Is Property Racist?

by Anthony Rizzo

Our City is in the process of updating its General Plan. Part of the plan focuses on our zoning and housing development. 

In anticipation, some councilmembers and their supporters have been showcasing Culver City’s hstoric racism. 

Some are advocating that the council make a formal apology for its racism while others have gone so far as to suggest rezoning single family residential neighborhoods to allow for “affordable” housing as a form of reparations.

In my opinion, minorities of Culver City do not want an apology for the racism of the past nor do we want rezoning for “affordable” housing.

What we want is a commitment from our elected council to protect our rights to have the same quality of life that the past residents of this beautiful suburb enjoyed during its heyday. 

Culver City has overcome racism. And, the people in Culver are evidence of it. The diversity in our City reflects this.  As a minority, I was not prevented by laws or intimidation from purchasing a single-family home in Culver City. The couple that sold the house to me was white and they were excited for me to make this City my new home.  However, what I have observed is that the City has steadily reduced its commitment to protect residents’ rights to have the same quality of life as those who began this great city.

For example, I purchased a home in Sunkist Park – a single family residential neighborhood. It has beautiful, quiet, tree lined streets. At the center of this perfectly planned neighborhood is a small elementary school and park. However, over the past 10 years the City (school district and city) has stopped protecting our right to enjoy the same quiet, low density neighborhood for which it is zoned and was designed.

Every week after school and during the weekends, the streets around the school are flooded with cars coming in and out to use the school field.

The City, without notice, consent, or proper planning repurposed the field as a recreational park.  

Permits are sold to sports associations to use the field as a recreational park. The volume of traffic in the neighborhood has tripled, the level of pollution in the neighborhood has increased 10-fold, the streets are no longer quiet, and kids cannot safely ride and play in the streets.

Sunkist Park neighborhood is not a recreational park.  It was built for single family homes. It is designed for families to walk their kids to the small elementary school and for families and kids to walk or ride their bike/board to play at the neighborhood park.  

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only area the City has fallen short:

  • Traffic in Culver City in now a crisis. In neighborhoods and on the main streets. Encampments in our parks and streets and the sale and use of drugs is permitted.
  • Kids’ safety is a major concern of parents – playing outside or traveling to school.
  • City regulations have increased exponentially i.e. requirements for building/remodeling your home, bans on plastic bags, straws and e-cigarettes, rent control (proposed rent control board), ban on certain utilities (proposed ban on gas appliances), etc.
  • Local taxes have been on a steady rise with the looming debt of pension liabilities.
  • Government growth is out of control for a small City like ours.  We are flooded with increased costs to implement the avalanche of state laws and special interest programs; i.e. the planners to hire for the planning department, costs for programs to come out of the revised general plan, homeless czar, etc.

Isn’t it ironic that the same City that prevented minorities from purchasing homes is now preventing minorities from having the same quality of life.  

As a matter of fact, it’s not just minorities that suffer, all residents are prevented from experiencing this same quality of life. 

Instead of an apology, I am suggesting our City go back to the drawing board and take care of the basics:

  • Enforce the laws on the books to remove encampments, and drug dealers from our streets.
  • Manage growth and traffic so we can enjoy the peaceful oasis of Culver City.
  • Reduce crime in our City so our streets are safe.
  • Stop the state and surrounding cities from forcing their agenda on us.
  • Solve our financial crises and get a handle on our pension liabilities.

The truth of the matter is that the minorities disenfranchised by the historic racism of Culver City’s housing policies are now living in Culver City neighborhoods, in single family homes.  Once the discriminatory laws were removed, we were able to purchase homes wherever we wanted.

The issue was never “affordability” it was “accessibility”. 

Therefore, save the apology and the progressive agenda to “up-zone away poverty”.

Please just protect the beautiful City we love and preserve the amazing quality of life it has to offer us all.

December 9th Council Meeting Recap

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. 

Letter to council regarding the rent freeze “urgency” clause

Hi there, Ron here. I wrote the following letter to council regarding the rent freeze, questioning the urgency of it. All five councilmemebers and the city attorney got some version of this letter. It references section 10 of the LA County’s rent freeze.

“I’m concerned about the urgency clause about your rent freeze measure set for vote Monday the 12th.  You have not given any evidence of the rapidly rising rents or price gouging that you claim exists in Culver City.  Indeed Goran Eriksson called attention to this point.  At the June 24th meeting, he said he was asking for real data so he could understand “what is reality?” 

Instead, up until now, all we have to go by is the Los Angeles unincorporated county’s rent freeze proposal.  It’s the typical lawfare tactics we’ve become all too used to lately.  By enacting this in LA, they created a precedent where the stakeholders (i.e. multifamily owners) aren’t significant enough to try contesting it.  Then you try to apply it somewhere like Culver City where the stakeholders are significant.  Knowing full well that to try to contest this claim would cost a prohibitive sum in the courts.  This tactic is unethical and sullies our legal system.

Furthermore, it leaves us wondering if we are actually having a conversation about rents, or whether we’re getting railroaded with this, despite the protests of residents.  And it makes us wonder if we still have a good faith relationship with you and the city council.  

If we do not see any evidence of a conversation, if this does go through as our more cynical residents expect, then the only conversation left is what ballot measures we can work with to make our voices heard.

That being said, here are the issues I see with the LA Unincorporated rent freeze – namely with section 10, the call to urgency you’re referencing.  Letters reference the subsections:

A. County needs an additional ½ million homes to meet demand.  And yet the flood of new regulations has caused new apartment building applications to drop over 40%. Who wants to invest in housing with the threat of statewide rent control and other regulations?  Government cronies with bloated building contracts will be the only ones left.

B. May 2018 – how’s that compared to earlier?  2013?  2008?  How much of this is rising rents, how much is an unchanging metric, how much of this is a poorer demographic moving into the city?

C. Average apartment rents increased over 25% in 5 years – that’s only 5% per year.  Far slower than the 80% home price rise.  You’re essentially calling urgency over a 1% difference in rent raises between what you want and what the market has borne.

D. 77% “rent burdened” – again, how much of this has changed over the past five years, and how much of it is a fact of life?  This is a statistic that is historically ignored in LA – to live here in the city, or in any high-rent city, is to be “rent burdened.”  People pay a premium to live in the city.

E. This is the big one, and is utterly disingenuous.  It makes no measure of how many of our new “homeless” population are addicts and petty criminals let loose on the streets due to props 47, 57, and AB109.  First responders agree that generally the “homeless” have serious drug and mental health issues.  Dr Drew has also been pressing this point.  Indeed the very term “homeless” is a disingenuous term to describe such people.  With no regular means of livelihood, they are more appropriately described as vagrants.

F.  The city of Los Angeles has a demonstrated history of packing its committees and public meetings with its own advocates.  We must acknowledge this.M.  Repeating E – the bigger threat to public welfare is the state backing out of the public safety business.  Law enforcement is left powerless to deal with drug addicts and petty criminals.