15 Sep 2014
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Youth Center Rallies Support as It Faces a 'Major Setback'

A vote by the Santa Monica City Council to stop funding the Pico Youth and Family Center would be "premature" and "would represent a major set back," the organization tells its supporters.

Youth Center Rallies Support as It Faces a 'Major Setback'

Supporters of the Pico Youth and Family Center will march to City Hall dressed in black Tuesday night to protest a request to de-fund the organization.

"Please come dressed in black and support an organization that implements grassroots movements to bring awareness and advocacy to issues that affect our communities," the youth center wrote in a mass email Monday. "This is an organization created by the people, for the people, and in the image of our people and it is being targeted because of that."

City staffers are requesting the City Council end about $307,000 in yearly grants to the youth center. They claim the nonprofit has failed to fix alleged payroll errors, potential conflicts of interest with the executive director and high turnover on its advisory board after signing a "last chance" agreement with the city in June.

Executive Director Oscar de la Torre has admitted mistakes were made, but contends a majority of the benchmarks set by the city to improve were met in the past six months. Just as important in his opinion: Santa Monica's at-risk youth continue to benefit from the youth center's services and programs.

"All it has done is good for the city of Santa Monica, good for the youth. We save lives," de la Torre told Patch on Friday. "We’re in the business of helping young people out and we’ve done a very good job at that."

The youth center was founded in response to community demands for mediating youth and gang violence after five shootings and four homicides on the Westside in October of 1998. Its services and programs are designed for at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 24.

In December, six of the youth center's advisory board members resigned. They announced their resignations in letters accusing de la Torre of "instigating racial unrest" and creating a "culture of mistrust."

There was "an ideological conflict," de la Torre told Patch, because the board members wanted to remove "social justice" and "advocacy" from the organization's mission statement.

"I’ll take all of that negative criticism, because I know we do good," he said.

The Tuesday City Council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

In the email sent Monday, the youth center said a vote to end funding would be "premature" and would "represent a major setback" to the organization.

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