The Brentwood Community United Methodist Church is hosting a musical benefit Wednesday night after the City Council failed to waive planning and building fees for an expansion to its food pantry.
The church went to the city late in 2012 to seek expansion to their HOPE House. As part of the expansion of bigger pantry where they needed to bring in a 24’ insulated shipping container for non-perishable food storage , the group was told they needed to build siding, a wooden roof, and wheelchair accessibility.
Through this process, the church racked up $4,000 in fees—none which were waved.
In fact, a petition to waive the fee was declined four times. Three times it was declined by City of Brentwood Departments and once City Manager Paul Eldredge. The fee waiver was declined based off city policy in all four instances.
To put this $4,000 in perspective, it equates to about 4-tons of food which could have been provided to the community. Going a step further, thanks to the community partners and generous donations from the public, that $4,000 would provide 4-5 months’ worth of food they would purchase to supplement their donations—the organization gets to purchase food for 18 cents on the dollar due to buying in bulk.
On March 12 of this year, Jeff Schults approached the Council during Public Comments to see if they would consider waiving the fees or at least tweaking the policy.
Schults was the applicant for conditional use permit 12-006 for conditional use facility at 218 Pine Street which supports a food pantry program. The program has local support from Fresh and Easy, Brentwood Community Chest and donations. When they submitted conditional use permit they asked for a fee waiver
We agree it’s a great program and should welcome Brentwood to the partnership. The problem is existing policy does not give any flexibility or discernment to enter into partnership addressing one of the major issues of our time. There are three possible results coming from tonight. The first one, you can waive the fee. Fees have been waived before, it wouldn’t be precedent setting and variances have happened. More importantly, you can review the policy. Whether you support this fee waiver, I think the current policy as written could be reviewed. If the waiver does not apply to this application, the bar is set really high I can’t imagine to many people get it waived.
Multiple others spoke to waive the fee on behalf of the organization.
According to Schults, both Vice Mayor Joel Bryant and Gene Clare reached out to see how they could help. He never did hear from Mayor Bob Taylor, Steve Barr or Erick Stonebarger—we can assume this is due to preventing a Brown Act Violation from occurring.
Fast forward to September, we now have a church trying to raise funds to make up an additional $4,000 to help feed those in need in East Contra Costa County because a city would not waive its fees.
HOPE House was opened in 2011; it serves over 350 families and 1,000 people each month in conjunction with the USDA, Contra Costa Solano Food Bank, and community partners.
According to Schults, the group goes through 10-12 pallets of food each month depending on the food they provide and the time of year. While the focus is on food, Schults was quick to point out that they also have a warm coat program where they are hoping to give away over 1,000 coats this winter.
In a response to an email that was sent individually to each city council member, only Gene Clare chose to respond with a phone call.
Councilman Gene Clare explained Saturday that he encouraged staff to reconsider waiving the fee after the March 12 meeting and wanted the policy looked at.
“I asked that both staff reconsider and look at our policy because they took action based off our current policy. I said maybe it’s the policy that needs to be looked at. I wanted them to re-look this policy and the finance sub-committee would re-convene and look at it,” said Clare. “I was notified that the finance sub-committee decided to make no changes. At this point, I am going to ask that the entire council make the decision. “
The Brentwood City Council Finance Subcommittee consists of councilmembers Barr and Stonebarger who decided the policy would remain in place as is without any changes.
Councilman Clare, who discloses he is a part of the church and sings in its choir disagrees and says there should be more flexibility when potentially waiving fees with non-profits.
“This is not a single issue, I am concerned for all non-profits who may experience this simile issue,” explained Clare.
Schults agrees, noting that Brentwood is the only city in Contra Costa and Solano Counties who would not waive a fee like this for an organization trying to feed the community.
“There is a shock factor going around other cities in Contra Costa and Solano County that Brentwood would turn this fee waiver down,” explained Schultz. “Other cities bend over backwards to have this type of program.”
So now the church turns to music as a way to raise funds. The group is hoping this fundraiser on Sept. 4 will raise the $4,000 while providing a nice show to those in attendance.
“This event on the 4th will allow us to complete the refurbishing of our non-perishable storage container and expand services for the next year,” said Schults. “We are okay with doing what we have to do to conduct our business. We are typically singers so it’s a natural for us to turn to music and do fundraiser. So when we have the opportunity to have The Hard Road trio we are happy to have them come on Sept. 4”
Still, Schults hopes the city council looks a little harder at its policy in the future.
“Brentwood is a fee based city. This fee waiver, I think the current policy as written could be reviewed. If the waiver does not apply to this application, the bar is set really high as I can’t imagine too many people get it waived in the future,” said Schults.
In the big scheme of things, Brentwood is a city that for Fiscal Year 2012/2013 had an operating budget of $174.3 million while maintaining a 30% reserve of $10.6 million. Bottom line, they are not going to miss $4,000 in fees—especially when the organization benefits well over 12,000 people a year.
To put this $4,000 in perspective, here is a look at a couple of the awardees the City Council recently approved under its Business License Grant Program. A total of 21-applicants received funding which totaled $406,225 in funding.
- Cornfest Fireworks – $30,595
- Holiday Parade – $10,500
- Hometown Halloween – $4,500
- Citywide Banner Program – $22,000
- Brentwood Advertising Campaign – $12,500
- Brentwood Art, Wine, Jazz Festival – $18,000
- Art, Wine, Jazz Festival Banners – $3,000
- Brentwood Food & Ag Innovation – $5,000 (Note: DailyColorsToday.com has not updated their website since April 16,2013)
- Delta Harvest Run – $7,500
- Downtown Tourist Map – $4,000
While I admit fee waivers and its Business License Grant Program are apples to oranges, it shows you the money that Brentwood is willing to hand out to organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Art Society, businesses, websites, and city programs.
Brentwood’s City Council should reconsider their policy on a fee waiver to ensure it becomes more attainable for community service groups as it will further improve Brentwood in the long run while creating a stronger more opportunity to food families in East County.
The benefit concert is set for Sept. 4 at 7:00 pm located at Brentwood Community United Methodist Church located at 809 Second Street in Brentwood. All proceeds will go to the unexpected construction project for the H.O.P.E. HOUSE bulk food storage container.
The Hard Road Trio plays an original southwestern acoustic blend of Americana and Bluegrass music from the wide open spaces of New Mexico. They will be on a limited engagement concert series here in the Bay Area.
Tickets are $25 which you can order online at the website or contact the Brentwood Theater Company at (925) 516-1741. Nursery care is also available during the concert.