We avoided the worst – what to expect next

Council voted 3-2 against Culver City Action Network’s initial proposal to defund our $45 million police budget by nearly $8 million at their June 15th meeting. The vote break down was Eriksson, Fisch and Small against the cuts, and Sahli-Wells and Lee for the cuts. The cuts they proposed instead were minor – about $400,000. Such cuts showed both a respect for our police and an understanding for our Covid-related budget shortfall.

Now, CCAN has decided to double down. They are demanding at least a 50% reduction in CCPD’s police budget within three months.

The question now is whether Fisch and Small voted against the cuts because they genuinely support CCPD, or simply because the initial proposed cuts were too hasty.

Indeed, such cuts were hasty on an insane level. This initial budget cut would have been ratified at the June 22nd meeting, and implemented July 1st – leading to massive and immediate layoffs in our police department. And no real plan of implementation.

Rather than implement these immediate cuts at their 22nd meeting, council voted to create a “task force” which would would “reimagine public safety.” It is fortunately composed of city staff only, keeping it relatively isolated from political activists. But it will be working with the Police Chief’s Advisory Panel – a newly formed body of about 20 residents and students, which is still nebulous in its nature and mission. Considering what we heard from students at meetings on the 15th and 22nd, this should concern us. They were the primary voice behind defunding the police, and seemed organized by our own school board.

Fisch and Small have repeatedly paid homage to CCAN in the past and have aligned themselves with it. Meanwhile, Eriksson was the only councilmember who publicly defended CCPD after the riots and subsequent attacks on CCPD’s reputation. Which leaves us concerned that their rejection of the initial proposal was only so they can provide clear legal cover for even deeper, more permanent cuts in the next few months.

This is why our campaign is not just going strong, but is now more urgent than ever. We bought ourselves until September to rally the residents of Culver City to this cause. We need to inform each other of these proposed cuts, and how dangerously close we are to losing our police department. We must confront the lies and smears about our police, which serve the sole purpose of undermining or abolishing it. And we must show our council we want to keep CCPD as is, are organized, and will do what it takes to keep it.

A 3-2 vote against gutting our police overnight was way too close for comfort. We must remind our council that it’s not just the “overnight” part we oppose.

June 22nd council meeting and CCPD: what to expect

Culver City council meeting Monday the 22nd will be approving the 2020/21 budget (Item PH-1) and establishing “a Task Force to Review Public Safety Services” (Item A-2).

We have assurances from 3 out of 5 councilmembers that no cuts to Culver City Police Department will be made that will result in any layoffs. CCPD is freezing new hiring and that’s it. That’s not stopping a fringe group organized by councilmembers Lee and Sahli-Wells from pushing a radical demand to defund CCPD by 50% in three months. As we’ve said before, the intent of such cuts is to abolish CCPD entirely, leaving our city at the mercy of the county Sheriff. They’ve referred to this in their demand note.

Defend CCPD Yard Sign
Get your “Defend CCPD” yard sign! Contact us for details.

We knew that getting council to forego gutting CCPD’s budget tomorrow would, at best, buy us some time. That’s why our “Defend Don’t Defund” campaign is still going strong. We recommend everyone get a yard sign, and distribute flyers to their neighbors about what’s at stake. People should also join the council Webex meeting tomorrow and “raise their hand” to speak.

We know online meetings are difficult to navigate. You can also file an eComment (read the tutorial here) or just e-mail comments to public.comment@culvercity.org. But speaking at council is the best way to make yourself heard. Supporters of defunding CCPD are a small minority, but they are loud, well organized, and connected to councilmembers. They will try to get in line first to speak, and pretend they’re the dominant voice.

Here’s how you can speak tomorrow:

  1. Register for tomorrow’s meeting online at this link.
  2. Once you have registered, you will be emailed a link.  Check email and confirm your account.
  3. The DAY OF the meeting (Monday 6/22) you will receive an email allowing you to “Join Event”.  Follow that link and it will forward you to Webex.  You will have a box on your screen to write “I (state your name) request to speak on Agenda Item (PH-1 for budget, A-2 for police task force).
  4. You will be set up and on mute, until they are ready for you to speak, and they will unmute you.  

If this sounds confusing, it is. We still need more details and confirmation on this – like when we are clear to join the meeting. Our goal is to make sure they don’t monopolize the first part of the meeting.

Some talking points to make when you speak:

  1. Thank council for promising us to be able to debate on this issue before they make any profound changes to our police department. We hope they follow through on this promise today.
  2. Our police department heroically saved this city May 30-31. Cutting the police budget would leave them unable to do exactly what they did that weekend.
  3. We passed Measure CC (extending the half-cent sales tax increase) in March overwhelmingly, because council invoked our police department and our need to preserve it. To turn around and gut it now, would mean they lied about why they needed this tax increase.
  4. Our police department enjoys a 78% approval rating. Council, on the other hand, has a 47% approval rating. Council’s rating has dropped precipitously since this time last year.
  5. We are barely keeping up with these “defund the police” plans that are unagendized and unannounced to Culver City residents. We hope these next three months will involve a legitimate discussion and not just legal cover before council goes along with this tiny minority.

City Leaders Speak Out Against Defunding CCPD

Our PAC wasn’t the only one to take calls to defund Culver City’s Police Department seriously. A number of ex-mayors, ex-councilmembers, and other city leaders have stepped forward to give their statements in support of our elite police department. These citizens have no relationship to our PAC. We are just happy to see others are stepping forward with similar concerns. Here they are as follows:

Andy Weissman
Jim Clarke
Jozelle Smith
David Voncannon
Ed Wolkowitz
Jeff Cooper
Marcus Tiggs

May 12 Neighborhood Watch meeting recap

The 405 project continues.  On Tuesday, May 12th, we held a Webex meeting to further discuss a Neighborhood Watch around the Venice/405 and other 405 underpasses in Culver City.  Former mayor Richard Marcus (1999-2000) was our featured speaker.  He discussed his experience building a Neighborhood Watch around Sunkist Park back in the 90s.  We then looked compared his experiences with our challenges, and what we could learn from him.  We were surprised at how little things change.

Richard talked about the issues in the 90s.  Gangs, drug dealing, dogs defecating in a park where children play.  The breaking point came when people’s cars were being stolen or vandalized in their own driveways, and burglars who tied a homeowner to a chair while they helped themselves to her belongings and food.  Richard realized if he didn’t do something, he’d be next.

Richard started complaining to the police, then realized they don’t know who he is or whether he’s on their side.  They explained the concept of a Neighborhood Watch, and that if he could get eight people together, they’d come and talk to him and his neighbors.  The idea of talking to his neighbors was a foreign concept, but Richard went ahead anyway.  That first meeting, he was hoping for his eight people.  65 people wound up showing up.  That’s how bad things were.

He mentioned three pillars a proper Neighborhood Watch relies on – which definitely chimes with our own experience:

  1. Taking responsibility for our own safety and security.  There’s only so much the police can help us without our support.  We need to take control of our own neighborhood and realize we are the final public safety program.
  2. Active awareness.  We can’t take responsibility for our neighborhood if we’re not aware of it.  A few of us have already started “walking a beat.”  In our current situation, we want to expand this concept and have a full knowledge of everything happening at our underpasses.  The Venice/405 underpass has gotten bad enough where it will be risky, but we have ideas on how to go about it.
  3. Effective communication with police – this was the most important and tough concept to swallow, especially in difficult times like these.  It’s easy for people to get frustrated, and either say police are part of the problem, or worse: take matters into their own hands. 
    Richard really made a strong point here.  Until we have a real relationship with CCPD, they don’t know if we’re part of the problem or the solution.  We need to show we’re on their side.  We need to build a relationship, so that when we call, they know we’re not just some crank, and will take the call seriously.  The more they got to know us, the more likely they are to investigate. 
    A big concept here is “Probable Cause.”  If police go into an area alone, they really don’t have much authority to question people.  Especially in this climate were police are not allowed to “harass” people or “criminalize homelessness.”  But if someone calls in suspicious activity, especially if they’re tied to a reliable Neighborhood Watch, this is their golden ticket to investigate.

A big point he made was to address the crime, not the people.  We’ve already noticed this in our own calls.  If you call in someone sleeping on the sidewalk, the first thing CCPD will ask is “do they look high?  Do they have any weapons?”  They’re looking for signs of criminal activity.  Again, much as some people would like, the police have no authority to stop and question someone for living on the street and “experiencing homelessness.” 

Richard had the same issue with gangs in Sunkist Park in the 90s.  You can’t arrest someone for being in a gang, or hanging around in a park.  Even if you know they’re up to no good, that’s not enough for police to come and do something.  But you can let them know they’re on notice, and the locals are watching and reporting. 

The police do want to help. They just need the authority to act first.  “Yes, the police are on a leash, but they’re still dogs” Richard said to audible laughter.  Again, if we call in suspicious criminal activity, the police will come, and they will have authority to act on it.  Even under the current legal revolving door, when open drug use and other criminal activity gets you in and out of jail in a couple hours.  You still ruined someone’s high for the day. If they know they can’t get high or cause mischief around your block, they’ll go find another spot. 

That makes deterrence the primary goal of a Neighborhood Watch.  Richard mentioned the “Oh Crap” signs they posted around their neighborhood: “If I don’t call you, my neighbor will.”  Someone up to no good sees the sign, and is officially on notice.  Especially once the word gets out that these signs are backed up by residents.

Building the Neighborhood Watch took work, but was not too complicated and is relatively easy to replicate: make flyers about the next meeting, and hand them out around the neighborhood.  Eventually they got to the point where people came up to Richard, upset that they never got a flyer.  Those people “self-identify themselves as volunteers.”  They would get 30 flyers of their own and instructions to hand them around their block.  This is how the watch grew.  For money, they fundraised by selling their “Oh Crap” signs to neighbors.

We learned last night that while we’re in a new situation with the Venice/405 camp, the basic principles haven’t changed.  If we’re vigilant, we can keep control of our neighborhood.  But we need to be disciplined and productive.  We need to go from frustrated individuals to an organization that the police can trust. That’s when we can get our way.

Ultimately, Richard’s Neighborhood Watch was a victim of its own success.  As Sunkist Park got safer, residents got complacent and dropped out.  Meanwhile, people with political agendas found a captive audience to push their politics. 

But there’s no reason we can’t do what Richard and his neighbors did 20 years ago. 

Covid Council Commenting Conventions

Because of the Covid crisis, council has been accepting online comments only.  You’ll now need to set up an account on the Culver City website and post your comments that away.
We’ve included a tutorial to help you get started.


In order to better moderate comments, the city has routed all comments through the city website.  If you send an e-mail to public.comment@culvercity.org, you’ll get a reply saying you need to go to www.culvercity.org/agendas instead, and post your comment there.  Here’s some basic instructions:

  1. Find the meeting you want to comment on by navigating to the Culver City council meetings page through culvercity.org.  If it accepts comments, you’ll see an eComment link on the right side, as the diagram above shows.
  2. Click that link, and it’ll take you to the meeting.  Find the agenda item you want to comment on.  Most agendas have multiple webpages – you’ll have to navigate using the navigation bars at the bottom.
  3. Once there, enter your comment in the field provided.  You’ll then get the option to create an account or link to your Facebook.  I like to create a separate account.
  4. Once you’ve set up the account, it will send an e-mail to the address you provided, asking to verify your account.  Do that. 
  5. If your account was verified properly, you’ll see your own comment when you go back to the agenda item.  I encountered an error when I verified my address.  But I was able to login with my account, re-enter my comment, and I was good to go.

The account setup is a one time process.  The advantage of this is, if you set up a bio, people will get to know your better and who you are.  This way we see who is a stakeholder in this city.
Remember to get your comments in before 4pm – though it sounds like with this process, you can enter them even during the meeting.  Any questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail.  Or check out the city’s how-to Youtube.

Introducing the 405 project

It started with a contentious LA Times article about Los Angeles officials accusing Culver City of dumping their homeless into Los Angeles. Now the 405 underpasses in Culver City are filling up with vagrants setting up permanent residence.

Council claims that there is no change in policy, but the unwritten policy is obvious – our streets and parks are open for anyone who would call them home. The effects are immediate and obvious. Local residents and businesses are furious and desperate. Add recent laws like Prop 47, and many crimes now also go unresolved. It seems we have no meaningful way to stop this.

We have decided to step in and figure out what we can do. We held a meeting with city officials at CCPD HQ. We also went to the homelessness committee meeting last month. We learned that if someone decides to set up residence on our streets and in our parks, the city will do nothing to stop them. But if they break any of our ordinances, we have every right to call it in.

That’s what we’re doing. This page will serve as a repository for all our experience with those who would treat our streets as a permanent residence, and how they terrorize local residents and businesses. We will follow up with our police and with our council. Our ultimate aim is to make our streets safe and parks safe again. Our ultimate sympathy is with besieged residents, who feel helpless to stop this.

This project will focus on the 405 underpasses and surrounding areas, like Tellefson Park and Veteran’s Park. Because that’s the canary in the coal mine. If we let these areas be overrun with transients, it’s only a matter of time before our entire community is overrun.

Reactions to our petition

We are approaching the final month of our six allotted months to get 2800 qualified signatures for our ballot initiative to require voter approval for rent control.  This past month was by far the most active.  We hired on a paid signature service to do the heavy lifting, while our volunteers were cancelling weekend plans so they could all pitch in. 

Our proposal has been simple: we want to put rent control, recently passed by council, up to a vote.  We don’t feel that current council has been up front about their plans for rent control.  Passing something this consequential should have a proper discussion among the voters of Culver City.  Our initiative, if passed, would treat rent control just like a tax increase.  If city council wants it, they need to get voter approval for it.  If it passes a popular vote, we can live with that.

When you talk to thousands of residents (and non-residents) about such a nuanced topic, you get a whole spectrum of responses.  We’d like to address some of these.

First, the very two words, “rent control.”  We’ve come to appreciate just how much mythology is built around the term.  Many people’s eyes light up, just when they hear those two words.  Like it’s some magical panacea that will preserve a time when rents were reasonable in this city.  Many favor it as well as opposing development, betraying a lack of concern for basic supply and demand, or how this city is changing. 

It doesn’t help that council, in pushing for rent control, has indulged such a fantastic outlook.  They’ve cited “rent burdened households” – people who pay more than a third of their income on rent.  As if rent control, or anything short of state funded housing, would actually change this.  Or that they present a cartoonish view of landlords sitting on infinite profits, and that whatever happens they can shoulder that burden.

We approach people with a simple phrase “require voter approval for rent control” and often people just hear two words: “rent control.”  We are then confronted with a whole array of misconceptions.  How many realized our city even passed rent control?  Are we for or against rent control?  The combination of this mythology, and lack of awareness of what city council is up to, alone justifies our mission.  We want a city that knows what it’s getting into – not one that gets led by the nose.

For the most part, our petition is hard to say no to. What’s wrong with more democracy? What’s wrong with having a vote and an actual conversation on it? Most people, even ones who are for rent control, don’t have a problem signing it. That is the strength of our petition.

Of course, occasionally we “step on a bomb” – to use the Minesweeper terminology.  Generally it’s someone who is politically tied to council.  They ask baited questions, make ad hominems, and throw the occasional accusation that we are the ones being misleading.  We’ve heard accusations that our paid gatherers have used terms like “for rent control”, “protect renters’ rights”, “protect 3% rental cap”.

We took all these accusations seriously and followed up as much as we could.  Our experience is none of these accusations add up.  We know where all our people are out on the field at any time.  The accusations either mismatched the canvasser on the field, or the time they were in that area.  More so, they reflect people who made up a story.  The talking points above are also ones we would never use, even if we were interested in misleading people.  Those are the terms of rent control activists, and we reject that language entirely.  Or they’re second order hearsay, with no means of following up.

Of course, transparency and honesty are an artform in a campaign like this.  It’s always someone’s first day.  Even if they have the script, they are not familiar with people’s reaction to it.  In our early days, some of us used the phrase “put rent control on the ballot” – but we realized even that could be improved, considering the number of people who didn’t even realize it was enacted already.  So we quickly adjusted it. 

Now, when we tell people “require voter approval for rent control” – and we stress to use the word “require” in our opening phrase – it leads to a whole series of questions.  What happens if it gets on the ballot?  What happens to rent control if it passes?  Won’t this end rent control?  Our own mayor has misled people on the dais by saying exactly that – that it’s some subterfuge to get rid of rent control. 

It is true that if our ballot initiative passes, and council does nothing else, their rent control administration is rendered null and unenforceable.  But council can easily acknowledge our petition and launch a counter-initiative.  They can put their own rent control administration on the ballot.  They would only need to vote for it with a simple majority by August, and we’ll all get to vote on it in November alongside our own initiative.  If theirs passes, their rent control remains whether our initiative passes or not.  No need for 2800 signatures and a costly campaign.

For council to say that our initiative is a sneaky attempt to stop their rent control is an implied refusal to acknowledge us, those who signed our initiative, or the city at large.  It is an implicit acknowledgment that they refuse to hear our voices, that they refuse to let us decide the fate of our own city.  This is where our petition has force. If they refuse to listen to the voters of Culver City, and we’re loud enough, they don’t get to keep their rent control.

And this is where their only reasonable argument against our petition comes in.  Their supporters feel they got elected, this gives them unlimited power to do what they want without being questioned or curtailed.

That’s when we point out our petition is about so much more than rent control – it’s about curtailing a council that has gone rogue.  We see their hubris and contempt for residents on so many issues:  Allowing transients to set up permanent residence on our streets and in our parks.  Building a homeless shelter on park land right in the middle of town.  Allowing minors to vote or sit on boards and commissions.  Scrapping mayoral rotation and even entire commissions established by city charter.

They didn’t run on any of these things.

When we stop by in the next couple weeks, to ask you if you’d like you to sign our petition, keep this in mind.  This isn’t about rent control.  It’s taking back control of your own city before it’s too late to protect the city you grew to love. 

Homelessness committee meeting recap

On Tuesday, February 18th, 2020, a number of us went to the homelessness committee meeting at city hall. It was eye opening on a number of levels.

First, our members showed up – all from different perspectives. A couple came from Globe Ave., concerned about the vagrancy crisis at Venice/405. Another couple came from behind the AmVets building, concerned about turning it into a homeless shelter. And a couple multifamily landlords showed up.

We all got to see how our issues are tied by this new housing policy and the insanity of it. Tevis Barnes, Culver City’s housing administrator, was committed to the idea that the vagrants spilling into our city are actually local residents driven out by rising rents. She insisted this was the case even at the Venice/405 camp.

This assertion is our biggest bone of contention, and doesn’t match personal or professional experience. When we challenged her assertion, Tevis said this was according to LAHSA statistics. Which are disputable at best. Even our own law enforcement have said most people are on our streets, not because they can’t afford our rent, but because they can’t afford any rent.

We have to fight them at this root level, if any of us are to have any solution to the vagrancy issue in Culver City.

Mark Lipman argued for a “housing for everyone” approach – we have close to 300 homeless in Culver City by last count. A 2br apartment for each at the HUD rate of $1944/month comes out to $7 million/year. Other committee members dismissed Mr. Lipman, and have put forward a “feasible” plan of a homeless shelter for 20 people.

The problem is, they also say that unless we have a place to send them, we can’t touch them. And that place has to be within city limits. So a shelter of that size would not even put a dent in the problem. This ironically makes Lipman’s proposal, frightening as it sounds, the most consistent.

Of course we countered with our own argument – namely, that if he do have somewhere to send someone, but they don’t want to leave that piece of sidewalk they’re living on, do we have any compulsory power over them? Both Tevis and the attending police officer said no, we don’t want to be in the business of wrestling with someone into a police car and shuttling them off to a shelter.

This is the second part of the problem, which we need to address. Even if we were to have housing for everyone on our streets, we have no power to get them off our sidewalks. Most people understand this is not a tenable policy. It leads to a patchwork of unannounced rules where only the politically well connected get to have vagrant-free streets.

So we need a clear policy of compulsion, one that applies equally to both Lafayette Pl. and Globe Ave. It needs to be clearly delineated by council, and consistently applied by both the city manager and the police department. Otherwise we could build all the free housing in the world, it won’t stop our streets and parks from turning into tent cities.

We need to come to terms with the fact that we are a city of limited size and resources. We will do what we can to help those who want help. We will actively monitor anyone who has actually been driven out by rising rents. We can even abide by the basic Boise decision that someone has a right to sleep on the street at night. But at some point we need to say no, you don’t get to build a permanent residence on public land. We need the legal authority to compel them to leave.

Most of all, we need a council that’s ready to assert that legal authority in the face of any legal challengers.

NO on measure CC – our position

The problem seems simple, with a simple solution. Because of certain hiring practices during the 90s, we have unfunded pension liabilities that ran away with us. In order to meet them without going bankrupt, we need to extend a temporary sales tax increase, set to sunset in 2023, into 2033. If we don’t do this, we’re in trouble. Council saw fit to declare a fiscal emergency for this, and got this on the March ballot with a unanimous vote – the only way to get it outside a general election.

The problem is, we currently also have a council that certainly doesn’t act like we have a budgetary crisis. A few hundred thousand for a coyote study, to tell us what we already know. A few hundred thousand for the first few months of their rent control board, a program nobody ran on. A million or two for Metro bike shares, when a private company is willing to pay us for the privilege. All in the last year.

And let’s not talk about their plans of combatting homelessness – which sounds increasingly like building a home for everyone that stumbles into our city. A bottomless solution for a bottomless problem.

Meanwhile, they not only push for all this, they plan on pushing a business tax increase in November.

It’s reminiscent of a drunk asking his dad for rent money, and then going and spending it on more booze. Worse, he goes and tells everyone at the bar what a big jerk his dad is, when he should be cleaning up and getting a job.

So in urging a NO vote on CC, we are really having a vote of no confidence in our current council and its profligate spending. It’s time to tighten the purse strings.

Of course we’ll expect to hear the usual scare tactics – outsourcing the police department, cutting vital and popular services. This council does it anyway, even without this budget issue. Budgets are priorities, and they reveal theirs with their threats.

The good news is, a future council is free to ask us to pass it again. Since the sunset isn’t until 2023, we have a few years. A future council can put it on the 2022 general by majority vote. Or they can unanimously declare an emergency again, and hold a special election for this at any time.

We’re told such a special election is a bit costly – about $100,000 to run. But we agree that some things are worth the cost.

Council to allow minors on commissions?

Monday night city council proposed allowing minors and non-registered voters on city commissions and boards.  We at Protect Culver City are vocally opposed to the idea.  We see it not as an extension of the franchise, but a disenfranchising of Culver City residents and voters by means of court-packing.  Indeed, it’s court packing of the worst kind – by using impressionable children as political pawns.   

Culver City Unified was already embroiled in scandal under Kelly Kent, when she used school district resources to organize a women’s march.  This is not the only case.  Mayor Meghan and others from her slate frequently use our schools as an organizing tool. 

We made our cases known by e-mail.  And our representative Anthony Rizzo gave our position on A-2 at the beginning of the meeting.  Council had the exact reaction we expected.  Even with all this, Alex Fisch claimed during the A-2 “I don’t see any opposition to this.”  When vice-mayor Eriksson raised the issue of verifying residence status, Mayor Meghan brushed it off.  

People should see this as par for the course for an agenda-driven council whose very inaugural meeting was a Brown Act violation.  Mayor Meghan regularly uses outside agitators to support her, when she wants something passed.  And the majority of council under her has, over and over again, callously shut out the will of residents.  Indeed her machinations to revamp our government dance around the illegal.

And Fisch’s comments, while frustrating, are unfortunately quite expected.  Indeed, this council sees no opposition to what they do, because they ignore opposition to what they do.  We’ve already said there is no conversation with this council – indeed we formed our PAC over this very premise.  Perhaps he won on this technicality, because we didn’t realize e-mail comments aren’t read aloud at meetings.  But we’re learning. 

Not that it matters. 

Rather, the lesson should be for the other groups who are still hoping against hope that this council will have a conversation with them and listen to reason.  We’re rooting for you, and if somehow you win a concession through conversation, we salute you.   

But we think it’s futile.  When people show you who they are, believe them.  This council has plainly demonstrated they have an agenda – one that flies in the face of the better interests of our residents.  And they will stop at nothing to get it.  We’re already planning for a scenario where our rent control ballot initiative passes, and council will still ignore it.  Because that’s who they are. 

The only way to push our interests as residents of Culver City on this council is by electoral force.  The only conversation we have is with our fellow residents.  That means talking with our neighbors, circulating our ballot initiative and PAC literature, and publicizing scandals like with CCUSD. 

We are confident that as we make our council’s actions more public, we will continue to grow and make our voices truly heard.