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Ventura County

Foundation Ponders Seed Money for the Great Outdoors

Fund: Community group may ask donors for $500,000 to set up support system for county environmental programs and activities.

April 14, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After setting up special accounts to assist women and Latinos, Ventura County's largest charitable foundation may now create a broad new fund to support outdoor activities and restoration of natural habitats.

Over the next two months, the Ventura County Community Foundation will reach out to 16 potential donors and recipients to ask what they think of creating a "Great Outdoors Fund."

Foundation directors are expected to decide in June whether to gather $500,000 to assist programs that celebrate the environment and allow the public to enjoy it. The new fund, for example, could help maintain hiking and biking trails, replant natural vegetation or underwrite grant applications by other nonprofit groups.

"A lot of people have said this seems like a natural," foundation Executive Director Kate McLean said. "This might be one vehicle all people can agree is good."

The Great Outdoors Fund would be the largest of more than 300 funds the nonprofit Community Foundation has started since it was created in 1988.

The other special funds already in existence--Women's Legacy, Hispanic Legacy and the Heritage Fund--provide seed money to community groups that help needy women, promote Latino programs and preserve Ventura County's history and artifacts.

The Community Foundation has grown rapidly and now has $34 million in assets.

The women's fund has grown to $500,000 and the Hispanic fund to $400,000. About 5% of the endowments is spun off each year for projects, but donations exceed expenditures and the funds continue to grow.

"When we did Destino [the Hispanic fund] and [women's] legacy, people said, 'It's a good idea, but I don't think you can do it,'" McLean said.

"But we did. And I immediately thought this outdoors fund was a good idea. This could be a fund that brings everybody together who wants to make an investment in the quality of life in our community."

McLean said the outdoors fund was the idea of foundation director Dave O. White, an Oxnard developer and avid outdoorsman.

White said the fund would support any organization in the business of acquiring and enhancing open space.

"But first we want to make sure there's a feeling by both environmentalists and potential donors that this makes sense and that there's financial support to make it happen," he said.

White thinks there is. He was joined on the foundation's exploratory committee by another developer, Dan Selleck of Thousand Oaks.

The committee represents a broad spectrum of the county--farmers, builders and environmentalists, McLean said. And the fund would be apolitical.

"This isn't meant to be a political action committee," said committee member Carl Thelander, an Ojai consultant and author of a 1996 book on California's endangered species.

Thelander works for free for the nonprofit Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. And he said he sees a need for "bridge funds" to provide such groups with money for studies of how to improve or expand the county's public open space.

"Ventura County is kind of the frontier," he said. "It's on the edge of development and the undeveloped areas to the north. So it has a unique opportunity to decide what areas it wants to set aside as open space."

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