By Claire Harlin
A San Diego County grant program that allows each member of the Board of Supervisors to choose among grant applicants and allocate some $500,000 to nonprofits and government programs in their districts came under fire — often being referred to as a “slush fund” — during the heated District 3 election last fall. However, former Solana Beach City Counciman Dave Roberts supported the program throughout the election and, as the newly elected District 3 Supervisor, he has implemented major changes to the grant selection process in his district, as well as other sweeping changes aimed at bettering public trust through visibility and transparency.
Funded by the Transient Occupant Taxes (TOT) collected from the unincorporated areas of the county, the County Community Enhancement Program provides about $2.5 million countywide to applicants showing need in areas from the arts, to education to local economic development. The sum is divided evenly among supervisors, who have usually awarded funds at their discretion, however, Roberts has called upon representatives from the five cities in his district to get involved by appointing community members to serve on a committee that will collaborate with him on the process. He is the only supervisor to implement this method.
The Solana Beach City Council on March 13 voted unanimously to nominate resident Gerri Retman-Opper to serve on the committee (while also voting to devise a protocol for dealing with requests for mayoral appointments). Roberts said Escondido nominated Cynthia Weir to serve on the committee. The mayors of Del Mar and Encinitas, as well as four San Diego City Councilmembers representing areas in District 3, will also be making appointments, and Roberts said the committee will have seven or eight members.
“We want it to be a balanced group but we’re also trying to shoot for an odd number,” said Roberts, referring to an effort to prevent tied votes. The committee will be expected to watch the grant applicants’ presentations to the board on June 10 and 11, and on June 17 they will meet with Roberts to examine applications and make recommendations.
“When I was on the Solana Beach City Council, I used to come in with my city grant recommendations and then when we sat down as a council I got to see other points of view,” said Roberts, adding that the collaboration was not only a good influence on his decisions, but also strengthened the integrity of the council’s final decisions. “I thought this was one way we could strengthen [the Community Enhancement Program] and make it more transparent, so people can see that a lot of thought goes into it.”
The program in years past has supported such applicants as the Solana Beach Summer Concert Series, local chambers of commerce and social service groups like the Community Resource Center.
Roberts has also put forth another initiative as he hopes to make the office of the supervisor more visible and accessible in communities. Kicking off on March 15, Roberts started a satellite office that will be open at the Del Mar Community Center, located at 225 9th St., on the third Friday of every month from 3 to 5 p.m.