City Plays Favorites With Nonprofits

The environmental group with a connection on the council pays very little rent, the 'controversial' Latino-outreach group pays much more

When contacted by the Weekly on Sept. 17, Freese said her position on the center’s board of directors didn’t present a conflict of interest. If anything, she said, it made her more qualified to vote because she understands what the organization does. But at the next council meeting, she announced she had resigned from the board and would recuse herself from voting on its license in the immediate future, acknowledging that criticism from CREER and questions from the Weekly contributed to her decision to do so.

As for the fact that CREER pays far more for a far worse property? “Well, I’d have to say ‘different circumstances,’” Freese said. “Right now, CREER is still proving itself as to a benefit to the community. There is some question about what they do. Do they only help Latinos, or do they reach out to the community as a whole?”

The council’s concerns about CREER echo—in much milder terms—the talking points of SJC Americans, a local anti-illegal-immigration and pro-Latino-“assimilation” group that holds tea-party rallies, among other activities. Its efforts earlier this year lead in part to the City Council ending a license agreement with CHEC, a charity that provided social services and counseling to low-income people, allegedly without regards to anyone’s immigration statuses.

At council meetings and in op-ed columns, SJC Americans have blasted CREER for supposedly working to advance one race—Latinos—to the exclusion of others. Often, CREER has responded by mustering its own multi-ethnic supporters to speak at meetings. When CREER and a local Native American group scheduled the annual “Indigenous Peoples Day” festival for a city park on Sept. 11, SJC Americans derided the event as disrespectful, despite it being open to the public, including a 9/11 remembrance, and boasting the attendance of members of a Camp Pendleton color guard and Marine regiment.

CREER managing director Richard Ybarra says he’s baffled by the scrutiny directed at his organization, which runs after-school activities such as tutoring and mariachi lessons. “We don’t do any immigration work at all,” he says. “If you ask me where to go to apply for welfare, I couldn’t tell you. We just want the same deal as anyone else.”

When asked for concrete instances of when CREER has acted objectionably, Freese said she has no examples from recent years. And she, along with the rest of the council, compliments the work it does for children. But, she says, the group is “controversial.”

skornhaber@ocweekly.com

This article appeared in print as "Paying Favorites: Why does one nonprofit pay a pittance to San Juan Capistrano for a big, historic space, while another pays a mint for a small, bare-bones office?"

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