CITYWIDE — From its prime location on the sand north of the Santa Monica Pier, Back on the Beach restaurant seems about as far from Wall Street and the financial crisis as you can get.
But when panic over sub-prime loan losses caused banks last fall to pump the brakes on small business loans, Back on the Beach co-owner Fred Deni found himself in trouble. He had a contractual obligation to push ahead with a planned renovation of his property but no way to get the financing he needed.
Then came the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, often referred to as “the stimulus package.”
Deni was able to secure a nearly $250,000 loan from the government to complete his renovation and opened for business in July with 60 employees. Without the loan, he said the restaurant, already closed for 18 months during construction, would have stayed closed for at least another summer, meaning no work for his employees.
“That [stimulus] money definitely, definitely enhanced the seasonal jobs here,” he said. “I do not know what we would have done had all of that not come to fruition when it did.”
Back on the Beach is one of several businesses and organizations in Santa Monica that received a loan, grant or contract from the government as a result of the massive stimulus package.
According to the government operated Web site devoted to tracking stimulus spending (www.recovery.org), $241.9 billion of the $787 billion package had been paid out as of last week.
Santa Monica entities have received slightly more than $30 million in grants so far, according to a Santa Monica Daily Press analysis of the latest data available.
Groups that receive funding are required to file detailed reports explaining how they spent their funds, but the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board, which is charged with overseeing stimulus spending, has acknowledged the data is still incomplete.
This has led to frustration and intense criticism of the program, increasing doubts about its effectiveness.
“It’s an imperfect picture, but it’s the best picture we have right now,” said Cheryl Arvidson, a spokeswoman for the board.
In Santa Monica, though, it’s clear the funding has aided a wide range of groups that were in need. Recipients include organizations like the John Wayne Cancer Institute, the Big Blue Bus, the 18th Street Arts Complex and the Santa Monica Symphony, which provides free concerts featuring professional and emerging musicians and received a grant for $25,000.
The symphony’s grant was used to save one performance last month in which 21 union musicians and 23 non-union musicians participated. Without the stimulus funding, those musicians and a conductor would have been out of work, at least for one evening. Donations are down, meaning tough times for the symphony, which calls the Civic Auditorium home and has been a fixture in Santa Monica since 1945.
“This was really important for union musicians,” said Julie Nichols, the executive director of the symphony. “They depend on this, especially now when so many others are cutting musician jobs … I can’t speak for the rest of the economy, but certainly for the artists whose jobs we saved with this money, it is really important.”
The stimulus funding package was well received by the Westside Family Health Center, which used a grant for $741,125 to hire an extra doctor and a registered nurse, allowing the community clinic to expand services to its roughly 8,300 patients, many of whom do not have health insurance and live below the poverty line, said Debra Farmer, the clinic’s president and CEO.
“In the last year and a half, we were seeing people who were losing their health insurance because employers couldn’t afford to offer it anymore,” Farmer said. “Now those people are coming back and they have lost their jobs. So we are glad to be here to provide what we can.”
Stimulus dollars were also used to upgrade the clinic’s computer systems, a critical move given the move toward digitizing medical records. Farmer also purchased a 36-foot, two-exam-room mobile unit to go out to patients who may have trouble getting to the clinic.
“We are not throwing any money away,” Farmer said, responding to critics of the stimulus funding. “Everyone I know who received money either saved jobs or added jobs like we did. There is a lot of reporting that we have to do to show that the money is not going into some black hole. We are sending quarterly reports back to the feds. They want to know how the money is being used, if we have seen an increase in patients and the number of visits, and particularly with the public health emergency with H1N1, this money came at a good time.”
Donations are down for the clinic but the need has increased, she said. Without the stimulus funding, the clinic may have not been able to fill positions if doctors or nurses were to leave.
“We need to be here so people can get health care,” Farmer said.
Down the road, Farmer would like the information technology staff to help with the computer system and patient tracking. Without stimulus funding, that wouldn’t be a possibility, she said.
Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera contributed to this report.