretionary funds to distribute to nonprofits, cities and even county departments. Final grants must be approved by the full board.
Critics have charged in the past that the program is a publicly funded “slush fund” for supervisors’ pet projects that can be used to help win them favor with constituents and get them re-elected. When the program was created in 1998, the supervisors had $1 million apiece to spend. They doubled the money the following year to $2 million each. It was squeezed in half by a tight budget in 2010.
The supervisors say the fund allows them — the ones who know their districts best — to finance projects without having to go through the complex and potentially contentious budget process.
Some rules apply to recipients. The county bans “religious, political campaigning, or purely private purposes or activities.” Grants are also intended for “one-time community, social, environmental, educational, cultural or recreational needs,” but several organizations have received multiple grants, some more than 10 over the past 16 years. Organizations are not banned from receiving grants more than once, but the money cannot go toward a recurring expense.
In 2012, Supervisor Bill Horn was criticized for grants to Pregnancy Resource Center — a “pro-life Christian organization.” Supervisor Ron Roberts and then-Supervisor Pam Slater-Price also were scrutinized for taking international trips courtesy of organizations they supported with money from the program.
During the past 16 years, the supervisors have funded hundreds of organizations and projects with this special money. inewsource examined that spending — thousands of records — to find trends and identify grant recipients.
The records show that 12 recipients got $1 million or more in grants from supervisors since the program began. Among those are three county departments, two capital investments within the county and one county library.
That means half of the top 12 recipients of grants bestowed by the supervisors are the county itself.
Search through our database. Let us know what you find most notable.
If you and your nonprofit or county department are thinking of applying for one of the grants, here’s some advice: Your best chances of getting money appear to be with Supervisors Dave Roberts and Ron Roberts, who each year award an average of 62 and 59 grants, respectively. Dave Roberts’ grants have a median value of $20,000, and Ron Roberts’ grants have a median of $10,000.
If you’re looking for a big-ticket grant, you might want to ask Supervisor Dianne Jacob. She gives an average of 18 grants annually, with the median grant being almost $35,000.
The supervisors also differ widely on the causes they champion, with some exceptions. They all give money to the Boys & Girls clubs in their districts. Former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price was particularly generous over the years to the Boys & Girls Club of San Dieguito, giving the organization more than $600,000. Jacob also gave the Boys & Girls clubs of Ramona and East County more than $460,000 each.
With the exception of Roberts, who succeeded Slater-Price in 2012 when she didn’t seek re-election, all of the supervisors have awarded grants to YMCAs. Jacob was a big supporter of the McGrath Family YMCA. She gave $1.64 million to that branch — nearly half of the total $3.79 million she has given to YMCAs over the years.
Go to the next page or click on links below to find detailed information on each supervisor’s spending. See what their priorities are and if their fund decisions change during election years.