Robert Zirgulis was born in Chicago and grew up as the son of the clinical director at Chicago State Hospital, first came to Malibu in 1965, and has lived in Culver City since 1984. He is an educator by nature, having served as a substitute teacher at Culver City schools for 13 years.
“I got the feel for the freedom and creativity lifestyle in California in turn with a midwest work ethic,” Zirgulis said.
While Zirgulis has run in the past for both city council and the Culver City Unified District (CCUSD) school board, it was not so much a general ambition to make a change as it once was. Instead, it was the climate of the country after the death of George Floyd that pushed him to run this year.
Part of his platform is to acknowledge police and fire personnel.
“I want to support our good cops and firefighters,” Zirgulis stated. “I want to prevent our current city council from defunding the police by 50%. I think the Culver City Police save millions of dollars by proactively stopping the looters and rioters that ravaged Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood. So I was so angry that this was happening, which is part of the reason that I am running.”
He says that many of the services that the Culver City Police Department (CCPD) provides, such as traffic control and the protection of the Culver City schools, are being overlooked, and feels that the sins of other police departments are being projected onto an innocent CCPD. However, he also understands the gravity and the tragedy of the incident that resulted in George Floyd’s death, and believes in racial justice.
“I am only supporting Culver City Police,” Zirgulis explained. “I don’t know anything and am not going to say anything about the LA Police Department or any other department. I think that George Floyd was murdered, and if there is a cop that does a bad thing, I am going to go after them.
“But if a cop is being slandered, I will defend them.”
Of course, many people in Culver City would contend that CCPD do not have blood on their hands, referencing the death of Leejoy Grissom which Culver City was forced to pay $8.8 million in damages.
While people and organizations like the Culver City Action Network (CCAN) have said that Grissom was unarmed, others like the Culver City Police Officers Association (CCPOA) and Zirgulis contend that case details show that Grissom had a weapon in his shoe, and reference the fact that he was a robbery suspect. He believes that CCAN is attempting to spread misinformation.
With some of the more controversial purchase attempts that the CCPD has made in the past year — a successful one in the drone program and an unsuccessful one in the BearCat — He believes in looking at the bigger picture.
“With the BearCat, you may not see a need for one in Culver City, but I would want the police to have resources. I am a fiscal conservative, but I don’t want to cut their resources. You have to look at issues like it being something to have in reserve for if we need to help in another part of town.”
Zirgulis has traveled around the world, and believes that he has a broader view of the situation in America. He looks at places like Venezuela as a measuring point.
“I have been to all sorts of different countries, and I have visited Venezuela and saw what has happened to it,” Zirgulis explained. “Hugo Chavez promised the world to everybody, free food and everything, and look what happened to Venezuela. It has become a basket case, and it is supposedly one of the richest countries in South America.”
“It is really a shame what has happened there.”
While he doesn’t want to tie the hands of the police, he believes that measures for accountability will help both sides.
“They should all be equipped with body cams to give their view, but right now, they are being defaced. You can’t demonize our Culver City Police Department with one broad stroke that they are doing to all police departments. I think our department is an exception to the rule in that they are taking care of business.”
Zirgulis believes that there is a fracture in the relationship between the police and their constituents that needs to be mended, and he believes expanding outreach is the first step towards that.
“I want to have ride along programs, I want the police in our schools so that kids aren’t afraid of them, and I want to expand the D.A.R.E. program.”
“I think we need to familiarize kids and say ‘hey, the police are here to protect you.’”
Despite this unwavering support of their group, the Culver City Police Officers Association did not choose Zirgulis as one of their three endorsements. However, Zirgulis says this doesn’t have anything to do with the CCPOA not aligning with his views, but more has to do with PR.
“I am going to be such a target and I am going to be controversial because I am the most outspoken person there is, so they don’t want to risk their name becoming involved in that.”
However, Zirgulis doesn’t want to attack back or tear these people down. He believes that they are all “well-meaning people,” and simply hopes to educate them.
To this end, he has taken a somewhat controversial step: passing out fliers and sending out mailers in Culver City questioning the intentions of the Black Lives Matters movement.
I feel that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a great slogan, but I don’t understand why supporting racial justice means defunding the police,” Zirgulis remarked. “One of the things about the Black Lives Matter organization is that everyone can agree that black lives matter, but the slogan has been hijacked by the Black Lives Matter organization to try and abolish the police.”
Despite some of the backlash he has received, Zirgulis is confident about his chances this election season.
“I believe that there is a silent majority vote for me because people have been intimidated by this ‘cancel culture’ thing that is going on,” Zirgulis claimed. “You know, right now, there has been a rash of people who have been taking the ‘Defend not Defund’ signs. I have been talking to people who said they have had their sign stolen four times.”
With this in mind, Zirgulis is prepared for whatever comes at him.
“I am willing to take all the arrows and the spears. I have gotten threats through calls and stuff like that already. This isn’t my first rodeo. I am an issue candidate in many ways. I was the first person in Culver City running for school board to advocate for solar panels in the schools.”
Zirgulis is also a long time environmental activist, but he is still learning even now. He has changed his stance on several issues as he has learned more about them, one of which is his view on the Inglewood Oil Field and fracking in urban areas in general.
“I was for taxing the oil companies to help our schools, but at the time, I didn’t realize how bad fracking could be in the urban areas, and I have publicly come out and said that I am against fracking in the area,” Zirgulis explained.
“Another lie that is going to be said is that I am for fracking; I am not for fracking in the Inglewood Oil Field. In fact, I am for turning that area into a parklet.”
Zirgulis also believes that there needs to be more focus in Culver City to create what he calls “a real bike lane.”
“There should be room for bicycle parking spaces. If you are going to have a real bike lane in Culver City, you need places to land their bikes so that people can actually ride them.”
In holding such strong views and pushing back against criticism, some might worry that Zirgulis would dismiss their concerns as a member of the city council in a similar manner that people feel the current council does at the moment.
“I am a first amendment advocate. If anything, I believe in ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.’”
“I am willing to have dialogue with them. I may not agree with them, but I am willing to have dialogue.”
Another contentious topic in Culver City is the development that is currently changing the landscape of the city, and the high taxes that have come with that. Like many others, Zirgulis believes that the tech companies moving into the city need to pay their fair share to alleviate the burden on citizens, as opposed to increasing taxes on local property owners.
“(The development of tech companies) are creating pressures on the city,” Zirgulis said. “We are losing our small town atmosphere in this big bad city, so if we are going to allow these big tech companies in, we need to get money from them instead of our local mom and pop property owners.” Zirgulis admits he believes that Culver City is currently “a bit overdeveloped, but could be fine with the right control.”
He also notes that sales tax is a regressive tax — one that burdens low income families much greater than high income families — and believes that needs to be controlled as well. While he hasn’t done concrete planning, Zirgulis says he has thought about potential looking for grants to help the city.
While Zirgulis views are varied and expansive, there is one point that always hold true.
“If I am elected to the city council, people will remember that Robert Zirgulis kept his word and fought for Culver City.”