A program that allows San Diego City Council members to use savings from their district office budgets for additional neighborhood projects has generated $6 million in grants since it began in 2012.
Slightly more than half of the money in what is known as the Community Projects, Programs and Services fund has gone to further support agencies within the city, and the rest has been awarded to nonprofit organizations.
Like any other government department, the City Council gets an operating budget every year. The nine district offices share that money, with each getting a little less than $1.2 million for the current fiscal year.
That money is used for the salaries of the council member and their staff, as well as supplies and technology. Any money they don’t spend during a fiscal year goes into their CPPS fund for the following year. Funds that aren’t spent by then go back to the general fund.
“It’s not a ton of money, obviously, it’s just based on your saving, so there’s going to be discrepancies between offices,” Councilman Mark Kersey said. “But it’s a nice program and it gives us an opportunity to help out some worthy groups in our districts.”
The money has been used to pay for new street lights, youth workforce training programs and to buy books at public libraries.
Between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, the nine council members have spent a combined $6 million. Finalized expenditure numbers for the current fiscal year are not available.
Top recipients include the park and recreation, transportation, stormwater and police departments. Top nonprofit recipients include the San Diego Workforce Partnership, STAR/PAL — which provides youth recreational programs run by police officers — and the Urban League of San Diego County.
District 5, where Kersey is the council member, has spent more than $1.1 million, the most in the city. District 9, currently represented by Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, was created in 2012 and didn’t have CPPS funds available until fiscal year 2014.
Kersey attributes his office’s large CPPS fund to several factors, including tight financing.
“We tend to run a pretty lean operation in terms of our office budget,” he said. “So we’re very happy to be able to invest some of that money back in our district.”
Kersey counts a $48,000 allocation in 2015 to the San Diego Police Department to purchase automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) among his proudest funding projects.
Charles Lara, acting captain of the Northeast Division, said the division now has 43 devices throughout their coverage area.
“(The defibrillators) are in every patrol car, every sergeant’s car, every lieutenant’s car and me, as the captain, I have one in my vehicle,” he said. They are also in the police department’s storefront and substation front counter.
When a person is having a heart attack, the device is used to shock the heart back into its normal beating.
“This is kind of a retirement community so there are a lot of folks who might have need of it in our community,” Lara said. “So I’m blessed to have these devices here.”
Kersey contrasted the city’s discretionary fund program with the county’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, a similar grant fund that has been twice investigated by a San Diego County Grand Jury. To start with, the funding routes are different.
“For the county it’s just part of their budget, whereas (CPPS) is based on, you know, you want to have some fund available, you have to find it out of your office budget,” he said.
He said the city, which created the CPPS fund before he was in office, learned from the mistakes at the county level. He said there are enough safeguards in place to prevent elected officials from currying favor or being personally recognized for grants of taxpayers’ money.
The fund’s rules direct recipients giving thanks in writing to name the city rather than any specific council members.
The county’s fund also includes rules banning novelty check presentations and restricting nonprofits that have received county grants from giving gifts to county supervisors.
The city of San Diego is facing a budget shortfall projected in December to be as high as $57 million for fiscal year 2018. Kersey said it’s too early to know how that will impact the city finances, but he wouldn’t rule out cuts that would impact CPPS among the cost saving measures.
“(The mayor) asked each department to kind of prepare for the worst case scenario,” he said. “I think it’s quite possible the council office budgets would fall under that same category.”
In December Mayor Kevin Faulconer directed city departments to prepare for 3.5 percent budget cuts to close the funding gap.