EL CENTRO – Five local nonprofits were awarded a total of $720,000 by the county Board of Supervisors to perform public outreach efforts related to the development of Lithium Valley during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, April 18.
As part of the effort, Comite Civico del Valle will receive $363,000; Imperial Valley Equity and Justice Coalition, $170,000; Los Amigos de la Comunidad IV, $89,000; Raizes, $72,000; and the Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center, $26,000.
The funds were awarded on the condition that the entities work collaboratively with other community-based organizations (CBOs) to ensure a wide level of community engagement.
The board’s explicit request to have the five nonprofits work with other CBOs came after representatives of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Brawley and the Imperial County Farm Bureau expressed some disappointment that only nonprofits registered as a 501(c)(3) were eligible to apply for the funds.
Both organizations expressed confidence in the ability of the selected nonprofits to undertake the outreach efforts.
Yet, they noted that the selected groups did not enjoy the same close relationship that the chamber and Farm Bureau have with the business and agricultural sectors.
And they questioned whether the funds’ allocation was as inclusive as it could’ve been because of the county’s restriction against entities not registered as a 501(c)(3).
“We’d appreciate the opportunity to opening that up in the future for stuff like this,” said IC Farm Bureau Executive Director Rachel Magos.
Similarly, Brawley chamber Chief Executive Officer Ramiro Urias told the board of the chamber’s success at reaching the local business community and the important role that sector will have in the development of Lithium Valley.
He also reminded the board that Senate Bill 125, which had allocated $5 million of the state’s general fund monies for the county to use for various Lithium Valley initiatives, made no such restrictions on the types of CBOs that could apply to assist with the public outreach efforts.
Additionally, Urias requested that the board reconsider the allocation of the funds to include other local organizations beyond those registered as a 501(c)(3).
A total of $800,000 has been made available by the county for public outreach efforts, with 10 percent of that being set aside for use by Native American tribes.
During the agenda item’s public comment period, El Centro resident Peter Rodriguez also expressed disappointment with the Board of Supervisors’ selections, and accused the board of distributing the funds to the “loudest” organizations instead of in a more equitable manner.
In response, Comite Civico Executive Director Luis Olmedo, speaking remotely, said he was heartened to hear stakeholders’ concerns about inclusivity.
But he also wondered aloud why no such concerns were made when stakeholders previously had discussed the conversion of agricultural land into solar farms and the Imperial Irrigation District’s Quantification Settlement Agreement.
Both of those far-reaching initiatives did not adequately consider their respective impacts on farmworkers who experienced a loss of employment opportunities, Olmedo said.
The remarks prompted board Supervisor Jesus Eduardo Escobar to request that the five selected organizations provide quarterly progress reports and that the county Public Health Department inform the board of the department’s health equity assessment related to Lithium Valley, as well.
Supervisor John Hawk also asked that data be provided to the county by the selected nonprofits to ensure funds are being spent appropriately.
“We would like to see accountability in every aspect of this,” Hawk said.
Board Chair Ryan Kelly additionally requested that the five selected CBOs work collaboratively with entities like the local chambers and the Farm Bureau to ensure that the greatest number of community members are engaged in the outreach efforts.
Daniela Flores, Imperial Valley Equity and Justice Coalition executive organizer, told the board that the proposal her organization submitted to the board included plans to collaborate with public and private entities.
“The intent is to make this a collaborative process,” Flores told the board.
The Lithium Valley public outreach initiatives are meant to inform the public about the county’s Salton Sea Renewable Resource Specific Plan, Programmatic Environmental Impact Report and Lithium Development Infrastructure Assessment.
The outreach efforts are to include, but are not limited to, hosting public meetings and/or roundtable discussions, door-to-door canvassing, street outreach and community workshops attended by experts who can inform the public about mineral extraction and public planning, according to a letter County Executive Officer Miguel Figueroa addressed to the Board of Supervisors for the resolution.
“This engagement aims to encourage meaningful public input and involvement in the process to better inform the evaluation of the environmental impacts and lead agency decision-making resulting from proposed projects in the specified development area,” Figueroa stated in the April 18 letter.
The nonprofits’ efforts will also complement similar initiatives that the county has already undertaken. To date, some of those efforts have included workshops, and the formation of advisory committees focused on environmental justice, said Deputy County Executive Officer Rebecca Terrazas-Baxter.
“This is to supplement those efforts to directly and meaningfully engage the community,” she said.
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