City looking to swap pool funds

CITY HALL — City officials today will ask for something that a city commission was warned to leave alone just last week — federal grant money earmarked for the planned pool at Pacific Park.

Councilman Ara Najarian was vocal in his appeal this year to the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee to leave a final $1.5-million earmark for a pool at Pacific Park untouched when it deliberated for funding recommendations last week.

But after years of “pre-designating” federal block grants for public projects that have taken longer than expected to materialize, the city finds itself at risk of breaking U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spending rules, said Jess Duran, assistant director for the Community Development and Housing Department said.

As part of their request to approve a $736,868 revamp of Cedar Mini-Park, city officials in a report to the council this week recommended swapping $400,000 from the HUD-funded pool earmark for the same amount of general capital improvement city funds.

Without the swap, the city would probably be at risk of breaching the unused money benchmark for HUD’s annual May 1 evaluation, Duran said. If it doesn’t, HUD could place Glendale on probation until it brings its spending back into federal compliance, he added.

Municipalities cannot maintain a balance of unused funds greater than one-and-a-half times their total annual allotment, according to HUD rules.

Duran, who was out of the office Monday, could not give the exact balance for Glendale. The city’s annual allotment from HUD is usually about $6 million overall, with about half that dedicated to community block grants.

The city encountered similar risks when undertaking the joint venture with Glendale Unified School District in 2003 to build Edison Elementary School and redevelop the rest of the block.

The chorus of those opposed to the city’s practice of pre-designating federal funds for projects each year until enough is accumulated to break ground grew louder this year with the recession dealing substantial financial blows to the nonprofit sector and its ability to fund programs and badly needed capital improvements.

The Cedar Mini-Park recommendation came as a surprise to many on the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee, who only last week agreed to piggyback on the projected savings on a Glendale Adventist Medical Center project to avoid touching the Pacific Park pool money and still fully fund three other community projects.

“I would think this information [about Glendale approaching the HUD limit] would have been available for our meeting on [Feb. 11] . . . and I strongly feel this would have changed the way the committee looked at the entire pool project,” committee Chairman Zareh Amirian said Monday.

Several advisory committee members have grumbled over earmarking federal grants now for a project that, according to a city report, won’t be ready for construction until spring 2010 “at the earliest.”

Public statements from City Council members that social service grant funds would be weighted toward so-called “safety net” programs providing vital low-income services in the down economy factored heavily into the application period this year.

Some nonprofits, citing the writing on the wall, withdrew completely, while others who felt they fit the council’s bill upped their funding requests.

Councilman Dave Weaver argued the same dampening effect likely occurs when council members vocally tout pet projects and their earmarks.

“A lot of [nonprofits] think there’s no use in applying because we’ve already predesignated, so what are you doing? You’re shutting out the community, and I don’t want to do that,” Weaver said.

And alteration of that designation should first come through the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee, longtime member Efrian Olivares said.

To recommend approval of the fund swap before the City Council has even had a chance to review the committee’s recommendations was essentially a run around the system, he contended.

“If they’re going to move moneys around, they need to come to us,” Olivares said. “That’s what the advisory committee is there for.”

The City Council will take up the recommendation as part of an overall final review of the Cedar Mini-Park proposal at 6 tonight in the council chambers at City Hall, 613 E. Broadway.


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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