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Groups Selected for Child-Development Funds

Tobacco: Commission earmarks $650,000 in Proposition 10 cigarette tax revenues. Critics allege some of the panelists are too close to program recipients.


After enduring months of criticism for moving too slowly, the county commission charged with distributing $11.7 million a year in cigarette tax revenues to help Ventura County children has chosen its first recipients. They range from established nonprofit programs to small day-care centers.

The 25 grants made Thursday total $650,000. They include $6,300 for a program to give Ojai preschoolers play time with nursing home residents. Another is for $88,093 to Easter Seals Tri-Counties for a playground for disabled children in Ventura and for subsidized child care for low-income families.

"This is really the beginning of the implementation of our strategic plan," said Claudia Harrison, executive director of the Children and Families First Commission, which sifted more than 70 applications. "We're really excited."

The commission will seek applications for more of the funds starting next week.

Harrison said the commission sought to reward innovative proposals by funding under-the-radar services such as backyard day-care centers and language programs. The grants, designed to support services for children under 5, are financed by the 1998 voter-approved Proposition 10, an initiative that levied a 50-cent-per-pack tax for child development programs.

Thursday's distribution came amid concern about what critics view as close relationships among the nine commission members and the fact that many of the members are involved in local child development groups. Several of the grants went to organizations whose leaders are also members of the Children and Families First Commission.


Commission members--including Julie Irving, executive director of Child Development Resources; Chuck Watson, president of Interface Children Family Services, and Dr. Robert Levin, the county's public health officer--abstained on votes benefiting their organizations.

"In any other organization, that would be a definite conflict of interest. If [a commissioner] doesn't vote, and the rest say 'We'll give him this money,' he doesn't really have to," taxpayer advocate Jere Robings said. "But, that's Interface's job. That's what they do."

Robings said the commissioners reason that it's better to give the money to Interface, for instance, than an organization with no track record.

Irving said she had no involvement in her organization's applications, one of which was rejected. The nearly $30,000 for her organization will purchase equipment for home child-care providers who agree to complete her child-care training program. One outspoken critic of the commission, Supervisor John Flynn, said from Washington, D.C. that he would "be critical of any money out there just to study ideas."

The programs selected are scattered throughout the county. Applicants were asked either to have an innovative idea or to reduce barriers to learning for children under 5. They were rated by an independent group of 25 reviewers from outside the county before the final approval from the commission.

Recipients were buoyed by news of their windfalls. A nearly $30,000 grant will allow Interface to institute a "warm line" on which parents can call in with nonemergency questions. Lucinda Connelly, Interface director of community development, said without the grant "we wouldn't have been able to have the kind of phone lines coming in we need."

"This will be a fabulous opportunity for parents of children with disabilities," said Janice Rossi, director of development at Easter Seals Tri-Counties. The funds will provide the group with new playground equipment and help in covering day care costs. "Now, we can help subsidize low-income families," Rossi said.


The next application cycle will involve disbursement of $6.5 million for organizations providing preschool education. Using a formula based on population and need the commission divided the county into seven funding districts, ranging from $230,000 in the Ojai Valley area to $2.5 million in Oxnard, El Rio and Port Hueneme.

The commission will host a conference on Monday at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center to teach community groups how the funding process works and how to apply.

County supervisor and commission chairwoman Kathy Long said commissioners will put a premium on creativity. The panel wants applications from groups that might not normally think of such funding, even neighborhood organizations, she said.

In October, Harrison said, the commission will invite applications for $3.2 million for physical and mental health programs as well as family support programs.

The commission also plans to spend about $1.1 million for a "center for excellence" to evaluate programs funded by Proposition 10.

For information on the commission's conference on Monday in Oxnard, call (805) 677-5553. The fee is $15.


Grants Distributed by Children

and Families First Commission*

Child Development Resources of Ventura County Inc. $29,550

Child Development Services, Simi Valley Hospital $74,453

Easter Seals Tri-Counties $88,093

Family Connection Child Care Center, Simi Valley $30,000

Free Clinic, Simi Valley $6,775

Holy Cross Preschool, Ojai $6,300

Linda's Loving Day Care, Simi Valley $8,692

Ojai Unified School District $28,687

Ojai Valley Early Childhood Collaborative $40,056

Probst Family Daycare $5,000

Infants & Children Dental Coalition of Ventura County $75,394

Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence $50,076

Ventura County Breastfeeding Coalition $37,000

Ventura County Library $12,600

Ventura County Public Health Department $65,985

Ventura County Supt. of Schools Office $35,224

Ventura Unified School District $30,000

Interface Children Family $29,553

*Some agencies received more than one grant.

Source: Children and Families First Commission of Ventura County

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