As promised, our final council meeting of the year delivered quite the goodybag of issues. Residents spoke out on a number of issues, including some of us at Protect Culver City. Let’s recap:
To start the meeting, a few of us spoke about our petition to agendize criminal vagrancy at a future council meeting. Nupur Tustin, and Lisa and Frank Clark gave very impassioned speeches about the state of affairs at the Venice/405 camp and how it’s affecting their neighborhoods.
I also spoke about the rising threat of criminal vagrancy, distinguishing it from homelessness, and offered PCC’s help to council in combating this problem. My main point: “If somebody decides to sleep on our streets or in our parks, and we have somewhere to send them, can we move them?”
Council quickly made it obvious they wanted to be no part of the solution. Mayor Sahli-Wells instead discussed the “crisis of homelessness”, saying “The way you address homelessness is by ensuring people have a home.” This led to jeers and a verbal altercation between council and the audience.
Both councilman Eriksson and city manager John Nachbar welcomed residents to contact them about dealing with this issue. PCC has reached out to Nachbar for help. But make no mistake. If council addresses this crime issue, which everyone in the area is experiencing in desparate proportions, as a “housing” issue? This is a total failure of moral clarity about the problem. It can only result in further freefall and disaster for our city.
I called them out on this issue at the C-13 item, regarding an assistant to the city manager on homelessness. This is meant to streamline our operations in dealing with vagrancy, and as I mentioned in my earlier comment, we’d be willing to support this. But, I continued: “I find the fact that we’re discussing as a housing issue is a lie! …you can’t solve this problem if you call this a housing issue, no matter how many cops we have, no matter how many employees or lawyers we have. We need the moral clarity to discuss this as a crime issue.”
Item A-1 – discussing the police drone program – was a surprising progress over earlier hearings. We didn’t have our usual anti-police contingency smearing our PD as murdering cops. The progress report was very positive, and council was supportive. It was almost uneventful, except for FD battalion chief Kolhep saying the drone “helped us rule out all non-arson causes” (1:27:15 in the meeting video) regarding the July 22nd 99c store fire. We’ll be following up on that.
Item A-5 was our other major item: discussing the cost of the rent control program. A few people spoke out saying the cost was too prohibitive, given we’re in a financial crisis as a city. I don’t think that’s the best argument, which is why I didn’t speak about it. Sure enough, Mayor Sahli-Wells said “budgets are value statements” implying that if the program yields a net benefit to the city, it’s worth the cost.
The problem with Wells’s arguments about the value of the program (4:09:00) is, we challenge the veracity of all of them.
She claims “we got here because of a grassroots effort of residents in this city.” It was such a grassroots effort that candidates Fisch and Lee avoided the issue of rent control entirely, and Fisch claimed outright he opposes rent control. Indeed, nobody ran on the issue, and even debate moderators said it was off the table.
She claims the movement was a combination of renters and sympathetic homeowners (i.e. herself and her friends). It was such a widespread movement that despite months of underground organizing she only managed to get a few dozen signed cards supporting rent control for the June meeting. Meanwhile, we at PCC are getting such a groundswell of support we’re straining our ability to deal with all the intake. Unlike the alleged tenant’s fear of landlords, who can face all sorts of legal trouble for retaliation, residents live in very real fear of a retaliatory council and their supporters.
To add insult to injury, Mayor Wells continues to tie rent control to the “extreme moment of high homelessness.” Even she contradicts herself in her own official homelessness video, when she says the homeless “come to Culver City because they feel safe.”
Such a conflation didn’t stop her from claiming “we need the data … based on facts on the ground, not scare tactics.”
This litany of baldfaced lies prompted Judy Scott, longtime LTMB member, to come up and give an impromptu rebuttal (4:25:00). “For fourteen years, I’ve done exactly two mediations of over 50% increase, both done by sale of the property…. What you want me to believe is, hordes of people been priced out of their homes, not one of them filed for a mediation request…because in the past three years, the highest increase we’ve mediated was 15%.”
Mayor Wells’ only reply was “I know we have a lot of examples that don’t fall within what was just shared with us.” And that’s all we ever hear from her. Always anonymous anecdotes, never verifiable, because they don’t exist. Her claims that “tenants are afraid” is easily refuted by the fact mediations are confidential. Her own consultants, Bay Area Economics, pointed out that rents among multifamily units only rose about 3% annually in the past 5 years – contrasted with the 80% increase in home prices over the same period.
These should be our arguments with rent control – not the cost, or what it’ll do to landlords. Despite throwing around the claim of “fair return”, Mayor Wells prides herself in making enemies among landlords, and said “rent controlled landlords are doing fine.”
Rather, our contention is twofold. One, it’s a lot of nonsense.
But two – and this is the big one for renters – it kills the rental market. Meghan continued to praise the one eviction they managed to save (from the effects of their own rent control program). Meanwhile, we at PCC we’re already seeing the disastrous conclusions of just the interim freeze. One testimonial after another of vacated units, properties going up for sale, renters scrambling for what rare unit is left, etc.
To their credit, we are seeing one high vacancy rate – these new luxury condos being built, way out of anybody’s price range at $3000-6000+ per unit. It’s certainly a consensus of suspicion that the real goal of rent control is to force the older more affordable multifamily units off the market. This forces people either into newer more expensive units or onto the new normal of street living.
But going down that road gets us lost in webs of conspiracy.
Rather, we should invoke what may be the one public comment that mattered: the very first one by Katherine Makinney (0:07:30): “The broader issue is that council is not going to listen.” This total failure to face up to facts, to listen and dialogue with residents, this deliberate conflation of housing with crime – these are the red flags of a rogue council with an alien agenda.