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A Santa Monica Mother’s Response to Alleged Child Abuse in the City-run Police Activities League

By Maria Loya

As a mother who is raising two boys in the Pico Neighborhood, I am outraged to learn of the recent charges of child molestation by Santa Monica City employee Eric Uller at the City-run Police Activities League (PAL) ("Santa Monica City Officials Take Additional Actions as Sexual Assault Crisis Expands," October 25, 2018).

Let us not forget that in 2015, Don Condon an employee at PAL was charged and pleaded guilty to five counts of child molestation.

According to the City staff, Eric Uller was a “volunteer” at PAL while he allegedly abused as many as ten boys from the Pico Neighborhood. He was promoted by the City of Santa Monica as a systems analyst working in the Public Safety building and was an instructor in the City's Youth Tech Summer Program that ran from 2012 to 2017.

It is no coincidence that most, if not all of the alleged victims were from the Pico Neighborhood. These alleged child predators chose their victims strategically. They knew that these kids were from poor Latino immigrant families.

They also knew these children of color were from a neighborhood that had been dumped on, marginalized and neglected by the City of Santa Monica.

In the City’s official statement, Mayor Ted Winter states: “We are committed to accountability and transparency.” I doubt his sincerity.

Why did the City Council in June 2015 vote to provide $1.6 million in public funds to PAL without any kind of discussion about the recent arrest of PAL employee Don Condon?

During that budget hearing nothing was mentioned by the staff or the City Council on this issue. It was as if nothing had happened to those girls.

The message sent that evening was that this issue really didn’t matter to them because these were kids from poor families that could not afford lawyers and therefore would not pose any threat to their public relations.

The City Council along with City staff brushed the alleged sexual abuse of young girls from the Pico Neighborhood under the rug. This is reminiscent of other institutions facing similar scandals that do more to protect their organization from bad public relations than protect the children from the abuse.

With the second reported wave of child molestation at PAL, we are learning as people come forward that City staff may have been aware of Eric Uller’s alleged sexual abuse of Latino boys.

According to the City Manager, PAL is a joint project managed under the Community and Cultural Service Department (CCSD) and the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD). Did the CCSD or SMPD know about Eric Uller’s lewd behavior towards Latino boys?

If the rumors are true that CCSD staff and SMPD knew but failed to report the allegations of sexual abuse, shouldn’t those staff be held accountable?

In January, the Santa Monica City Council voted to prioritize the Pico Neighborhood by expanding the Pico Neighborhood Zoning District to include other issues affecting residents. It was renamed the Pico Well-being Project.

How will this city-sponsored project address the well-being of Pico Neighborhood residents after the PAL child abuse scandal, considering most or all of the victims are from the area?

What is worrisome and ironic about the Well-being Project is that the same City official currently overseeing it is the same person who was overseeing PAL when the alleged incidents of sexual abuse by Eric Uller were taking place.

If the City of Santa Monica is serious about improving the well-being of the Pico Neighborhood, then it must take on this issue of lack of accountability with staff.

Last week, City manager Rick Cole announced the City had hired a law firm to conduct an internal investigation. That law firm specializes in defense.

At Tuesday night's PNA community dialogue to address the scandal, City staff opposed the community’s call for a Citizen’s Oversight Committee to assist the government in delivering “transparency and accountability.”

Why would we trust a governing agency that swept the Don Condon case under the rug? Without honest resident oversight, an “independent” investigation is a sham.

Why should Santa Monicans speak out against children being sexually abused? Because it is a measure of our humanity and morality as a City.

Because these were innocent children who have suffered for years from the trauma, shame and embarrassment caused by sexual abuse.

Because we deserve accountability when well-paid City staff fail to protect our children.

As parents, no matter what part of the City we reside in, we must stand united to protect our children from harm.

When we stand together against sexual abuse, we are stronger. That is what we have learned from the #Metoo movement.

Maria L. Loya is a Pico Neighborhood parent, a Pico Neighborhood Association board member and a plaintiff in the voting rights lawsuit against the City.

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