On Wednesday, January 25,  a letter from Culver City Mayor Albert Vera regarding City Council actions on homelessness was posted to the “Culver City (unofficial page)” Facebook group – and no comments were allowed. He also posted it to his Mayor’s Facebook page. This letter provides a rebuttal to his comments.
VERA SAYS: “After years of inaction and “hoping” the homelessness issue would resolve itself, I am proud to say that the City of Culver City has joined Los Angeles City and County in officially declaring a Local State of Emergency for homelessness.”
FACT: Claims that the prior City Council majority did nothing are false. Their actions to reduce homelessness included:
● Obtaining $26.6 million in Project Homekey funds and $3.4 million from the state budget plus financial assistance from LA County to convert two motels into 76 transitional and permanent supportive housing units
● Tripling outreach to people experiencing homelessness, including adding full-time mental health and substance abuse specialists to the outreach team
● Adding an Assistant City Manager for Homelessness who coordinates the City’s homelessness services across city departments
● Helping renters avoid falling into homelessness by adopting permanent rent control, permanent tenant protections, and an emergency rental assistance program for renters impacted by COVID
● Approving a safe parking pilot program
● Approving the City’s first 100% permanent affordable supportive housing development in over a decade
● Expanding homeowners’ ability to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), including legalizing above-garage casitas and multi-bedroom ADUs
● Implementing a zoning requirement that every large development must include subsidized affordable housing at the developer’s expense
● Implementing an affordable housing linkage fee that requires every commercial development to contribute to the City’s affordable housing fund
VERA SAYS: “The City emergency declaration allows us to decrease the number and size of homeless encampments that create a risk of fire hazard or block the public right-away [sic]. It also enables us to create and maintain 73 units of supportive housing through Project Homekey; and implement a Safe Camping program.
FACT: The emergency declaration has no impact on Project Homekey. Exploration of the motel conversion began in 2020; Council approved the city’s application for Project Homekey funding in December 2021 (Councilmember Vera voted in favor; Eriksson voted no). Funding was awarded in March 2022 and construction began months before the emergency declaration.
FACT: The Safe Camping program was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Housing and Homelessness in 2022. City staff were directed to prioritize completion of Project Homekey because it provides longer term housing than living in tents. The ordinance actually reduces the options for Safe Camping and Safe Parking sites, by banning their creation in parks.
VERA SAYS: “Despite some of the scare tactics and misinformation being spread online, the City is not, and will not, be conducting “sweeps.” This emotionally charged word is being thrown around by those who prefer inaction to what we are proposing.”
FACT: Currently, City staff conduct pre-announced “clean-ups.” These require people to dismantle their living quarters so the area can be power-washed, after which they have been allowed to set up their tents again. In the process, personal belongings, medication, and necessary paperwork have been lost. The new ordinance is much worse. Unhoused people are not allowed to have tents or supplies. This amounts to banishment, because people will pack up and leave before putting their lives at additional risk by sleeping outdoors without any form of shelter.
FACT: People opposing the proposed ordinance, including Vice Mayor Yasmine McMorrin and Councilmember Freddy Puza, do not “prefer inaction.” They are in favor of implementing the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (which has been budgeted since 2021), expediting completion of Project Homekey, seeking grant funds for an additional Homekey site, completing and expanding Safe Camping, implementing Safe Parking, completing master leases for motel rooms with services provided, and reporting back on the progress of these efforts.
VERA SAYS: “The City is dedicated to working with those experiencing homelessness using a “care first” model, which means we intend to provide the critical wrap-around services that people need to successfully address whatever put them on the street to begin with. It is simply inhumane to allow people to continue to live in conditions like this, and we are moving decisively to get people out of encampments quickly and help them on their journey to permanent housing.”
FACT: Note the words “intend to provide.” At the Council meeting on January 25, 2023, Housing Director Tevis Barnes reported that there were approximately 140 people living in tents and makeshift structures as of last year’s count. Today, we have only 5 temporary motel vouchers available. Even when Project Homekey and Safe Camping are available, the city will still have inadequate shelter for those living on the street a year ago, let alone those who have or will become homeless during the past year and in the coming months. “[M]oving decisively” to ban public camping does not help people when there are virtually no housing options currently available.
VERA SAYS: “As part of this care-first model, we have directed staff not to enforce the new ordinance until our Project Homekey and Safe Camping initiatives are up and running.”
FACT: The Council did direct staff not to enforce the ordinance until Homekey, Safe Camping, and new long-term motel leases are up and running. However, the anti-camping ordinance itself does not include the condition that it will not be enforced until adequate housing is available. As a result, the ordinance is likely to be illegal and will expose the city to an expensive lawsuit. The ordinance itself does not focus on “care first” – it is limited to enforcement of a camping ban and does not require any services to be provided.
VERA SAYS: “This new ordinance and our Project Homekey and Safe Camping program will move people off the streets and get them the help they need much more quickly. We can no longer sit back and hope that people figure out how to get off the streets on their own or turn a blind eye to the implications that a growing unhoused community has on our entire community.”
FACT: An anti-camping ordinance with no mandate to provide housing will only cause people who are currently living in tents and other makeshift shelters to move to another location. It will not help anyone “get off the streets.” Nothing in the ordinance supports Project Homekey or Safe Camping. In fact, staff time spent developing and enforcing the ordinance takes them away from these critical projects.
FACT: No one has been turning a blind eye. In addition to the accomplishments listed above, Culver City paid St. Joseph Center nearly $1 million during 2021 and 2022 to provide outreach and services to unhoused residents of Culver City. Homelessness persists due to shortages of affordable housing with supportive services, treatment services for mental health and substance abuse problems, and humane options for interim shelter, in addition to the societal problem of growing income inequality.
VERA SAYS: “I am committed to keeping you informed as we work to save as many lives as possible. This will not be an easy process, nor will it be quick, but the actions we took on Monday signal a renewed sense of urgency to combat this humanitarian crisis and give us a variety of news [sic] tools in our toolbox designed to more effectively deal with the challenges we face.”
FACT: The only “tool” in the ordinance introduced on January 23 is explicitly authorizing the city to deprive unhoused people of temporary shelter and other possessions except for bedding unless they move on.
FACT: Culver City residents are not “informed” when the Mayor’s “alternative facts” are posted in the widely read “Culver City (unofficial page)” Facebook group and no comments are permitted.
Jeanne T. Black, PhD, MBA
Dear Editor – Mayor’s FB Post Reflects Misinformation