Not all county grants are created equal
A meeting of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor have $15 million in discretionary funds to distribute this fiscal year. Photo by Sam Hodgson

Not all county grants are created equal

The Neighborhood Reinvestment Program (NRP), a $10 million fund the county supervisors can spend in almost any way they wish, has been one of the county’s most controversial programs. Over its 16-year history, it has been investigated by a grand jury twice, renamed, cut in half, and most recently doubled.

But the NRP isn’t the only discretionary grant program available to supervisors. And its not the only one to attract the attention of the grand jury.

The Community Enhancement Program (CEP) is similar, aimed at supporting cultural activities, tourism and economic development.  

Search our database of all CEP grants since 2002 by Supervisor or recipient

 Its money comes from the Transit Occupancy Tax — the tax people pay on hotel rooms — so the amount available to supervisors can change from year to year. Since 2002, supervisors have given more than $35 million in grants to almost 530 different organizations.

While the two programs have similarities, there are big differences.

Despite averaging about $2.5 million a year in grants since 2002, the CEP hasn’t received as much attention as the NRP. In 2011 the San Diego Grand Jury investigated both programs, but its report mentioned the NRP almost three times more.

During that investigation the NRP’s rules were changed to restrict personal gifts and name recognition to county supervisors. Supervisors aren’t allowed to accept gifts from any organization that has received NRP money, even if he or she isn’t the supervisor that awarded the grant. And if the nonprofit wants to publicly recognize the gift they can only thank the county. However, inewsource found that those rules aren’t strictly enforced. And those bans on gifts and recognition were not placed on the CEP.

The CEP also has a smaller scope than the NRP, focusing on culture and economic developments. Recipients must also show they are seeking funding apart from their county grants.

Unlike the NRP, the community grant program is limited to nonprofits and tax exempt organizations. NRP money benefits hundreds of San Diego nonprofits and cities, but an inewsource investigation found a significant amount of the grant money was going back to the county itself.

There is overlap. Six of the top 25 NRP grant recipients also received CEP grants, including the San Diego Opera and the Old Globe Theatre. Both of those organizations have received more than $2 million in NRP grants since 1998.

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2011 grand jury report

The top CEP recipients are the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau, the San Diego East Visitors Bureau and the Julian Chamber of Commerce. A total of 38 different chambers of commerce received a combined $7.3 million since 2002.

In its 2011 report, the grand jury criticized the lack of accountability attached to CEP grant money. “It is easy to see the ‘brick-and-mortar’ results of many NRP grants,” the report says. But because the outcomes of CEP grants are generally intangible and harder to measure, the grand jury questioned the value of the program.

Check out inewsource’s searchable database to see if your favorite nonprofit has received a CEP grant in the last 12 years.

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About Leonardo Castañeda:

Leonardo Castañeda
Leonardo Castañeda is a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.