Culver City to pursue options for modifying zoning in single family neighborhoods

Three different options were presented to council and considered for the city’s direction on land use. While one left R1 zoning in tact, the others explored ways to build multi-unit housing in single family neighborhoods. (Culver City)

In a series of special meetings, city council voted to pursue implementing zoning that would permit triplexes and quadruplexes with a designated affordable unit in areas currently designated for single family homes, or R1 zoning. Staff was also tasked to begin affordable housing density bonus studies and to research options for affordable housing development partnership funding. 

As it stands following Monday’s meeting, the potential change would only affect lots greater than 4,950-square-feet.

The agenda item regarding R1 zoning was also originally set for June 23, slated to take place after a separate but similar discussion regarding options to improve affordability in Culver City. Several speakers criticized the ordering of the meeting, noting that the presentation was done for the agenda item after 1 a.m., with councilmember Albert Vera and several Planning Commission members noting they believed it was best to adjourn.

Speakers were very much polarized in their opinions, but there was a notable majority which favored maintaining R1 zoning as is, which Eriksson noted in his comments. Speakers took a combined seven hours between the two meetings, and while their idea on the approach differed, both sides agreed that there is a need for affordable housing.

Another aspect of the discussion that was on many speakers’ minds was the involvement of Nancy Barba, a member of the Planning Commission who is involved with an organization that has called for an end to R1 zoning in Culver City: Culver City for More Homes.

Planning Commission member Andrew Reilman noted that in his research done prior to the June 23 meeting, he had yet to see conclusive link drawn between upzoning and affordable housing.

In regards to the 100% housing overlay, which ended up becoming one of the particular policy points focused on at the first meeting, Reilman also addressed the 100% affordable housing overlay done in Cambridge in Massachusetts, which was cited by speakers as evidence that it was beneficial, noting that the city went through two years of policy change to arrive at that point.

At both meetings, Reilman commented on the rhetoric and discourse surrounding the discussion, noting one speaker stated “I am here to speak because someone told me that they are going to take my house.” He, like many other members of staff, council, and the Planning Commission, emphasized that this vote was not going to have an impact on homes people currently own.

Planning commissioner Eric Ogosta said that the topic was “mistakenly framed as a game with winners and losers,” and that people were afraid that their neighborhoods would be overwhelmed by massive developments, admitting that they were justified in that fear.

Ogosta mentioned several contests held in Los Angeles that asked participants to reimagine R1 zoning in a positive way, including the “Low Rise” design challenge, whose winners were announced in May.

He continued by expressing his disappointment that the options presented at Monday’s meeting did not have the same creativity and nuance he saw in the contest, and believes that the focus of the options presented were too narrow. He believed that none of the options presented were anything he could support because he does not believe there was enough discussion

Planning Commission Chair David Voncannon responded to Eriksson’s concerns regarding growth, saying that it was the addition of the Metro station nine years ago that triggered a period of growth for the city, and echoed Ogosta’s feelings that there should be a larger variety of more creative options. 

However, given the options presented, the commission members endorsed the maintaining of R1 zoning, with a primary argument being the lack of connection between upzoning and affordable housing.

Vice Chair Sayles expressed this in both her comments on June 23 and through written comments read by Chair Voncannon. Sayles was out of the country when the Monday meeting took place, and had to excuse herself early from the meeting.

Sayles also noted that she had been criticized and “vilified” throughout the process for owning a single family home and purchasing renovations for the home.

She also noted that densification should be revised to exclude the Culver Crest and Blair Hills neighborhoods due to its hilly structure and the difficulty emergency vehicles have driving up to homes in the neighborhood. She explained that it was for these reasons that ADU’s are not permitted in those neighborhoods, and increasing density would be entirely in conflict with concerns raised during the ADU permitting process.

As someone who has significant experience in development, Sayles stated that attempting to coax developers with a fourth affordable unit as proposed was simply not feasible or cost effective for developers.

She proposed instead that an ordinance increasing density be introduced, potentially similar to the city of Los Angeles’ Transit Oriented Community ordinance..

Mayor Fisch commented on the need to act immediately, citing the exclusionary zoning policies that have been noted by Democratic officials at the highest level, including President Joe Biden

He posed the question “are we going to be a city where only people who can afford a $600,000 down payment can afford a home on more than 50% of our residential land?”

On the other hand, Eriksson questioned the methodology that was used to project growth, expressing worries that the data used was too general of the nation, and not representative of Culver City and the way it has developed. Eriksson’s belief is that the city experienced brief spurts of growth followed by periods of stagnation, and a longer period needed to be used to make growth projections to account for these patterns

Additionally, he raised concerns over temperatures and permeability. Eriksson noted that metropolitan areas are hotter on average because of their buildings and explained that this is accounted for in Los Angeles property taxes

Finally, he asked Fisch to send him affordable housing reports that he had cited in his previous remarks to be read in a more “calm” fashion.

Vera took a similar stance, asking what problem would be solved by rushing something out. He apologized to those who didn’t get an opportunity to speak, and equated what was being done to shoving policy down the throats of the majority. 

He argued that the council needed to take a step back because “[their] goal is to govern, not to rule.” Calling back on a geriatric nurse who spoke criticizing the lack of outreach for seniors done by the city, 

McMorrin called out some of the speakers as being uncivil and bringing forward “borderline threats” on council members, and said that civility is needed in this and all conversations between government officials and constituents.

She also addressed issues with engagement, saying that there was a great deal of engagement leading up to these two meetings, and said that there is plenty of information on the policies being discussed, including the declaration by the president previously mentioned by Fisch.

As she did in meetings on topics such as the Tactical Mobility Lane, McMorrin emphasized that there is a danger in returning to the “status quo.”

Lee was the final member to speak, explaining that while he didn’t think that R1 zoning was the solution for all neighborhoods, it would give more opportunities in certain neighborhoods. and says the burden of building affordable housing should be taken on by all neighborhoods.

He espressed his support for the option that was passed, and emphasized that he believed the discussion around an affordable housing overlay should still take place after this decision.

Lee’s comments quickly turned into a motion for looking into the triplex and quadruplex with affordable unit in R1 zoned homes, which passed 3-2 with Eriksson and Vera dissenting.