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July 1, 2022

Finances, family ties debated as council doles out funding

Councilmember’s affiliation with organization stirs concern

The Gilroy City Council agreed to allocate federal grant funds to a variety of nonprofit organizations May 16. But it took multiple meetings to come to that decision after a few members not only questioned how the nonprofits will use the funds, but also whether it was appropriate to allocate money to one organization that has ties to a councilmember and her family.

The council voted 5-1 to support funding nine organizations with the $438,177 allocation, with Mayor Marie Blankley dissenting. Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz recused herself from the meeting, as she serves on the board for the Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services (CARAS), one of the organizations requesting funding.

The city receives Community Development Block Grant funds each year from the Housing and Urban Development Department, which are intended to be used for housing, economic development and community development activities for people considered to have extremely low, very low or low incomes.

Nonprofits are asked to apply for a share of the funding, and must outline how they will use the money.

The council was originally scheduled to consider approving the funding allocation at its May 2 meeting. But the council agreed to postpone its decision after lingering questions over financials.

During that meeting, Ron Kirkish, who is one of the signees in a recall effort against Armendariz, said CARAS has “significant issues” in its tax documents. That led Councilmember Fred Tovar to condemn Kirkish’s statements as uncalled-for “slandering” against the organization.

CARAS’ programs are geared toward Latino youth and families, focusing on education, advocacy and immigrants’ rights.

It applied for funding for Ryse Up, a program that aims to steer young girls away from the criminal justice system by providing them interactions with positive role models and other activities. CARAS also sought funding for its homeless prevention services.

Marty Estrada of CARAS said Gilroy’s lack of a dedicated youth center is hurting the young people of the city, citing statistics from the 2020 Santa Clara County Juvenile Justice Annual Report that showed the 95020 zip code had the highest number of youth arrests and citations in the county, above San Jose.

“We need to support these youth,” he said. “We need to work together to figure out solutions.”

CARAS has been in the crosshairs of some of the proponents of the recall effort against Armendariz, after an investigation by Hanson Bridgett determined that the city-issued barricades requested by Armendariz for a CARAS-organized event in downtown Gilroy were used at a private party where one man was shot and killed and three others were injured.

Proponents point to a Jan. 27 letter CARAS received from the California Attorney General’s office, which stated that the organization was late in submitting its annual registration renewal fee reports. The issue has since been resolved and CARAS’ nonprofit status is listed as current, according to the Attorney General’s office.

Sally Armendariz of CARAS said the organization received a letter of good standing from the state in April.

“For the people here who are so concerned about CARAS and what we do, stop by. We’re human,” she said. “We can open our books anytime because we have nothing to hide.”

Blankley said she couldn’t support the recommended allocations because she questioned if it was appropriate to do so since CARAS is closely tied to a current councilmember’s mother and son.

“I can’t support public money going to an organization that is closely affiliated with a current councilmember,” she said. “This is not saying anything about the organization itself or what it does.”

Estrada said Rebeca, Sally and Reymundo Armendariz will not be paid through the grant.

“There’s nothing going on here that’s nefarious,” he said. “You make it sound like there’s some issues going on. There’s not. We’re providing services for youth that are very much needed. We are proud of what we do for the community.”

Blankley’s motion to reallocate CARAS’ suggested funding to other organizations on the list failed, with only herself and Councilmember Peter Leroe-Munoz voting in favor. Councilmember Zach Hilton’s motion to approve the recommendation from city staff passed, with only Blankley dissenting.

Councilmember Dion Bracco said he’s been asking for years how the funded organizations use their money, broken down by programs and salaries, but never receives an answer.

“The government gave us this money to give it away,” he said. “Just throwing money away is not helping anyone. For me, I’d rather just give the money back to the government and tell them to keep it.”

But later in the meeting, after Blankley opened up a second round of public comments where Estrada was one of the speakers, Bracco said he reconsidered his position.

“His passion is moving,” he said. “I don’t have any issues with this agency, but I have issues with a few of them. Hearing some of the things said tonight, I don’t think I should vote not to give any of them money because I have issues with a couple of them, so I’m going to go ahead and support it.”

The total allocations to CARAS will amount to nearly $60,000 over two years.

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