July 15, 2024
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Our view: Public has right to know where its money goes


We’ll admit to feeling a bit conflicted about the dispute between the county of Ventura and the Ventura County Community Foundation over the disclosure of the names of 777 recipients of $5,000 emergency grants and another 3,000 moving through the approval process. The grants are publicly funded and the foundation, which processed and awarded the funds, has so far refused to tell the county which businesses got the money.

As an independent business that values our own privacy, we can see the desire to keep the names private. But as a publisher and a steward of taxpayer funds and the public’s right to know, the county attorney seem to have the better argument on the disclosure issue.

Just about every program offered to assist businesses hurt by the pandemic—PPP and SBA loans and private grants from Google, American Express and others—come with some disclosure rules. Because taxpayer funds are involved in this case, there has to be a presumption of disclosure even if it is a private contractor, in this case VCCF, that is making the actual disbursements.

For the 777 businesses that have already received funding, it is a question of when, not if, there will be disclosure. For the remaining 3,000-plus applications in the pipeline, the fair thing would be to give each a chance to opt out if they don’t want their names disclosed.

As to other information contained in the application, the county should be judicious in disclosing information about any single business that might be harmful in relation to a competitor. At press time, an amendment to the county’s contract with VCCF was working its way through the Board of Supervisors.

It seems to us that the best way forward would be for the county and VCCF to reach an agreement on disclosure of the names and an accord on releasing noncompetitive data in the applications.

This is an important lesson in why there should be a bright line between the public sector and the private sector when it comes to financial matters. Everybody likes free money. But when it comes to grants from public agencies, even free isn’t absolutely free.

Amazon’s amoeba-likes spread down the Central Coast accelerated this month with news of a major distribution center in Oxnard and a second facility in Camarillo.

The online retail and media behemoth has been operating a technology hub in San Luis Obispo for years that has at times hosted both Amazon Prime and some media operations. It made a splash in downtown Santa Barbara with its Alexa hub that now occupies the former Saks Fifth Avenue store.

And its distribution hub in Oxnard, long in the works, will complement a large facility in Newbury Park. Amazon’s move to Oxnard comes amid a revamped city government that’s is setting new priorities for economic development and making strides in terms of transparency.

It also reflects huge infrastructure investments made over 20 years to improve transit on the Highway 101 corridor. Oxnard is getting its due.