County Supervisors approved awarding some $450,000 in grants for two non-profit agencies working on economic development issues.
Supervisors approved a $300,000 grant for the “Regional Economic Action Coalition” or REACH to support “economic development activities in support of the County,” reads a staff report. They also approved $150,000 for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce for something called, “SLO County Family-Friendly Workplace Program.”
The monies are coming out of the County’s share of Senate Bill 1090, a law signed in 2018 by former Gov. Jerry Brown, that dealt with the economic impacts from the just announced closure of Diablo Canyon power plant. SB 1090 sought to soften the economic blow from the plant’s closure.
However, the plant has since been OK’d to continue operations for another 5-10 years after its licenses expire in 2024 and 2025.
One of the provisions in SB 1090 was $85 million in “community impact mitigation funds” paid by Pacific Gas & Electric’s ratepayers.
That slug of money was divided into “Economic Development Funds” of $10 million; and the “Essential Services Mitigation and Stabilization Fund,” with $75 million.
The County got $3.6 million in EDF monies with the remaining amount divvied up between the cities in SLO County. The County is also expecting $27.9 million of the ESMS monies, with the remainder being shared by the cities, school districts and other agencies.
However, since 2018 Diablo Canyon was given a reprieve from closure with SB 846, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in December 2022 that gave PG&E a pathway to keep the plant open to help bolster the State’s energy grid, especially in times of high demand like the annual summer heat waves, and prevent the need for rolling blackouts.
The thought is to buy some time with Diablo Canyon’s continued operations until the State can fully replace its 2,500 megawatts of power with so-called renewable and emissions-free energy sources.
Part of SB 846 was preservation of the SB 1090 monies even though the plant doesn’t appear to be closing anytime soon. There is however a legal challenge that has been filed by local anti-nuclear power organizations seeking to force Diablo’s closure on the previous schedule.
Supervisors had previously approved a list of categories for use of the County’s SB 1090 monies — a Tax Reduction Reserve Fund; affordable housing; safety; infrastructure; roads, libraries; and economic development.
The County has been squirreling away the SB 1090 monies into a special account in the General Fund as it’s been received. Before the current allocation of $450,000 there was $1.9 million in that fund.
The County expects to get a total of $3.9 million in the economic development monies.
It had in 2020 previously given REACH $400,000 out of the economic development fund for its 2030 economic strategy a plan drafted over a year’s time by REACH, with “input from 1,000 residents and 200 regional leaders” with the goal of “creating 15,000 good paying jobs over the coming decade through six strategic initiatives,” the report said.
The previous grant for REACH was $300,000 for “core economic development services” and $100,000 to assist in the development and publishing of REACH’s most significant work to date — the “Central Coast Emerging Industries Waterfront Siting and Infrastructure Study” that took a deep dive into the proposed offshore floating wind farms being studied now by three companies that won leases from the Federal Government for sizable areas in the open ocean to install floating wind turbines.
The REACH study looked at the onshore infrastructure needs to support the huge wind farms, including a deep-water port and 40-50-acre manufacturing and maintenance facility and floating work quay. Its conclusion was that there is nowhere in SLO County that could currently fill that need but the harbor at Diablo Cove might be rebuilt and greatly expanded.
The County and REACH have been working together on economic development planning since the group was formed in 2018.
“The County Economic Development Manager,” reads the report, “and other County staff actively collaborate, shape, participate, and contribute to various REACH activities and initiatives, alongside counterparts in city governments, the Santa Barbara County government, and a variety of other stakeholders. In particular, the County closely works with REACH on planning for the economic impacts of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant decommissioning, emerging industry development [particularly offshore wind], and regional planning activities such as the federal Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy [CEDS] and the state Community Economic Resilience Fund [CERF]. REACH’s economic development efforts in support of San Luis Obispo County are funded by a variety of private and public sources.”
So in less the past 3 years, SLO County has granted REACH some $700,000. But just who is REACH?
According to the report, “REACH, the Regional Economic Action Coalition, unites public, private, and civic leaders across the Central Coast with the mission to increase economic prosperity through big thinking, bold action, and regional collaboration.” It is a 501(C)(3), non-profit, public benefit corporation (see: https://reachcentralcoast.org).
This is also not the first time Supervisors have granted sizable amounts to the SLO Chamber of Commerce, which was given $75,000 back in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget that was used to hire a Family Friendly Workplace coordinator.
This additional $150,000 — $75,000 each for FY 2022-23 and FY 2023-24 — is to “support the program’s second and third years of establishment and growth,” the County report said. “The SLO Chamber of Commerce expects to transition the funding model for the program after FY 2023-24 and will not seek further funding from the County for future years of program activities.”
But just what is a “Family Friendly Workplace” program? According to the County, “While child care availability, accessibility, and affordability have long been challenges on the Central Coast with impacts on employers as well as families, the COVID-19 Pandemic made the challenges more acute.
“The SLO County Family-Friendly Workplaces Program aims to address these challenges in two ways: 1) educate SLO County employers on strategies to attract and sustain a strong and inclusive workforce through investment in quality child care and implementation of family-friendly workplace policies; and 2) provide support and resources to SLO County employers interested in becoming more family-friendly. The program provides resources and support to employers countywide, free of charge and regardless of membership in the chamber. Since its launch, the program has endeavored to partner and collaborate with organizations across the county, including other chambers of commerce and the ‘We Are the Care Initiative.’ The program is also supported by First5 SLO County.”
Also, as part of this agenda item Supervisors were asked to re-designate $3.47 million from the SB 1090 Infrastructure Fund to the Economic Development Fund.