After years of strife and a night of protest, City Council voted 4 to 2 not to fund the Pico Youth and Family Center in its biennial budget.

Dozens of members of the public came out to speak in support of the youth-based nonprofit run by Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre, but members of council expressed concern that it had become too politicized.

Last year, council allotted $190,000 to the program — a one-time payment meant to encourage the nonprofit to apply for grants. City officials have long alleged poor bookkeeping at the PYFC, a claim that de la Torre has long denied.

“When we gave that money last year, there were a lot of promised made about applying for grants,” Councilmember Ted Winterer said. “And we haven’t seen any of those applications for grants so I’m just frustrated that we’re continuing to hear the same story year in and year out about changes but we’re not seeing those changes at a substantive enough level.”

Several councilmembers agreed with Winterer’s point and noted that the other grant programs are both meeting City Hall’s standards and meeting the needs of the populations that the PYFC aims to help.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said that while the other programs are offered, they’re not all reaching the same population that’s being served by the PYFC. She proposed allotting the organization $190,000.

“I’ve been to their events,” she said. “They clearly reach a lot of people. I heard from people who attended the Olympic (High School) graduation ceremony that of the three speakers, two of them mentioned PYFC and how the program had helped them. I think that having the programs at the schools and having the programs at Virginia Avenue Park and having the programs in more institutional settings may work for a lot of people but it may not work for the kids who are dropping out. The kid you heard from tonight who is graduating from high school at age 25. I know that there are lost people in our community.”

Several supporters of the PYFC cried during public testimony or explained ways that the organization saved their lives.

Some spoke of a breakdown in communication between city officials and the organization.

Others spoke — sometimes calmly and sometimes in a hostile tone — about the hostility brought against the organization by City Hall.

“I hope that it’s not so irreparably harmed that the people in our Community Services Department can’t find a way in their hearts to let PYFC back in should PYFC demonstrate that they can do this in a way that is fiscally responsible and less politicized,” Himmelrich said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez also supported funding the PYFC and earmarking some of the money for grant-writing.

Mayor Kevin McKeown, who is employed by the school district as a consultant under contract for educational technology, recused himself from the vote because, he said, de la Torre called the district and spoke with the person who administers his contract.

“She told me that School Board Member Oscar de la Torre had called and asked how to reach me, which was curious because school is not in session, I wasn’t in the office, and Mr. de la Torre has reached me many times at home by e-mail,” McKeown said. “He went on to ask some very pointed questions about my contract with the school district. Now, I’m sure that every board member has every right to ask about contracts. That’s not the issue. I think a reasonable person might find that such a call on the morning where the consultant, me, will be presiding as mayor over a budget discussion that includes the question of funding for PYFC, where Mr. de la Torre is the executive director, is curious at least. Some might even take that as intimidation.”

McKeown went on to say that he didn’t take it as intimidation: “I learned early in my life that the only way to deal with a bully is to say no and do what you believe in anyway.”

He recused himself, he said, to avoid what some might consider a quid pro quo vote.

De la Torre told the Daily Press that the nature of the phone call was misrepresented, that he was calling to get McKeown’s cellphone number so a community activist could speak with him.

Councilmember Pam O’Connor, spurred on by McKeown’s comments, told council that last year de la Torre said she could win the support of the Pico Delegation, de la Torre’s voting bloc, at the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights convention, arguably the most significant endorsement convention in the city, if she recommended funding the PYFC at $225,000.

“I didn’t vote for that,” O’Connor said of the $225,000 recommendation. “And by the way, my votes are not for sale. I don’t know if that’s what he meant but it somewhat sounded like that, that there was quid pro quo and so I have some concerns.”

De la Torre called this “laughable,” noting that O’Connor has acknowledge accepting money from developers from whom she’d previously conferred benefits.

He said that his recommendation to O’Connor was based on the idea that the people within the delegation would benefit from the PYFC, and that he was simply recommending ways she’d win their support.

“It’s all up to interpretation,” he said.

Councilmember Terry O’Day said that O’Connor’s and McKeown’s testimony, among other things, led him to feel concern about the politicization of the PYFC during the budget meetings. Councilmember Gleam Davis said she was afraid the organization was “becoming a political football.”

De la Torre said that City Hall’s beef with him stems from the early days of the organization, when he held protests against local law enforcement and challenged City Hall in a dispute over a community property.

“In our mission statement it says advocacy and it says leadership development,” he said. “I’m not doing anything different than what was funded originally. That’s what the problem is. People don’t like the idea of the advocacy and the community organizing and the social justice work but the thing is that that work is critical for the way we do the work. You can’t just deliver services thinking you’re going to address the problem of gang violence. You’ve got to do advocacy. You’ve got to hold systems accountable and that requires people speaking out. In the end, they want someone in the position who’s not going to challenge the status quo.”

De la Torre said he has funds to keep the center open for the next six months. He’s hoping community support will allow it to remain open longer without cutting staff.

“There’s been a continued pattern of hostility against the Pico Youth and Family Center and against me personally by the city staff and by City Council members,” he said. “And who really got bullied last night? We lost all our funding. The mayor is twice my size and the mayor has twice the power that I do.”

When asked about the hostility that he sometimes responds with, for instance calling Gould “the biggest welfare mom in the city,” de la Torre said he’s been defending himself from attacks by City Hall for years.

“These people are trying to take my life away,” he said. “This isn’t just people saying nasty things about me. It’s only human nature for me to defend myself. And maybe in my defense I say some things that probably sounds little crass, overly negative. But believe me if you were in my situation you’d say probably even worse things.”

Photo by Nicholas Salazar: PYFC director Oscar de la Torre rallies supporters June 23 at City Hall.

Join the Conversation


  1. Classic words of Oscar. Truth be told, Kevin, Pam are straight up pro-police racists. Their voting records on PYFC & PAL (on this same day June 2015) are clear proof. They prefer (and pay off) “good Mexicans” and “house Negroes” that agree with them, and that is also an institutionalized racist culture in Santa Monica that has gone on for years. People at city hall just can’t stand someone like Oscar and others who speak out. It sounds ugly, but the results are uglier. Just look at the PAL molestations – 1990’s and presently – and KNOW that Kevin, Pam, Ted Winterer & Terry O’day had FULL KNOWLEDGE when they enabled/gave PAL over $$ 1 MILLION dollars at the same meeting. This has caused wide-scale Brown-White racial tension. When people call city hall racist, that sh** is real. Marinate on that.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *