Editorial: Shame on Concord City Council

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday March 15, 2023
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Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, left, and City Councilmember Dominic Aliano recommended that 22 nonprofits receive federal funding, but no LGBTQ organization was selected. Photos: Courtesy City of Concord
Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, left, and City Councilmember Dominic Aliano recommended that 22 nonprofits receive federal funding, but no LGBTQ organization was selected. Photos: Courtesy City of Concord

In what has to be one of the most shameful outcomes by a Bay Area municipal body in recent years, the Concord City Council last week doled out $7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to nonprofits and not one dime went to an LGBTQ organization. The Rainbow Community Center in Concord, which had applied for $270,604, was not among the 22 groups selected. The vote occurred after a lengthy public comment period that saw RCC staff and supporters plead with the council for funding — to no avail.

But another strange aspect of the ARPA debacle was who decided on the recommended applicants in the first place. Instead of using the city's Community Services Commission — which usually makes recommendations for grant funds — the council selected two of its own members — Mayor Laura Hoffmeister and Councilmember Dominic Aliano, to go through the 73 applications, score them, and make the list of recommended funding. (Three applicants were deemed ineligible due to either not being a recognized nonprofit or not providing services to Concord residents, as stipulated by the grant application.) This Ad Hoc Committee, as it was called, selected many worthy agencies, and also a couple of head-scratchers. For example, Visit Concord, the city's tourism bureau, received two allocations — $50,000 and $200,000 — and Leaven Kids, a nonprofit with strong ties to police and religious conservatives, received $105,000 in funding. (Leaven Kids has previously been awarded money from Chick-fil-A, according to a news release the company issued last year. You know, the fast-food chain notorious for its hostility to same-sex couples and LGBTQ people.)

Even odder was a last-minute offer by Vice Mayor Edi Birsan to provide funding for groups that were not recommended. He proposed shaving 5% off the amounts for all of the approved groups, and then letting himself and the other two councilmembers, Laura Nakamura and Carlyn Obringer, choose how to allocate about $116,600 each. But there was a catch — the Ad Hoc Committee's list had to be approved in its entirety. Suddenly, as Obringer noted during the meeting, the council found itself negotiating with Birsan. "If we're doing 95%, why not 90%, or why not a 10% cut across the board," Obringer said. But Birsan was firm, he said he wanted to respect the work of his colleagues, Hoffmeister and Aliano. In the end, Aliano made a motion to accept the Ad Hoc Committee's list, which was approved 3-2, with Nakamura and Obringer in dissent.

In response, RCC has let the City Council know it wants more from its leaders than just showing up at flag raisings and other events.

"We are profoundly disappointed by the decision of Concord City Council not to provide any ARPA funding to Rainbow Community Center," interim Executive Director Dodi Zotigh wrote in a letter to the councilmembers. "The leadership of Rainbow Community Center is writing to express our profound disappointment in the egregious handling of last week's council meeting on Tuesday, March 7. We have concerns about the overall conduct and lack of leadership of this council in relation to ARPA federal funds of $7 million disseminated by the council for nonprofit organizations serving Concord."

In an email to the Bay Area Reporter, Zotigh was blunt: "We call for an end to performative allyship by Concord City Council and demand the investment from our city that we deserve and urgently need to survive and thrive as an under-resourced community center based in Concord."

And Zotigh added that RCC staff "strongly contest the marginalization of Rainbow Community Center and the LGBTQIA+ community by the City Council."

"Their exclusion of us in ARPA funding does absolutely nothing to sustain and expand the lifesaving work we do for individuals, youth, and families in Concord," Zotigh stated. "Furthermore — disregarding all public input from Tuesday's meeting and implementing the full Ad Hoc proposals unaltered sends a clear message that the city not only does not care about public opinion — but uses unilateral decision-making practices that are un-democratic."

RCC was going to use the federal grant funds to sustain and expand its youth programming. As several speakers pointed out to the City Council, LGBTQ youth — even in Concord — are regularly subjected to bullying and other things that can affect their mental and physical well-being. All the speakers in support of RCC pointed out the importance of the community center and its programs that help youth, LGBTQ seniors, and many others. Now that it has this financial gap, RCC has launched a fundraising campaign.

We hope it is a big success and if readers are inclined to help out, so much the better.

In the future, should the Concord City Council be in a similar position to award public funds to nonprofit organizations, we strongly recommend a vetting process that does not involve the councilmembers. Obringer told us this week that she was against the Ad Hoc Committee when it was discussed last fall, and said she supported having the Community Services Commission, whose members are appointed by the council, take on the task for the ARPA grants. We also urge the council to find some funding for the Rainbow Community Center this year. LGBTQ people — especially youth — are under attack in this country and we need our allies not only to raise the rainbow flag, as we pointed out last week, but also to provide resources to LGBTQ nonprofits that help their communities. On this, Obringer said that she did not want to make any promises, but that some possible funds through cannabis businesses might be generated, though those dollars likely would be a fraction of the amount the city received from the feds.

"It's a big missed opportunity and it didn't have to be," Obringer said of the ARPA grant process.

On that, we agree.

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