County Partners With SB, Others In Promise Zone Initiative For Urban Renewal

(November 18)  Acting as the governing body of the Housing Authority of the county of San Bernardino, the board of supervisors this week approved a preliminary memorandum of understanding with the city of San Bernardino, the San Bernardino City Unified School District, Loma Linda University, the Institute of Public Strategies and the National Community Renaissance of California to work toward preparing and submitting an application with the federal government for a significant portion of the city of San Bernardino to be designated as a so-called “Promise Zone,” making it eligible for subsidization funding for community improvement programs.
In 2013, the Promise Zone Initiative was introduced by the federal government to designate a number of high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities as target areas where the federal government would partner and invest in communities to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and reduce violent crime. In January 2014, the first five Promise Zones were selected by an interagency panel led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In September 2014, the second round of the Promise Zone initiative was announced.
Urban, rural, and tribal communities were invited to put forward a plan to partner with local businesses and community leaders to make evidence-based investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity.
In exchange, those communities that receive the Promise Zone designation receive preferred access to certain competitive federal investments that further their strategic plans, get federal staff on the ground to help them implement their goals, and obtain access to federal staff to recruit and manage volunteers to strengthen the capacity of Promise Zone partners.
Promise Zones focus on assisting community cooperation with the federal government to meet development and economic rejuvenation goals.
The board of supervisors endorsed the effort, brought forward by county executive officer Greg Devereaux at the November 18 board meeting, to allow the county to engage with the other participants to meet a November 21 filing deadline.
“A Promise Zone designation presents an invaluable and crucial opportunity to transform an area of extreme need in the city of San Bernardino into a healthy, sustainable, equitable and thriving place to work, live and play,” Devereaux wrote in a report/recommendation to the board of supervisors dated November 18. “The positive transformation of this community and its residents is dependent upon physical transformation of the area, linked to comprehensive and coordinated public-private Promise Zone strategies to access and create jobs, increase economic activity and security, improve educational opportunities, improve health and wellness, and reduce violent crime. The housing authority, the county of San Bernardino, the city of San Bernardino, the National Community Renaissance of California, San Bernardino City Unified School District, Loma Linda University, and the Institute of Public Strategies desire to form a collaborative through this memorandum of understanding and will submit the required Second Round Promise Zone Urban Application and if the area is designated as a Promise Zone, complete the work necessary to implement the Promise Zone Plan.”
When pressed by Supervisor Josie Gonzales to explain why the county was participating in the program, Devereaux said, “Promise Zone is a program that was initiated by the federal government i n 2013. The premise behind the program is that a number of high poverty areas throughout the United States would be designated as Promise Zones. Those Promise Zones don’t in and of themselves  bring any funding with them.  They do bring consultation and advice and counsel from members of  the United States  Government across a wide array of departments. If you receive a promise zone designation, you get priority for certain funding opportunities for certain areas such as education, wellness and job training. The city of San Bernardino applied in the initial round. They were not selected. There were only five jurisdictions across the country that were selected. As they prepared for round two, one of the  areas where the application was short was capacity. Given the issues that are occurring in San Bernardino right now, especially the financial issues, I think the federal government was concerned that they had sufficient capacity to really bring together a lot of stakeholders in the community, because this  whole approach of Promise Zone is bringing together a number of community partners that are vested and invested in that community that are supposed to work together, almost  in a collective impact environment, pooling resources, working across silos for the betterment of that community. So the city and mayor approached the county and asked whether the county would join in the effort as we had last time but this time, because of the federal government’s concerns about their capacity, would the county act as the lead agency. When we looked at it, we did not think it would take a lot of extra work because a lot of the approach for this Promise Zone application is concentrating the efforts of programs that are already in existence and already taking place and making sure that they are better coordinated and getting higher levels of participation. We already have a transitional assistance department center in the very focus area they are talking about, which is the area primarily around Waterman Gardens but also includes major portions of the city, so this application is based on an inner zone and an outer zone.  It’s not about instituting a new program, but trying to make sure we get more of the residents participating in that program and better coordinated with other programs  There are a lot of community partners coming to the table. What it does is it makes every one of them more eligible or given a higher priority for funding across a wide array of departments within the U.S. Government. Indeed to date, that has been the case. Every Choice Neighborhood grant that has been issued in the United States in this past year were with a group that had a Promise Zone. Choice Neighborhood grants can run from $30 to $50 million. Though the guidelines don’t say you have to be in a Promise Zone, it is telling that the only jurisdictions that got them were in Promise Zones. It just gives you a leg up.”
Supervisor Gonzales called the joint effort “a great new beginning for a multitude of positive reasons.” She reminded those present that “This county is the largest tenant in the city of San Bernardino. We have a real estate portfolio intrinsically tied to the city of San Bernardino. We have a whole hell of a lot of money invested in this city.” Gonzales said the county should strive to be “a good partner wherever it is possible. This goes a long way toward partnering with the city of San Bernardino.”
At the same time, she sounded a note of caution, saying, “Everything cannot fall on the county. Each city is responsible and held responsible unto itself. The city of San Bernardino has to step up and meet their obligation and help us to help them. If that does not happen then all of the best efforts will fail.”
Gonzales, asked what liability the county would have if the project fell apart and, in such a circumstance, if it would jeopardize “our high status with HUD at the federal level.”
Deveraux said, ”The county is held in good stead by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I do think that if we were fortunate enough to be awarded a Promise Zone designation and failed to come together as a community and work in a way that led to improvement, we would fall somewhat in the eyes of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Having said that, I can tell you that given the nature of the leadership at the table, I think there is a very high likelihood of success. With the level of commitment they have demonstrated and the initiative they have put forth, those problems are going to take place and, I think, will be able to succeed. If the funding that will be available if the Promise Zone comes through, it would only help all of them be able to succeed at a higher level.”
In a separate action pertaining to a cooperative endeavor involving the county’s housing authority and one of the entities involved in the Promise Zone application, National Community Renaissance, also known as National CORE, the board of supervisors approved a consent to joint representation and waiver of potential conflict of interest arising out of the representation of the county of San Bernardino by Goldfarb & Lipman LLP.
That item pertained to the approval of the Val 9 Apartments affordable
housing project in San Bernardino. The county’s Department of Community Development and Housing is partnering with Housing Partners I, Incorporated and National Community Renaissance on the project. Both of those entities are existing clients of the Goldfarb and Lipman firm as is the county’s housing authority.  The county intends to use Goldfarb & Lipman’s ’s services to negotiate and prepare documents relating to its participation, through the HOME Investment Partnership program, in the financing of the Val 9 Apartments affordable housing development. Accordingly, the board of supervisors consented to a waiver as to the potential conflict growing out of this triple representation.
Such a potential conflict, and a need for a waiver, will ensue if the Promise Zone status is granted to San Bernardino, and the county partners with National CORE in an endeavor growing out of that program.

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