In its first meeting after being sworn in following a contentious election in October, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council voted Tuesday night to fund Take Back the Boulevard, a local initiative aimed at making a section of Colorado Boulevard safer and more attractive for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The ERNC board awarded $4,900 to TERA (The Eagle Rock Association), Eagle Rock’s largest voluntary groups and one of the initiative’s major architects, which had requested the funds to meet expenses related to project grant writing, conceptual design and community outreach. While 12 board members voted for the grant to TERA, three voted against it. Besides ERNC President Michael Nogueira, who did not vote, there were 15 board members present.
TERA President Bob Gotham, who also chairs the TBTB steering committee, gave the ERNC board a detailed presentation about the initiative. Gotham specified that Take Back the Boulevard is a collaborative effort based on regular feedback from community members as well as strong support from the office of City Council member José Huizar.
Further, from the start, said Gotham, the TBTB initiative has relied on a certain amount of seed money to get things done instead of being mired in endless planning, which has been the fate of numerous voluntary efforts in the past to improve Colorado Boulevard.
Of the $4,900 requested, TERA plans to use $3,000 to pay professional grant writers; $500 on conceptual design to support grant applications; $500 on logistical expenses; and $900 on community outreach and communication, according to a copy of TERA’s grant application available at the meeting.
The projected total cost of personnel-related and non-personnel expenses, according to the application, is $10,700.
Prior Conflict of Interest
An earlier request by TERA for $4,900 from the ERNC had been rejected by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment because it felt there was a conflict of interest that arose during a vote on the issue by the previous council’s board: Although former board member Maria Nazario, who also happens to be on the board of TERA, did not cast her vote, the department denied the grant because she did not leave the room while voting was underway.
Tuesday’s board meeting began with a presentation of the ERNC’s budget by Treasurer Ashley Atkinson. The previous council, she said, had already spent $23,000 of a total of $37,000 in available funds for the 2012-13 fiscal year ending in June.
If TERA is eventually awarded $4,900, the ERNC would be left with just $9,100 for the remaining half of the fiscal year.
A sum of $9,600 that had been awarded to a vendor previously in the fiscal year has not been utilized, Atkinson told the board, and she is waiting to hear from city authorities if the ERNC can make use of the amount.
“That money went right back to the city—we never got the benefit of that money,” said Peter Hilton, a former member of the ERNC board who ran unsuccessfully for ERNC president in the recent elections. All too often, said Hilton, vendors “don’t have a plan for how they’re going to spend the money—they never give us a definite idea of where it’s [going to be] spent.”
Hilton said that while he was on the previous board of the ERNC, he supported TERA's earlier request for $4,900 in funds. In hindsight, he said, he thought it was a mistake and that the money would be better spent elsewhere in the community.
ERNC Education Director Jennifer Nutting queried Gotham extensively about TERA’s plans for its grant money request.
“What if we give you the money and you can’t use it?” she said. “We’ll end up losing it.” Added Nutting: “You’re asking for $3,000 for grant writing but you need $6,500 more—what if you can’t raise that $6,500?”
So far, quipped Gotham, “we’ve had the reputation of using every penny.”
Asked by ERNC President Nogueira to “tell us where the Big Money is going to come from,” Gotham replied that different funding sources have different ideas about how their grant money should be spent—and the trick for TBTB grant proposals is to tailor them in ways that match those expectations.
“The more skillfully a grant proposal is written the better the chances that it will get funded,” Gotham said, adding: “Grants, to a degree, are a moment of opportunity, and so we will have many goals, although we don’t expect to go out there and find a grant that will match ever one [of the goals].”
As much as 80 percent of TBTB’s master plan document has already been written, Gotham said, adding: “We’re getting stuff done but we need your help to get the rest of the stuff done.”
In response to a question from Vice President David Greene whether the ERNC could get regular updates about the progress that TBTB is making, Gotham agreed to keep the board informed on a quarterly basis.
Asked by Greene as to how much the entire Take Back the Boulevard project would cost, Gotham replied that’s impossible to estimate in advance in any useful way.
“Anyone who tells you how much a project like this is going to cost has got to be smoking something,” he said, jokingly casting a sideways glance at veteran Eagle Rocker and medical marijuana advocate Tim Ryder, who was seated in the audience.
Brian Gallagher, a registered traffic engineer with the state of California’s Department of Transportation who lives on Ellenwood Drive, pointed out that Colorado Boulevard is designated as a “major highway” and that the city’s “community plans” would have to be changed before any reduction in the number of lanes (for vehicles) is undertaken.
Gallagher also advised Gotham to ascertain what various city departments, including the DOT, are “willing to commit to do free before you start doing grants to get this stuff done.”
While many of the TBTB’s proposed changes to Colorado are “very simple and cheap,” others are not, Gallagher said. “A new traffic signal costs about $300,000 per location, and to widen curbs to provide bump-outs costs about $100,000 per location,” he said.
“And when you have these bump-outs it causes problems with water drainage, trash, and [for] people waiting to turn right on lanes,” Gallagher added. Besides, constructing medians on Colorado Boulevard (to facilitate pedestrian crossing, as TBTB envisions) might also hinder the movement of Fire trucks, he said.
“It sounds like a lot of these are really good ideas,” Gallagher told the ERNC board. “But before you pay somebody to write grants, find out what you’re paying them to write the grants for and why it’s unnecessary to go out and get money when the city may already be willing to do most of that.”
Gotham said that the TBTB steering committee has talked to the Department of Transportation “and they told us that the designation of Colorado Boulevard [as a highway] would not be an obstacle to do doing the things we’d like to see done.”
Regarding bump-outs, Gotham agreed that it’s possible to build them for $100,000. But many communities, he said, “have taken a much less expensive approach” and built bump-outs for “way below $100,000” without causing drainage problems.
“So there is the perfect way to do things—and there is the less expensive way to do things,” he said. “We will certainly look at solutions, where we can, that don’t represent the major investment.”