The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was signed into law on March 11, 2021 and represents a new and innovative approach to releasing federal funds to municipalities with a strong intention to provide impactful direct assistance to individuals and communities most impacted by COVID-19.
The legislation has a clear intent of serving low income communities and communities of color, well emphasized by this statement taken directly from the law: “While the pandemic has affected communities across the country, it has disproportionately impacted low-income families and communities of color and has exacerbated systemic health and economic inequities. Recovery Funds allow for a broad range of uses to address the disproportionate public health and economic impacts of the crisis on the hardest-hit communities, populations, and households.”
Sonoma County was allocated nearly $96 million under this legislation. Funds must be obligated by December 31, 2024 and fully expended by December 31, 2026.
On February 24, 2022, the ARPA Community Resilience Program’s Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) was released. This approach was taken in part to facilitate creativity in applicants’ solutions, rather than having to respond to a more prescriptive Request for Proposals process. The NOFA, all attachments, and the application were released on the County of Sonoma’s Upstream Investments website and applications were submitted directly through the ARPA inbox.
The mission of Upstream Investments is to promote effective and prevention-focused approaches that will ultimately uproot poverty and reduce monetary and societal costs to our community. Upstream accomplishes this mission by supporting the community to invest early in prevention efforts, wisely in approaches that are proven to work and together in approaches to maximize impact. The Portfolio of Model Upstream Programs is a collection of outcome-based and prevention-focused programs currently implemented throughout Sonoma County.
On May 24, 2022, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved $39,258,067 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to support disproportionately impacted individuals and households who have suffered economic impacts as well as disparities in public health outcomes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The County supposedly received 78 eligible community investment proposals requesting just over $172 million in funding.
The ARPA presentation included with the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting packet indicates that Upstream Investments, the Office of Equity, Human Services and the Economic Development Board worked collectively to recommend funding disbursements.
The funding review committee conducted a review using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies which resulted in recommending 27 proposals for funding. The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the funding recommendations.
Mr. Oscar Chavez served as the Assistant Director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department from 2013 through March 2023. He oversaw the County’s Upstream Investments Initiative, the Department’s planning, research, and evaluation functions, and community and client engagement. He simultaneously served as the Board President to Latino Service Providers (LSP).
As detailed in the May 24, 2022 funding allocations approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Latino Service Providers was unanimously approved for a funding recommendation of $836,941, a subcontractor/partner for a CTE Foundation allocation of $1,100,210, and a subcontractor/partner for a West County Community Services allocation of $700,000.
Government Code Section 1090 prohibits an officer, employee, or agency from participating in making government contracts in which the official or employee within the agency has a financial interest. Although IRS Form 990’s indicate that Mr. Chavez received zero monies as President of LSP, it could be considered biased to allocate funding to an entity in which one serves on the Board of Directors.
As recently shared in the California Globe, County of Sonoma Equity Officer / Santa Rosa City Schools Trustee Alegria De La Cruz recommended hefty ARPA funding allocations for local nonprofit Raizes Collective in May 2022. Ms. De La Cruz shares a mortgage with Raizes Executive Director Maria Isabel Lopez, and has listed the nonprofit as a source of income on recent statements of economic interest. Despite the apparent conflict of interest, Newsom Appointee De La Cruz, former Deputy Counsel to the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors, decided to ignore government code 1090.
“The crash happened Wednesday at around 9 p.m. in the area of Cleveland Ave. and Ridgeway Ave. where police were assisting with traffic control during a fire, according to Santa Rosa police.
An officer had arrived at the scene and parked his marked vehicle with the patrol lights on. Moments later, a white Hyundai Accent smashed into the patrol car’s rear driver’s side quarter panel.
The officer was slightly injured and taken to a local hospital where he was treated and released.
The Hyundai’s driver was identified as 39-year-old Maria Lopez of Santa Rosa. Police said Lopez exhibited objective signs of intoxication and was determined to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
Lopez was arrested and booked into Sonoma County Jail DUI causing injury. She was not injured.”
The criminal case docket indicates that Ms. Lopez was incarcerated between April through June 2022.
Ironically, she appeared to be absent from all meetings as a Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner during this time period.
Within the past week, a staff member from a local school district within the County of Sonoma came forward as a protected whistleblower, but requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation:
“Good morning Adina. I would like to share information anonymously. I just found your article about SoCo Equity and ARPA. Reading your article has made it clear why Alegria has used her position to intimidate entities that have attempted to sever ties with Raizes. Raizes was a subcontractor under the ARPA grant with the school district to serve our Latinx and low income communities. When asked multiple times to provide the appropriate financials to back up the request, it was never addressed. Instead, when the district attempted to terminate the contract on the grounds that it was breached, Alegria made threats to stop and take back the funding that was already received under the grant, and is now forcing the district to continue subcontracting with Raizes, as opposed to a different agency that would be able to provide services more objectively. It is so disappointing that the ones who pay the price for all of this are our Latinx community, and most of all our children.
The Guerneville District has tried to end their working relationship with Raizes, however the county and Alegria threatened to stop all funding and pull back the funding that was already given to the district. Lupe Catalan was working for West County Health Center (WCHC) and had an office at the school campus. She used it as her platform to cause tension and a horrible relationship with all the staff and the ladies that were in Cafécitos. She was supposed to be a healthcare liaison and instead turned herself into a family advocate. When WCHC had a meeting with her to discuss all of her wrong doings, she resigned. She magically got a job now working for Lynda Hopkins. The nepotism does not stop. She had no previous experience and was able to wiggle herself into that position because of her connections.”
Ms. Lupe Catalan appears to be a relative of both Executive Director Isabel Lopez, Raizes Collective and President Stephanie Manieri, Santa Rosa City Schools. Ms. Manieri’s full surname is ‘Manieri-Catalan’. Ms. Isabel Lopez is the aunt of President Manieiri.
The ‘Cafecitos’ program provides an opportunity to connect with the community and strengthen relationships at The Guerneville School Community Garden.
Ms. Lupe Catalan’s LinkedIn profile indicates that she was formerly a community health worker for West County Health Centers. She is now the new District 5 Field Representative for Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.
Raizes Collective, which “was established June 2015 to empower and mobilize community through the arts, culture and environmental education,” was included within the May 24, 2022 ARPA funding recommendations as detailed below:
Further communications mention The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on several occasions. If the board accepts the funds but takes no budgetary action, the ARPA funds are restricted until budgeted by the board.
Per Best Best & Krieger Law, “conversations, whether in person, by telephone or other means, between a member of a legislative body and any other person do not constitute a meeting (Section 54952.2(c)(1)). However, such contacts may constitute a ‘serial meeting’ in violation of the Brown Act if the individual also makes a series of individual contacts with other members of the legislative body serving as an intermediary among them.”
In this situation, Equity Officer De La Cruz could potentially be considered an intermediary, therefore in violation of The Brown Act.
Were stringent COVID-19 measures necessary or a means of economic fuel for those in power? Does the Sonoma County Equity Office represent “marginalized” communities or profit “margins?”
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