Letter to the Editor:
January 25, 2022.
Council Rushes to Pass Housing Element
The Monday, January 24th City Council meeting marked the official day that the city council majority showed that they hold contempt for the public and the democratic process. Under the helm of the new mayor Dr. Daniel Lee and instigated by Councilmember Alex Fisch, the council majority forced a yes vote on the Housing Element (upzoning all of R1 neighborhoods) -- without deliberation or allowing Councilmember Goran Eriksson or Vice Mayor Albert Vera to speak. This was because Mayor Lee had to catch a late flight for a justifiable personal matter. Instead of postponing the meeting (as Lee offered and Vera agreed to), Fisch used a legal maneuver to force the vote. Watch the YouTube meeting, starting at 5:06 marker.
While the maneuver may be deemed legal, it went against the public's right to hear what all of the council members had to say. Moreover, it was a breach of community trust, and a metaphorical middle finger to the process and the people the council is supposed to represent. All of this during a meeting with uneven audio, virtual speakers unable to access the microphone, a Webex system failure/crash/reboot, and a self-imposed time crunch.
It is worth noting that there were over 200 written public comments and 60 registered speakers and that this topic was deemed so important that the city sent out an email at 4:15 Monday (less than three hours before the 7 pm meeting) to inform and remind people to show up and tell their friends.
In the final moments before Lee’s departure, Eriksson made a motion to remove the controversial residential upzoning from the Housing Element and stated that he would adopt the rest. Vera seconded him, asking to drop the negative environmental impact finding also. That’s when the Council majority, using Fisch’s maneuver, decided that public comment and public debate were inconvenient and voted to approve a legally flawed Housing Element.
All of this political drama will prove useless. The February 11, 2022 deadline to approve and submit housing elements only applies to those found to be in legal compliance with state law. Mr. Fisch openly questioned the suitability of the Housing Element and said he doubted the state would accept it, even as he pushed to impose the vote. He must have known that Lee and McMorrin would adopt the flawed document without hearing what Eriksson and Vera had to say about viable alternatives.
Moreover, the state has 60 days to review and decide if the Housing Element follows the law. The city will not meet the February 11, 2022 deadline no matter how many theatrics are used. Mr. Fisch on Twitter claimed to be “saving the city” but he is merely disenfranchising the public. Perhaps this does not matter to him. Only he knows. After all, Mr. Fisch did declare himself and elected leaders “rulers” and “supreme authorities over land use” (Los Angeles Times, 01/18/22).
The Housing Element has been a community hot-button issue since it was revealed to the public’s view in Spring, 2021. Mr. Fisch along with organized activists (within and outside Culver City) have been pushing to blanket upzone (called incremental infill) all of Culver City’s R1 neighborhoods beyond the state requirements. In contrast, a large contingent of residents, including over 1750 who signed a petition, do not want this change.
The city’s own staff and hired consultants have repeatedly admitted that incremental infill will not produce the affordable housing that nearly everyone seems to agree is needed. It will just create more market-rate housing. And based on land values, costs of financing, construction, demolition, and other factors, this new housing is very likely to be rentals– owned and rented out not by people, but by investors. Instead of giving more people an opportunity to own homes, it will pull up the ladder and create a permanent renter class.
If the City were to remove the residential upzoning and tweak the commercial and multi-use zoning, Culver City would have a clean housing element with zoning that can be accomplished without changing the land use rights of over 5,600 households. Upzoning residential lots will not lead to affordable units, growth of generational wealth, or encourage equity. Upzoning will result in market-rate luxury housing.
We call on our City Council to realize that the workable path forward lies in larger-scale projects where affordability would actually be realistic. Equity, affordability, and economic gaps should be met, but the Housing Element as written will not take us anywhere near that goal.
Culver City Neighbors United