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Contra Costa Times: Concord council bucks recommendation, awards $250,000 grant to Family Justice Center

Contra Costa Times: Concord council bucks recommendation, awards $250,000 grant to Family Justice Center

CONCORD — City Council members on Tuesday gave the Central County Family Justice Center a $250,000 grant, overriding a committee’s decision to award substantially less.

In December, a subcommittee of Concord’s Community Services Commission approved a $30,000 award for the Central County Family Justice Center, which opened Monday at 2151 Salvio St., across from Todos Santos Plaza.

However, police Chief Guy Swanger and Susun Kim, the center’s executive director, appealed to the City Council — whose members make up the Concord/Pleasant Hill Health Care District board — to fulfill their original request for $250,000.

“This investment would be good for our families, our children and our community,” Kim said. “I think this is going to be a really critical investment to build a future free of violence.”

Mayor Tim Grayson agreed. “The Family Justice Center saves lives. This money could sit in an account for the rest of this fiscal year and pad an account with reserve or we could use it to save lives.”

The council, acting as the health care district board, voted 4-1 to approve the full $250,000 funding; Edi Birsan cast the no vote.

The downtown Concord center, the existing West Contra Costa Family Justice Center in Richmond and a third center planned for East County would be the first such countywide network in the country, according to Contra Costa County leaders. The centers bring police, prosecutors, social service agencies and community organizations together under one roof, where victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and human trafficking can find resources to help them report abuse and leave violent situations. Experts say the family justice model reduces homicides and increases safety and efficiency.

The Concord/Pleasant Hill Health Care District was created in 2012, when the Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission dissolved the Mt. Diablo Health Care District. The district’s funding comes from property taxes plus $25,000 per year from John Muir Health for administrative costs.

In the current fiscal year, the district disbursed $290,333 in grants to local nonprofits, leaving $289,730 in the bank. No grant was more than $30,000. The award to the Family Justice Center leaves about $40,000 in reserves, and the district expects to receive $287,000 in property tax revenue next fiscal year.

After robust discussion, the commission unanimously approved the lower amount, in part because of other needs in the community.

“There’s lots of nonprofits out there; I can name a dozen right now, who are just barely hanging on but who make a tremendous impact on our community and are just as valuable,” Commissioner Devlyn Sewell said. “So I want to speak for those who don’t have an opportunity to come at a second dip.”

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister countered that the health care district has a unique opportunity to help establish an agency that will reduce medical costs and have a positive impact on the county.

Although he supports fully funding the Family Justice Center, Birsan objected to giving most of the health care district’s remaining funds to the center without commissioners’ approval. He suggested the council instead allocate $220,000 from the general fund of the city’s reserves.

“I will oppose this as written, but it’s only because the procedure is inappropriate, the protocols are not being followed, the tradition is not being followed,” Birsan said.

Grayson, an early supporter of establishing a Family Justice Center, immediately fired back, “I, unequivocally, am willing to break tradition to save lives.”

Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her

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