Thirteen organizations make presentations; council to decide grant funding at next meeting on May 27

The ball got rolling on one part of the annual budget process for the Solvang City Council in their regular meeting April 22, as it heard grant requests from 13 organizations.

Mayor Mark Infanti made it clear the council would not take action on any of the requests, and a budget committee would decide which requests to OK at the Tuesday, May 28, meeting (postponed for one day because of the Memorial Day holiday).

After a request by Mayor Pro Tem Dave Brown during the consent calendar to flip-flop the two discussion items on the agenda, the council led off that part of the meeting with the individual presentations. Each had five minutes to state their case.

Thirteen groups delivered their presentations during the session. They were: Atterdag At Home ($20,000),

Bethania Tuesday Food Distribution ($15,000), Bethania Preschool ($10,000), Danish Days ($50,000), Nature Track ($5,000), Solvang Chamber of Commerce ($55,000), Solvang Senior Center ($70,000),

Solvang Elementary School Education Foundation ($10,000), Solvang Theaterfest ($100,000), Veggie Rescue ($15,000), SYV Therapeutic Riding Program ($10,000), Solvang Rotary/4th of July Parade ($9,500), and Viking Charities Inc. ($3,159).

Some of the potential grant recipients had presentations already submitted, while others just had a sheet of paper to read off. 

Some got creative, like Nature Track, an organization that aims to connect people to nature. One of their favorite features is a device called Freedom Trax, which allows wheelchair-bound people to move along the beach or across rough terrain by putting the wheelchair on top of the device. Eisaguirre brought the group’s program director, Abby Pickens, to demonstrate how it worked right there in council chambers.

Others, like Jody Williams, speaking on behalf of the Solvang Elementary School Education Foundation, was pointed out by Infanti as the one who spearheaded the “Mayor for the Day” program that had Solvang School student Finley Henderson touring the city and taking part in the City Council meeting on April 8.

Ellen Albertoni (Solvang Senior Center) and Karen Brown (Atterdag at Home; Meals on Wheels) advocated for their respective senior programs, while Ashley Madrid (Danish Days) and Steve Palmer (Solvang 4th of July Parade) were looking to help out their local staple events with grants or waived fees.

After presentations were done, City Councilmember Elizabeth Orona brought up the decision last year to require all grant recipients to provide documentation on how the grant money is spent.

“Last year we got pretty rigorous about our methodology and I thought it worked,” she said. “But I heard some chatter about whether they [previous grant recipients] were properly reporting on money and how it was spent.” 

Administrative Services Director Wendy Berry said that the recipients have to provide insurance, receipts, and proof of payment, but some haven’t yet. She said she sent emails requesting documentation and that they were planning to move the deadline for those documents to March 31 to make it more in line with the grant process.

Elizabeth Orona said she hoped the final reports were coming, because “that’s important for transperency.”

City Manager Randy Murphy suggested the city could require that repeat recipients have all their paperwork in for the previous year’s fund, before getting the current grant.

Orona was open to that, but said “we should not make any exception; being a nonprofit, they shoul expect that.”

In the other discussion item, the council heard the latest about the possible assessment increase the assessment of a Landscape and Lighting Maintenance District (LLMD) in the Skytt Mesa area of Solvang. Solvang Mesa Landscape & Lighting Maintenance District No. 2004-1 was established in November 2004 and must now be evaluated annually for any changes to its assessment.

The city has retained Francisco & Associates to prepare the annual Engineer’s Report for the Solvang Mesa LLMD. The Engineer’s Report outlines the estimated LLMD operations and maintenance budget for the 169-lot single-family residential subdivision, according to the project report. The report is proposing a 2 percent increase to bring the assessment to $1,388.02 per parcel.

During public comment on the item, Skytt Mesa resident Denise El-Amin, who had spoken in past meeting about getting the topic on the agenda (to the degree that Murphy called the item “Ms. El-Amin’s favorite subject) was against the increase.

“What you’re doing is illegal,” she said, saying that her previous home was in an LLMD is Duarte, and back then she was told that any increase in an assessment had to be approved by all residents in the district.

“It’s time to go legal with you guys, because you evidently don’t understand what an LLMD is,” El-Amin said. “I bought [my] house 10 years and they offered the same thing. It’s been 10 years now and we still don’t have a light. I have a $1,388 assessment, and all I’ve gotten is promises.”

After El-Amin’s claim, City Councilmember Claudia Orono checked state law on her laptop and said Section 22.500 of the California code “said that these districts can be established and special assessments may be levied.” Infanti agreed that the proposed assessment on Skytt Mesa does have a legal basis.

Ultimately, the council voted 5-0 to approve the resolution, and it will go to a public hearing at the next City Council meeting on May 13.