As expected, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to double its discretionary fund to $10 million.
The increase still needs another approval by the board on Aug. 5, when the supervisors vote on the final budget. Action Tuesday almost guarantees the increase in the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program for coming years.
Supervisor Dave Roberts, who has led the efforts to double each supervisor’s discretionary fund from $1 million to $2 million annually, said the money makes a big difference to recipients.
“I have been very comfortable with this program, and I have seen first hand the specific success that this funding has made to the quality of life, not only of the residents of the third district but to all San Diego County,” Roberts told the Board.
Roberts, who replaced retired Supervisor Pam Slater-Price in 2013, also addressed critics of the fund who have called for greater transparency. A group of local organizations, such as the ACLU, the Center on Policy Initiatives and local labor groups, sent a letter to the board last week, urging the supervisors to delay action until a community review of the process could be done.
“The Grand Jury commended the county on the program and has proposed some enhancements that could be made, many that have already been made,” Roberts said. “But I always believe that we can do better and we should see if there are other things that we can do.”
Roberts was referencing a report issued by the San Diego County Grand Jury in 2011 following a second investigation into the reinvestment program. The jury members first investigated the program in 2004-05. Some of the changes the county made “with encouragement from the Grand Jury” included changing the name from the original Community Projects Fund.
The report commended the county for improving quality of life in the county, but also recommended steps to make the process more transparent.
These recommendations, especially those aimed at exposing political connections between supervisors and recipients, have been at the heart of critics’ concerns over the doubling of the program.
ACLU’s Policy Director Margaret Dooley-Sammuli said the community organizations were disappointed “to see this program being doubled without the protections that were recommended in the 2011 Grand Jury report,” but they are happy that Roberts is taking steps to implement stronger safeguards.
“We want, as the Grand Jury recommends, that the applications to receive funding from this program include questions about donations made in the past years to supervisor campaigns, at least from the officers and the board members of these applicant organizations,” Dooley-Sammuli said.
The coalition of groups will continue monitoring the situation, she said, in particular, changes to the application process first recommended in the Grand Jury report.