OC Mayors Unhappy With How Relief Funds Disbursed

June 1, 2020 Updated: June 1, 2020

Many Orange County mayors remain unhappy with their share of federal relief money following a recent vote by the Board of Supervisors.

On May 26, a divided Board voted 3-2 to evenly split $75 million of the total $554 million the county received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Each district will be given $15 million, and each supervisor has the sole discretion to decide how the funds will be used.

Most mayors sided with the two dissenting supervisors, who proposed giving the money to cities directly and distributing it based on population. The mayors say they know the cities’ needs better than the supervisors and are better equipped to distribute the money immediately to small businesses in need.

“They need this money immediately,” Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies told The Epoch Times. “We’re capable of distributing it, and it really is about local control.”

Davies was joined by mayors from Laguna Niguel, Santa Ana, Rancho Santa Margarita, Irvine, Laguna Hills, Yorba Linda, Fountain Valley, and Newport Beach at the May 26 board meeting, where they voiced their concerns.

“We’re not giving up on our small businesses—we are fighting for them,” Davies said.

Opponents of the approved plan believe it may require the assistance of outside administrators to disburse the funds within each district, adding time and cost.

They say city-level distribution would be more straight-forward and not require this outside service.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who voted with the majority, said, “I think this lets us all do what we believe is best for our districts. And if you would simply like to allocate your share for your district to the cities within your district, I think that would be your prerogative.”

A Board Divided

Thirty-one of the county’s 34 mayors supported the business recovery plan put forth by Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner at the May 19 board meeting. The plan—which was defeated—would have allocated the $75 million directly to cities, based on population.

Each city would then decide how to best distribute assistance to the small businesses within their jurisdiction. Davies said the idea was “to get them through a month right now.”

“It’s to get them money immediately, even if it’s to pay something as small as their rent,” she said.

Most of the $554 million in CARES money has been allocated for various costs related to the pandemic. The $75 million is the remaining amount to be divvied up.

Chaffee, along with Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Andrew Do, proposed the plan that eventually passed, which disburses the funds evenly among the districts. He said he didn’t want to see his district “shorted.”

Davies and the other mayors are concerned the funds won’t be sent out fast enough to businesses on the verge of bankruptcy. And if the funds are given as loans, she believes this will put businesses further into debt.

On May 29, she wrote a letter to Bartlett, urging her to send relief to the community’s businesses in the form of grants, citing the CARES Act requirements. She also asked for the funds to be distributed to cities within the district based on population.

“Additionally, not one dollar of these relief funds should be used for paying for an administrator to do something that 5th District cities can already do,” the letter added.

The supervisors have “five different thoughts on how best to help our communities,” Bartlett said, but she felt allocating the money directly to small businesses was not a “lifeline, except for a couple of days.”

Bartlett has discussed leveraging her district’s share of the money, to get more money out of it. She is determined to help the businesses in the “long-term,” and felt the other plan would not sustain them. Chaffee and Do agreed.

‘Better Boots on the Ground’

Mayors have “better boots on the ground” compared to their supervisors, Yorba Linda Mayor Beth Haney told The Epoch Times—which is why they should be allowed to decide where the funds go.

Supervisor Wagner said during the meeting that mayors know where their cities need the most help, and that hiring an outside administrator would delay businesses from receiving aid. He said he would distribute the money to cities in his district within a week of receiving it.

“He’s not going to spend one dime of the $15 million that he gets on an administrator. He’s going to let the cities do it,” Haney said.

“All 31 out of 34 mayors wanted direct access to that money, because we all know our cities,” she added.

“We don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an administrator to divvy up this money. Yorba Linda already has a great finance department and a great economic department.”

After the meeting, the Yorba Linda City Council voted unanimously to approve a small business relief program that would grant up to $10,000 to eligible businesses, she said.

Supervisor Steel also plans on allocating her portion directly to the cities in her district, earmarked for businesses and based on population. She said hiring an administrator is just “wasting money.”

‘We Know Our Cities’

Rancho Santa Margarita Mayor Brad McGirr is concerned about how long funds will take to get into the pockets of business owners and landlords in his city, who need to pay rents and mortgages.

“We know our cities better than anybody else,” McGirr told The Epoch Times. “We know who is struggling and who isn’t.”

He and other city officials know better than any consultant, he said, even if he or she is “clairvoyant.” He’s spoken to “those who have succeeded, those who have failed, and those who are hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” and hears from them daily.

“The money was needed yesterday,” he said, adding that he is “very bothered” that grant money designated for small businesses is being held up by the Board of Supervisors.

At the May 19 meeting, the board approved $26 million in relief funds to go directly to the cities. The county plans to use the remaining $453 million from the CARES Act allocation to pay for overtime, health care, and medical costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.