Mar Vista community members who are planning projects to benefit the community but may be struggling to get funding can look to their neighborhood council as a potential source.

The Mar Vista Community Council announced at its August 11th meeting that a community benefit grants program has been established to allow community improvement projects to apply for Los Angeles city funding from the council. Each of the city’s certified neighborhood councils receives $45,000 in annual funding from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

Under the grant program, funds will be allocated to projects that are designed to improve the quality of life in the Mar Vista community and will be implemented in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Individuals and organizations within the community are encouraged to submit proposals which will be considered by the board for final approval as a community improvement grant.

Council members explained that the board has approved funding for community projects in the past but recently announced the grant program to ensure that residents are aware they have the opportunity to request needed funds from the council.

“Our concern is that the community at large doesn’t know this is available, so we wanted to let as many organizations, schools and stakeholders know,” Community Council Chair Albert Olson said. “My concern was to make it as transparent as possible.”

Council member Rob Kadota added, “It’s a way of being more deliberate and open so that a whole variety of folks know it’s possible to apply for funding.”

The council has up to $35,000 available to award the grants, with a maximum of $3,000 allocated to any one project. Proposals will be divided into three amount classifications: $1,500 to $3,000, with a maximum of five projects funded; $500 to $1,500, with a maximum of eight projects funded; and those not to exceed $500.

Through the program, council members are hoping to receive broader participation from residents and to disperse the funds to different parts of the community, said council Vice Chair Sharon Commins.

“We want to make sure that the city funding we are privileged to get goes as far into the community as it can,” Commins said.

The Venice Neighborhood Council is another local advisory board that has initiated a process to enable community improvement projects to seek city funding, and Olson said the Venice program was a model for Mar Vista. In the Venice initiative, groups submit applications and present their ideas to a committee which makes recommendations to the full council.

The Mar Vista council will utilize a similar process, where interested applicants indicate the amount of money needed, how it will be spent and the benefit to the community, and then present the proposal to the outreach committee which offers recommendations to the council.

Kadota believes the effort can create new partnerships between the community and community council.

By getting involved in the process, groups that may have had trouble completing their projects due to lack of funding will have the chance to make them happen, Olson said.

“Our hope is that we can move forward a few worthy projects that otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” he said.

Council members anticipate that they will see a variety of unique proposals to enhance the community, from school projects to neighborhood beautification.

“We hope to see a variety of creative local projects,” Commins said.

She noted that helping provide adequate funding to projects that will better the community is one of the primary roles of the advisory council.

“Our responsibility is to get the dollars out there where they can do some good,” Commins said.