Santa Ana Council Kills Plan for Youth Programs

Santa Ana youth point out sites in downtown Santa Ana where complete streets infrastructure would make the roadways safer, as KidWorks organizer Omar de la Riva (right) looks on, in 2014. (Photo by Brenda Miller)

This story has been updated.

A divided Santa Ana City Council on Tuesday voted to cancel a program that would have issued $500,000 in grants for local youth programs, a move that sparked outrage among community members who said the programs would help prevent violence, gangs and crime.

The effort, called the Community Enhancement Program, would have funded education, sports, arts, and health programs offering a range of activities from after-school tutoring and college preparation to boxing and dance classes.

The grant process was approved by the City Council in September, and 56 nonprofit groups applied. A panel ranked them and in December city staff recommended funding the top eight or nine proposals.

But before it could be voted on, new City Council members, who had been heavily backed by the police union during the November election, were sworn in. The union, which spent about $400,000 on the election, has called for investing more in police in order to improve public safety amid rising crime in the city.

The new council members delayed the item until Tuesday’s meeting, where it went down on a 4-2 vote. The four-vote majority included councilmen Jose Solorio, Juan Villegas, Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilwoman Michele Martinez.

Councilmen Sal Tinajero and Vicente Sarmiento voted to move forward with the grant program, while Councilman David Benavides had to abstain, because he is the executive director of KidWorks, one of the organizations that would have received a grant.

A total of 23 members of the public spoke to the council before the vote, all urging them to approve the grants.

Several middle and high school students said existing programs help them have a sense of purpose, and that expanding the programs will help youth stay out of trouble.

“It gives me a purpose to have a goal around my community because I want to make it better,” said Marcos Rodriguez, a teenager involved at KidWorks, which was looking to expand its after-school programs through a grant.

“It helps other youth have a safe place to be…[otherwise] they would be out on the streets looking for something to do or just causing trouble.”

Those who voted to kill the grant program defended their votes by either questioning whether there really is money in the budget for the grants, or pointing to a need to hire more police officers.

Solorio emphasized that there are 95 vacant positions in the city’s police department. And despite “numerous promises” to hire more officers and claims that the department was growing, he said, the city “only hired one [net] cop” in the past three years.

Solorio proposed instead having the nonprofit grants be funded by the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Pulido agreed.

The federal program, however, is a fixed pot of money, meaning cuts would likely have to be made elsewhere in the city’s CDBG funding in order to accommodate the nonprofit grants.

City staff, meanwhile, explained that the money they proposed for the nonprofit grants is already in the bank, and resulted from savings on city contracts and projects that came in under budget over the past few years.

Villegas, who like Solorio and Pulido was elected with the strong backing of the police union, also said he wanted to hold off on the nonprofit grants, questioning whether the funding source was “real.”

Their positions sparked anger in the audience, with shouts of “invest in the community!” and “you’re a tool!”

Martinez argued that the city doesn’t know what its true ability is to fund the programs. “We don’t really know where we’re at financially,” she said.

Tinajero, who has railed against the police union in recent months, said Solorio, Villegas, and Pulido were really just trying to redirect that money to police, whose union backed them in the election.

“You know what this is about? ‘Let’s give the money to the po-po!’ ” Tinajero said, using a slang term for police. “They’re not gonna question that!”

The city has had to pay out over $6 million on excessive force cases in the last two years, Tinajero added. He suggested that further raises for police be tied to officers changing their behavior to cut excessive force payments in half.

Sarmiento said that while he agrees there should be more officers on the street, the nonprofit grants were also important for public safety.

“Public safety isn’t just by putting officers on the street. Public safety is keeping kids busy,” Sarmiento said, to loud applause from the audience.

He noted that the council approved $3 million for technology consultants earlier in the evening.

“Seven consultants are $3 million richer tonight. But we can’t spent $500,000 on our children? That just…doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Sarmiento said.

He proposed reducing one consultant and directing those savings to the nonprofit grants, to no avail.

Supporters of the nonprofits continued to vent their disappointment after the meeting.

Local activist Madeleine Spencer pointed out that $500,000 would only put three new police officers on the streets. The median total compensation for a Santa Ana police officer is just over $200,000, according to city data that includes salary, overtime and benefits.

“Meanwhile these [nonprofit] grants can take thousands of youth off the streets by giving them constructive programming, true community safety while at the same time building community, bringing joy and wellbeing to a greater number of residents as a whole,” Spencer wrote in an email to reporters.

Benavides grew visibly upset at the end of the meeting, pointing to Pulido, Solorio and Villegas’ assertions that they support public safety.

“If public safety is truly what’s so important to us, then why would we not invest in our young people?” Benavides said. “The hypocrisy on this dais is so blatant, it’s embarrassing.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Madeleine Spencer

    Check out the city’s Recovery strategy on this one. Councilman Solorio is quoted in this article as stating: ” of the one-time Community Enhancement Program funds that weren’t awarded. ‘It wasn’t a transparent process and the accountability and reporting measures weren’t as strong,'” When in reality the process was completely transparent. This Federal Granting process, on the other hand, while excellent in allocating Federal Funds more equitably than usual in Santa Ana was not money allocated by the city but rather the State. This funding stream should have been assisting the city’s Nonprofits for years. The fact that due to the pressure caused by cutting the CEPG grants the city felt compelled to give more this year is the rub covering the sins of the City and its Leaders.

  • Concerned Citizen

    The following was sent as a public comment for tomorrow night’s Santa Ana City Council meeting. This type of situation is why the citizens of Santa Ana cannot have nice things. $9 million given to a former Planning Commissioner with no competition, actions by Sarmiento that cause low staff morale and high staff fear and the City losing an opportunity to utilize its scarce funding in the most efficient way possible.


    What a long strange trip it has been for the City’s efforts to fund the AMCAL Affordable Housing development at 1440 E. First St. But before I give the history to the new Council members, let me just say that after 2 + years of dragging this tired carcass across the finish line, the most professional thing the City could do would be to take the Inclusionary Funds, and the Successor Agency funds,
    and issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) so that the City can get the best deal possible. $8.7 million for just 69 affordable units is irresponsible.

    But first the history for the new Council members. This project originally came to the City’s attention at the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. At the same time, at the January 27th FedTech Council Committee meeting, new Community Development Agency Executive Director Kelly Reenders and new Housing Division Manager Sidney Stone received approval by the Council committee members to implement a process to RFP the City’s new Inclusionary Funds to interested affordable developers. The new employees came from more professional agencies and were used to negotiating with firms to get the best deals for taxpayers.

    But Vince Sarmiento really did not want that. He wanted his former Planning Commissioner buddy Mario Turner to get a $2 million developer fee payday. So in spite of the FedTech decision to institute an RFP process for Inclusionary Housing Funds, behind the scenes he ordered staff to
    give the money to AMCAL. He strong armed Kelly in his office, after a Council Meeting, and on a Saturday after a Chamber evening function. When staff attempted negotiating with AMCAL, AMCAL ignored staff and complained to Sarmiento. When Mr. Stone correctly observed in a
    meeting that AMCAL had hijacked the system, after just 90 days in his position he was shown the door by Sarmiento and his lackey City Manager. At the time, David was not going to upset his $500,000 a year payday especially since he was sleeping with employees. Kelly Reenders left a few months
    later for the saner city of Dana Point.

    However, since Sarmiento is not exactly the brightest tool in the shed, all of this came out on Social Media, particularly through the Orange Juice blog. Since there were Federal Vouchers involved at the time, and not wanting to risk a Federal whistleblower lawsuit, the City backtracked and issued
    an RFP which another developer, Meta Housing, ended up winning for a more needed artist development downtown.

    But Sarmiento was not done yet trying to get his boy that $2 million developer fee payday. He helped lead the approval for the massive Heritage Village housing development off of Dyer – underneath the John wayne flight path and against the Airport Board’s opposition – with the condition the Inclusionary Funds be given to AMCAL. Again, no RFP. No surprise either since they couldn’t compete successfully in 2015.

    But Sarmiento does change with the winds. And he helped, not surprisingly, to get the Heritage Village developer to only pay the Inclusionary Funds in installments. This put the AMCAL development in jeopardy but now the City is attempting to use Successor Agency funds to make sure
    former Planning Commissioner Mario Turner finally gets his $2 million payday. And it only takes $8.7 million of City funds in order to do that.

    So what is Sarmiento and Mario Turner afraid of? Why do they not want to see this project compete against other affordable housing projects? Why does the City not want to get the best deal possible, leverage as much of this money as possible, maybe even pay a non profit a lower developer fee to
    create more units? AMCAL is a for profit, why are they the beneficiary of a no compete $8.7 million? Well, Turner and Sarmiento were both on the planning commision together 😉 The other reason could be that if AMCAL had just worked with staff, if AMCAL hadn’t got an employee fired, if AMCAL had just
    played by the rules, none of this would have come to light via the Orange Juice blog and AMCAL would have gotten City money plus vouchers in 2015.
    Karma does have a way of biting back.

    So what should the City do? It is already acknowledged as one of the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, City in Orange County. Situations like this, that force talented employees like Mrs. Reenders and Mr. Stone to leave their positions, further devalue the City and cause talented employees to never consider working there unless you overpay them to the tune of $500,000 a year. Also, think of the current Housing Division Manager Judson Brown, how scared is he of doing anything that upsets the Council? Do you think he is negotiating a good deal with AMCAL? No, every time Mario Turner calls him he just reminds Mr. Brown of how his predecessor was fired for standing up to Sarmiento. The City is most definitely getting a raw deal here at worst, an unfavorable deal at best.

    The City must issue an RFP for all of the Inclusionary Funds and all of the Successor Agency funds. Temecula released an RFP in 2016 for $12 million plus City land and got 30+ responses. City of LA recent RFP for multiple City sites got 30+ responses. Same thing for 2016 Pasadena RFP. Anaheim issues RFP for its affordable housing funds, Irvine does it for money and land, other cities do it statewide. It’s the proper thing to do if a city is truly interested in leveraging its funds and getting the best deal possible. Make developers compete for the money and offer truly innovative design and product.

    The fact that after 2+ years, Sarmiento is still attempting to give money directly to AMCAL, and after AMCAL couldn’t win 2015 RFP, makes this a very fishy, corrupt transaction and it means yet again the City of Santa Ana is not doing what is right for the residents of the City. You are already wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on that buffoon of a City Manager, don’t waste this money too without getting the best deal possible.

    Finally, Sarmiento keeps harping about how this development is going to “revitalize” First St. This is completely unproven and in fact, study after study shows that a bad neighborhood influences a development more than a development influences a neighborhood. In fact, growing up in a bad neighborhood has for worse effects than most people know. See the link below. Maybe if the City issues an RFP, a nonprofit just might build affordable housing in a decent area instead, with far more units.

    Also, the Kansas Federal Reserve argues differently than the so called “revitalizing” effects of affordable housing. In the abstract:

    “However, extended analysis that separates LIHTC developments by type and size suggests that only small new construction developments and large rehab developments impact neighborhood property conditions. Further analysis reveals that when the model does not control for crime, the effect of proximity to LIHTC developments on property conditions is negative.”

    I hope the City does the right thing for the residents and taxpayers of Santa Ana.

  • loudchapina

    Villegas is a frustrated wanna be cop who hasn’t made it to real sheriff status and has remained an over paid security guard for the county. He finally go some power and is flexing his little muscles. That ego is finally big enough to make him happy by showing his friends he can buy loyalty with votes from the dias! Poor little Juan from the barrio sold his soul to the police union.

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    Jack Kemp. HUD Secretary. After visiting Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia. “When a city does not do right by its community, it will depress, suppress, repress, opresss with a police state.”

    LEOs have enough to do. By constantly blowing off community builder actions, you give them more to do later. But maybe, that’s the point.

    Happily, the new Administration has a priority to work with hard core, community is irrevelant to us doctrinated cities. I have friends in large inner cities who have been contacted for future action discussions.

    We press on. The Greater Good? The Chosen Few?

    • LFOldTimer

      Hopefully Trump will follow through on his proposal to send the Feds into Chicago to clean up that war zone that makes Syria look like Disney World.

      • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

        Syria. Yemen. Petrodollar.

        This is an excellent watch. Keep in mind that all those groups are where our Fast and Furious Middle East edition tax monies went instead of to our desperately needed inner cities. And other cities, like here in OC.

        Instead, 8 years of hush-hush don’t tell them media suppressed wars, 7 countries, 269B to Bush’s 126B, close to 27K bombs in 2016 alone. Note Kuwait and Iran had temperatures in the 120 plus degrees last year, hottest ever, not climate change but climate changed by bomb chemicals. So disgusting. China, Russia and US need to ally to end it all once and for all. The Shia lands need to be left alone. Those Sunnis, all sects, have radicalized since our big mistake in Iraq.

        But Trump is mean. And bricks keep getting thrown at him. The world is a mess because the Democrats were hijacked, big time. Ugh.


        • LFOldTimer

          You’re absolutely correct about the complicity of the media with Obama’s vicious war promoting administration for the last 8 years and his failure to address the huge problems in our own inner cities.

          The fact that Obama was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize is laughable. He massacred 10’s of thousands of innocent foreign citizens in multiple countries. But you won’t see any nasty derogatory skits on SNL that satirize King Obama.

          Today Obama and Mooshell are partying on Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean. ha. But he feels the black man’s pain in the inner city! ha.

          Yet if you haven’t noticed, in the last 3 weeks every time Trump farts out of tune it’s national headlines.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Bricks from all directions. And love not trumping hate. Yikes.

            Obama was selected by Saudis.
            Which is why he put is into outrageous debt. He could not spend enough.
            Sunni madness over Shia sitting on oil, lots of it. Losing control.

            Petrodollar bondage. As you know, Saudi Arabia in 1973 and OPEC in 1975, that crazy Kissinger deal meant that no one in the world – NO ONE – could buy oil in any currency, except the US dollar. If you didn’t have oil, you needed US dollars to buy it.

            Iraq wanted to go Euro. We kill him. War.
            Libya wanted to go gold, start an African central bank. We kill him. War.
            Iran originally was that too. Gold standard. Which is why we hate them.
            Syria same. Lotta Shia oil. And gas pipeline with Russia and Iran partners.

            So crazy what they have done with our tax revenue. So evil, really.
            All these globalists are besides thrmselves.

            I hate George Soros. Wanna be KingGod. That old frat is sheer wicked.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This is really, really bad public policy.

    SAPD – You couldn’t throw the Kids a bone out of your Millions?

    We have become a “Police State”.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Santa Ana…clean up the blood off the streets instead of preventing the spill. Typical.

  • Nicole King

    As much as I think it’s wrong they diverted money to the tech consultants and not into the programs for the kids. I think that if we look at a bigger picture. This is an opportunity for the Police Union to partner with the community and maybe help raise the funds for these programs. Thus it would become a win win. There are solutions and it’s just a matter of everyone working together. Being a community. How hard would it to have a marathon or fundraiser for the funds? I believe these programs do keep the kids out of trouble.

    • verifiedsane

      Can’t we just all get along, hold hands, sing kumbaya, and support the government corruption and police union; that’s not a solution, that’s just a surrender to the dirty status quo…

      • Nicole King

        See above reply. Stop posting and start doing something about it. Ive fundraised for years.

    • LFOldTimer

      The police union doesn’t give a twit about your community. All they want is more money and power so that they can buy off politicians who sit on your council. Quid pro quo.

      Look at the crime rate in Santa Ana. The cops have done a pathetic job at controlling crime – which is their job. Funneling more money to them would do nothing to prevent crime. It would only make rich cops richer.

      The money should be spent on the kids for sports programs, etc.. to keep them out of trouble. Much better investment than handing more money to cops.

      And why don’t you hold cops accountable who heist and destroy private property on video while on duty, Nicole? Do you want dirty cops working in the police force? Go protest that.

      • Nicole King

        If you read what I said correctly. I was asking for a partnership in the community. I said nothing about holding cops accountable or giving money for more cops. I was approaching ways to get the money for the kids. Those programs are important. Ive been volunteering and fundraising for kids in Santa Ana for years.

        • LFOldTimer

          The way to get money to the kids is to hand it to them directly as opposed to giving it to cops to make the cops even richer. You said “This is an opportunity…..” as if giving money to the cops is a good precursor for the money to filter down to the kids. BS. Trickle down theories look good on paper or sound good coming from the lips of bureaucrats but rarely materialize in the real world.

          I say hand the money directly to the kids and then let it trickle down to the cops. The kids need the money much more than the cops do.

  • Sean Mill

    “Benavides grew visibly upset at the end of the meeting”

    I wonder if the reason Councilman Benavides was upset is because the council majority had shot down city staffs recommendation to give KidsWorks, the non-profit headed by Benavides and where he draws his paychecks, $125,000, which was almost a quarter of the money.

    Someone in the local media, perhaps the folks here at the Voice of OC, should make a public records request seeking the “behest letters” sought by Councilman Benavides from people who have given money to KidsWorks and had business in front of the Santa Ana City Council, including business that Benavides cast votes on.

    I am certain that a portion of the money given to KidsWorks goes towards paying Benavides salary, indicating that he financially benefits directly from these contributions. This is certainly something that should be looked at a little closer by authorities. It sure gives the perception that the Councilman is personally benefiting from his position on the city council.

    • LFOldTimer

      I’m no fan of Benavides. But I would rather see Benavides get part of the money than for the cops get all of the money.

    • verifiedsane

      Two wrongs do not equate to making a right…if Benavides is unduly benefiting from his association with KidsWorks, then that should be properly addressed in the issuance of grant monies.. That does not make a rational or substantive case for taking money directed to help kids & associated programs; and then diverting those funds to a corrupt and criminal boondoggle known as the SA Police Department.

      It’s been said, follow the money! in this case it’s more like chasing the money like a dog chasing its tail; from the police union, through the self serving city counsel, and back around to the mayor and his hand selected cronies. That’s some circle of political and civil servant corruption to unravel. Solutions to these myriad of corruption problems surely won’t happen from the inside ruling class looking out, all the while being steeped under the cover of purposeful secrecy.

  • Paul Lucas

    An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. These programs keep kids out of trouble so as to reduce the need for more officers. And of course thats what the Police hate. Im really ashamed for pulido solorio and martinez. This is just wrong.

  • David Zenger

    “He suggested that further raises for police be tied to officers changing their behavior to cut excessive force payments in half.”

    You mean tie pay raises to non-abusive behavior? Well that’s setting the bar low, but I guess it’s a step in the right direction.

  • LFOldTimer

    Like I said before – today the cops are running Santa Ana government. The police union (rank and file) spent $400,000 to put their political puppets in place..

    Not only do they think they can commit grievous offenses on video in the line of duty and keep their jobs – now they willfully take money away from the children for their own selfish purposes – like bigger salaries and pensions.

    I bet if they could get away with it they’d extract the silver from the children’s teeth to sell on the open market to supplement their police fund.

    • Cindy Tr

      I am a president of Santa Ana and I support more polices on the street. I guess you might not live in Santa Ana’s neighborhood. In recent weeks, many lives were lost in Santa Ana neighborhood, I am so scared jogging around Santa Ana park these days!

      • verifiedsane

        The anatomy of a police state; just throwing money at a government & police corruption problem doesn’t make the streets any safer. If you are naive’ enough to believe the police are there to protect you; you deserve exactly what you get… the SA police are to busy taking care of their masters at city hall and Union central, to give a rats _ss about what’s going on the Santa Ana city streets.

        They are to busy acting as the mayor’s and counsel’s personal goon squad harnessing medical pot dispensaries, destroying & stealing private property, and threatening disabled citizens. and if that wasn’t bad enough, they are spending your tax dollars covering up these police crimes. You should be scared though, because today you don’t ever know if the criminal about to rob/assault you is a street thug, or a city sponsored thug wearing a badge.

      • LFOldTimer

        Paying some cop more money is not going to make you any safer. It just makes him richer. And cops are overpaid as it is. Go look at their average compensations. It’s over $230,000, in the top 5% of the working population. And the educational standard is a high school degree. lol.

        Kids get is trouble because they have too much time on their hands. Idle hands is the devil’s workshop. Keep a kid busy with sport programs and other extracurricular activities and you keep him out of jail. Now that’s crime prevention!

        Santa Ana has been a war zone for decades. That’s because the city invites foreign criminal aliens into their city with open arms. Putting a cop on every street corner is not going to reduce crime when the council declares itself to be a sanctuary city. You should be protesting that. That’s the reason you can’t jog after dark.

        Go talk with someone who lived in Santa Ana 50 years ago like I have. It was a bedroom community and so safe residents could leave their front door wide open at night and not lose a minute of sleep.

        What changed in those 50 years, Cindy Tr??? Put some thought into it. Go protest that!

      • kburgoyne

        I have no desire to slander the police. However why do you not ask if the police should be doing better keeping you safe jogging around Santa Ana park using the money they already have? I’m not “necessarily” saying the police do or don’t need the extra money. What I’m saying is that nobody seems to press the point about whether the police are being the most productive they could be with the money they’re already receiving. Is the existing money being spent in the most intelligent fashion?

        It is interesting to note how quickly many people will attack teachers claiming the taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth (I’m not claiming that includes you), but when it comes to police it appears many of those same people who attack the teachers will immediately switch to “throw whatever money they want to the police.” There certainly appears to be a very distinct double-standard.

  • verifiedsane

    Saving the money to pay for dirty cops…that’s Santa Ana government…

    • Jacki Livingston

      You and I don’t agree on much. This one, we do.

      • verifiedsane

        Hey, a good spirited debate is far better than the alternative…..Life would get pretty boring if everyone agreed on everything all the time…I happen to have no party or particular political leanings when it comes to public corruption…corruption is corruption whatever stripes or pok-a-dots it maybe wearing….