LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — The City Council has taken the unusual step of voting to return more than $500,000 in block-grant funds to the federal government because the city could not find a way to use the money.
Officials of this well-to-do city said they were unable to find low- and moderate-income neighborhoods that could benefit from about $575,000 in federal Community Development block-grant funds accumulated over six years. So the council unanimously decided to tell the federal government thanks, but no thanks.
"We have spent time and money trying to find a need, and we could not find a need," said Councilman O. Warren Hillgren, who first suggested returning the money. "Why waste any more time?"
La Canada Flintridge's action Sept. 3 is not unprecedented, but it does represent the largest amount of money to be returned by a city in Los Angeles County, said Marco Garcia, a county block-grant administrator. Other cities that have returned their federal block-grant funds include Rolling Hills, Rancho Palos Verdes and Cerritos.
Money Stays in County
The returned money will remain in the county's account and will be used on suitable county projects or those of other cities, Garcia said. "It's unfortunate they couldn't come up with a project," Garcia said of La Canada Flintridge, "but I'm sure we'll find a use for it."
The city spent about $66,000 trying to come up with a suitable way to spend the money, Garcia said.
Under federal Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations, the money could be used only on projects that benefit people earning less than 80% of the median income in the area, that aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blighted neighborhoods or that take care of an urgent need, such as disaster relief.
"The nature of our community does not lend itself particularly to the use of federal dollars," Mayor Barbara Pieper said, referring to demographics of a city where the average home is valued at $250,000 and the median income of $40,687 is twice that of the average family of four in Los Angeles County.
The city had considered using the money to renovate the historic Lanterman estate on Encinas Drive as a senior center, a project that federal officials had said probably would qualify. But there really was no demand in the community for a senior center, said Bill Campbell, assistant city manager and director of community development.
Time Running Out on Grant
And there were other problems with converting the Lanterman home. The city has only a half-interest in the $1.2-million estate and will not inherit the other half until the death of 88-year-old Lloyd Lanterman, the last remaining member of the city's founding family.
With tougher federal regulations, requiring the return of unspent money, expected to go into effect this fall, La Canada Flintridge did not have much time to spend its money. The city probably will drop out of the block-grant program, Campbell said.
The city earlier rejected a proposal by the county to loan its federal money to the city of San Gabriel, which is short of funds to build a $1.2-million senior center. That proposal got a cool reception because the La Canada Flintridge City Council was worried about the possibility of not being paid back if federal funds were cut or if San Gabriel dropped out of the program.
'Courage Not to Invent Sham'
Neither was the council willing to continue trying to think up ways to use the money in La Canada Flintridge.
"We ought to have the courage and conviction and not try to invent a sham to spend the money," Hillgren said before the Sept. 3 vote. Other council members expressed similar sentiments.
So that its "courage and conviction" does not go unnoticed by federal officials, the council also decided to invite aides of area congressmen to the next council meeting Monday, when it is scheduled to adopt a resolution declaring the return of the block-grant money.
In less dramatic action at the Sept. 3 meeting, the council approved an ordinance that restricts the installation of satellite dish antennas. The ordinance comes in response to complaints that the large, bowl-shaped receivers are proliferating in the city and are unsightly, particularly when installed in front yards.
Before approving the proposed ordinance sent by the city Planning Commission, the council made it somewhat less restrictive.
It eliminated a proposed ban on roof mounting, as long as such installations conform to other guidelines in the ordinance that require the satellite dishes to be screened as much as possible from view.
Items in Ordinance
The ordinance, which requires final approval, would limit the number of antennas per dwelling to one, prohibit installation in front or side yards, regulate the type and color of antennas and require the approval of the Architectural Review Committee and the Planning Commission before a $45 building permit can be issued.