The Pico Youth and Family Center, a nonprofit organization that engages troubled youths in programs promoting positive social change and leadership skills — and away from violence — is being forced to find a new home.

In a letter dated June 4th, property manager Pacific Bower Corp. informed the center that they were not renewing or extending their lease.

By Sunday, September 30th, the Pico Youth and Family Center must be out of the space where it opened in 2002 — 828 Pico Blvd., Unit 9 in Santa Monica — and the space is to be leased to new tenants.

“It was a shock,” said the center’s executive director, Oscar de la Torre. “We pay our rent. We put $40,000 worth of improvements into the place. We feel shafted that we’re not being allowed to renew the lease agreement. Essentially, we’re being evicted.”

The same goes for the neighboring nonprofit Westside Pregnancy Clinic, whose lease has also not been renewed by Pacific Bower Corp.

The clinic put $60,000 worth of site improvements into their unit and must be out of its space by Monday, July 30th, said the clinic’s executive director Talitha Phillips.

“We’re pretty crazed right now,” Phillips said, noting that the clinic has to find a space quickly. “It’s sad. It’s tough to leave.”

Phillips said that about half a year ago, the clinic received a letter from Pacific Bower Corp. with a chance to renew the lease, but that the property manager wanted a five-year commitment, which was not possible for the nonprofit organization to accept.

But the Pico Youth and Family Center, which has been on one-year lease agreements with Pacific Bower Corp., was never given an opportunity to renew its lease, said de la Torre.

“In this fiscal cycle, they never made a reference to any option to renew or extend or even terminate the lease,” de la Torre said. “It’s sad. Two social service agencies are essentially being gentrified out of Santa Monica. These market forces are pushing services out that the community needs.”

De la Torre said he thought it was interesting that the city could protect certain buildings, like designated landmarks, but not the Pico Youth and Family Center.

“For us, this is like losing a major cultural and community landmark,” he said.

Nazy Efraim, a managing agent for Pacific Bower Corp., said that the company is not doing anything unusual by not renewing the center’s lease.

“Their lease is ending and we’re looking to lease the space to new occupants,” Efraim said, noting that she would be happy to help the center find space if she could. “It’s time, perhaps, to move on. We wish them well.”

Efraim claims the center did not “want” to renew the lease, although the Pico Youth and Family Center strongly denies that claim.

The center is even prepared to sign a three-year lease agreement, but Pacific Bower Corp. won’t entertain the offer, de la Torre said.

Since 2002, the Pico Youth and Family Center has served about 150 to 180 youths annually, offering programs and activities that encourage youths to explore multicultural awareness and diversity — and other healthy alternatives to destructive behavior and crime.

At present, 107 youths are at the center, but de la Torre said the numbers increase in the summer.

“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.”

Youngsters come to the center for a variety of activities and services — the recording studio, music programming, art classes, free computer access, Internet, tutoring, counseling, or case management while they’re on probation.

No matter what the kids come for, they are the priority at the center, even if that might not be the case everywhere, de la Torre said.

“Right now, we’re riding in the back of the bus when it comes to youth programming in our city,” de la Torre said. “Where’s the priority? Prevention and intervention should be the selected strategy to reduce juvenile crime and arrests.”

The center, whose annual budget is about $330,000, is funded through the city and a grant from Saint John’s Health Center.

At the June 12th Santa Monica City Council meeting, the council approved an additional $30,000 for a total of $50,000 in funding for the center for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The additional funding will help renovate a new location for the Pico Youth and Family Center, once a space is found.

“We’ve found a couple of places that are in close proximity to Santa Monica High School [and Olympic High School] that we’re interested in, but rent seems like it’s more expensive and that means less programming,” de la Torre said. “Bottom line: in these economic times, start-up nonprofits like ours need assistance to survive.”

The center has been looking closely at the old 5,000-square-foot Westside Chronicle building on Lincoln Boulevard, which was also formerly inhabited by the nonprofit organization Chrysalis.

“We’d like to follow in their footsteps,” de la Torre said of Chrysalis. “They used to rent a building and now they own one two spaces down.

“I hope that one day we find a permanent solution to our headquarters. We will be asking the community for support in the future as well.”

Still, de la Torre says, no matter what hurdles the center has to overcome, they’re ready.

“It does put a damper on the momentum we’re building right now, but we won’t be deterred, and by September 30th, we will be fully functional in a new facility serving the youth of our community,” de la Torre said.

Information, (310) 397-7101 or www.picoyouth.org/.

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