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Laguna Beach to provide community assistance and cultural arts funding

Volunteers organize goods inside the Laguna Food Pantry for drive-up distribution on March 18, 2020.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach is providing funding to nonprofit organizations in town through its annual community assistance and cultural arts grants.

The city allocated $250,000 for community assistance grants, the applications for which were reviewed by Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen and Councilman George Weiss. From a group of 34 applicants, 28 organizations were recommended to receive financial support from the grant program.

Because the Pageant of the Masters had to be canceled in 2020, funds for the grant program were not raised through ticket sales to that event. Instead, the city is taking the money out of its general fund reserve this year.

Another $200,000 was allocated for the cultural arts funding grants, for which money is generally raised through the Laguna Beach Marketing and Tourism District. City staff said that a $60,000 deficit in funds for that program was addressed with savings from the Laguna Beach Cares grants, which were introduced in December and provided financial assistance to local businesses.

Fourteen of 16 applicants for the cultural arts funding grants will receive the financial aid after their applications were reviewed by the Arts Commission.

For the community assistance grant program, there was $5,500 left over to be distributed at the discretion of the council.

“The [Laguna] Food Pantry has been helping a lot of people in very difficult times, so if the council was interested in giving them a little more money, I would think that would be great,” Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf said in beginning the discussion.

Kempf and Weiss vouched for the Laguna Ocean Foundation, while Councilwoman Toni Iseman called on the council to provide funding for the Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Committee.

Councilman Peter Blake expressed disappointment that funds were not given to the Laguna Art Museum and funding was decreased by $5,000 for the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce compared to the previous year, while No Square Theater was slated to receive $48,000 across the two grant programs.

“We’ve injected a lot of money into the business community, necessarily we did, but we spent a lot of money through our Laguna Cares program, and prior to that, with the Promenade and the outdoor deck space,” Whalen said in explaining the reasoning for the community assistance funding recommendations.

Ultimately, Blake gave his support to the Laguna Food Pantry.

“I would like to see more money go to the Pantry, especially given a time where people are trying to feed themselves, and I really have an issue with this amount of money that’s going to No Square Theater,” Blake said. “I just can’t imagine paying their rent right now on a closed theater when people are hungry and businesses are closing.”

Weiss offered some suggestions for future applicants seeking financial aid through the program.

“Any applicant that’s working with a school should obtain a letter from Laguna Beach Unified School District or the school endorsing the applicant’s program,” Weiss said. “We had one or two of those, so we couldn’t give money because we wouldn’t know if they were authorized or they were helping anyone, other than their word.

“The applicant has to include information on why they need the funds. There were a few that didn’t have that, so we couldn’t give them any money, so we gave them zero because of that.

“I would also recommend that any applicant that has received a grant for the last year state how the funds were used, how many people benefited, and what difference that grant made in helping achieve the organization’s mission. That would be a nice read and put it into next year’s grant.”

The council decided to provide $1,000 to the HIV Advisory Committee. It increased the funding for the Laguna Food Pantry from $10,000 to $12,500 and for the Laguna Ocean Foundation from $4,000 to $6,000.

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