The Palo Alto Human Relations Commission voted Thursday night to change its process for allocating grant money to local nonprofits that provide services to groups such as seniors, the developmentally disabled and the homeless.
With 16 organizations asking for a total of $622,733 in grants and only $300,737 to spend, the commission voted unanimously to give less to some so that it could fund two new applicants. The commission renewed funding to 12 organizations that received grants last year but reduced the amounts by 5 percent, and it distributed the savings to two new organizations that focus on after-school programs for kids.
The move represents two of the commission's priorities this year: to support after-school tutoring and mentoring for at-risk and low-income kids and to change up the distribution of money from a fund that has remained stagnant for 10 years.
The grants, ranging from $5,000 to $83,000, come from the Human Services Resource Allocation Process (HSRAP), a grant program that allocates money from the city's general fund to help support "safety net" organizations.
Additionally, the commission recommended increasing the amount homeless services organization InnVision Shelter Network receives this year to $11,511 from last year's $8,930. The commission felt that feeding the hungry, one of InnVision Shelter Network's roles, deserved extra funding because "food is a basic need and a No. 1 priority," said Commission Chair Claude Ezran.
The newly funded after-school program organizations, DreamCatchers and Palo Alto Housing Corp., each received only modest grants -- $5,000 and $7,000 respectively -- but Ezran said the grants were valuable nonetheless.
"$5,000 is not a huge number, but as a symbolic gesture it would be nice," he said. "Palo Alto money brings credibility for applying for grants in the future."
The commission had also considered providing new funding only to the Palo Alto Housing Corp., to reduce the money taken from the other organizations from 5 percent to 3 percent.
Several commissioners spoke out for DreamCatchers, which provides one-on-one tutoring and mentoring by Stanford University students to 45 at-risk and low-income Palo Alto middle school students.
Commissioner Theresa Chen called the one-on-one approach "crucially important to the development of youth," and Ezran said he thought "the program could make a huge difference to close the achievement gap."
Only Jill O'Nan offered reservations about using funds to support both DreamCatchers and Palo Alto Housing Corp., saying it was like "having to rob Peter to pay Paul." She said that while she thought it was important to fund new organizations, "We also have to cut more to pay for a small symbolic gesture."
"If we support both of these organizations, I will sleep soundly," she said. "But we have to ask how to use the funds the best."
The recommendation needed a unanimous vote to pass as two of the commissioners, Sunita Verma and Diane Morin, were absent and commissioner Ray Bacchetti recused himself because of a conflict of interest (Bachetti is chairman of Peninsula Healthcare Connection's board, which is receiving $23,750 from the city this year).
Despite her reservations, O'Nan voted in favor of the recommendation in order to move the allocation process forward.
Two of the organizations that applied didn't receive any funding this year. Kara, which asked for $47,500 to help provide grief support to children and adults, and Vista Center for the Blind, which asked for $20,650 to give vision-rehabilitation services for seniors, didn't receive grants.
In other business, the commission unanimously elected O'Nan as its chair and Bacchetti as its vice chair.