Representative democracy crashed against the rocks of political ideology when the Culver City Council voted (3-2) to push forward with upzoning almost all R1/single-family lots. Upzoning means that the city will in the future allow developers, speculators, homeowners, and builders to build up to 4 housing units on each single-family lot. (More explanation below). In short, they directed staff to study how to eliminate single-family zoning. The council majority consisted of Mayor Alex Fisch, Vice-Mayor Daniel Lee, and Yasmine-Imani McMorrin. Council members Göran Eriksson and Albert Vera voted to preserve single-family zoning and homes.
The intent of the study is to deliver a certain result. They are calling this a “study,” but it’s a study to figure out HOW to upzone. It is NOT a study to figure out IF the city should upzone. If the city wanted to ONLY study the feasibility of upzoning, then it would have voted to support councilmember Albert Vera’s motion that there be a second study focusing on the impacts of current zoning and transit-oriented development on responding to the housing shortage, affordable housing, and equity issues.
The council majority claims that the only way to create a “fair and equitable” city is to take away the limitations of what can be built on a single-family lot. They purport that this will solve the lack of housing and affordable housing issues. They claim that the mere existence of single-family homes unfairly “segregates” these neighborhoods from the necessity of taking on the shared burden of creating additional housing. They state that Culver City should provide housing for anyone who wants to live here. Therefore, they want to upzone or allow up to 4 units to be built on every lot over 4,950 square feet. This is “build it and they can afford it” magical thinking.
Our neighbors in current R2 neighborhoods are not exempt. They too will be upzoned. At the moment, R2 lots can have a duplex, an ADU, and a Jr. ADU. If Culver City is upzoned according to the “study,” R2 can also change forever. Cute older R2 duplexes can be torn down to make way for large quadplexes.
Their theory amounts to none other than “trickle-down” housing, which guesses that increased numbers of units will magically decrease overall rent and home prices. Their arguments are false, unproven and filled with holes. Not one of them is a professional housing expert or city planner. Not one of them campaigned on eliminating R1 zoning. They refused to allow an alternate study based on current (post-pandemic) conditions in addition to the study they did approve. Still, they press on with their untested and experimental political and philosophical positions.
In contrast, the over 1,600 Culver City residents who spoke at council meetings, signed petitions and wrote letters, disagreed with them. Experts of their own neighborhoods, the majority of residents who’ve spoken out want single-family home lots to be preserved as-is. Residents pleaded with the council to hold community meetings or send out an announcement. Residents had to resort to mobilizing and informing their neighbors themselves. Residents rightfully pushed back against the notion that results from an obscure online land-use survey filled out by only 683 people, plus two workshops totaling 77 attendants overall justifies the council’s push to eliminate R-1/single-family zoning. What’s worse, the city’s online survey and workshop feedback did not indicate a call to eliminate R1 zoning. In council meetings and in comments on the petition, residents continue to express their frustration and disappointment in the council as they continued to change their justifications as to why they wanted to get rid of R-1 zoning, as each justification was easily debunked.
This extremely complicated housing issue has lots of moving parts and demands complex solutions, not a simplistic sledgehammer. At its core, there is a lack of affordable housing throughout the country. Because of high rental and residential land prices, many people are rent or mortgage-burdened, meaning that they pay more than 50% of household income for rent or mortgage payments.
Bringing that focus back to Culver City, California assessed the housing needs of various areas. What resulted is the RHNA (“Regional Housing Needs Analysis”) numbers, which detail a suggested number of housing units for very low income, low-income, moderate, and above moderate-income units a city should plan. In the next 8 years, Culver City must create a plan to allow the permitting of a total of 3,341 housing units by 2029 (1,108 very low-income, 604 low-income, 560 moderate-income, and 1,069 above-moderate income units). At present Culver City has around 60% of moderate and above moderate-income units, but only 40% of affordable housing for lower incomes.
By October/December of 2021, Culver City must submit a land-use plan to show the state that its zoning could allow the construction of additional numbers of affordable level and market-rate units. As confirmed by the city’s planning manager at the June 28 meeting, we can already meet those goals without gutting R1/Single-family zoning. The plans for affordable housing should be the focus.
Here are the facts:
The state already allows the building of an Auxiliary Dwelling Unit (“ADU”) of up to 1,200 feet as well as an additional Junior ADU (“JADU”) of up to 500 square feet to be built on every single-family lot in addition to a single-family home, where lot space permits the buildings.
Affordable housing and creating more housing are separate issues and should not be conflated.
We can already meet the RHNA requirements with the ADUs and increasing mixed-use commercial/residential development along major streets. There is no need for the council’s action.
Culver City already has 15.3% fewer single-family homes than other areas in the SCAG analysis (Southern California Association of Governments) which includes all of Southern California except San Diego County.
Culver City already has 15.9% more 2 to 5+ unit multiplexes than the rest of the SCAG area. (CA DOF E-5 Population and Housing Unit Estimates).
Culver City recently passed regulations requiring that mixed-use buildings above a certain number of units (residential and commercial) must provide for 15% of affordable housing.We can provide affordable housing without decimating single-family zoning.
Culver City has a diverse population, which when assessed by neighborhood shows that the “non-white” population varies between 40% to 60% (General Plan Update, Table 7) Yet city councilmembers repeatedly call some parts of our city segregationist and racially exclusionary. No one denies the city’s racist past, but where is the actual evidence of current race or origin based exclusionary city-supported tactics?
Developers want to maximize profits. Developers will build three to four units on a single-family lot if it makes them money. There is no economical reality in which they will create one “affordable” unit in a 4-unit building.
The developers only have the incentive to focus on luxury rentals and market-priced housing.
The council majority wants to increase density across the entire city. They finally admitted that due to the expense of land, construction, and materials, increased density has no connection to affordability (despite originally claiming otherwise). Additionally, this expensive land boom will create a generation of renters who will not be able to develop generational wealth, a critical path for families to climb the socio-economic ladder. It does nothing to uplift our BIPOC community and support the antiracist policies that our community has pledged to vigorously pursue. It will unfairly affect the people who have scrimped and saved to buy a single-family home, including immigrants who scraped together everything they could. The majority of Culver City seniors who presently age in place, a fact that we’re proud of, might not be able to live out their lives in their lower-cost rentals. This will do harm to people of all ethnicities, races, genders, backgrounds, and origins.
Our planet is heating up. Building more to build more is not good environmental stewardship. In addition, the council has no plans to address the infrastructure needed to support more buildings and more people – infrastructure elements like roads, schools, water, electricity, sewers, and more. Why doesn’t the city demand an infrastructure study to determine current capacity and the costs to upgrade and support higher density before opening up the floodgates to increased density in single-family zones?
We firmly believe that affordable housing, attention to the actual interests of the community, along with complete and adequate notice of major decisions affecting our lives should be what a city government focuses on. There are many creative solutions to providing more housing in Culver City that do not involve eliminating R1 zoning. The Council majority has refused to entertain any of them. We strongly disagree with Mayor Fisch, Vice-Mayor Lee, and Council Member McMorrin. We demand that they reverse course.
This rushed council-mandated push to eliminate R-1/Single-family zoning will be incorporated into the General Plan housing element and submitted to the state this autumn. The dominos will start to fall. It will set up a self-inflicted requirement that the city follows the path to abolish single-family home zoning. This will lead to the permitting of untold numbers of million-dollar-plus townhomes in the formerly single-family home neighborhoods. The three-plexes and four-plexes that will be built throughout Culver City will only benefit the developers and speculators and will do nothing to help solve the affordability crisis. It will do nothing to help the unhoused or help current income-burdened families in need. This scenario only benefits higher-income people who can afford to rent luxury apartments or buy market-rate housing.
We demand a fair and complete study of whether more affordable housing can be built in a sensible, controlled, realistic manner without ruining single-family neighborhoods and the diversity of housing stock in our entire city.
The residents lose and only the developers and speculators win.
Neighbors, if you are concerned about this issue, please sign up for our mailing list at CulverCityNeighborsUnited.org. Additionally, send an email to all councilmembers at [email protected] and cityc[email protected] to express your opinion.
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin
Culver City Neighbors United