Dear Editor – We Can’t Stop Now

Dear Editor:

Culver City’s draft 2023-24 budget was published on May 10, 2023, and it’s the first city budget to include the new Housing & Human Services department. The department’s debut includes a $15.7 million allocation from the General Fund, a city fund that comes mostly from local tax revenue (in contrast to other funds that, for example, come from state or federal sources).

This number, presented as a $12.5 million increase over funding in the prior fiscal year, is a victory to celebrate. In just a handful of programs, it’s the manifestation of years of effort by staff members (especially Housing Director Tevis Barnes), city council members, and activists, including activism by current and former unhoused Culver City residents.

Nearly all these programs can be found in the city’s detailed housing plan — known as the Housing Element of the General Plan — which was adopted in 2022 by Councilmembers Yasmine McMorrin, Daniel Lee, and Alex Fisch, over opposition from Councilmembers Albert Vera and Goran Eriksson. The plan describes converting motels into supportive housing with Project Homekey grants, developing the “Virginia lot” into a site for unhoused residents (now known as “Safe Sleep”), paying for motel stays, and contracts for additional homeless outreach and services.

The biggest line item for the new department in the proposed budget is $4.9 million in operating funds for the city’s two supportive housing projects that are set to go online this year. Though the operating budget will come out of our General Fund every year, construction was largely funded by a Project Homekey grant from the State of California. Eriksson voted against the construction grant funding in 2021.

Another important initiative related to homelessness is also being funded: a mobile crisis response team (the proposed $1 million mobile crisis funding this year is a cut from an ongoing $1.5 million/year budgeted in the two prior fiscal years). The creation of this team started with a motion by McMorrin in April 2021, supported by Fisch and Lee, and again opposed by Vera and Eriksson. The city’s delay in bringing this team online had a tragic consequence in December 2022 when a CCPD officer shot in the back and killed Guillermo Medina, a Culver City resident who was experiencing a mental health crisis.

I expect that, despite their prior opposition to these programs, Eriksson and Vera will vote to approve the overall budget without cuts to the new department — and it may require our continued pressure at the June 12 meeting to ensure no new cuts.

I also expect McMorrin and new Councilmember Freddy Puza to continue to look at the overall budget with skepticism.

I share their concern. As they pointed out during the May 15-16 budget meetings, this year’s budget continues to increase the allocation of General Fund dollars to the Culver City Police Department, without reason or accountability or any end in sight, at the expense of other essential city departments and services.

Looking at the city’s police spending on a daytime population per capita basis, 10 years ago we spent about $500 per daytime resident, and with this budget we’ll be spending about $800 per daytime resident.

As with all the increases to the police budget over the last decade, we never see a quantitative accounting of whether prior increases made us safer at all, or how this increase might make us safer still. Rather than accountability, we get excuses. Blame gets heaped on a decades-old citizens initiative that pegs CCPD salary increases to LAPD salaries.

But that’s no excuse — staffing levels can be reduced without running afoul of the salary rules. After CCPD changed its approach to traffic stops in 2021 to cut down on racially-biased stops, the number of traffic stops went down by 25%. So why are we budgeting for the same number of officers and giving them a $2 million raise?

And just what are we foregoing by refusing to reign in our bloated police budget, roughly a third of our General Fund every year? We’re sacrificing more improvements to our parks, more camps for our kids, more support for our seniors, more frequent buses, and, yes, even more housing and services for our unhoused neighbors.

We are in a housing crisis, and while we should celebrate that the yearslong push for dedicated city resources is breaking through, these programs are still underfunded compared to the great need on the streets today.

And sustained pressure for more funding may be needed to even maintain in future years what Housing & Human Services has in the proposed budget today. At the budget meetings, Vera referred to the proposed homelessness funding as “not sustainable.” Next year, when they’re looking for money to fund another record increase in budget for CCPD, you can bet Vera and Eriksson will look to the new Housing & Human Services department — and those programs they repeatedly voted against — and decide that money to house the unhoused would be better spent on another raise for the police.


Stephen Jones

The Actors' Gang