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Santa Monica Youth Center Fights To Save Funding

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 Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

May 29, 2015-- City Council members listened to hours of passionate appeals and even a street poem, but in the end made no formal decision early Friday on a $190,000 grant request from the Pico Youth and Family Center to fund nearly half its annual budget for next year.

Following a marathon public hearing that began Thursday evening and stretched past midnight, Council members voted to accept a staff report on a package of grant proposals submitted by local nonprofits but put off a final vote until June 9. Council members Pam O'Connor and Terry O'Day were absent.

But Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich said she was leaning toward funding PYFC. Himmelrich said she was impressed by public comments in support of the center and with new financial information provided by PYFC board members.

“I understand that there's history, but I have a short emotional memory, so no matter what goes wrong, I'm always ready to go again into a situation with an optimism that it might work,” she said, suggesting staff might closer monitor PYFC's finances.

“My basic view is that it might be worth another look,” Himmelrich said. “I, personally, would like to look at it again.”

PYFC may have to close without the funding from the City's Human Services Grant Program, speakers told the Council, including several young people from the Pico neighborhood, who had marched from the youth center to City Hall.

One marcher carried a sign that read, “Aren't the youth of Santa Monica worth more than 10 percent of the city's budget?”

Santa Monica’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $564.3 million.

Nine-year-old Jay Morales told the Council he's been going to PYFC for two years.

“I love the center, and I want it to stay open,” he said.

Josh Ortega credited the center for giving his life direction.

“I just really want my story to serve as an example of what this organization does for youth like myself,” he said.

Pico Neighborhood Association Co-Chairwoman Maria Loya said the loss of PYFC would deal a blow to the area.

“I'm here representing the Pico Neighborhood Association, but I'm also here as a mother of two boys,” said Loya, who is married to the center’s executive director Oscar de la Torre. “As a mother I know the importance of youth centers such as the PYFC and the impact that it has on the well-being of my children.”

Some PYFC officials provided the Council with financial records showing the center receives most of its funding, about $240,000 a year, from a private grant, and makes up the rest of its $480,000 annual budget through donations. Officials said the center pays $6,226 a month in rent, among other expenses.

“Would you be willing to give us a spread sheet that has all your revenue and all your expenses, and would you be willing to do that on a monthly basis?” Himmelrich asked a PYFC board member.

“Yes,” she replied.

PYFC officials had requested the grant to fund the center’s operations for a year. But a staff report cited concerns about the center’s administration and direction. One staff report criticized PYFC official for diverting resources meant for programs for at-risk teens to “social justice and community organizing.”

But last-ditch appeals from PYFC teens, employees, board members and Pico neighborhood residents convinced at least Himmelrich to reconsider.

City officials said they still had concerns about PYFC's sustainability, saying the City has been subsidizing nearly half of the center's operating budget.

Originally funded to provide intervention programs for the Pico neighborhood's hardest-to-reach teens and youth, the center has shifted its focus since first receiving grant money in 2000, a 2013 staff 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.

“Since when did community organizing and social justice become bad words in Santa Monica?” asked one speaker at Thursday's hearing.

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