Suzanne De Benedittis: City Council, kindly extend the EIR comment period, in the name of democracy and love for our Mother Earth

City Council Members, City Attorneys, and City Manager,

Inviting folks to come to City Council to comment on the Inglewood Oil Field EIR, I find myself in an awkward position as residents vent disgust, denigrating some of you by name, saying you’re being paid off by the oil company, etc. These comments sadden me as they do not reflect kindness. I do not support them.

Current national & local elections show that more and more of the public is demanding a voice in matters that affect the people directly. So too in Culver City! I have witnessed this trend for participatory democracy growing stronger year by year, especially so in our last local election as you will note from an analysis of the number of votes each winning candidate received vs. their financial expenditures.

Today’s well-educated populace wants their voice respected by those they elect to govern. And rightfully so. The collective wisdom of our citizens is in fact a brain trust, a pool of resources that by collaborating we can take the hard work done by the EIR prep team and make it even stronger while assuring it defendability if challenged. Is that not the intent of the EIR CEQA requirements?

Let’s be honest. The purported statement from the dais about the EIR being 700 pages is a gross miscalculation. The entire document – EIR, Specific Plan and appendices are over 1900 pages. So if you value the legacy you wish to leave, if you value democracy, please realize that your citizens have requested and need a 60 day extension on the comment period. Anything less is a slap in the face of democracy!

Thus, I humbly ask you, as officials, are you truly committed to respecting the will of the people?  to promoting democratic process on which we can build a City of Kindness?

Know that what impels me to write you is a sacred mandate: to love my neighbor as myself.   An even greater love I have is for the one on whom our very life depends,  our Mother Earth & its atmosphere,  who feeds & sustains you and me with clean air and fresh water. My passion for Mother Earth/our common home is what drives my behavior. I hope you, our elected officials, will share what principles motivate your decisions.

I invite you to dialogue with us, your public regarding the moral and/or democratic principles that inform your logic, reasoning and decision-making in matters that will affect our health and our lives.

By your collaborating with the brain trust within our city, together we can have even stronger protections that the EIR documents were intended to provide. Working together as a caring community, as a City of Kindness, I am morally certain that Culver City’s final EIR & regulations can be invincible!  So let’s collaborate! Yes?

Respectfully,
Dr Suzanne De Benedittis, PhD

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.