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De la Torre Steps Down as Head of Santa Monica Youth Nonprofit

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

April 3, 2013 -- Oscar de la Torre has stepped down as executive director of Santa Monica's troubled Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) amidst a controversy over the future of the organization's funding.

De la Torre, founder of the 11-year-old nonprofit, said that he would step down “as a sign of goodwill” effective March 31 at a City Council meeting in January where the Council voted on whether to defund the nonprofit -- which receives more than $300,000 of City money a year -- over questions of administrative mismanagement.

“I have committed more than 14 years to this effort,” de la Torre told The Lookout Tuesday. “I'm committed to ensure what we created continues to save lives.”

The PYFC, which de la Torre helped found in response to a rash of gang violence in the Pico Neighborhood currently serves 55 at-risk youth.

De la Torre, who has a storied history with the City, said that he plans to continue working with PYFC and its administrative board in a consultant capacity. (“Youth Center Leader and Santa Monica Staff Have Long History of Tense Relations,” January 2013)

Santa Monica City staff had recommended defunding the organization last year because they had found irregularities in the nonprofit's bookkeeping as well other issues like overdependence on the City for funding. (“City May Take Over Santa Monica Youth Nonprofit Organization,” January 2013)

“All the problems that were identified were corrected,” said de la Torre, who claims that the City never gave PYFC a fair assessment.

He claims that “institutional bullying” is to blame for the City's desire to defund the organization, alleging “unethical and biased police investigation, false reporting and abusive of authority coming from the City Manager's Office.”

De la Torre filed a complaint against City Manager Rod Gould late last year, alleging that Gould had directed a police officer to stop de la Torre from speaking to the audience in the Council chambers before the start of a meeting (“Santa Monica Youth Center Director Files Complaint Against City Manager,” January, 2013)

At the January Council meeting, Gould said that the future of PYFC's funding was not about whether or not de la Torre stayed in charge but rather if the nonprofit could meet its obligations.

City officials said that they stand by the report it made to the Council at the January meeting, which claimed that many of the problems with the organization persisted.

The Council voted to continue funding the organization through the end of the fiscal year, but also to put out a request for proposal (RFP), calling for nonprofits to compete for the $315,000 grant currently funding the PYFC.

The RFP was released Monday and staff said that the PYFC can submit an application to compete for the funding.

“As long as (PYFC) meet the criteria outlined in the RFP they are welcome to apply,” said Human Services Manager Setareh Yavari.

Those criteria are that the nonprofit “serve disengaged youth aged 16 to 24 in Santa Monica” and “of those served, at least 50% must be between the ages of 18 to 24 years old and at risk of gang violence or incarceration,” according to the RFP.

The deadline to submit applications is April 26 and Staff will make their recommendations to City Council based on a review of the applicants.

De la Torre hopes that his stepping down will help PYFC in the RFP process. “We hope that the City staff won't have an excuse to not give us a fair hearing,” he said.

If the PYFC is replaced by another nonprofit, de la Torre said, “It will be seen, by some, as a hostile takeover of a grassroots effort.”

Staff has reiterated their commitment to keeping the center, located a block east of Santa Monica High School on Pico Boulevard, open without interrupting service to the youth.

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