2022 election issues and recommendations

We want:

  • A hands-on approach to homelessness.  We need to enforce a time/place/manner for transient camps – much like Santa Monica does successfully
  • Our police department to have the tools they need to enforce our laws, and a Council that oversees them honestly.
  • Honest discussions about upzoning and the cost of housing
  • A transparent Council and an unpoliticized School Board

Our Council Recommendations

Dan O’Brien danobrien4culvercity.com – Dan has been a community leader in Culver City for 20 years. He steadfastly promotes a hands-on approach to transient camps, much like Santa Monica does successfully.

Denice Renteria renteriaforculvercity.com – Denice brings fresh insight as well as a steadfast commitment to the basics of city management – enforcing our laws, keeping our streets safe and clean, and keeping the city safe for everyone.

Both Dan and Denice come with the endorsements of Councilmembers Albert Vera and Goran Eriksson.

Why we DON’T recommend Fisch or Puza

Alex Fisch – came in under false pretenses as an economic moderate.  Since then he’s passed rent control (which he originally said didn’t work), has hobbled our police department (though he didn’t vote to defund), pushed a hands-off policy on transient camps, and has been the prime pusher of upzoning.  All the residents who backed his initial run are now organizing against him.

Freddy Puza – would be a continuation of Daniel Lee’s radical policies.  Defunding our police, a hands off policy on camps, and all the other radical and costly measures Lee has promoted while in office.

There are other candidates.  But we don’t believe they have the resources to gain a significant number of votes.  Our focus is to change existing policies that are ruining our city.  Therefore a vote for Dan or Dencie is the best way to keep Fisch or Puza from getting elected. 

Propositions

Measure VY (Vote 16)  – NO.  Giving a vote to Culver High school students, regardless of their residence, would place undue influence in the school board over our Council.  The school board has been nakedly partisan in recent years.  Giving high school students the right to vote would give the school board a captive audience to harvest their ballots, and provide them a permanent voting bloc for their preferred council candidates.

Measure BL (Business Tax) – NO.  Our downtown businesses are struggling enough after the Covid pandemic and lane shutdowns.  Doubling/tripling their tax when they’re hurting would further erode our commercial districts.

School Board recommendations

We would like to stay focused on Council issues, and not be involved in the school board election.  Unfortunately, the school board has been too involved in Council matters, using students to their ends. 

We’ve seen our Defend Don’t Defund signs stolen by kids, and Eriksson’s house was vandalized in a student Defund the Police rally at his house.  School board members have not condemned or denied involvement any of this.  School board member Kelly Kent did have to publicly apologize for using school board resources to promote a Women’s March. 

This needs to end.

We are not concerned with curriculum.  We only want a school board that doesn’t try to put their thumb on the scale of Council matters, and doesn’t manipulate students to their political objectives.   Based on this, we feel these three candidates provide the best chance to change course

Other City/County race recommendations

As you may know, the homelessness issue is far greater than Culver City.  As such, even electing a friendly council will not solve our problems.  We will need to work with neighboring cities and the county to develop a proper, hands-on approach to get transients the services they need while maintaining public safety.
At the core is a profound philosophical disagreement: hands on vs. hands off.
That being said, we’re adding our voice to the following races.

Council to open Jackson Gate?

ACTION ALERT

Monday August 23rd, 5:30pm via Zoom

Council to debate opening Jackson Gate to Ballona Creek

AGENDA HERE REGISTER HERE

Download our distributable flyer

Jackson gate opens up Ballona Creek to the heart of Carlson Park. Opening this gate has been a wildly opposed by local residents, and they’ve fought this for years. With the recent spread of transient camps along Ballona Creek, the public safety issue of opening this gate has gotten even worse. This coming Monday, Council will debate opening this gate again. They may either open it up during the day and close it at night, or leave it open 24/7.

Creekside Neighborhood has been active on this issue. We suggest contacting them to be further involved. But it’s also critical to make your voice heard with Council if you oppose this. If you can’t make the meeting to speak, you can also file an eComment or contact the councilmembers.

Creekside Neighbors polled the neighborhood about opposition to opening Jackson Gate.

What we know about the hospital lawsuit against City Council

Council was sued in federal court on June 22nd by Southern California Hospital of Culver City in response to their June 14th ordinance requiring an additional $5/hour “Hero Pay” for hospital employees.  Councilmembers Vera and Eriksson opposed this “hero pay,” along with many residents, questioning the timing, legality and necessity of it.  Undeterred, Council majority went along with it anyway. 

The lawsuit makes a serious allegation – that SEIU, the union representing hospital workers, conspired with Councilmembers Lee, McMorrin and Fisch to single out this hospital and force a $5/hr temporary raise, circumventing their own collective bargaining protocols.  SEIU did so in a quid pro quo, working with these three Councilmembers in group texts during Council meetings, offering pro bono legal support to defend the ordinance.  This contrasts with the less serious tone of the hospital’s official statement.

Contrary to Daniel Lee’s claims, this hospital doesn’t make big profits.  They are a MediCal hospital, and one of the few in the region.  This means they operate off razor thin margins. 

The hospital is represented by Sheppard Mullin, a major law firm with 270 lawyers combined in Downtown LA and Century City alone.  They claim “declarative, injunctive, and monetary relief” – they want the court to strike down this ordinance, declare this type of ordinance unlawful, and pay them damages for having to fight this.  They back up their allegations with some amazing and timely research.  They present a timeline of collaboration from the April 12th through May 24th Council meetings, as well as SEIU’s dealings in Daniel Lee’s state senate bid. [10]

They present heavy evidence of texts from SEIU political director Maky Peters to Lee, Fisch and McMorrin during the April 12th council meeting.  “Ms. Peters urged them to move quickly to agendize the combined Grocery/SCHCC ‘Hero Pay’ ordinance for a vote: ‘It’s actually the only way you’re gonna have [the union’s] pro bono support,’ concluding: ‘There are only so many ways I legally can say that.’” [11]

But the particularly damning allegation is in items 95-96 in the suit, which talks about the group texts during the May 24th meeting.  

95: “At 9:50 p.m., while the meeting was still in progress, Ms. Peters opened a group chat with Mayor Fisch, Vice Mayor Lee, and Councilmember McMorrin. Apparently frustrated by the decision to defer immediate action on ordinance targeting SCHCC, Ms. Peters sought to assure Mayor Fisch, Vice Mayor Lee, and Council Member McMorrin: “We’re ready to fight court case””

96: “Viewed in context, the only plausible interpretation is that SEIU’s representative was telling three City Council members that the union was prepared to defend a SEIU-sponsored ordinance by providing legal support, while at the same time suggesting that the “only way you’re going to have the union’s “pro bono support” would be by the Council taking up the “Hospital ordinance” and the “grocery” ordinance as one combined bill. Ms. Peters’ final texts, directed at the Mayor in particular, remove all doubt as to the quid pro quo offered: “pro bono support” from SEIU in exchange for three members’ support: “Mr. Mayor” “We have your back” “There are only so many ways I can legally say that.”

In the video of the meeting, you hear the ringtones at 9:50pm, corroborating this claim.

This follows the previous meeting, and SEIU’s collective bargaining agreement after the May 10th meeting when the initial Hero pay ordinance was introduced.  Fisch brought up that “[W]e received some new information that we have not had a chance to be advised by staff…” [98] meaning SEIU’s collective bargaining agreements with the hospital.  The hospital had already accounted for pandemic working conditions in their recently signed agreement.  The lawsuit claims here that SEIU is trying to do an end run around this agreement by getting Council to force their arm.

The lawsuit continues to lay out further details and evidence that “SEIU was offering an illegal quid pro quo: to obtain the Mayor’s support, the union was prepared to make payments, underwrite a legal defense, and assume responsibility for the legal consequences of adoption of the Ordinance, which was prepared at the union’s behest for the purposes of serving the special interests of the SEIU.” [110]

Councilmembers Vera and Eriksson both explicitly raised the concern of a lawsuit during the May 24th meeting.  They both laid out the issue that the hospital alone is being targeted with this ordinance, and our city is alone to do such a thing.  Their concerns were ignored by the others, which left them confused.  Given these texts happening without their knowledge, we now understand why.

This also explains Lee’s aggressive leading role in this ordinance.  Lee had not only applied for a position with SEIU, they backed his run for State Senate to replace Holly Mitchell by ghost writing an op-ed for them. [78]  He has a longstanding relationship with them, and part of this quid pro quo was their implied continued support for his political ambitions. 

Council and SEIU have up to August 20 to respond to these allegations, and we look forward to their response.  But they said nothing to disclose these private exchanges during a Council meeting or the conflict of interest presented.  More so, Daniel Lee explicitly denied a conflict of interest with the hospital by asserting “no money has changed place” – leaving out the rest of his relationship with the union. 

Many of us at Protect Culver City have long suspected that we have a “shadow council” operating behind the scenes.  This goes all the way back to Fisch and Lee’s 2018 inauguration, when their override of the mayoral rotation resulted in a Brown Act complaint which they corrected.  Since then, official Council proceedings have become little more than rubber stamps for what so obviously is done under the table.  We get more from their social media exchanges with their activist base than we ever get from Council meetings. 

But it’s one thing to suspect, it’s another to prove.  We don’t have the resources for lawyers, who could find out they text each other during Council meetings without telling anyone.   Council’s hubris made them go after an entity which had such resources. 

President’s message

July 15, 2021 marks the official two-year anniversary of Protect Culver City.  But if we are to look at our true genesis, it would be today, June 25th.  It was in the wee hours of June 25, 2019, that we witnessed Council ambush us with their legion of outside activists to implement rent control.  To quote our founding statement:

“It’s the manner in which they decided that should concern everyone. None of the Council members ran for office on this agenda. Unfortunately, this lack of responsiveness and transparency is something we’ve grown to expect from this council.  This is why we realized early on, rent control could not be our only or even our primary issue.”

We knew rent control would only draw the passion of a tiny minority of multifamily owners.  But we also knew Council woudn’t stop here.  They came for our police department, and nearly succeeded.  Now, they’re coming for single family zoning.  

Because of our status and budget, we were able to play a critical role in alerting the residents about both of these issues.  We’ve done so despite bearing the brunt of attacks by an aggressive activist core.

Our detractors have said “Protect Culver City is just Ron Bassilian.”  In doing so, they do themselves a disservice.  This movement has always been well beyond me, and has always been beyond rent control.  We are here, above all else, to hold his council accountable to the residents, and to keep residents informed.  If residents want a city without a police department or single family zoning, that is their prerogative.  But we will have an informed debate about these issues, and Council’s decisions will reflect the will of the residents, not outside activists.

Now that I have a son in my life, my responsibilities are a bit reduced and others are doing the heavy lifting.  I do little more than steer the ship these days.  With that, I’d like to talk about where we are going between now and our next milestone – the 2022 election.

First, our finances are healthy.  We are ready and able to do a door hanger distribution at any time.  This is a necessity for us to maintain our minimal mission.  We are able to fundraise to keep up this function as needed between now and the 2022 election.

We are also very interested in seeing two candidates step forward in the 2022 election to challenge Mayor Fisch and Vice Mayor Lee. 

We do not plan on officially endorsing or affiliating with any candidates during the election.  Our main focus will still be an informed debate on the issues.  Our role will be much like a newspaper – we will honestly report on where candidates stand on the issues, the strength of their campaigns, and their associations.   

Our main interest is that such candidates are not beholden to this activist core which controls the current three member majority.  We want our Councilmembers to answer to the residents.  We recommend any candidate who agrees with us on these issues to get in touch with us early and have a frank conversation with us on their platform.

We understand others are wary of dealing with us.  Even though PCC has steered a good centrist course on city issues, detractors point to my Republican status.  It’s true –I am a Republican, and I ran for Congress against Karen Bass as a Republican in 2018.  I’m still very active in the county party.  That won’t change.

That doesn’t change the fact that PCC has remained strictly non-partisan.  Our active members are a good reflection of this city’s overall political leanings.  More so, residents appreciate that we inform them about what’s happening, independent of political leaning.  Few would have known about Council’s defunding or upzoning plans if it weren’t for our early efforts.

We need to be honest about another thing – this activist core will attack anyone who stands in their way.  They use loaded language to bully anyone who opposes their agenda.  Anyone who wants to fight for these issues can expect similar treatment.  The more you stand out, the bigger a threat you are, the more they will attack you. 

But we should focus on the good news.  In our two years reaching out to residents, we’ve found them to be highly intelligent, and legitimately want what’s best for the city and the planet.  They are willing to discuss the issues with us in good faith.  We plan on building off this good will, to nurture a Council that reflects it.  It’s how we can protect Culver City as a city that truly works for everyone. 

  • Ron Bassilian

Joint meeting with Planning Commission to end R1

ACTION ALERT
June 23rd 7pm via Webex

Council to discuss ending “exclusionary zoning”
– meaning single family (R1) zoning –
throughout the entire city.
This could allow massive developments anywhere in the city

REGISTER HERE AGENDA HERE

We will also meet at Rush Street (by City Hall) for an in-person remote viewing. Those without computers or internet are encouraged to attend. We will have a microphone so people can speak on the record at the meeting.

Other groups have also formed to raise awareness of this meeting and how it will affect our city.  Culver City Neighbors United has put out some great information about the various proposals on the table.  They also have a Facebook page. They are circulating An online petition to tell council not to end single family zoning.

At Council’s meeting May 10th, a number of activists spoke before the meeting demanding the city agendize “ending exclusionary zoning.” Council assented, and is planning a joint meeting with the Planning Commission.

“Exclusionary zoning” is a euphemism which means Single Family zoning. It is based on the controversial take that single family homes are rooted in racism and are meant to keep minorities out of neighborhoods.

Our letter requesting Council mail out proper notice of this meeting

This means Council will be debating whether to end Single Family zoning on June 23rd.

A number of us put forth the demand that the city put out adequate notice by mail to all Culver City residents regarding such a critical change in city zoning. So far they have refused. As promised, we are doing their job for them.

The city has published a “Land Use Alternatives” survey. to their online audience. No proof of residence or identity is required to answer this survey. It asks whether you agree with such statemtents as the following, which hide their true intention:

  • “small developments across the city are preferable to very large developments in a few places.” This is asking whether you want to upzone the entire city or just along transit corridors.
  • “Incremental infill is a good strategy to accommodate new housing in Culver City.” – meaning, do you think any plot in Culver City should be able to hold up to four condos?
  • Incremental densification would allow up to six units on any plot.
  • SB9 and SB10 are now in the California legislature. SB10 would allow up to TEN condos on any plot of land. Our council would abide by these statewide regulations.
  • It asks whether you want affordable housing – which sounds good, but we have no idea what “Implement the Vision and Guiding Principles” or what loopholes it contains. The devil is always in the details.

What this Housing Resolution Means

Council ultimately voted 3-2 for their housing resolution at their meeting Monday April 12th.  It doesn’t outright abolish single family zoning, but it opens loopholes to do just that.  Councilmembers Eriksson and Vera shared our concerns.  Eriksson called this resolution is a “Trojan Horse.”  Vera repeated his concern this just opens up the city to developers, who’ll make their money and leave.

So what do we get out of this resolution?  What does it mean, and where do we go from here?

The good news is, all is not lost.  This resolution is part of an ongoing General Plan discussion.  It is a step forward for those who want to allow developers to build anything they want, anywhere they want.  But we still have plenty of chance to stop its worst effects – namely by the next election in November 2022.

Fundamentally, the resolution gives direction to the General Plan committee to find new places and ways to build new housing.  It seeks to conform to the statewide RHNA mandate to build 3000 new homes in Culver City in the next eight years.  It seeks to do so “equitably” and with “inclusion.”  The three supporting councilmembers McMorrin, Lee, and Fisch made clear this means all neighborhoods are eligible for upzoning. 

We were hoping to get further clarification from Council’s conversation on Monday.  But we only learned Council now has no conversation.  Fisch and Lee made their supportive comments without even addressing the concerns of Vera and Eriksson, let alone any of our speaker concerns.  Let’s go over a few of these:

“We have reached out the community about this.”  – Councilmember Lee has said this before.  It’s not just disingenuous, it throws our city staff under the bus.  By asking the Clerk to verify this, he is only stating that they have done the minimum legally required notification.  Council is supposed to use their discretion to take it further.  They could do snail mail notices to our residents for “hot button” topics like this, but they consistently refuse.  Our flyer did more to alert people to this resolution than the city did, with all its resources.

Furthermore, what notice they do give uses vague language to hide the nature of these agenda items.  We find out what is really going on through backchannels and rumors.  All this is simply embarrassing for our city.

This is a pattern for them.  They did this when they overrode the mayoral rotation at their inaugural meeting in 2018.  They did the same when they enacted rent control.  They claimed they were discussing it for months in advance – and yet no landlord heard about it or suspected anything, until they were hit with the ordinance.

 “This has been an ongoing discussion for the past couple years – it’s nice for people to join in the conversation now.”  Both Eriksson and Vera never saw this resolution before it was released to the public for the March 22nd meeting.  Prior General Plan meetings used language like “equity” and “inclusion” which are euphemisms for ending single family zoning.  But their intentions were never codified like this until now.

“People were brought here because of misinformation” – it’s hard to claim misinformation about a resolution nobody understands – even two councilmembers.  We are still learning what this means, and that’s why we were hoping for legitimate clarification.  Fisch and Lee just stuck with their talking points rather than address the concerns of Eriksson and Vera.  McMorrin simply confirmed she was voted in to pass such resolutions.

Culver City News is also grappling with the text of the resolution.  They picked up on our “30 units minimum per acre stipulation.”  They also mentioned that if we do not meet state targets, this resolution “would trigger a minimum additional density that will be allowed on each site.”

This is what Eriksson means by “Trojan Horse.”  And what we meant in our flyer by “this resolution creates a number of mandates and loopholes.”  Many are arguing this is by design.

Again, any of the concerns of either the speakers on this agenda item, or opposing councilmembers, could have been legitimately addressed during this agenda item.  They were not.  Vera and Eriksson said we all want affordable housing, we all want to figure out how we can grow as a city, but the question is how to do it effectively and responsibly.  They were not answered.

So why is this happening?  Why no conversation?  Because councilmembers McMorrin, Lee and Fisch were elected by an activist core of supporters who want them to push these resolutions.  They have their agenda and they’re not interested in a discussion.  This is why they sneak these things through with minimum clarity and discussion.  It’s why they are pushing such radical changes to our city, precisely at a time when so many are disenfranchised.

That’s why we realized, the only way to stop this is by informing and mobilizing the residents of this city.

Ultimately, a 3-2 vote on a resolution made in such a sneaky fashion is not a powerful mandate.  Both Fisch and Lee are up for re-election next year.  Over the coming year, we need to mobilize to get full clarity on Our General Plan’s goals, and demand responsible growth, not a reckless developer bonanza.  The current Council majority can continue to push this through all they want, but if they’re no longer in office in 2023, their plans for our city will come to nought.

We have to remind them of this in the months to come, and prepare for the November 2022 election with the full expectation that they will not react to our demands.

What happened at Monday’s council meeting?

Did they want to get rid of single family zoning in Culver City? 
In a word, yes.

At Council meeting Monday the 22nd we asked questions about item A-4 resolution on housing policy.  We didn’t have access to this resolution until three days before the meeting. Fortunately, they tabled a vote on this resolution until April 12th, in the interest of not debating past midnight.  But our worst suspicions were unfortunately confirmed.  This resolution would green-light the entire city to be rezoned and redeveloped.

Vice-Mayor Lee denied that this resolution would eliminate single family zoning in Culver City.  Mayor Fisch claimed that statewide regulations already allow a triplex on every lot – alluding to the allowance of an ADU and junior ADU on each lot and not a bonafide triplex. 

The supporting speakers at the meeting betrayed their intentions.  This resolution reads much like the aborted SB50, which would have eliminated single family zoning in any area deemed job or transit rich (Culver City is argued to be both).  Furthermore, by claiming to “equitably distribute” this upzoning, it leaves no neighborhood in our city safe from limitless upzoning.

Councilmembers Vera and Eriksson both expressed their doubts about this resolution.  Namely, that they didn’t get a chance to even see it until it was publicly released three days before the meeting.  They shared our concern about its lack of clarity, and that passing it would hand over the city to developers in the name of anti-racism.

While council danced around the issue during this council meeting, their intentions were made known during the joint council/planning commission meeting in January.  Here, both Lee and Imani-McMorrin declared outright that single family zoning is racist and needs to be eliminated.  Fisch didn’t go so far, but said single family zoning is classist, and class is rooted in race.  

A concerning tactic – militant upzoners flood the General Plan meetings and push their opinions. GPAC then generates these “studies” of only those who show up to their meetings. The 44 who show up and are polled then give a very skewed representation of what the city wants.

Fisch also made the disingenuous claim that rezoning for multifamily would bring us more of our old fashioned “bungalow courtyards” and other post-war construction.  This is a particular sticking point for us.  We claimed rent control would drive such multifamily buildings off the market to be redeveloped into modern condos.  These rent out for 2-3x the rent of current multifamily, even when you can compare the two. We’d repeatedly asked Council to make exemptions to preserve these older mom and pop multifamily units.  Council’s only reaction was to campaign against our ballot measure.

Again, both Vera and Eriksson both stated their opposition to such radical rezoning plans.  Eriksson claimed that this kind of rezoning would doom ordinary people to permanently renting in expensive units.  Vera expressed concerns at what this would do to the character of our city.

We recommend everyone watch the video from the joint council/planning commission meeting – namely council’s comments starting at 2h20m – and become familiar with Council’s rezoning debate ahead of the April 12th meeting.  Then share your concerns with the councilmembers.  Feel free to BCC us at contact@protectculvercity.org if you do e-mail them.

The councilmembers speak at the following times:
McMorrin: 2h20m
Vera 2h28m
Eriksson 2h32m
Lee 2h46m
Fisch 3h06m

A glimpse of what Culver City residential streets could look like – if we keep silent. More details in the linked United Neighbors report.

We also recommend people familiarize themselves with the state’s greater upzoning debate.  Namely SB9 and SB10, which emulate what SB50 wanted to do (including 10 unit buildings on a lot).  This report from United Neighbors is a good summary.  




 

Death by a Thousand Cuts: Who’s behind “Defund CCPD”?

The “Defund CCPD” campaign did not go away after the past election.  Both Albert Vera and Goran Eriksson were recently elected on opposing deep cuts.  That still leaves Councilmembers Lee and Imani-McMorrin staunchly supporting abolishing our police, with only Mayor Fisch being the wildcard in this debate.  This allowed the Defunders to bring back the issue with a vengeance in the last couple council meetings.  Vocal militants, they teamed up with friendly councilmembers to stop CCPD from enforcing low-level traffic violations – ostensibly due to profiling concerns. 

Although we have avoided the drastic 50% cut the Defunders originally demanded, our police appear doomed to “death by a thousand cuts.”  Our police department is now forbidden from keeping our sidewalks clear of tents, forbidden the discretion of traffic stops, and are subject to hiring freezes.  Death by attrition seems much more politically feasible for the Defunders than a cold turkey abolition.

Ordinary residents see where this is going.  The resultant increase in crime is undeniable.  Aggravated assault and burglary have increased dramatically.  Anecdotes of stolen packages, catalytic converters, assaults, transient camp crime and fires, and street racing are now common on social media.   It promises only to get worse. 

This has left many of our members frustrated and confused as to why this is happening and how to stop it.  It’s so unpopular, so outrageous, so boneheaded.  Where is this coming from?

The issue isn’t facts but loyalty.  The current council majority – Fisch, Lee, and Imani-McMorrin – were elected largely due to the efforts of a core of 15-20 militant residents.  These militants push their talking points at every council meeting.  They are active and aggressive on social media.  They have gained positions in certain key commissions like the Homelessness, General Plan, and Police Chief’s advisory panel, as well as the School Board.  And they have ties to academia and elected officials.

Motivating them is the Culver City Action Network, which has put forward a the most radical demands in this city.  It is an anonymous organization – their website has no personal info – but we have some idea of who’s behind it.  Outgoing councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells appears to be one of its prime organizers.  From the dais, Mrs. Sahli-Wells called herself a police abolitionist.  Also prominent is Noah Zatz, a UCLA law professor who makes $350,000/yr (plus housing stipend) to be a professional activist.

Behind the Defund push is their belief, not simply that our police are racist, but policing itself is racist.  They believe policing is a throwback to slavery, there’s no way to reform it, and abolishing it is the only way to progress as a country. 

The city’s own professional report by CPSM flatly deny this claim.  They show how police facilitate an open and just society, and removing them ruins life for everyone.  That doesn’t stop these militants from pushing their own consultants with their agenda-driven “studies.”  Saul Sarabia is their primary defunding consultant.  He was brought up yet again at the March 1st meeting by Noah Zatz, who demanded council follow his demands in his report to defund the police by 50%.

Behind Sarabia’s report is another anonymous report, tied to UCLA Law’s Criminal Justice Program.  The half-truths and misrepresentations in this report are too many to mention in this article.  Suffice it to say it’s anonymous for good reason.  We contacted UCLA’s Law School, and the only one to take any responsibility for it is the dean, who says we’re welcome to contact him with any questions.

Between Sarabia’s report and the UCLA report we see a common thread.  The agenda comes first, and the facts are applied to fit.  Councilmember Daniel Lee confirmed as much last year, when he said the point of any report was to tell him how he could cut CCPD by 50%.

These kinds of agenda-driven studies are not new to us at Protect Culver City.  We saw this play out on the rent control issue in 2019.  Councilmembers made bogus claims of an “epidemic of evictions and gouging” – yet again, flatly denied by their own staff, consultants, and Landlord Tenant Mediation Board. 

If these guys are so few, how do they convince council to vote their way? 

They take advantage of the fact that the vast majority of the city consists of compassionate, loyal Democrats.  They’ve taken over the Culver City Democratic Club, which pushes their candidates and measures.  The CCDC endorsed Measure J, which cuts the LA County Sheriff’s Department by 10%.  They also endorsed Councilmember Daniel Lee for State Senate, over the less radical and more popular Sydney Kamlager.  CCDC has also made it clear that any candidate who associates with Protect Culver City is on their enemies list.  This has led several key people to shy away from us.

They have close ties with local elected Democrats.  Representative Karen Bass and State Senator Holly Mitchell regularly endorse their candidates and measures.  They also have ties to academia and larger government.  Councilmember Yasmine Imani-McMorrin also works at USC, Daniel Lee works for a foundation, and Alex Fisch works for the CA Attorney General.  Through these ties, they gain access to these studies, consultants, and legal precedents. 

They use their positions on the School Board to further organize their causes.  They’ve already gotten into trouble using school resources to organize a Women’s March, as well as using confidential school mailing lists for their political mailers.  All this put together makes for a formidable political machine. 

The good news is they have widespread opposition.  The last election proved it.  These militants, who enjoy so many advantages, only got one of their three favored Council candidates elected.  While they dominate the institutions of our city, their overall outreach is waning, as well as their popularity. 

This is something we can and must build on. While the opposition is widespread, it needs to be better organized and able to anticipate these events.

We are ultimately fighting about a clash of visions in Culver City.  Their vision is stark: a loss of public safety, reckless deregulated upzoning, replacing multifamily apartments with pricey condo developments, replacement of our small businesses with big box stores.  It contrasts what the vast majority of us moved here for: safe streets, good schools, homespun community, an oasis of calm which welcomes people from all walks of life. 

Residents who want to maintain the character of Culver City which has made it famous, must stop these militants from implementing their vision.

Comment suggestions for CC housing providers for the next two weeks

While Protect Culver City is mobilizing to support Measure B, multifamily owners still need to push back HARD on the permanent rent control ordinance, which is taking shape in an extremely punishing form.  Looks like it will be even tougher than the Interim Rent Control Ordinance. Heaven forbid we get stuck with it!

Plan on commenting about specific features that will be difficult for you in open comments Monday, Sept. 14 during Items Not on the Agenda and then at the special meeting for the permanent ordinance Monday, Sept. 21.  The WebEx verbal comments seem to be more effective than written comments and vividly demonstrate the extent to which the legitimate concerns of housing providers are not being considered.

Culver City Meetings and Agendas are here.

To speak at the meeting by internet, register before the meeting starts here. You will receive a link by email link to join. To speak after the meeting starts, send an email to city.clerk@culvercity.org.

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We are now past the point where there’s value in highlighting philosophical differences (the council doesn’t care whether you think they’re socialist) or describing how gentle our rent increases have been in the past.  In fact, past testimony about gentle increases are being cited as justification for the penury caps now under consideration.

The two biggest pain points so far are 1) the projected caps, which sound like they will be limited to regional CPI and nothing else, and 2) the potential vesting period for tenant protections, which are poised to be limited to six months instead of a year (for the original tenant) and two years (for every adult added to the unit in the first year) as under AB1482.  You would only have time to address one issue or the other.  You could do so by answering these sets of questions: 

CPI: Would your building pencil out if you were only able to raise your rents at the rate of the regional CPI. Feel free to double check my calculations, but the annual average over the past decade appears to only be 2.14%*

https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/data/consumerpriceindex_losangeles_table.pdf

 https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/data/cpi_tables.pdf

What is the actual rate at which your operating expenses are increasing?  Undoubtedly, they are increasing at a much faster pace.  Put a pencil to paper and compute your delta.  Let the council know whether this formula for a rent cap is going to allow you to earn your fair rate of return (as calculated by maintenance of net operating income – i.e. preserve your pre-rent control NOI plus inflation).  If only being able to raise your rents at the rate of the regional CPI isn’t going to keep you in business, demand that the city include a guaranteed minimum cap increase in addition to CPI.  The city of Los Angeles, the county of Los Angeles and statewide rent control provide such guardrails against low inflation, and we should have them, too!  Such a guaranteed floor is not a guarantee that housing providers would charge the minimum but that we would have the flexibility to do so when needed.  

  • Vesting: Housing providers have advocated for a 12-month vesting period for tenant protections for incoming tenants — as in AB1482.  The idea was to make sure that a new leasee isn’t a problem tenant before becoming eligible for eviction protections and relocation fees, which infinitely complicate their removal. The council appears intent on only allowing a six-month vesting period.  They argue that a longer period would encourage housing providers to evict in order to chase a higher rent with a new tenant.  Does your rental market shoot up that rapidly?  Aren’t your listing and turn-over costs so high that they would never allow you to evict a new tenant except if his behavior were so egregious that it threatened your good tenants?  Alternatively, would a six-month vesting period provide enough of an incentive for you to consider renting to more risky tenants – those with marginal financials, a history of nuisance in prior rentals or perhaps a criminal background? Further, would six months be enough time for you to fairly determine whether an incoming tenant is proving to be a nuisance for the rest of your building. If not, speak up! 

If the above are not your issues, here are other growing areas of concern:

  • Program Costs: Anticipated program costs, which were already suspiciously low when compared to neighboring jurisdictions, appear to be dramatically increasing.  Already, industry experts have warned that the city’s estimates were one-half or one-fourth of those in neighboring jurisdictions. But the council majority has been piling on features, including rental registry updates at every possible interval, elaborate inspection regimes and multiple types of hearings.   Demand that the city provide a new, accurate calculation of the program’s anticipated cost.  It’s bad enough that the city is considering adding a new program when the pandemic has exacerbated the city government’s fiscal woes and deprived many housing providers of collections when they have no relief for their costs.  But to do so without a true accounting does not make sense.  This is no time to write a blank check for a program when rents are falling and ample tenant protections are already in place due to state and federal eviction moratoriums and statewide rent control.
  • Limited Pass-Throughs: Do you have the ability to pack a whole lot of costs onto your base rent following your next vacancy?  The council majority thinks you do.  They are only willing to have existing tenants pick up 50% of the program’s fee – and that for a limited group of mom-and-pop providers.  For tenants who move in after rent control is in place, fees on owners will be responsible for the program’s entire cost (except when there are deficits, which the city has to swallow).  Further, very few pass throughs would be allowed for improvements.  The council expects you to be able to tack those costs onto incoming tenants at your next vacancy.  Is the sky the limit on what you can charge new tenants?  Don’t market forces, especially during economic downturns like the one we’re going through, put strong limits on your starting rents? 

Do you foresee having to recover your unit for substantial renovation?  Listen carefully to council deliberations video  on Aug. 17 around this particular issue (roughly 2:25:49 to 2:44:05).  The council majority is leaning toward the City of Los Angeles’s set of regulations, which are highly restrictive.   

*Corrected CPI from 1.81% to 2.14%

Meeting “Homeless Czar” Helen Chin

On Thursday, August 27, a couple of us got on a phone call with Helen Chin, assistant to the city manager on homelessness.  A lot of people wonder why we need this “homeless czar” but the answer is relatively simple.  Recent court decisions have made it very difficult to enforce vagrancy and camping laws, and activists have made sure cities abide by those laws.  This issue came to our city last July, when we changed our own city policy to match Los Angeles policy under the 405. 

What was once a very simple affair is now a nearly impossible task.  If someone sleeps on our streets, and they don’t want to move, we can’t make them. 

There are guidelines our city can meet, and things we can do to nudge people off the streets and get them into shelters or programs.  It is now a complicated process involving coordination among several departments – police, code enforcement, mental health, and a couple others.  Ms. Chin’s job is to act as central point for all these departments in dealing with transients on our streets. 

A recent federal court ruling has given us a ray of hope – a judge ordered that freeway underpasses in LA County be cleared from transient camps.  The ruling itself is actually far more complicated than it sounds, but we found it worth discussing with Ms. Chin.  We had some good takeaways from the discussion.

First, we expressed our frustration that we repeatedly talk about the crime aspect of this – it’s the crime and the public safety aspect of this that we’re concerned with.  When we bring this up, we are accused of “criminalizing homelessness.”  We told Helen about our own policy that those sleeping on our streets need to follow the same rules they would at a shelter.  If they don’t follow those rules – if they commit any crimes – we call the police.

We came to a mutual understanding on that.

We then discussed the issue of beds.  Part of the lawsuit in question was an agreement to reduce the number of beds needed before a city could enforce its camping/vagrancy laws.  Where it was previously held to an odd standard of one bed per every homeless counted in a city (nevermind how many are in use), this judge lowered the standard to 60%.  He also said that cities didn’t have to house homeless within city limits. Other cities are pooling resources to build shelters away from their residents.

Chin then talked about Culver City’s discussions with the county on homelessness.  We also shared the understanding that this “beds vs homeless” calculus was a strange unsolvable metric.  If we build more beds, more will come in.  That sounds obvious, but our brain trust at the homelessness committee have proposed taking $7 million out of the police budget and giving every one of our 300 homeless a two bedroom apartment.  As if once we do this, the problem would be solved. It’s good to know our city staff isn’t agreeing with that.

Chin even mentioned that a lot of our native homeless population – a more benign elderly type – have been chased out by a younger more aggressive crowd.  This supports our observation that we really have a criminal vagrancy issue, and not just locals driven out by rising housing costs.  This experience has been corroborated in other cities. But again, not a position taken over by our homelessness committee or Culver City’s Housing Administrator.

The big takeaway from this meeting is that homelessness is a county issue.  The county is in the business of mental health and homelessness.  Our city, ultimately, is not.  We don’t have to build shelters in the middle of our city, we don’t have to divert half our budget to shelters at Veteran’s Park if we are to keep our streets and parks clean.

Finally, we discussed the underpasses themselves.  We shared stories about the people who’ve taken residence under there.  The city does do sweeps of the south side of Venice/405 every Wednesday.  The city invited a couple of us to join them, and we’ve enthusiastically accepted their invitation. 

We want to know who’s under there and what’s going on.  We ask that anyone who goes on the sweeps to take notes and bring us a report.