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Santa Monica Pico Youth And Family Center May Have to Close

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

May 22, 2015 -- A youth gang diversion and low-income family assistance center in the heart of Santa Monica's Latino and black community will shut its doors, its executive director said Thursday, unless he can convince City Council members to restore a $190,000 grant.

Without assistance from the City's Human Services Grant Program, the newly renovated Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) will not be able to continue serving nearly 150 low-income children and families who live in the 90404 zip code, the City's poorest neighborhood, said Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education member Oscar de La Torre, who founded the center in 2001. 

“We can’t afford it,” said de la Torre, who plans to make a last-ditch appeal to the Council on Wednesday to approve nearly 40 percent of the center's annual operating budget.

Donated funds and labor covered the cost of the center's recent renovation, which included a state-of-the-art recording studio for the new “Digital Dream Pathways” program, de la Torre said. A recent partnership with Tiny Rebellion, a local high-tech ad agency, will soon offer mentoring and internship opportunities to neighborhood teens, he added.

“PYFC is a solution,” said de la Torre.

Setareh Yavari, human services manager, said staff recommended denying the center's 2015-16 grant proposal, citing $4 million already spent in various ways by the City in support of the struggling center, which continues to rely mainly on the federally funded grant program as its main funding source.

Yavari said staff had “long-standing concerns” about the center's operation, financial management and effectiveness. She cited a 2013 City report that raised serious problems with the center's administration.

Originally funded to provide intervention programs for the Pico neighborhood's hardest-to-reach teens and youth between ages 16 and 24, including gang members, high school dropouts and expelled students, recovering drug addicts, parolees and probationers, the Pico center has shifted its focus since first receiving grant money in 2000, the 2013 report said.

“Through the years, PYFC has broadened the population of youth and has undertaken social justice and community organizing that have diverted program focus and resources away from the original intent of City funding,” said the report.

PYFC has its roots as a grass roots neighborhood response to a series of gang shootings in the Pico neighborhood in the late 1990s. Pressure on Santa Monica to fund more services for children, teens and young adults in the neighborhood resulted in the center receiving its first grant from the City, the nonprofit's website says. 

At one point, PYFC received as much as $350,000 a year in City funding, said de la Torre, who attributed City Hall's dwindling financial support to political differences between the center's leaders and some local elected officials.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” he said. “This has nothing to do with the effectiveness of our program. They are not alleging our program does not make an impact.

“We are successfully dealing with gang violence, with at-risk youth,” said de la Torre. “If we save one life, I think it’s worth $190,000.”

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