What’s at stake this election

2024 will see Protect Culver City’s five year anniversary.  We began at 2am June 25th, 2019, after Council implemented rent control.  It was how they did it that struck us – in the dead of night, by a Council that never ran on the issue, shutting out all resident input and following verbatim the demands of their militants.  Thus we knew that rent control would not be our only or even primary issue.

We had no idea how right we’d be.  The following year Culver City saw the worst riots since the Rodney King riots of 1992.  Westfield Culver City would have been ransacked were it not for the heroic efforts of the Culver City Police Department.  To thank them, this same council that passed rent control pushed to defund them by 50%.  That proposal was narrowly defeated after one of their own, Coucnilman Fisch, balked at such a radical move.  That began our Defend Don’t Defund campaign, which highlighted Vera and Eriksson’s commitment to CCPD – and the commitment of others to defund it. 

Eriksson won re-election by a narrow 32 votes that year.  If he had lost to Puza, we would not have a police department as we know it.

Since then we have solidified our commitment to the city to inform residents on several issues that should be dealbreakers for any candidate – but unfortunately are not anymore:

  • Culver City should have a police department that enforces laws.  This is not a debate about what the budget should be, or what functions should be offloaded, but whether we have a functional police department.  Defunding 50% would cease their function as crime prevention and demote them to crime reporting. 
  • Our city has the right to clean up transient camps.  If we have a place to send transients, but they don’t want to go, we have the authority to compel them to move.
  • The city is growing and getting denser.  But we should not sacrifice the quality of our neighborhoods to get there.  Likewise, densification requires public space -and in turn, public safety.
  • We believe in the laws of physics and economics.  “Build more housing” does not summon builder elves.  We need economic policies that pencil out and work at the scale that we need – NOT blank checks to developers.  Likewise, naturally occurring affordable housing – i.e., Mom and Pop multifamily – should be supported, not penalized.
  • We push for such transparency and accountability in all the city’s finances, including the school board.
  • We need traffic policies that reflect the reality of commuting in Los Angeles.

These issues should be dealbreakers – but unfortunately, they are not anymore.  “Our Culver”, the latest activist organization in Culver City, advertised their initial meeting “Fund This!” at Veterans Park in April.  They made their intentions clear.  They see this as their Culver City, not everybody’s.  “Fund This!”, as Councilman O’Brien has pointed out, is an allusion to defunding the police – reviving their 2020 demands.  They try to soften the rhetoric for election season, by claiming they’re just diverting some funds to other programs like parks.  But they are otherwise quite clear about their intentions. 

Their tactics don’t stop here.  The MOVE lane closures downtown were enormously unpopular and helped swing the city council from 3-2 for it to 3-2 against it.  But rather than concede defeat, they preferred to file a frivolous lawsuit against the city to delay restoring the lanes.  One of the plaintiffs, Bubba Fish, is running for Council this year with activist support.  Regarding the rent registry doxing, they filed a complaint against Albert Vera, which is delaying council from discussing it as well. 

These tactics show they consider this their city, and they do not wish to share it democratically.

And while they did not stop the new Council from cleaning up the camps at the Senior Center and Venice/405, it took the new Council to get this done.  If they take back the majority, the camps will come back.  Their philosophy is anathema to ours: we can build transients the Taj Mahal – if they don’t want to move, we can’t make them. Compelling them to move, they claim, “causes harm.”

With basic livability issues like these at stake this election, you’d think electing sympathetic councilmembers would be a slam dunk.  Yet even with all the new moderate political organizations sprouting up in Culver City, the outcome of this election is not secure.

This is because when it comes to elections, the activists don’t run on the issues.  At Protect Culver City, we know this all too well.  If they advertised themselves as the candidates to shut down CCPD, shut down key car lanes, or allow tent cities, they would lose.  Instead, they come up with wild stories about Hackman buying out council.  Or smearing anyone who dares run against them.

Just Google our name, Protect Culver City, and you’ll see any number of hitpieces about us.  You’d think Hackman paid hundreds of thousands to import tiki torch donning Nazis into Culver City to smash the hopes and dreams of some innocent hippies.  It sounds like madness, but these articles get wide distribution through and outside our fair city, though activists on social media.  These hitpieces take their tolls.  They reach well meaning voters, who then second guess their support for candidates we support.  It chills the election environment, and prevents our supporters from campaigning openly and effectively.  Meanwhile, these activists proudly strut around their support for their own candidates.

We anticipated these tactics.  When we first formed to push back on the rent control conversation, we predicted that Council would not pay attention to us unless we forced them to.  Our ballot measure did that.  But rather than discuss rent control, they wrote hit pieces about us as some dangerous right wing threat. 

From our police department, to zoning, to dealing with transient camps, they kept these same tactics. 

Today we remain the only PAC in Culver City to have forced them to campaign against us.  Which is why we’ve borne the brunt of their attacks.  Other candidates thought they could just run on the issues and get slam-dunk support from voters.  They quickly saw their names dragged through the mud.  Thus learning the hard lesson that these are not neutral issues – one must stand up and fight for them.

But the city is adjusting.  Several other PACs have formed to push back against the progressive slate, as well as candidates championing them.  For better or worse, Culver City now has party politics.  It doesn’t translate to Democrat/Republican – the above issues enjoy wide bipartisan support – rather, it acknowledges that an individual candidate can no longer win on their own.  They need the support of these PACs and their members, who are ready to mobilize.

We already know who the progressives have picked to represent them – Yasmine McMorrin, Bubba Fish, and Nancy Barba.  The loose coalition of PACs opposing them are supporting Albert Vera, Denice Renteria, and Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin.  These latter three have the thankless job of remaining above the fray of mudslinging while championing the causes we do. 

So how do we support them?  By sticking to the issues.  We cannot react in kind to the tactics of these activists.  We do not name-call, nor are we simply here to resist their agenda.  We have to put forth our own vision for the city, our stance on the issues, and where the candidates stand on these issues.  And we have to remind 29,000 Culver City voters what those issues are, and where the candidates stand.

Again, these seem like slam dunk issues.  But we can fully expect these activists to muddy the water and make the election about anything but these issues.  We need to campaign on these issues, loud and clear, to 29,000 voters.  We need mailer campaigns, door knockers and phone bankers of our own.  Our members need to have the tools to reach out to their neighbors and discuss these issues that essentially separate Vera, Renteria, and Wisnosky-Stehlin from Imani-McMorrin, Fish and Barba.

When voters are aware of these issues, vote on these issues, and ignore the noise and the mudslinging, we win.  We all win.

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. 

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.

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. 

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.