Impressed by hours of impassioned and spirited testimony by youth and parents, the City Council voted unanimously early Wednesday morning to continue funding the Pico Youth and Family Center.
Funding to the youth center, which was hailed for its work preventing gang violence but admonished by city officials who claim the nonprofit has been mismanaged, will only last through June 30. At that time, the council will give other nonprofits working with Santa Monica's at-risk youth the opportunity to vie for the money.
During Wednesday's hearing, which ended about 3 a.m., Executive Director Oscar de la Torre offered a letter of resignation effective March 31. De la Torre, who is also an elected member of the local school district's Board of Education, has said he will continue to be involved with the center as a paid consultant.
"I'm hoping that this doesn't contribute to the allegations that the organization is in disarray," he said. "It is an act of goodwill."
City staffers charged that the youth center was lurched into "turmoil" when six of its advisory board members resigned in December.
They asked the council to terminate yearly grants of about $305,000 because of "serious and persistent" administrative problems, including alleged payroll errors, potential conflicts of interest with the executive director and high turnover on its board.
City Manager Rod Gould said the council's vote will give the youth center time to reconstitute itself and prepare a proposal for continued funding.
The youth center was founded nearly 15 years ago in response to community demands for mediating youth and gang violence after five shootings and four homicides in just one month in 1998.
"As one of the founders, one of my goals is to make sure this organization survives," said newly-installed councilman Tony Vazquez. "If the organization is defunded … we failed as well."
Dozens of teenagers and young adults, who told the council they had either been involved in gangs, convicted of felonies or abused at home, credited the center for turning their lives around. They testified the organization helped them secure jobs and graduate high school and college.
"Anyone who wants to de-fund the organization doesn't want to see people of color live large and in charge," Santa Monica College student Manny Bravo told the council. "You guys don't understand us."
The youth center, dubbed "the PY," is one of 29 nonprofits that receives human services grants from the city.
But city staffers said no other grantee has needed as much assistance as the youth center has in the past 12 years. Staffers said it relied too heavily on city funding and has provided inaccurate financial reports and incomplete documentation "necessary to evaluate program effectiveness."
"As a public entity, the city can't rely on anecdotal evidence reports of successful individuals to justify millions of dollars of funding," said Human Services Manager Setareh Yavari.