Pico Youth & Family Center founder Oscar de la Torre speaks to newscrews earlier this year before asking  the City Council to continue funding for the embattled center. (File photo)

Pico Youth & Family Center founder Oscar de la Torre speaks to newscrews earlier this year before asking the City Council to continue funding the embattled center. (File photo)

CITY HALL —  City officials extended the deadline on a bid that could replace the Pico Youth & Family Center as a city grantee after nonprofits complained that there was too little time to put together a proposal.

Proposals for the project, called “Opportunity Youth,” were due April 26, but roughly a week before the deadline — and two weeks after information about the bid was published — that got pushed out another week to Monday, May 6.

The project is for nonprofits who can support at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 24 by reintegrating them in school, helping them find jobs and addressing substance abuse and other mental health issues.

That will likely require several nonprofits to collaborate on a single proposal, and such partnerships “are strongly encouraged,” according to the grant documents.

The original goal was to ensure that officials had enough time to review the proposals in advance of City Council meetings about the budget. Those talks kick off in late May.

The three-week crunch was not enough time for organizations to pull together a proposal, said Setareh Yavari, human services manager with City Hall.

“Nonprofits that knew about the (request for proposals) commented that it was a quick turnaround,” Yavari said. “We had gone out to the community and reached out with the idea of the (bid), went around and changed it.”

No proposals had been turned in at that point, and even organizations rumored to be interested in the task, which promises a maximum of $315,220 to the winning group, are coy about their participation in the project.

Except one.

Oscar de la Torre, former executive director and now consultant with the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC), says that the organization has created the “dream collaboration” of groups to address the needs of at-risk youth, something that PYFC has been doing with some success for the last 10 years.

He won’t identify the other partners, but says that it will result in “the rebirth of a service plan for the target population.”

The organization failed to meet City Hall’s expectations when it came to documenting how taxpayer funds were spent and how youth benefited from the center’s sometimes unorthodox programs, however. That situation culminated in a six-month “last chance” agreement in June 2012, with help from Social & Environmental Entrepreneurs, a group that helped PYFC with its finances.

At the same time, another consultant named Judy Spiegel stepped in to help bolster the center’s administration, but she ultimately resigned from the post.

An emotional hearing in December resulted in a City Council vote to fund PYFC through June 30, 2013, but to put the grant that comprised the majority of the center’s funds out to bid two years earlier than normal.

That led to immediate calls from PYFC’s supporters that the municipal government was trying to get rid of the center for political reasons, although council members and officials held that they had a responsibility to be good stewards of public dollars.

de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Board of Education, has been a vocal critic of city officials in the past as he and other activists in the Pico Neighborhood pushed for more funding and programs to address gang violence. Many Pico Neighborhood residents feel they have been neglected by City Hall because they are not as affluent as other neighborhoods and have a higher concentration of minorities.

PYFC was allowed to bid for the money again, a process they usually repeat every four years. If that cash doesn’t come through, however, the center may have to close its doors.

de la Torre is not sure that many of the organizations rumored to be preparing a bid — like CLARE, a nonprofit that helps with drug and alcohol recovery, or Jewish Vocational Services, which helps with job counseling — know that winning the prize will result in the destitution of the center.

Neither CLARE nor Jewish Vocational Services, it should be mentioned, will comment on whether or not they plan to submit a proposal.

PYFC’s financial situation is one of a number of reasons that city officials cited to pull funding from the group, saying that it was overly dependent on municipal dollars. Another source of ready cash, a $1.6 million check bequeathed to the center by philanthropist Peggy Bergmann, never made it to PYFC coffers, leaving the group with only what they’ve been able to fundraise.

That check is still at the heart of a court case.

 

ashley@smdp.com

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