Finances and family ties debated as council distributes funds

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Gilroy City Council agreed to allocate federal grants to various nonprofits on May 16. But it took several meetings to reach that decision after a few members not only questioned how the nonprofits would use the funds, but also whether it was appropriate. to allocate money to an organization that has ties to a council member and his or her family.

Council voted 5-1 to support funding for nine organizations with the $438,177 allocation, with Mayor Marie Blankley dissenting. Board member Rebeca Armendariz withdrew from the meeting, as she sits on the board of the Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services (CARAS), one of the organizations applying for funding.

The city receives Community Development Block Grant funds annually from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which are intended to be used for housing, economic development, and community development activities for those deemed to have income. extremely low, very low or low.

Nonprofit organizations are welcome to apply for a share of the funding and must indicate how they will use the money.

The board was originally expected to consider approving the funding allocation at its May 2 meeting. But the council agreed to postpone its decision after persistent questions about finances.

During that meeting, Ron Kirkish, who is one of the signatories to a recall effort against Armendariz, said CARAS had “significant issues” with its tax documents. This led Council member Fred Tovar to condemn Kirkish’s statements as unwarranted “libel” against the organization.

CARAS programs are aimed at Latino youth and families and focus on education, advocacy and immigrant rights.

He applied for funding for Ryse Up, a program that aims to steer young girls away from the criminal justice system by providing interactions with positive role models and other activities. CARAS also sought funding for its homelessness prevention services.

CARAS’ Marty Estrada said the lack of a dedicated youth center in Gilroy is hurting the city’s youth, citing statistics from the 2020 Santa Clara County Juvenile Justice Annual Report that showed ZIP Code 95020 had the highest number of youth arrests and citations in the county above San Jose.

“We have to support these young people,” he said. “We have to work together to find solutions.”

CARAS has been in the crosshairs of some of the supporters of the recall effort against Armendariz, after an investigation by Hanson Bridgett determined that the city-issued barricades requested by Armendariz for a CARAS-hosted event downtown from Gilroy were used at a private party where one man was shot and killed and three others were injured.

Supporters point to a January 27 letter that CARAS received from the California Attorney General’s office, which stated that the organization was late in submitting its annual registration renewal fee reports. The issue has since been resolved and CARAS’ nonprofit status is listed as current, according to the attorney general’s office.

CARAS’ Sally Armendariz said the organization received a letter of good standing from the state in April.

“For the people here who are so concerned about CARAS and what we are doing, stop. We are human,” she said. “We can open our books at any time because we have nothing to hide.”

Blankley said she couldn’t support the recommended stipends because she wondered if it was appropriate to do so since CARAS is closely tied to the mother and son of a current board member.

“I can’t stand public funds being given to an organization that is closely affiliated with a current board member,” she said. “It says nothing about the organization itself or what it does.”

Estrada said Rebeca, Sally and Reymundo Armendariz will not be paid through the grant.

“There is nothing harmful happening here,” he said. “You give the impression that there are problems. There’s no. We provide services to young people who are in great need of them. We are proud of what we do for the community. »

Blankley’s motion to reallocate CARAS-suggested funding to other organizations on the list failed, with only she and Council Member Peter Leroe-Munoz voting in favor. Council member Zach Hilton’s motion to approve the city staff recommendation passed, with only Blankley dissenting.

Council member Dion Bracco said he had asked for years how funded organizations use their money, broken down by programs and salaries, but never received a response.

“The government gave us this money to give away,” he said. “Just throwing money away doesn’t help anyone. For me, I’d rather just give the money back to the government and tell them to keep it.

But later in the meeting, after Blankley opened a second round of public comments where Estrada was one of the speakers, Bracco said he reconsidered.

“His passion is to move,” he said. “I have no problem with this agency, but I have problems with a few of them. Hearing some of the things said tonight, I don’t think I should vote not to give them money because I’m having trouble with a few of them, so I’m going to go ahead and support him.

Total allocations to CARAS will be nearly $60,000 over two years.

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