Culver City passes resolution apologizing for racial history, planning for potential reparations

The city council voted to adopt a resolution both apologizing for the history of discrimination and racially driven mistreatment that occurred in the city and committing to several programs meant to atone for that past, including a system of reparations “designed to narrow the racial and housing gap in the City…”

Several aspects of the city’s past are officially acknowledged for the first time in this resolution, including the city’s history as a ‘sundown town.’ Previous city councils have held discussions on the matter, but a subcommittee consisting of Vice Mayor Daniel Lee and councilmember Yasmine Imani-McMorrin put pen to paper for a June 17 meeting.

John Kent, a constituent who Vice Mayor Daniel Lee noted specifically was crucial in the creation and wording of this ordinance, wrote a short essay full of black and white pictures and newspaper clippings that demonstrated that the city had a past mired in discrimination.

In this piece, titled ‘The Hidden History of Culver City,’ Kent explores Harry Culver’s views on race in his new city, restrictions placed on covenants and deeds meant to exclude non-whites, the complicated history of the Culver City Police Department’s relationship with the minority community, and the mostly unknown but strong presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Culver City’s  earliest days.

Among the speakers on the resolution was former mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, who had supported this acknowledgment during her time as mayor.

However, there were those who were concerned, particularly with the vagueness of the programs in the resolutions. One speaker was worried that this resolution would handcuff future councils with fulfilling an impossible promise, in particular with the identification and verification of those who would be awarded reparations. Others were simply worried about the lack of transparency.

Lee noted that the reparation programs were kept vague to comply with Proposition 209, which prevents governments from discriminating or granting preferential treatment to people based on race, gender, color, or national origin.

Additionally, Beverly Hills councilmember John A. Mirisch wrote an open letter to the city council on June 14, when the item was initially placed on the agenda, criticizing the lack of acknowledgement of the Jewish community in the resolution.

“While undoubtedly well-intentioned, item A-1, the proposed resolution 2021-R acknowledging the racial history of Culver City unfortunately excludes any history of racism towards Jews, who are not even mentioned in the draft resolution by name,” the letter reads.

Mirisch calls the term which was used to include Jews: “people of non-Christian religious faiths” a minimization of the struggle of the Jewish people.

“The resolution latently denies Jews our Peoplehood and trivializes our unique history of persecution and persistence, ongoing for millennia,” the letter continues. “Such a trivialization could itself easily be seen as discriminatory and bigoted towards Jews, perpetuating the virus of antisemitism, which mutates into any number of forms of hatred, denial, erasure, and apathy.”

Mirisch noted that there was anti-Jewish vandalism in Culver City as recently as May, where the words “Jews fund BLM” were sprayed onto a street advertisement alongside a swastika.

Calling on his experience at the Annual Legislative Conference for the Congressional Black Caucus — a House Caucus focused on empowering African American communities —   Lee illustrated the divide between the black community and Culver City by noting that many black legislators he talked with were surprised that Culver City elected a black councilmember based on their experiences in the city during the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Councilmembers Vera and Eriksson both called on a similar resolution passed by Glendale as a model for how Culver City should structure their ordinance, citing concern over the vagueness of the programs and the difficulties previously mentioned by speakers.

Vera expressed his opinion that he did not believe that enough outreach was done, and said that there could be much more work done involving more groups and information to make the programs in the resolution more clear.

He also pushed back against a comment made by Karim Sahli, the husband of Meghan Sahli-Wells, that council members who voted against the resolution were racist, which Vice Mayor Lee mistakenly said did not occur. Councilmember Eriksson further clarified this later in the meeting.

Eriksson emphasized his support for the Glendale resolution, arguing it was a unifying force that everyone in the city could get behind

Fisch disagreed with this assessment, saying that each city is different

Before a motion was filed to pass the resolution as is, Vera suggested that a historian be brought in and worked with, which council members agreed was acceptable. However, he held back on other suggestions as he believed that he would vote no either way. 

The motion passed 3-2, with Vera and Eriksson dissenting.