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Latinos Seek Funding Parity After Black Group Gets City Grant : Social services: The City Council's approval of $250,000 for a church-run program raises questions about fairness in treatment of ethnic groups.

August 08, 1993|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — The City Council's quiet approval of a $250,000 grant for a group of churches to run a community services program has touched a nerve in Pasadena's Latino community.

Although critics of the action all take great pains to downplay the "black versus brown" aspect of the controversy, some say the grant to a consortium of 10 black churches raises questions about funding parity among ethnic groups.

"At some point in time we're going to have to be recognized as being part of this community," said Porfirio Frausto, a member of the city's Affirmative Action Commission.

Although Latinos are, according to the 1990 Census, 27.3% of the city's population and blacks are 17.8%, council critics contend that black-sponsored programs are more likely to be funded.

The council approved funding last week for United Churches for Empowered Communities to run a program of tutoring, scouting, homeless shelter, help for senior citizens and other services for low-income and moderate-income residents of northwest Pasadena.

The churches had applied in May for funds from the federal Community Development Block Grant program, which dates back to the Nixon Administration. The monies are dispensed to cities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to aid community development.

But like 35 of the 59 block grant applicants, the church group's proposal was rejected. It was too large a program, city officials said, and it was lacking in specifics.

But with the sponsorship of Councilman Isaac Richard and support from Mayor Rick Cole, the program was resurrected last month. The council voted July 28 to give the church group $250,000 from the city's general fund. The money will be administered by Foothill Area Community Services, a social service agency in northwest Pasadena.

Representatives of block grant-funded programs, many of whom endured cutbacks this year, demanded to know what process had been followed in selecting one program for such largess.

"In terms of fairness, it (the council action) raises serious questions," Nina Aguayo-Sorkin, administrator of the Pasadena Mental Health Assn., told the council.

"The real process, ma'am," said Richard, "is power."

Churches with predominantly white congregations had, in the past, counted on sympathetic council members to deliver funding for their social service projects, said Richard, who is black. Now, he was ensuring that his own constituents in the predominantly minority northwest receive special consideration, he said.

"Rather than decrying the example of a group that worked really hard to get these dollars," Richard told Latino activists, "you should copy their example. Join with them in finding other resources for your programs."

City officials say there is no way to distinguish between "black" and "brown" dollars going for community-based programs.

The city has dished out $517,000 to nonprofit community programs this year, most of it from federal sources such as the block grant funding. All of the programs serve the ethnically diverse northwest neighborhood, city officials said.

Even community service agencies that have been traditionally associated with the black community, such as the Los Angeles Urban League, have diverse boards of directors that include Latinos, said Prentice Deadrick, the city's Director of Northwest Programs.

"The assumption that, because a program is directed by an Afro-American, it's an Afro-American program is a big mistake," Deadrick said.

Several Latino activists said that more funds should be directed to El Centro de Accion Social, a 25-year-old social service program for the city's low-income Latino population.

"Every dollar spent by the Latino community generates taxes in one way or another," said Joe Morales, an attorney and unsuccessful council candidate this year. "But services aren't being returned commensurate with their impact."

Morales said that, to ensure parity, Accion's budget, presently about $180,000 a year, should be increased to $500,000.

But Lydia Fernandez-Palmer, executive director of Accion, said that directors of the program were not interested in drastic expansion. Fernandez-Palmer said she preferred to serve as an advocate for the Latino poor in generating social services from established agencies.

"There are quite a number of agencies in Pasadena," she said. "If they're receiving government funds, it's their responsibility to provide services for Latinos. It's no excuse to say, 'We don't have bilingual personnel.' "

Richard charged that the controversy has been fomented by city staff members. "When white people get the money, there's no quarrel," he said. "If we (blacks) get a pathetic quarter of a million dollars, it's a big issue."

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