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Council readies to split $7 million among nonprofits

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Saturday April 28, 2001

The City Council heard from 45 speakers Thursday prior to awarding more than $7 million in grants to nonprofit organizations that provide housing, homeless and health services. 

The hearing was held at the North Berkeley Senior Center, and the council is scheduled to vote on grant funding for the 115 applicants at its May 8 meeting. 

The city received the grant applications months ago and the process of evaluating them began in November. Three city commissions, several city agencies and the City Council have been involved in the evaluation process. The three commissions are the Housing Advisory Commission, the Homeless Commission and the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission. 

The City Manager’s Office and the three commissions sent recommendations to the council outlining the agencies they thought were worthy of grants and the amounts they should get.  

The council will review the recommendations, consider the public comments they heard Thursday night and likely make some adjustments before approving the grant funds. 

The grants come from a variety of federal and local funding sources including the $4.3 million in federal money from the Community Block Development Grant program and $2.4 million from the city’s general fund. The city will distribute nearly $500,000 more than it did last year.  

There are many worthwhile nonprofits in Berkeley and deciding which ones to fund can be a tough task, said Interim Director of Housing Stephen Barton.  

“We fund a lot of excellent services in Berkeley but there are always more excellent services that don’t get funding because there simply isn’t enough money,” he said. 

Many of the speakers at the hearing were representatives from the nonprofits who were there to thank the council and the commissions for recommending grants. They also took the opportunity to remind the council one more time the community value the grant funding would provide. 

Center for Independent Living Executive Director Jan Garret thanked the council for past grants and briefly outlined some projects CIL will pursue if it gets the $204,800 it requested. About $143,000 would go to building residential wheelchair access, $28,400 would go blind services and another $33,700 would be spent on staffing.  

Father Rigobinto Caloca Rivaro of the Multicultural Institute brought along several children who participate in the institute’s after-school program called Mas. Each of them addressed the council with speeches they had written themselves. One student named Miya told the council that if there were more programs like Mas, there would be fewer social ills.  

“I think there has been too much focus on building jails and if there were more programs like Mas, we wouldn’t need jails, because there would be a familiar place where people could go after school and get help with their homework,” she said. 

Some of the public speakers expressed frustration at not receiving any funding at all. The coordinator of the Family Resource Center told the council that the center will fold if it’s not given any seed money. 

According to John Martin, Jr., FRC coordinator, the center applied for $48,500 to help pay therapists who counsel Berkeley Unified School District students in crisis. Martin said the center helped 84 children who needed guidance because one or both of their parents had been jailed or were fighting a drug problem.  

“These kids are sometimes suffering from severe depression or they’re acting out in class,” Martin said. 

He added that the center has been evaluated by the Zelerbach Foundation and has been the focus of a study by UC Berkeley graduate students in Social Welfare. Both found that the center has made a positive difference in its clients’ lives. 

“The irony is that this is a state of the art family center in the middle of the poorest census tract in Berkeley and the city is going to turn us down for funding after it pitched in to help build it,” Martin said. 

Martin said the funding process is too weighted to nonprofits which have received money in the past.  

The application of Jubilee Restoration, a nonprofit housing developer, was one of the few to bring out disagreements between the Housing Advisory Commission and City Manager Weldon Rucker. 

Jubilee requested a grant of $100,800. The HAC reviewed the request and recommended $32,100, saying that Jubilee has had administrative problems. The City Manager doubled HAC’s recommendation for the same reasons. 

“Jubilee has shown some weaknesses but they’ve also showed some strengths,” Rucker told the council. “I don’t know of any new nonprofit developer that didn’t have problems and the extra money will help them straighten things out.”