Habitat for Humanity’s Housing Project on Globe Avenue is a good start.

The Culver City News wrote this great article about this project., supporting the fundraiser that Councilwoman Meghan Sahli-Wells will be hosting on March 22nd

We extend our support to Meghan, the strongest advocate for affordable housing on the City Council.  “We are in such great need of more affordable housing, so I’m really happy to be doing this,” Sahli-Wells said the news article.

She is holding the fundraiser to raise $7,000 for air filtration systems to make sure the 10 news homes are as safe from pollutants as possible, since the homes are located next to the freeway.

Daniel Lee also spoke eloquently about this project in the article:

Daniel Lee, a Culver City resident and organizer, agrees that the Globe Avenue homes are a good start.  At a Jan. 28 town hall on affordable housing in Culver City, Lee, who came within 243 votes of winning a seat on the City Council in 2016, was pleased to hear the number of residents who talked about the importance of more low and moderate housing. “I think the need and the recognition about affordable housing is there but I’m not sure that the political will is,” said Lee, who was one of the few candidates who talked about the need for rent stabilization on the campaign trail.

Michelle Weiner: Garden Cottages, increasing Culver City affordable housing, one little space at a time

 

I’m excited about the prospect of making and keeping housing affordable in Culver City. Why am I interested in this issue?  I live in a single family home in a lovely CC neighborhood – where once we had the youngest children on the block, now my husband and I are among the elders in the neighborhood. The stock of nearby housing has increased since we purchased our home in 1986; the adjacent Studio Drive-in property called Heritage Park, holds 57 homes, a school and pocket park. Multi-use buildings along Washington Boulevard have also increased the number of housing units.

So why should I be concerned about affordable housing?  My now adult children cannot afford to live here, nor can any of their friends. Our local teachers, police officers, firefighters, and many City staff members often find it difficult to find affordable housing in Culver City.  A number of young families I know who rent apartments find it beyond their reach to buy a home here and have no security when it comes to the threat of displacement. And, we have only one transitional housing program to serve our entire community for families who are homeless.

Because providing enough affordable housing is a complicated problem impacting cities and rural areas across the country, Culver City requires an array of strategies.  One solution that could be applied in neighborhoods like mine:  garden cottages, also known as secondary units. State lawmakers found the solution worthy of legislation and voted to ease restrictions on building additional housing in single family backyards. (See http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-fi-small-houses-solution-20160725-snap-story.html.) The new State law requires that applications for garden cottage permits be processed within 90 days. It also eliminates the requirement for an additional electrical hook up from a utility provider.*

While not a sole solution to the challenge we face in Culver City, if 10% of homeowners added garden cottages to their properties, we could increase our housing stock by approximately 700 units. Tiny houses, similar to RVs in size, either on wheels or built on a foundation, are smaller versions of garden cottages and are permitted in a number of California counties. (Reference http://www.curbed.com/2016/9/22/13002832/tiny-house-zoning-laws-regulations.)

Encouraging the construction of backyard units increases housing diversity, bringing community benefits such as less traffic, more stability, and engaged residents especially in neighborhoods near schools, parks and public transportation like mine. Garden cottages increase the potential to keep our working families and retirees local, enriching economic and age diversity in our neighborhoods and improving the quality of our community.

I plan to attend the Community Conversation on Affordable Housing hosted by Culver City, Saturday January 28, 9 am – 12 pm, in the Multipurpose Room at Veterans Memorial Complex, corner of Overland Ave. and Culver Blvd. You can view the meeting agenda here:  http://www.culvercity.org/Home/Components/Topic/Topic/286/925

I hope I see you there.

Daniel Lee: Housing? Here’s How

As a 14 year resident of Culver City it is encouraging to see current city staff and elected officials tackle difficult and sometimes thorny or loaded issues. This weekend’s community conversation around affordable housing is a prime example of matching forward thinking with substantive action. When I ran for city council last year I often spoke about affordability as a large concern not from a sense of self perseverance but because of the wide number of stories I’d heard from friends and neighbors who either had to move away or whose adult children had to either live at home or at a great distance from their families. I have high hopes for the outcome of the meeting on Saturday but it is just the start of a larger process. The planned rewrite of the city’s general plan and the eventual completion of a sustainability plan are part of this larger process I hope to see continue in Culver City.

Like many cities in across the US and in Southern California our building codes have not been modernized in many decades. An approach that embraces comprehensive change will allow the city to create affordable housing while modernizing other infrastructural elements. In the City of Los Angeles in November measure JJJ, an affordable housing measure, was voted in by Angelenos. The measure has various provisions but basically requires developers who apply for various waivers to build a percentage of affordable housing OR pay into an affordable housing fund. We will see how well the policy works in practice but Culver City should deeply study the elements of JJJ and other similar initiatives around the country that could provide the framework for an upgrade of our housing operating system.

Some potential elements to consider:
1. Allow for the building of smaller garden cottage homes on large lots.
2. Provide for increased density in various locations around the city (such as close to public transit corridors and freeways).
3. Requiring larger new residential developments to provide an increased percentage of affordable housing.
4. Study the feasibility the installation of solar panels and other renewable elements on city owned buildings. If the savings that accrued to Culver City School District in two short years are duplicable for the city the savings could be used to fund affordability initiatives.
5. Incentivize the Installation of Grey and Purple Water Systems in the building code.
6. Incentivize commercial and residential developments that incorporate or are built to facilitate the installation of solar and wind elements.
These are just a few of the plethora of potential options to consider. I sincerely hope to see many of the bright and professional Culver City community members who can share other ideas and expertise at the meeting this weekend.

Our Community Survey about Affordable Housing

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In preparation for the Community Conversation on Affordable Housing, we are writing a series of blog posts to help raise awareness and hopefully, get more people to join in the conversation.

As part of this effort, we also wanted to survey our neighbors on how they feel about the problem of housing affordability and a few ideas to start addressing it.

Please take a few minutes to fill out the survey by clicking here, and if you want to, go ahead and share this post with your Culver City friends and neighbors so they too can weigh in!

Affordable Housing: a serious problem and no easy solutions…

There is no disagreement that we have a housing affordability problem not just in Culver City, but across the state.

Earlier this month, Governor Brown released a  report entitled California’s Housing Future: Challenges and Opportunities spelling out the nature of the problem. Remember how, in our last post, we talked about how affordability is defined by the federal government? To be affordable, it must only represent 30% of a household’s income.

In California,

  • more than 3 million households pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, and nearly one-third — more than 1.5 million households — pay more than 50% of their income toward rent.
  • Homeownership rates are at their lowest since the 1940s.

These are just two ways to measure the problem, but we know there are many related consequences.  The report details other consequences:

“As affordability becomes more problematic, people “overpay” for housing, “over-commute” by driving long distances between home and work, and “overcrowd” by sharing space to the point that quality of life is severely impacted.

In extreme cases people can become homeless, either visibly on the streets or less visibly as they experience housing instability and cope with temporary and unstable accommodations.”

  • California is home to 12 percent of the nation’s population, but a disproportionate 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population.

“..high housing costs — and related housing instability issues — also increase health care costs (for individuals and the State), decrease educational outcomes (affecting individuals, as well as the State’s productivity), and make it difficult for California businesses to attract and retain employees.

The housing affordability problem in California is very serious.  According to the Governor’s report:

  • From 2015-2025, approximately 1.8 million new housing units are needed to meet projected population and household growth, or 180,000 new homes annually.

Brown has made it clear that the way that cities use their ability to manage and plan the use of their land is the most important part of the solution, and this report is part of his effort to help educate the public.

Earlier last year, he proposed a plan to stem the housing crisis by making it easier to build houses, by eliminating local hurdles to construction.The plan would have exempted urban development projects that have at least 20% of their units set aside for low-income residents. For developments near transit, the projects would only need to have 10% of their units designated affordable to qualify.

The plan was not met with approval, the Legislature did not even vote on it.  In the proposed budget that he just released, the $400 million dollars that he proposed investing were removed.

Governor Brown remains clear in his intention. But now it looks like he is playing hardball with Californians.

“We’re not spending more on low-income housing because it’s too expensive to build.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

“We’ve got to bring down the cost structure of housing and not just find ways to subsidize it….What we can do is cut the red tape, cut the delays, cut whatever expenses we can afford to do without to make housing more affordable and therefore increase the stock and therefore hopefully bring down the costs”.  (LA Times, 1/10/17)

Please take a minute to visit this user friendly website  (The Cost of Affordable Housing: Does it Pencil out?). It is very helpful if you want to understand what happens when you try to make affordable housing happen without subsidies.

It’s time to pay attention, we can no longer look away.

As we prepare for the Community Conversation we must realize we are not going  to talk about where in Culver City we are going to build affordable housing.  Instead, we are going to have to focus on what other options are available to moderate the rising costs of housing.

 

Finally! Culver City is having the long awaited Community Conversation on Affordable Housing

Two years ago after the Culver City Council first engaged in a tough conversation about rapidly rising rents, it is finally hosting a Community Conversation on the important issue of Affordable Housing. The conversation is set to take place on Saturday, January 28th, from 9 am to 12 pm.  We are glad that the City Council is committed to engaging the community in this critical and pressing issue. Here is the invitation.

We believe it is important to be well informed as we enter this conversation to make sure we can participate effectively.  To this end, between now and the 28th we will be sharing information on this blog and through our Facebook group and page.

In general terms, in the United States, the term affordable housing is used to describe housing, rental or owner-occupied, that is affordable no matter what one’s income is. The U.S. government regards housing costs at or below 30% of one’s income to be affordable.

Just so you get a sense of how to figure out how much you need to make to afford a typical rental in Culver City, go to this Rent Affordability Calculator by Zillow.  Notice that their calculation defines affordable as paying 40% of your income after paying debts.  You can also go to their For Rent section, type in Culver City and go through the rentals and use the calculator to see how much one would have to earn for it to be considered affordable.

Another important part of preparing for this conversation is to become familiar with what services Culver City’s Housing Division currently offers.  On their website you can see that these are currently the services that are offered for residents:

The Family Self-Sufficiency Program is designed to assist families currently receiving rental assistance from the City of Culver City Rental Assistance Program. This five year program offers families the opportunity to participate in classroom training, job training, and other training to prepare for careers that will assist the family in raising their income level where a housing subsidy is no longer necessary.

In coordination with the Committee on Homelessness, the Housing Division of the Community Development Department has created a Homeless Resource Guide and it is now available to all residents and businesses in Culver City. The resource guide provides referral information for Crisis Lines, Food Programs, Homeless Shelters & Services, Legal Services, Medical & Mental Health Programs, and Substance Abuse Programs.

The Landlord-Tenant Mediation Board was established by the City Council in 1981 to offer voluntary mediation services to the tenant-landlord community. Those services were extended on May 20, 1987 by Title 15.09 of the Culver City Municipal Code to provide mandatory “good faith” mediation of rental disputes relating to rent increases in Culver City.

In our next blog post we will share information about ordinances that other cities have adopted to help housing more affordable.

Alex Fisch: Police and Fire Departments are Special

This letter to the Editor by CCCC member Alex Fisch was published by both Culver City Crossroads and Culver City News.

Dear Editor,

Like most California cities today, we face problems that require local solutions incorporating diverse perspectives. Nationwide, however, we see deepening distrust of civic institutions among some groups and declining participation in local government. Culver City Measure CA would exacerbate these trends locally without conferring any clear benefit.

Measure CA sounds deceptively harmless. A “yes” vote is a vote to take final authority over the hiring, firing, and supervision of the Police Chief and Fire Chief away from the City Council and give it to the City Manager.

Currently, our City Council has ultimate authority over just four key city employees: the City Attorney, City Manager, Fire Chief, and Police Chief. The City Manager is in charge of theheads of the departments of the City Clerk; Community Development; Finance; Human Resources; Information Technology; Parks, Recreation & Community Service; Public Works; and Transportation.

This division makes sense. The police and fire departments are special. These important institutions must be accountable and transparent to the people. The first step to ensuring accountability and transparency is to place our elected leaders firmly in charge. That way, citizens can bring concerns about the police or fire departments directly to any of five Councilmembers, each of whom can speak with authority to the Police Chief or Fire Chief. If we are not satisfied with our police or fire departments, we can hold City Council up to our standards by voting for change.

Culver City’s unique approach to the supervision of the Police Chief and Fire Chief increases the stakes of individual participation in local government in the areas where citizen oversight is most important. This puts more power in the hands of the people, which demonstrably increases civic engagement as measured by voter turnout. (Hajnal and Wood 2003). A 10-person charter review committee crafted this wise democratic enhancement to the typical Council-Manager system 10 years ago, after 22 public meetings and extensive research.

In contrast, Measure CA was concocted by a two-person “committee” after an unknown number of secret meetings. There simply was no careful consideration of this proposed charter amendment or its consequences. That is clear from the absence of any compelling argument for changing a system that is working very well for Culver City.

Given the lack of public input in the development of Measure CA, it is understandable that one of its fatal defects is that it would discourage civic engagement. I am joining Councilmembers Meghan Sahli-Wells and Thomas Small to vote NO on Measure CA. I hope that you will too.

Alex Fisch

Reference:  Hajnal, Zoltan L. and Paul G. Lewis. 2003. “Municipal Institutions and Voter Turnout in Local Elections.” Urban Affairs Review 38(5): 645-668.

 

Culver City Community Coalition urges NO vote on Measure CA

Culver City Community Coalition has launched the NO on Measure CA Campaign to defeat one of four local measures that will appear on the November ballot. The election will be held Tuesday, November 8. Vote by mail ballots have already been received.

Measure CA would remove the City Council’s responsibility for hiring, overseeing and conceivably firing the police chief and the fire chief. These powers would be transferred to the unelected city manager.

“Measure CA is undemocratic,” stated Karlo Silbiger, former president of the Culver City School Board, who is spearheading the effort to defeat this measure. “The citizens of Culver City elected our city council members to oversee the police and fire chiefs. They have carried out this responsibility for 70 years, and the system has worked well.

“By removing the police chief and fire chief from the Council’s oversight, our political leaders lose the ability to ensure that our police and fire department policies align with our community’s values, and we residents lose the power to hold City Council responsible,” Silbiger said.

This measure does not have consensus on the City Council. Two of our five councilmembers voted against putting it on the ballot. Councilmembers Meghan Sahli-Wells and Thomas Small have gone on record as being strongly opposed to Measure CA.

“At a time when police accountability is more important nationwide than it has ever been in our history, Measure CA would lead us in exactly the wrong direction, by taking oversight away from directly elected representatives, and putting it into the hands of an administrator,” Sahli-Wells said. “The City Council hires and fires the police and fire chiefs; the residents ‘hire and fire’ the City Council.

“These checks and balances have served our community well, and should be cherished and preserved,” Sahli-Wells said. “Measure CA is a solution in search of a problem.”

Councilmember Thomas Small agrees with Sahli-Wells. “We must preserve accountability, transparency, and citizen power. Measure CA would damage these by giving absolute authority over the police chief and fire chief to a single unelected individual. Residents should have direct control over these institutions,” Small said.

Gary Silbiger, former mayor of Culver City, expressed his concern about the process by which Measure CA was created.

“The City Council appointed two of its Councilmembers to a Charter Amendment subcommittee that held no public meetings, produced no minutes of those meetings, and asked for no input from the public,” Silbiger said.

“In 2005, the City Charter was amended during a totally open and transparent process. Measure CA, which is a significant and controversial change to the City Charter, should have been fully vetted in an open and public process, as was successfully accomplished in 2005, not behind closed doors. “

Mayor Silbiger explained that during his eight years on the City Council, council members evaluated the police chief and fire chief, and on a number of occasions took direct action to correct or avoid a problem.  Often members of the public contacted the City Council to urge action.

“One of the more important things we did was to remove Police Chief Ted Cooke. Under his direction Culver City residents and others had been subjected to a great deal of racial profiling. He also issued an unusually large number of permits for concealed weapons. Other actions were problematic as well. We Councilmembers met and decided he needed to retire,” Silbiger said.

Claudia Vizcarra also is urging a no vote on Measure CA. Vizcarra, a former candidate for the Culver City School Board, is chief of staff to an LAUSD school board member.

“When it comes to issues of public safety, it’s critical that the voice of every member of our community is heard, especially those who are most vulnerable. We need to make sure that the people we elect to public office commit to this important responsibility,” Vizcarra said.

“No on Measure CA” has been endorsed by the Culver City Democratic Club; Culver City Community Coalition; Councilwoman Meghan Sahli-Wells; Councilman Thomas Small; School Board Member Dr. Kelly Kent; Alex Fisch and Deborah Wallace, members of the Culver City Committee on Homelessness; former Mayor Gary Silbiger; Karlo Silbiger and Nancy Goldberg, former school board presidents, and many others.

UPDATE: Time for Action – Banning Polysterene

On August 8, 2016 members of the Culver City Community Coalition spoke in support of the idea of banning the use of non-recyclable Polystyrene Take-out Single-use Food Service Containers in Culver City.  The item before the City Council was a discussion of the proposal from the Ballona Creek Renaissance. They have provided a very detailed analysis of the proposal here.

We are sharing our notes of the meeting for those who want to stay updated. (We started taking notes a few minutes after the public comment period began).

Industry representatives from Restaurant and Supermarket Association spoke about their concerns with the proposal.  Councilmember Cooper stated that the report showed that the increase for a business would be approximately $3,000.00

Many members of the public testified on their concerns:

  • Two different Culver City residents showed pictures of how the polystyrene fragments go into the creek, accumulate very dramatically, get through various barriers, finally making it out to sea, hurting birds and marine life.
  • David Haake talked about the carcinogenic effects of polystyrene when food is heated.
  • Jim Lamm showed pictures of the young people that have been cleaning up the Creek every September and how the polystyrene trash looks from under the ocean.   Another volunteer also spoke passionately, and brought a bucket of the latest polystyrene trash that she has collected.

Councilmember Cooper asked if the problem was not the result of litter bugs, and we shouldn’t instead do something about that.

  • The next speaker talked about how that it was much easier to simply get rid of the polystyrene instead of focusing on changing litterbug behavior.
  • A representative from the Plastic Products Association did not like the idea of a ban, even though she didn’t like plastics
  • being in the trash stream.  She said it was much better to invest in litter education programs and instead consider other solutions that didn’t focus on one product.
  • One resident who had surveyed the restaurants in Culver City, found that only 7 out of 43 restaurants still used styrofoam.  Some of them said  that it was ‘so 1980s’. She said that because many restaurants have already moved on from polystyrene, Culver City should consider instead going further, to add some of the elements that Manhattan Beach has put in place.
  • Jim Province talked about how polystyrene impacts not only users but also workers that handle products made from them. He talked about how alternatives are available and the City should be a part of encouraging businesses to transition.
  • Daniel Lee talked about how unrealistic it was to suggest that recycling polystyrene was a better alternative, because of how it breaks down.
  • Another resident talked about the problem was that businesses had had plenty of time to come up with a solution, but they have not been behaving responsibly, instead they put roadblock after roadblock and not been looking at real solutions.  He said that he lives in Torrance (next to Manhattan Beach) and their ordinance is much stronger and that it hasn’t hurt businesses, so Culver City shouldn’t be afraid.
  • Another speaker who has studied all 98 existing ordinances in great detail suggested we go with the San Francisco ordinance which at this point is the strongest.
  • Todd Johnson who heads the Sustainability Committee of the Culver City School Board, did a lot of research and provided very compelling scientific evidence.  He said that while one of the objections usually presented is cost, the reality is that  school district which has many more cost constraints, still manages them.  Second objection was that recycling could work, and while schools were perfectly set up for doing this more easily than a restaurant, recycling single use polystyrene in schools had not proven to be successful.
  • A volunteer from the Surfrider Foundation talked about her experience as a surfer and how much of the trash she picks up in the ocean is polystyrene.
  • Michelle Weiner, spoke on behalf of Transition Culver City talked about how even though polystyrene appears very cheap, once you factor in all the ‘cradle to grave’ costs (such as the pollution impacts, which our entire community foots the bill for), it is really not so cheap.
  • Kelly Kent announced that the School Board is in the process of considering this issue and currently is using compostable school trays.
  • Carlene Brown read out a long list of the many cities that have already adopted Polystyrene Bans, asking the Council: “Don’t you want to join them?”
  • A representative from Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas asked that the Council consider the full impacts before making a decision and that balance environmental and economic factors.

In its deliberation, Councilmembers had this discussion:

Sahli-Wells talked about how long we have been trying to deal with the trash and we have been learning from studies about how impactful plastic pollution is on the ocean.  She shared that by 2050 the weight of plastics in the ocean will exceed the weight of fish in the ocean, including whales.

Mayor Clarke started asking Sahli-Wells about the Subcommittee meeting that brought representatives from the Sustainability Committee of Santa Monica.  Sahli-Wells pointed to the Staff report on the meeting.  She talked about how some people are no longer talking about bans on particular products, but rather starting to focus more on a zero waste policy.  She talked about how cities that were early adopters were coming back to their ordinances to make them stronger.   While Clarke expressed concern that the meeting did not include restaurants, Sahli-Wells clarified that the Chamber of Commerce was invited and that there was a significant amount of public comment.

Eriksson started his comments by asking why there wasn’t an effort to have a public forum.  Sahli-Wells responded that this City Council meeting in fact was that forum, and shared the various notifications that were sent out and the extensive outreach that was done by the city, and how many letters were received from different entities, including the American Chemistry Council.  He then went to talk about how there were larger issues to address and that the issue needed more exploration.  He gave the example of LA County where the issue was studied for a year and then was abandoned.  Same with LA City.  He suggested that the problem we were facing in Culver City was a result of this inaction.  He then proceeded to talk about we needed to focus on the behavior, on attempting to avoid littering with a campaign like Keep America Beautiful.

To respond to the point that we needed to encourage more recycling, Sahli-Wells followed with an exchange with Paul Susca (City Staff) asking him to report on his conversations with recycling facilities and asked them if they recycled polystyrene single food containers.  He learned that they don’t recycle these because they are contaminated and it costs too much money to clean them. Sahli-Wells asked if he believed that this situation could change in the near future.  Siska responded that this was not likely.

Mayor Clarke then expressed his concern that larger polystyrene packing materials weren’t getting recycled and that more research was needed to find companies that could clean them.  Sahli-Wells suggested that it would be much easier just to ban it.

Small expressed how impressed he was at the intelligence and knowledge displayed by Council members and community members and hope that this would help us towards an ordinance at a speed ‘faster than the speed of government’.  He said that he hoped we wouldn’t be ‘floundering about in indecision over this issue in this Ferrari of a City that we have.

Cooper then said that he wanted to see a draft of an ordinance by the committee.

Clarke reported that he had done extensive walking along the creek and learned that while there were spots were only a few pieces of polystyrene floating, there were other sections, near the school were there were larger collections.  He suggested that maybe the School District need to look more closely at what is going on. He thought that the concentrations that he saw made him believe that the problem was not coming from Culver City.  (Note:  Earlier in the meeting Clarke had asked Ballona Creek Renaissance when their last clean up was held. Jim Lamm said last September.  We asked Jim to provide us background and this is what he said: “BCR has a County permit to do creek cleanups based at Centinela Avenue, which is in LA and which has creekside foliage that helps capture lots of trash that has floated down the creek from Culver City and beyond. We typically do not conduct summer cleanups because most of the trash has not been flushed into the creek by rains. Our annual Coastal Cleanup Day September cleanup with Culver City and Heal the Bay is on an internationally established date and is in Culver City, where we usually find less trash, not because CC is cleaner but because it usually hasn’t rained in months and there is little creekside vegetation to hold the trash for us.”)

Cooper said that he would like to have Culver City become one of the greenest, most sustainable cities.

Finally Sahli-Wells gave an impassioned speech of why recycling was always talked about as the third option, after reducing and reusing, because it’s not the best of the options.  She expressed frustration that the Council was split on the topic and on the conversation being so focused on recycling.  “Our population is not asking us to recycle what is toxic,” she said.

In the end, Cooper made a motion that the issue be returned to the Subcommittee (which includes Sahli-Wells and Eriksson) so that it could be further studied from both sides so that draft language could be presented.  “I am leaning towards a ban”, he said, despite avoiding making a stronger motion to have the Staff prepare draft language to return back to the Council.  The Board voted 4-1 on the motion, with Thomas dissenting.