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Silva Battles Against County Allocations Aiding Nonprofits

Grants: Supervisor says O.C. can't afford to help private agencies. Colleagues say it proves to be cost-effective in long run.


SANTA ANA — For the last year, Supervisor Jim Silva has waged a lonely crusade against what he considers "pork barrel" allocations by the Board of Supervisors to nonprofit community groups such as battered women's shelters, a literacy program and the Orangewood Children's Home.

The grants, more than $40,000 since July, were proposed by fellow board members seeking to give modest financial support to programs in their districts.

But Silva has consistently voted against the grants, arguing that the board should not spend precious resources on outside agencies when the bankrupt county lacks the money to fund its own needs.

"We should give priority to basic programs," Silva said. "Taxpayers money should not be given away to special interests. . . . It's pork barrel politics."

Until this week, Silva's opposition went largely unnoticed outside the Hall of Administration. At Tuesday's board meeting, however, Silva proposed that the county freeze Community Social Program Grants for the remainder of the budget year, which ends June 30.

His motion failed to garner support from any of the other four supervisors, who defended the grants as a relatively inexpensive way of supporting organizations that serve a critical function in the community.

"It's seed money that helps unique and necessary programs," said Supervisor Marian Bergeson, who last month won board approval for a $10,000 grant to the Laura's House domestic violence shelter in San Clemente. "It maximizes volunteer efforts and joint programs with the private sector."

Laura's House is the only shelter of its kind south of Irvine, and organizers said the county money made a big difference.

"It's allowed us to keep our doors open," said Helen Scott, the group's founding chairwoman. "The major portion of our funding still comes from donations, but this kind of grant helps a great deal. It validates us as an agency."

Community Social Program Grants are a form of county funding that supervisors have long used to fill needs in their districts. A total of $120,000 in grant money was available this budget year. About $75,000 remained as of Tuesday.

Besides Laura's House, the Board of Supervisors has approved grants to the Orangewood Home for abused and neglected children, the Adam Walsh Foundation for missing children, a Placentia literacy program, a Tustin education foundation and other groups.

Silva opposed the grants, but said his stance should not be viewed as a slight against the organizations.

"I favor these groups and personally support them," Silva said. "It's the principle of the matter. We need to identify what our priorities are."

At Silva's urging, the board last year gave $16,000 in social program grants to a veterans' services office that is run by the county--helping the program avoid bankruptcy-related cutbacks. He said the county has many unmet needs, including a shortage of jail beds that has forced the Sheriff's Department to release many inmates earlier than scheduled.

"It's irresponsible to give discretionary funding to organizations that have other sources of income," Silva said. "You'd have a hard time holding a fund-raiser for a jail bed."

But other supervisors and officials from nonprofit organizations said the grants go a long way toward providing educational and social services that save taxpayers money in the long run.

They contend that literacy programs and support for needy children amount to an inexpensive form of juvenile crime prevention.

"This is the ultimate form of privatization to have nonprofit groups handle these services," said Tim Shaw, head of the Orange County Homeless Issues Task Force. "There is a good point to be made that government can't do it alone. However, it is terribly shortsighted to think the government could pull out tomorrow."

Supervisor Don Saltarelli said the grants also prompt residents and businesses to give more.

"This promotes volunteerism, which is something this county desperately needs," Saltarelli said.


Getting Grants

Some of the organizations receiving Community Social Program Grants in the last few years:

* Orangewood Children's Home in Orange (abused and neglected children)

* Adam Walsh Center in Orange (missing children)

* Laura's House in San Clemente (shelter for battered women)

* Interval House based in Seal Beach (shelter for battered women)

* Boys and Girls Clubs across the county (youth services)

Source: County of Orange; Researched by SHELBY GRAD / For The Times

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