City Council makes decision on 10858 Culver Blvd. building, mayoral rotation policy change

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The City Council meeting held on Feb. 24 was highlighted by a decision to convert the former AmVets building at 10858 Culver Blvd., and a major change to the mayoral rotation policy that would determine the mayor and vice mayor based on a council majority vote.

The 10858 Culver property has been in the possession of the AmVets for over 70 years, but the organization was evicted by the city late last year. There have been several discussions on the potential uses of the property, including repurposing the building as a community art center and garden. This proposal is headed by the Wende Museum, whose founder Justin Jampol spoke at the meeting in favor of it.

Of course, another strong opinion came from the displaced AmVets members, who were simply asking for their building back. The veterans claimed that AmVets had attempted to refurbish the building themselves, but the city denied them the opportunity.

However, the main idea that the council hoped to move forward with was the conversion of the building into affordable housing. This decision wasn’t unanimous though, as Vice Mayor Goran Eriksson voiced an objection to moving forward with the idea. Eriksson brought up the shortage of public space and parkland in Culver City and mentioned that the city council was given a presentation “about a month ago” which showed there are other lots in the city that developers have shown interest in building affordable housing.

The other members of the council rebuked this, saying they had no recollection of such projects being considered despite Eriksson mentioning several particulars about the presentation, though he was unable to mention the specific date of the meeting nor the location of the mentioned lot.

Eriksson also mentioned the fact that there had not been a public forum for the matter to be discussed thoroughly by the community. While there was extensive discussion at this council meeting, Eriksson brought up the fact that the proposal for affordable housing was formulated at an unofficial committee meeting with invitation-only members.

He argued that the city should not move forward with anyone’s idea until more public input was garnered on that idea, a sentiment which was received by applause from those in attendance.

Talks shifted to a potential Request for Proposal (RFP), which councilman Thomas Small believed would serve as adequate community outreach. When Eriksson asked Small whether or not this would imply that the RFP would be for the affordable housing plan, which would in essence set the decision in stone without any public input.

While Small’s idea for an RFP was more open to give developers the opportunity to present ideas for all of the considerations, Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells interjected to say that she did envision the RFP to be for affordable housing, as well as a community garden extension, and moved for staff to get that done.

Councilman Daniel Lee agreed, saying that we should be doing everything we can as a city to create affordable housing given the issue with rent control and homelessness in the city, and says he supports the proposal going forward assuming the RFP is included, which received claps from the audience.

Councilman Alex Fisch then voiced his support for the proposal, expressing concern for the high prices on homes and rentals in the city, and implores that this would be a small disturbance for people in comparison to the large problem at hand. Fisch explained the steadiness of the population of Culver City over the past 40 years despite population booms in Los Angeles and around the world over that period and believes that things need to change.

Fisch also noted that cycle 6 of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which is a requirement of California State housing law. Every jurisdiction must plan for its RHNA allocation in its housing element of its General Plan, and Fisch claims that Culver City will need “3,300 homes, 2,000 of which will need to be below market.”

“Leasing public land for a wonderful use is immoral if we are not also dealing with the housing issue,” Fisch declared.

Sahli-Wells addressed the veterans in the crowd, thanking them for showing their passion and explaining the history of the building, but said that the city has an obligation to help “the veterans of the future,” citing the efforts of Exchange Club to put together the Field of Valor to support homeless veterans.

A vote was then held on moving forward with the affordable housing RFP, which passed 4-1 with Eriksson voting against.

The other major discussion of the night was a change to the mayoral rotation policy as written in the City Council Policy. The system in place before this discussion called for the vice mayor to be promoted to mayor and the seniormost councilmember who had no mayoral experience was allowed to be vice mayor.

The new policy allows the members of the city council to elect colleagues to be mayor and vice mayor, given that they have not served in those positions for at least a year.

While there was no staff report presented on this topic because the topic had been discussed before, several members of the public came to express their concerns that this change would “squelch voices,” and did not understand exactly why the council was changing what they felt was fair.

The city council argued that the policy had become outdated, and wasn’t being followed a majority of the time. Thus, instead of following the rule, they decided to change it to better reflect the process that actually goes on.

Fisch mentioned that this process was already documented in the City Charter, and that overrules the council policy anyways.

Eriksson opposed the resolution, saying that his understanding was that people preferred the old rotational policy. Eriksson was a perceived victim of the new policy being followed before it was officially implemented tonight, being skipped over his turn at being vice mayor according to the original policy.

Mark Lipman, a member of the Homelessness Committee, proposed that whatever changes are made to this homelessness policy not be made until after the next mayoral rotation, allowing Eriksson to take his turn as mayor under the current policy.

Sahli-Wells stated that the change was not an attempt to prevent Eriksson from becoming mayor, and said that she would fully support Eriksson’s bid for mayor when that time came.

Fisch reinforced this, saying “I’ll be the first to nominate him, probably. We’ll probably all race to nominate him.”

Small challenged the idea that he didn’t listen and that the council was trying to squelch voices, saying that some impassioned people who don’t want to see change “begin to think they speak for everybody.”

Lee continued, saying “Part of our jobs as public servants aren’t just reacting to what people say, it’s to do what we think is right.”

This proposal also passed 4-1, with Eriksson dissenting.