Westside communities will soon begin to see financial improvements to their transportation, school and infrastructure needs, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a federal economic stimulus plan passed by the United States Congress in February.

Los Angeles County is eligible for several million dollars and will continue to seek more, according to county officials.

Santa Monica has received millions of dollars for the Big Blue Bus and the city has also been the beneficiary of funding for homeless services, an increase in community block grants and energy conservation.

The Los Angeles Unified School District will get an estimated $360 million over two fiscal cycles for Title I allotments and $160 million for special education funding, said Lydia Ramos, an LAUSD spokeswoman.

And in City Council District 11, which includes The Argonaut coverage area, several infrastructure projects are in the pipeline, including improvements at Los Angeles International Airport and various stormwater, landscaping and playground improvements.

Santa Monica has qualified for $361,749 in community block grants, $567,000 in homeless prevention funding and nearly one million in energy conservation.

ìWeíre pleased (to have received the stimulus money), but our unmet needs go way beyond this,î said Kate Vernez, Santa Monicaís assistant to the city manager.

City officials will look to federal and state grants to subsidize sewer and water main repair, as well as for surface transportation, wireless and broadband needs, Vernez said.

Over $12 million will be made available to the county for homeless prevention programs as part of the stimulus package. To be eligible, county officials must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by May 18th on the best use of the funds.

ìWe need to develop the most effective ways of putting these resources to work in benefiting county residents at highest risk of homelessness, and we need to move quickly,î said Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe.

Los Angeles officials are set to receive an economic windfall to initiate projects that could translate into jobs for city residents in the coming months. The unemployment rate in Los Angeles is currently at 12 percent, among the highest in the nation. That number is not lost on Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

ìOur nation is in an economic crisis, and wherever we can grab federal or state money, we should,î said the councilman, who represents the 11th District and is a member of the councilís economic stimulus committee.

Various communities in Rosendahlís district are eligible for stimulus money for projects that have been on the sidelines and or on the drawing board for some time. Wastewater initiatives are some of the most important, said Rosendahl.

ìI wish that we could do them all,î he said. ìThey are all very worthy projects and we will do our best to make sure that as many communities as possible are able to be helped by this federal money.î

Sharon Commins, a vice-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council, thinks that improving water quality through the Mar Vista Recreation Center Stormwater initiative is a very good candidate for stimulus funding.

ìI think obtaining federal stimulus funds for Mar Vista infrastructure would be excellent,î Commins said.

Big Blue Bus officials will use their federal allotment to purchase ten new 30-foot gasoline-electric hybrid buses for use on neighborhood Mini Blue lines. The Santa Monica transit agency will also will be contracting with a number of companies and manufacturers across the country to infuse much needed capital back into the economy, especially in the Southern California area.

ìItís very rewarding to be a catalyst for getting dollars circulating back into both the local and national economy, and to be able to develop the infrastructure for better community service, all at the same time,î said Stephanie Negriff, director of transit services for the Big Blue Bus.

The federal money can only be used for capital expenditures and not for operating costs or service enhancements, per the grantís guidelines.

In addition to the ten hybrids, three 60-foot flexible articulated buses will be added to the busy Rapid 3 and Rapid 7 lines, along with potentially three 40-foot alternative fueled buses.

Making certain that the new buses and the road and infrastructure improvements are in place is critical due to the impending arrival of the Mid-Cities Exposition Light Rail Line, known as the Expo Line, to Santa Monica in 2016.

ìItís vital that we be ready when Expo gets here,î Negriff added, ìso we can make it easy and affordable for people to access the excellent and integrated transit system thatís already in place.î

LAUSDís Ramos said that the majority of the federal allotment is earmarked for special education and Title I programs. LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines hopes to begin the process of allowing school principals discretion in using the federal largess to pay for a lost administrative or teaching position, or a program that a school may lose due to the looming budget cutbacks.

ìEssentially, what the superintendent is recommending is using the federal money to offset the budget cuts from the state and decentralize the Title I program, to allow principals more flexibility,î the LAUSD spokeswoman explained.

Title I is a federal statute which funds primary and secondary education. The funds are authorized for professional development, resources to support educational programs, and parental involvement promotion. Schools in local District 4, which includes Westchester, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Venice, are eligible for Title I compensation.

ìBy the end of April, we should have the official figures on the amount of money that the district will receive,î said Ramos.

Vernez credited Santa Monicaís team of department heads and other city employees for their collective preparation and planning, which she believes put Santa Monica in a solid position to qualify for the federal funding.

ìWe feel that we have done a good assessment of our infrastructure needs,î she said.

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