City controller: LA failed to apply for grants, meet deadlines

L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel
L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel
Wendy Greuel

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L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel said L.A. lacks "an effective centralized oversight unit" to handle grant applications. Because of that, she says the city failed to follow up on some applications... and in some cases, didn’t apply at all. Greuel calls that reckless.

"The city cannot leave opportunities and cash on the table," said Greuel. "It is reckless to do so."

She added that in one case, the city simply chose not to compete for $100 million in infrastructure grants for reasons that "ranged from department capacity issues from furloughs and early retirement, to some department officials deciding only to pursue funding in certain categories."

The controller, who is running for mayor, said it doesn’t make sense to furlough people who apply for grants.

"You can be pennywise," she cautioned, "and pound foolish."

The city was awarded 24 of 88 competitive grants departments applied for since the funding became available in 2009, receiving $261 million of $1.3 billion in competitive grants it applied for. The city received $629 million in so-called ARRA money total, including $367 million in grants that didn't require a competitive application process.

The city was also slow to accept grants that it was awarded, according to the audit, causing delays in using the so-called stimulus money. According to Greuel, the turnaround for accepting a grant is expected to be five to six weeks, but most grants took five months for the City Council to accept. Greuel cited one police training grant awarded in Sept. 2008 that wasn't accepted until June 2010.

The audit recommends the creation of a centralized oversight unit under the City Administrative Officer that would track the grant process.

"The City needs to break out of its silo mentality," Greuel said in her open letter.

Greuel said she had been calling for the unit since 2009, but said a "lack of focus and attention" by the City Council prevented the office from being created.

Peter Sanders, spokesman for Mayor Villaraigosa said his boss set up a centralized grant office — two months ago.

"It remains unclear whether the Controller's office was even aware that our Office of Grants exists," Sanders said. "Its creation was common knowledge here at City Hall."

He also says the city’s won $260 million in federal stimulus grants.

This story has been updated.