The Pico Youth and Family Center, a nonprofit organization that engages troubled youths in healthy alternatives to destructive behavior and crime, is very close to having a new home, after being informed last month by property manager Pacific Bower Corp. that its lease had not been renewed.
The center must be out of the location it opened at in 2002 — 828 Pico Blvd., Unit 9, in Santa Monica — by Sunday, September 30th.
It has narrowed its search for new quarters down to two locations in Santa Monica.
“We have two locations we’re looking at — that we’re closing in on,” said the center’s executive director, Oscar de la Torre. “We’re hoping to make a decision by the end of this month so we can start with construction.”
Both locations, one near the intersection of Lincoln and Pico Boulevards and the other near Pico Boulevard and Tenth Street, will be very close to the center’s current location, “so we will stay in close proximity to Santa Monica High and Olympic High and continue serving those students,” which is important because of the center’s after school program, de la Torre says. “And by staying on Pico Boulevard, we can keep our identity.
“We’re the Pico Youth and Family Center. It would be hard to be the Lincoln Youth and Family Center.”
Both of the locations that the center has narrowed in on for its new home are about 300 square feet larger than the center’s current 2,000-square-foot location, “so we like to call this an expansion instead of a forced relocation,” de la Torre says. “It’s a more positive spin on it.”
“A lot of us feel that moving to a new location allows us to rethink our programs and remake ourselves,” de la Torre says. “Considering we’re getting more space, we’re looking at this as an expansion. It’s causing a psychological expansion as well — and a moral boost for the staff and youths.”
After the move, the center wants to integrate digital filmmaking into the current lineup of programs offered, “to build on the success of our recording studio,” de la Torre says.
But, with moving to a new home, rent costs will increase significantly. In the location near Lincoln and Pico Boulevards, rent would increase by $10,000 a year and in the location near Pico Boulevard and Tenth Street, rent would increase by $25,000 a year.
“That’s pretty sizable,” said de la Torre, noting that, at the current location, rent is about $50,000 a year.
“Everything is more expensive,” he said. “That’s taking program money from direct services and putting it into rent. Anytime that our rent goes up, we end up having less money for youth.”
De la Torre says the center can use all the community support and help it can get.
“A center like the Pico Youth and Family Center is essential in keeping kids away from gangs and drugs and crime, so in the end, strengthening a program like ours can only improve everyone’s quality of life,” he says.
Once the center chooses its new home, there will be at least two to three months of construction and renovation, so the center may be “homeless” for a few months, de la Torre said.
“We’re going to ask the current landlord if we can stay for a few [more] months or else we’ll be in storage and will offer services at the park and schools,” said de la Torre.
If the center moves to the location near Pico and Lincoln Boulevards, the site will “need a lot of work and a considerable amount of renovation,” de la Torre says.
The location near Pico Boulevard and Tenth Street doesn’t need as much work, but the rent is significantly higher.
De la Torre said that the center is “more inclined to go to the space that needs more renovation,” so the center can “build a space to our liking.”
For five years now, the Pico Youth and Family Center has served about 150 to 180 youths annually, offering programs and activities that promote social change and leadership skills and encourage youths to explore multicultural awareness and diversity, as well as other healthy alternatives to destructive behavior and crime.
Youngsters come to the center for a variety of activities and services — the recording studio, music programming, art classes, free computer access, Internet, tutoring and counseling, and case management if they’re on probation.
“This program has saved hundreds of youths, and in the same token, it has improved the quality of life of all in our community,” de la Torre said. “The youth center has been on the front line of the city’s youth violence prevention and intervention strategy and keeping youths away from gangs, drugs or any crime is a benefit to everyone’s quality of life.”
Information, (310) 922-5122 or www.picocenter.org/.