Who Benefits From Supervisor Grants?
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.
MORE: Search through the inewsource database of grants since 1998.
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.
MORE: Search through the inewsource 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.
District 1, Greg Cox
Supports the fund increase?
“We’re in a good budget year and can afford to restore many programs, including this one, back to funding levels cut during the recession.”
-- Supervisor Greg Cox
Supervisor Greg Cox has given to almost 400 different organizations and agencies over the past 16 years. He funds groups as diverse as Adaptive Equestrian Riding for Therapy and the Women’s History Reclamation Project Inc. One priority of his is clear: parks.
Cox has given the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation more than $2.5 million, about 10 percent of his total spending. The most recent grant was $277,000 for fiscal 2014. Four individual parks have also received more than $500,000 each from Cox since 1998.
Most proud of:
"I'm proud of all the neighborhood projects and all the nonprofit and public efforts to build strong, sustainable communities in the district I represent. I'm proud to provide grants to improve parks and trails, to purchase dental equipment for clinics treating children, to repair gyms at youth recreation clubs and to expand libraries."
— Supervisor Greg Cox
Cox took a particular interest in the Bonita-Sunnyside Library and Museum. From 1998 to 2004, Cox gave the project $2 million.
Cox has given several organizations grants more than once. I Love A Clean San Diego, for example, was on his list 10 of the past 16 years. These organizations, however, have not necessarily received the most money overall.
Cox often increases the number of organizations and departments he supports during election cycles, but the increase is not dramatic.
District 2, Dianne Jacob
Supports the fund increase?
“The County’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program has provided a means to make lasting improvements in communities and enhance the quality of life for residents. I called for scaling back the program’s funding during challenging fiscal times and, with stable growth in the County’s budget, I support restoring the funding next fiscal year.”
— Dianne Jacob
Dianne Jacob has given to about 200 different organizations during the past 16 years, particularly to parks, trails and athletic facilities. Her contributions to YMCAs standout among her colleagues: She has given four times more than the next closest supervisor. A half dozen YMCAs have benefited from her grants totaling $3.8 million. Jacob has also been generous to the Grossmont Union High School District with multiple grants amounting to $3.1 million.
Jacob gave 13 grants in fiscal 2014, the fewest of the supervisors. While she gave to some organizations in more than one year, multiple grants don’t always mean the most money. Jacob’s median award over the years is almost $35,000, but the Alpine Woman’s Club, for example, collected less than $21,000 from four grants.
Most proud of:
"I'm proud to say that District 2 Neighborhood Reinvestment Funding has built or improved almost 180 facilities, including the Lakeside baseball park, the County aquatics center in Rancho San Diego, and dozens of baseball and softball fields, soccer fields, football fields, pools and playgrounds."
— Supervisor Dianne Jacob
Jacob gave to fewer organizations during election years, except for the 2000 cycle.
District 3, Dave Roberts/Pam Slater-Price
Supports the fund increase?
“Yes. In addition, I am working on enhancements to make the program even more open and transparent to the public”
-- Supervisor Dave Roberts
Supervisor Dave Roberts, elected in 2012, was the first newcomer to the Board of Supervisors since 1995. That means Supervisor Pam Slater-Price gave the grants in District 3 during most of the program’s history. For fiscal 2014, Roberts gave 80 grants of relatively small amounts, from $10,000 to $35,000. The exception was $155,000 to the San Dieguito River Valley JPA. Over the past 16 years, Slater-Price and Roberts have given grants to almost 500 different organizations.
Most proud of:
"I am especially proud of having provided funding for the outdoor classroom project at San Dieguito Park and improvements at San Diego Botanical Gardens (Quail Gardens) in Encinitas."
— Supervisor Dave Roberts
Slater-Price, a large supporter of the arts, gave the San Diego Opera more than $2.6 million. It was the most frequent recipient of District 3 grants.
Slater-Price gave other organizations, such as Spirit of the Fourth Inc., multiple grants, but many of those didn’t make the top 10 in total amount received.
Slater-Price did not appear to change her giving priorities during election years. There was a steady increase in the number of organizations she funded from 1998 until her last few years in office, when the numbers declined.
District 4, Ron Roberts
Supervisor Ron Roberts has supported almost 450 different organizations with Neighborhood Reinvestment Program grants during the past 16 years. He says Boys & Girls Clubs had a big impact on his life at an early age, and he’s supported several of the clubs with a total of $1.2 million.
Most proud of:
"I've always had a soft spot for the Boys & Girls Clubs because of how meaningful the organization and its people were to me as a child. others that I am especially proud of to support include San Pasqual Academy for foster youth, which gives opportunity to struggling young people who were sometimes horribly deprives: the Pro Kids Golf program that primarily provides disadvantaged youth in City Heights with lessons on studying, life and golf; Serving Seniors which is an absolutely star in this expanding population; and mama's Kitchen, which came along at a time when we were far less civilized in our dealings with those with HIV/AIDS and which today continues to help those who are ill and injured and may otherwise be out of sight."
— Supervisor Ron Roberts
Top recipients of Roberts’ grants are organizations focused on physical activity, such as the George E. Barnes Youth Tennis Center and the Hickman Youth Athletic Association.
An organization that has received multiple grants from Roberts is Mama’s Kitchen, which he commended for its assistance to individuals with HIV/AIDS when few government and nonprofit services were available to them.
There is no apparent relationship between the number of organizations Roberts gives grants to and election years. In fiscal year 2013-2014, his most recent election cycle, Roberts gave to the fewest organizations since 1998-1999, the program’s first year.
District 5 , Bill Horn
Supervisor Bill Horn has awarded grants to nearly 350 different organizations. There is no clear priority in his grant giving, although Horn has favored volunteer fire departments and fire protection districts in the unincorporated areas of his district. Six of the top 10 largest recipients of Horn’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program grants are county departments and funds, including the top two.
Most proud of:
"I think all of the programs, projects and organizations I've funded are important."
— Supervisor Bill Horn
Horn also has helped finance several libraries in his district, most notably the Fallbrook Library. In addition to the almost $1 million to Friends of the Fallbrook Library, Horn gave the library itself $342,000 over three grants.
Boys & Girls Clubs are repeat grant recipients. Five of the top six most frequent recipients are clubs; four have received grants in 10 of the past 16 years.
Horn generally has increased the number of grants during election periods, with a couple of exceptions. The number of grants awarded during fiscal years 2005-2006 and 2007-2008, were the highest for Horn during the past 16 years.