In Mayor Sahli-Well’s Backyard, Being Mentally Ill is a Crime!

Some months back in August, parents of Lin Howe’s students received a note from CCUSD telling of an untoward incident that the children had been witness to. Naturally, the newly appointed principal of the school found herself bombarded with enquiries. What exactly had happened? What had the children seen?

To her credit, Principal Eva Carpenter provided a detailed response via email. Since the message was sent out to every Lin Howe parent, I have no hesitation reproducing it here:

I have gotten inquiries about the details of today’s events.  There was a man who was believed to be mentally ill walking down the street in front of our school acting erratically.  The police were called as he was also seen walking on to neighbors’ properties.  The police came and tried to quell the situation but had to subdue him forcefully.  Unfortunately some of our students saw what happened but were moved away from the area safely.  The suspect was taken into custody without incident, staff members who witnessed the event gave their eyewitness statements. I am working closely with CCUSD Security Director, Superintendent Lockhart and the culver City Police to ensure we keep all students safe. 

Note some key words and phrases here. The man was “mentally ill” and merely “walking down the street.” The individual, referred to as the “suspect” was “taken into custody.”

But being “mentally ill” isn’t a crime. Neither is walking down a public street. So, why was this person arrested? Why was he violently subdued when there were children watching?

Now Globe Avenue residents would never call about a “mentally ill” person simply “walking down the street.” There’s not much point calling about one of these individuals sitting on your property drinking from an open container, either.

Police dispatch—who will rush one of CCPD’s finest to your home if your cat’s stuck up a tree or your neighbor’s using his camera and the flash disturbs your afternoon nap—invariably ask: “But what’s he/she doing?”

In other words, what’s the crime?

You can be mentally ill. And you can walk down the streets. Well, all right, as long as you’re not endangering either yourself or others. At any event, one doesn’t expect such people to be arrested. One merely expects them to be confined in an appropriate asylum and to receive the treatment they so badly need.

Now we have called about the mentally ill when we’ve witnessed them accosting passersby or relentlessly following pedestrians, while shaking their fists and acting aggressive. We’ve seen and called about the mentally ill violently reaching out and trying to grab moms walking their babies, growling at and clearly scaring them.

We’ve called because it was the civic-minded thing to do.

Do the police come? No. After dispatch has finished arguing with you about whether you’re well and truly a Culver City resident, you’ll find out—as my husband and I did on one occasion—that your call was never even relayed to the police department.

(In case, you’re wondering, dispatch is outsourced to South Bay, which handles both non-emergency and 911 calls for Culver City and a couple of other cities.)

We’ve also called about mentally ill people blocking traffic, erratically crossing from one side to the other on Venice Boulevard—at risk of becoming yet another statistic in a hit-and-run. But Dispatch has again wondered whether CCPD had jurisdiction or LAPD. Ultimately, no one has been sent out.

Disrupting Traffic–This Person’s Erratic Behavior Spanned the Culver City and LA Side of Venice Blvd.

The compassion the authorities supposedly feel for the “unhoused” doesn’t apparently extend to saving the lives of the mentally ill and the “unhoused” they profess to care for. Who knows, maybe it’s more compassionate to let them die!

Why is there one law for Police District 1—the Mayor’s neighborhood—and quite another for the rest of Culver City?

The Constitution guarantees equality under the law and equal treatment by the law. But Mayor Sahli-Wells and her council are doing everything they can to undermine those constitutional guarantees.

When a Crime Occurs, We Should . . .

Build more shelters, of course!

It’s a no-brainer. At least, according to Mayor Sahli-Wells and her brethren of four.

This past Monday, a neighbor spoke at the council meeting of receiving not one but three threats from the “unhoused”—to borrow Councilman Lee’s term—members of Culver City. (Never mind that many of these have never rented or owned a residence in Culver City. And for quite a few, their last residence was more likely than not to have been behind bars.

The city council proudly claims them all as residents.) Our neighbor has also narrowly escaped being attacked on two or three separate occasions. And she mentioned this as well.

Getting Ready to Shoot Dope on Globe Ave.

I spoke of our children seeing people shoot dope; of seeing the “unhoused” openly selling drugs; of our children having to find human feces on our street—a quiet residential cul-de-sac—and used needles; of seeing “unhoused” men using our street as an open-air public restroom; of property thefts and seeing suspicious individuals of the “unhoused” variety peering into car windows and trying car-door handles to see if any of the parked vehicles were unlocked.

To these complaints, the Mayor had but one response: “We have a housing crisis. We’re providing more services and we’re building a shelter.”

What, you might wonder, is the connection between death threats, property thefts, and the like to housing and the availability of shelters?

To be sure, these crimes are perpetrated by the vagrants whom the city council persists in referring to as “homeless.” But other than that what connection is there?

How does more and free housing keep our residents safe? How does it prevent us from receiving death threats?

How does more and free housing prevent substance abuse? What does it do to combat drug dealing?

Shooting Dope On A Residential Street in Culver City

How is more and free housing an adequate response to the fact that our streets are being used as vast, open-to-the sky toilets?

If the connection eludes you, don’t worry. We’re at a loss to understand it as well.

Some further questions might have occurred to you: Who will build these shelters? Where? How much will they cost? When will they be available?

More importantly: In the interim, what will be done to keep us safe? What is to prevent someone who issues a death threat from carrying it out?

And finally, when those shelters are built, what if the “unhoused” refuse to move into them, citing one reason or another? What happens, then?

We do have shelters and we do provide services—and the “unhoused” frequently refuse them. This happens often enough and poses a sufficiently troubling legal conundrum that many California cities and counties have joined to file a brief asking the Ninth Circuit to provide some clarity on the matter. If the “unhoused” refuse to go into an available shelter, can this be taken to mean that no shelter was available?

Not Culver City, however. Our city council seems largely untroubled by the issue. Who cares when the issue doesn’t touch Police District 1, where police officers can—and do—tackle the “unhoused” to the ground in front of watching children?

The rest of Culver City can just suck it up, pay their taxes, and go to hell!

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. 

Harry Culver’s Dream City Reduced to Skid Row By Local Politicians

When Harry Culver designed his dream city, he probably never foresaw that local politicians and activists would turn the once clean city that bears his name into a filth-ridden tent encampment that the Los Angeles Times has dubbed the West Side Skid Row.

Residents report—and both Culver City and Los Angeles Police Department officers agree—that Culver City’s skid row is home to drug dealers, who openly deal drugs in the neighboring residential streets, drug users who shoot dope in the open, oblivious to the hapless residents and children trying to enjoy a quiet Sunday in front of their houses, and prostitutes.

“But Being Homless Isn’t Criminal. . .”

No, it’s not. And no one is saying it should be.

But what is criminal is the city’s refusal to enforce basic city codes and laws that keep the streets and residents of Harry Culver’s dream city safe.

Permanent Tent City Under the 405-Overpass

It was in July 1913 that Harry Culver announced his plans to develop a city in a spot between Los Angeles and Venice.

Amidst the crime and corruption of Los Angeles, Culver City, the city that bears our founder’s name, has historically been a haven of peace, safety, and cleanliness.

Not any more, as is evident from the image on the left taken from Culver City’s Globe Avenue.

Things began to change in 2017, when Los Angeles our neighbor refused to enforce its vagrancy laws, allowing known drug dealers, felons, drug abusers, and severely mentally ill people to set up tents on the north—Los Angeles—side of Venice Boulevard under the 405 freeway overpass.

Residents of Culver City’s Globe Avenue on the south side of Venice Boulevard were already beginning to feel the negative effects of this decision. Residents reported their cars were being broken into, bicycles, tools, and other personal property stolen. Petty crime was on the rise.

On a couple of occasions gunshots were heard—some gang or the other protesting the vagrants’ encroachment of their drug turf.

As Culver City residents, we couldn’t appeal to our city. After all, this was an LA issue. But residents feared that before long the problem would spill over onto our side of the overpass.

That fear came to pass in the late summer of 2019. Tents began to be put up on the south side of Venice Boulevard. Calls to the police were of no avail.

Dispatch either argued with residents, insisting the south side of Venice Boulevard under the 405-freeway was under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles.

When police officers did respond, it was to put up removal notices, which were never heeded.

Then came a threat from Mike Bonin, and our city council under Mayor Meghan Sahli Wells and our city attorney caved.

But being homeless isn’t a crime, you say. No it’s not.

But a failure to keep our streets and sidewalks clean is. As is a failure to keep our residents safe.

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.