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The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved changes to its community projects grants program this morning, but weakened a provision that would’ve effectively prohibited grants for such things as lobster dinners.

Criticism of the program, which allows each supervisor to distribute $2 million annually ($10 million total) to local nonprofits, has increased as the supervisors have laid off county employees but continued dishing out money they described as being surplus revenue.

And just before it approved the changes, the board unanimously approved two last-minute grants that wouldn’t be eligible under the new rules.

Supervisor Bill Horn earmarked $2,000 to the Summergrass Bluegrass Festival for an event that’s already happened. The money will cover sanitation and golf-cart rentals. Horn also directed $1,279 to reimburse Fallbrook People to People Services, which provides free employment referrals, for moving costs.

Those types of awards won’t be allowed going forward because the supervisors set a $3,500 minimum for grants.

The supervisors also weakened a requirement they’d proposed that would’ve required grants to be used primarily on capital projects. They changed that Tuesday and will instead give “higher priority” to one-time expenses or capital projects.

That gives the supervisors room to continue funding such things as lobster dinners and holiday dog festivals.

Many of the changes the supervisors adopted are cosmetic or formalize practices already in place. For example, the grant program was renamed the “Neighborhood Reinvestment Program,” and the grants now must “enhance the region’s quality of life.”

The supervisors didn’t adopt detailed rules for how the grants can be used, but today’s action will require the county to post grant guidelines and a list of recipients online.

“It will provide greater transparency, greater accountability and, I hope, greater public confidence in the program,” said Dianne Jacob, the board’s chairwoman.

Lani Lutar, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, supported the changes.

“I think this is a huge step forward,” she told supervisors during their morning meeting. “I think the public will benefit from this.”

ROB DAVIS

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