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Youth Center Sinks Deeper Into Hot Water With City

The Santa Monica City Council will decide whether to end a $305,000 yearly grant to the embattled youth center. Six members of the nonprofit's Board of Directors have resigned.

When the Pico Family Youth and Family Center signed a "last chance" agreement with the city in June, it promised to fix sloppy bookkeeping, improve its programs and reorganize its leadership, all to avoid losing city subsidies.

The agreement came at the request of the city's Human Services Division, which had found "serious and persistent problems," including alleged payroll errors, potential conflicts of interest with the executive director and high turnover on the Board of Directors.

But six months later, the youth center, which serves Santa Monica's at-risk teenagers and young adults, has not shaped up. Instead, it has proved its "[in]ability to stand on its own and operate responsibly as an independent non-profit," city staffers said in a report released Thursday.

The Santa Monica City Council will decide Tuesday if the nonprofit is complying with the June "last chance" agreement, and if not, whether to discontinue yearly grants of about $305,000—the youth center's biggest funding source.

In their request to discontinue funding, staffers point to the impassioned resignations of six members of the youth center's Board of Directors in December. In stepping down, the directors wrote scathing letters about Executive Director Oscar de la Torre, who they claim is "instigating racial unrest" and creating a "culture of mistrust."

De la Torre, who is also an elected board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, agreed to step down as part of the leadership's reorganization but recently changed his mind and threatened to sue board members if they fired him, according to the letters.

"Oscar instigated a campaign to retain control over the PYFC," wrote chairwoman Amanda Seward. "Oscar charged that we were trying to take the PYFC from him, when the truth was that the administration of the organization had not been in accordance with the requirements of nonprofit organizations."

Additionally, an independent consultant hired by the city to oversee the center's programs and leadership also quit last month. She, too, blamed her resignation on de la Torre:

Signers of a change.org petition to retain de la Torre as the executive director paint a different picture of the leader.

"As someone who has know[n] Oscar De La Torre for a very long time, and has seen with my own two eyes, the amazing work the PYFC does in the community, I am appalled at the news of his possible removal as Executive Director," wrote Santa Monica resident David Mendez-Yapkowitz. "This is his organization, he built it from the ground up."

The petition has 256 signatures.

De la Torre could not be reached for comment late Thursday night.

In talking about a complaint he's filed against the city for allegedly stifling his freedom to speak out during a City Council meeting, he told the Santa Monica LookOut, "Under the City Manager's authority, there have been many incidents that have attempted to violate civil rights and indicate an abuse of authority to stifle the PYFC, its mission and its voice."

The staffers' report also says a couple of accounting issues, some involving the executive director, are still unresolved.

They include several duplicate payroll checks issued to de la Torre and other staffers and incorrect reporting of pension expenses and reimbursement requests. Before she resigned in December, the consultant notified de la Torre he had filled out a youth center time card for a day in November when the youth center was closed and he was out of town on official school district board business.

"This falsification of his timecard by the Executive Director is another example of the need for strong governance and administrative oversight currently lacking at PYFC," the staffers wrote in their report.

Glenn E Grab January 04, 2013 at 04:36 PM
theft is grounds for firing in any place of employment....he should be investigated, quickly, fired, and prosecuted...but he'll probably get away with the stealing...
mimi January 04, 2013 at 06:28 PM
This is worrisome. Where will the disadvantaged and at risk kids go, if/when the funding stops? Can they be absorbed into one of the other non-profit youth programs in Santa Monica? If so, will the city distribute the money between the participating non-profits? The current situation sounds like a hornets nest. We may never know the truth. But let's not throw out our disadvantaged & at-risk babies with the bathwater. They are not to blame. Nor should they be punished for this craziness.
Tom hays January 04, 2013 at 08:04 PM
Founders often have difficulty coping with Boards that are trying to fulfill their fiduciary duties. It will take courage and wisdom by City Council to transition the Pico Center to a post-Oscar operation that can continue with an important program.
Cin January 04, 2013 at 08:24 PM
What about the Boy's and Girl's Club of Santa Monica? They have been around for a long time and those funds would be better used by them than de la Torre, who seems to think he can just pay himself when he is never there? The City Council should remove the funding, as 6 months is plenty of time to resolve these issues with Mr. de la Torre. Apparently, he sees it differently. The funds should go to a non-profit that actually helps the kids more than he does. He just wants the money for his own benefit. What a joke....
Pamela Henstell January 04, 2013 at 11:10 PM
"...instigating racial unrest." Do we need more of this?
Glenn E Grab January 05, 2013 at 04:27 PM
give the funds to a proven outfit, such as the Boy's and Girls Club of Santa Monica...
Glenn E Grab January 05, 2013 at 05:14 PM
"sloppy bookeeping"?.....where I come from, we call it "stealing".....
Bravo One January 09, 2013 at 12:12 AM
http://picoyouth.org/ Find more wholesome info there on the PYFC website and dont listen to these clowns that have never even stepped a foot into the Pico Youth Center and have no sincere regard for the youth of color in Santa MOnica

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