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City, school district agree on gift, split on who to thank

City and school officials in Costa Mesa certainly agree on the merits of a $100,000 grant for athletic facilities at two local high schools.

They just can’t quite agree on the delivery method — even after the money’s supposedly arrived.

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The grant originated with the city of Costa Mesa, but the city and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District disagree on where it went from there.

City officials insist the money is distributed through a youth sports nonprofit, Costa Mesa United.

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But school district officials insist the money is given directly from the city to the schools — without an intermediary.

The school board must vote to accept any donation to the district, and at Tuesday’s meeting, trustees unanimously approved accepting the donation from the city of Costa Mesa.

Now, school district officials are unsure whether trustees will have to vote again to accept this particular grant.

“If the check comes in purely from Costa Mesa United and not from the city of Costa Mesa, I suppose I have to get a legal opinion,” Deputy Supt. Paul Reed said.

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The $100,000 check is the first of five annual grants the city plans to give for capital improvement like soccer goals or a batting cage at Estancia or Costa Mesa high schools.

To qualify for Costa Mesa’s money, the projects must benefit public sports programs, in addition to the schools, according to a City Council resolution.

Costa Mesa United initiated the program when its members approached the city with the idea, Councilman and Costa Mesa United Board Member Steve Mensinger said.

“It’s really a partnership between three groups,” he said.

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But nobody communicated that point to school officials, Reed said.

Grant applications the school board approved were between the school district and the city with no mention of Costa Mesa United.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s an agreement between the two public entities,” Reed said.

Costa Mesa United worked with the two high schools and their principals to come up with the right projects, Mensinger said.

The non-profit advised the city on what to approve based on the public benefit criteria, city spokesman Bill Lobdell said.

“I do know that the city’s always felt that Costa Mesa United is in the trenches doing this work day in and day out,” he said. “And it makes sense to have them help in this respect.”

Ultimately though, City CEO Tom Hatch bears responsibility to sign off on projects, according to grant documents and Lobdell.

But the actual check to the school district comes from Costa Mesa United, Lobdell said.

Four council members — Mensinger recused himself because of his relationship with Mesa United — voted to give the $100,000 to Costa Mesa United in February with the requirement that they split it evenly between Estancia and Mesa for appropriate athletics improvements.

Estancia and Mesa applied for $96,000 out of that money.

“Why are we creating an extra layer of bureaucracy?” school board member and former Councilwoman Katrina Foley asked Friday about the nonprofit’s involvement.

“I’m not sure why we need to bring in a third party,” she added.

Also a former Costa Mesa United board member, she asked before the school board’s vote Tuesday if the nonprofit was disbursing the grant.

Reed assured her the money would come directly from the city. Any work with Costa Mesa United was purely on Costa Mesa’s end, he said.

After the confusion arose two days later, he and Foley had similar sentiments, saying they’d take the check from whomever was giving it.

“Of course we’re appreciative of the investment in our kids,” Foley said.


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