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Temecula council sets policy to seek, accept corporate funds for events, public facilities

Friday, December 13th, 2013
Issue 50, Volume 17.
Tim O'Leary
Staff Writer
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A program aimed at soliciting funds to help sponsor Temecula community events or to name public facilities was enacted despite some City Council concerns that it may siphon away donations that local firms give to cash-strapped nonprofit groups.

An hour-long debate on the Corporate Sponsorship Program, which took a city committee nearly a year to craft, ended after a compromise was reached.

The compromise came after Mayor Mike Naggar, part of the city committee, conceded the idea would fizzle unless it included safeguards aimed at protecting nonprofit coffers.

"So much work was done on this," Naggar said as the Nov. 26 debate wound down. "We have to move forward."

The committee, along with Temecula’s park staff, pushed for the program as a way to tap new revenue to help pay for new or existing city events or venues. It would also, according to Kevin Hawkins, community services director, set "clear guidelines" for an informal process in which businesses have partnered with the city in the past.

"This kind of standardizes the process," Hawkins said.

The staff presentation did not identify other cities in the region that have launched such programs that can seemingly blur the lines between civic pride, community philanthropy, marketing, advertising and corporate one-upmanship.

The presentation and staff report raised the possibility that a city position might someday be created to solicit sponsorships and run the program.

There was also some uncertainty over how much money the city has reaped thus far via informal partnerships. City staff initially estimated the windfall at about $60,000, with most of that coming in donated goods and services. That estimate was revised downward as the hearing progressed.

The city sponsors 20 to 25 community events a year, Hawkins said. About five of them are large-scale "signature" events such as the Temecula Rod Run, Christmas and July 4 parades, a fireworks show and a New Year’s Eve celebration, he said.

There have also been periodic discussions of a city teen center or art museum, two public facilities that might offer naming rights to offset construction or operating costs.

The city committee and staff discussed the program in March, August and mid-November. In the end, a detailed program was formulated. Participants can sign up for basic, bronze, silver, gold or platinum levels of support.

The benefits vary according to the donation, and a company that contributes $3,000 or more can expect their name or logo on the city’s website and activity signs, press releases, posters and other marketing materials.

Company officials can use city property for "product sampling" and to distribute free pens, key chains, bracelets and other items.

A $5,000 and above "platinum" sponsor would be identified as an official, exclusive or preferred community partner.

Program policies restrict the participation of religious and political organizations, entities that are suing the city, negotiating for a city contract, violate the Municipal Code or pose a potential conflict of interest.

The sponsorships, which are different from event vendor agreements, are not to be interpreted as a city endorsement of a company’s goods or services, documents state.

A four-page application must be submitted to the city for review.

The city manager’s office will oversee the program and approve or deny sponsor applications. Council approval will be required if an event or a public facility is to be named after a sponsor.

The criteria to be considered prior to a decision include the potential sponsor’s image, its history of city and community involvement, its "record of responsible environmental stewardship" and whether its association with the city would trigger a public backlash.

The names of the sponsors and the amounts or types of the donations will become public information, according to the program’s guidelines.

No audience members spoke during the hearing, but a pair of council members said they feared the program could "cannibalize" many of the approximately 80 nonprofit groups that serve the area.

"The nonprofits all go to the same (funding) sources," said Councilwoman Maryann Edwards, who is employed as the president and chief executive of the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest County, one of the area’s most prominent nonprofit groups. "Anything that takes away local funds will impact, in a broader sense, local nonprofits."

City Councilman Jeff Comerchero said level of corporate and private donations has remained "relatively stagnant" in recent years, and that adding another sponsorship opportunity could spread those contributions even thinner.

Naggar and Councilman Chuck Washington tried to counter those concerns by saying the new program would not prompt local companies to redirect their marketing or philanthropic funds. They said the new program could appeal to a relatively untapped source – national companies.

But Comerchero wasn’t swayed, and he pressed Naggar and Washington for a compromise.

"As a committee you’ve done very good," Comerchero said. "(But) I believe in my heart we’re throwing our nonprofits under the bus."

The recommended compromise eventually won the support of Naggar and the rest of the council. In the first year of the program, Temecula will return half of the money raised to nonprofit groups that currently receive funds under the city’s community services grants.

After that, city staff will evaluate the program and determine whether it is affecting local nonprofit groups and should be altered.

"Our staff and the public have seen a very spirited discussion," Naggar said as the issue was headed to a 4-0 vote. "Let’s implement the program and see where it goes."



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