CITY HALL — As Tuesday turned into Wednesday, the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC) got a new lease on life when the City Council voted to continue its funding despite a staff report recommending the opposite.
By Friday, both officials with the youth organization and at City Hall had begun digesting exactly what that meant.
To recap, the City Council voted unanimously to fund the center through the end of the fiscal year and simultaneously directed staff to begin a community-based process to determine how best to serve the center’s target population, namely at-risk or gang-involved youth between 16 and 24.
That work will turn into a formal bidding process by the end of March or early April to allow qualified organizations the opportunity to compete for the role.
Although PYFC is not precluded from putting its name in — or partnering with another nonprofit to do so — nor is it guaranteed victory.
Instead, the group can use the time to fix what city officials consider structural issues that caused the City Council to put the organization on notice in June 2012 with its “Last Chance Agreement,” which handed financial control of the nonprofit to the Social Environmental Entrepreneurs, or SEE, and gave a 36-point checklist of items that needed to be fixed.
The center’s executive director and founder Oscar de la Torre and city officials fundamentally disagree on whether or not PYFC and its staff successfully met the terms of the agreement, or even how many terms there were.
Either way, the extension gives the organization a chance to get into fighting shape for the contract that it first won in 2000, said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
“Continuing PYFC funding through the end of the current funding cycle, providing continuity to the highly-valued services being provided there, opens the door to reorganization in time for the next grant cycle in June,” McKeown said Friday.
Over the next three months, staff will go out to the community for feedback on what it takes to serve the population PYFC works with. That information, along with nonprofit best practices, data and research will inform what goes into the formal request for proposals, said Julie Rusk, assistant director of the Community & Cultural Services Department.
“We have to look at what’s working, what’s not working and what are the gaps,” Rusk said.
Organizations competing for the bid will not only have to provide a winning proposal for programs and positive outcomes for the youth, they will have to prove that they have good financial management, board structure and that they’re well governed, Rusk said.
That procedure is followed for every grant in the city, including arts grants, Rusk said.
What that means for the PYFC is still very much at question.
For his part, de la Torre sees three possible paths out of the woods.
The first is to work with SEE or a similar organization to continue oversight over the center’s finances and governance.
Secondly, the center could put together its own staffing plan and a bigger budget to allow the center to manage its finances in house.
“We don’t have a receptionist and it would be good to have a (chief financial officer) that just handles the money and is trained in that,” de la Torre said. “You have to have the right staffing pattern.”
At present, the center doesn’t have the money to do that. In the most recent tax documents available online, it brought in just over $400,000 in 2010 and spent $10,595 more than that.
This year, City Hall will contribute roughly $300,000 to the center, which has raised $18,233 of the $74,367 it committed between July 1 and Dec. 31. According to the city staff report, the center is required under the terms of its agreement to come up with a 25 percent cash match for the municipal grant, and is the only nonprofit to consistently fail to reach that goal.
That doesn’t count a $1.6 million check given to the organization by the estate of Peggy Bergmann, a philanthropist that donated over $16 million of her estate to various organizations.
That check is being held by the estate because of the recent confusion at the center, although it’s unclear who asked for the check to go back — both the attorney for the estate Sonya Sultan and the former Board Chair Amanda Seward deny responsibility.
The center can access 10 percent of that cash each year, and the money is critical, de la Torre said.
“We’re under this model where the city doesn’t give you what you need to operate. In this economy, it’s difficult,” de la Torre said.
The last option is to partner with another nonprofit organization doing similar work. Homeboy Industries, an established Los Angeles nonprofit that helps formerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated people to find new directions for their lives, is the closest match out there, de la Torre said.
“PYFC is a one-of-a-kind model,” he said. “We’re the only organization I know that does direct services and leadership development effectively.”
Certainly the youth that attend the center think so. Over 50 kids and staff members came out to speak in support of PYFC on Tuesday night.
Those kinds of relationships are critical to an organization in the human service, education or social justice world, Rusk said.
“It’s part of why Virginia Avenue Park, the (Police Activities League), CREST and the Boys & Girls Club hire people from the community that are empathetic and know how to build empathetic relationships with children and the families,” she said. “That is at the core of effective work.”

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