Santa Ana City Council members Monday night again postponed allocations of a federal grant program until the May 6 council meeting, with Councilwoman Michele Martinez citing ongoing communication problems with city staff.
It’s the second time council members have continued the decision on how to allocate $5.6 million Community Development Block Grant funds, a federal program that for decades has supplemented cities’ budgets but has shrunk dramatically in recent years.
The funding has also been used to help plug the city’s yawning budget gaps instead of being allocated to community nonprofits, the traditional recipients of such revenue.
Councilman Sal Tinajero had said that seeing the item on a meeting agenda earlier this month without consulting council members was “insulting.”
But this time Martinez escalated the rhetoric, saying that she has “had enough” of staff ignoring her requests for information and for more participation in key decisions, a frequent complaint from members of a council majority dubbed the “Santa Ana Spring.” The majority seeks to exert more authority over the city bureaucracy and reduce the influence of longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido.
“Let the City Council have some input not at the eleventh hour,” Martinez said. “I’ve just gotten beyond upset.”
Among her questions, Martinez wanted to know why funding for code enforcement was cut in the latest round of funding allocations. She said the issue is a top priority for city residents. She also asked why council members weren’t involved in decisions regarding leftover grant funds and new city programs using the grant money.
Martinez said that she had discussed with staff at a meeting of a council committee a process to include council members in the decision-making, but then nothing was implemented. “We were ignored. And I don’t like to be ignored,” she said.
Deputy City Manager Jill Arthur said that there are restrictions to how much of the block grant funding can be used for code enforcement. For example, the grant funds would have to be tied to low-income neighborhoods, she said.
Arthur’s explanation regarding code enforcement funding notwithstanding, she agreed with Martinez’s assertion that council members must be more intimately involved in the funding allocations. “We need to change it, and we are 100 percent committed to changing that,” Arthur said.
Council members last week began reworking the lines of communication at City Hall so that council members are more informed. Among the larger changes being considered would be a change in meeting dates from the first and third Mondays of each month to Tuesdays of those weeks. The Mondays could then be used by city staff to brief council members on agenda items.
Council members said that before the next council meeting they would meet one-on-one with Arthur to hammer out the details of the funding plan.