Dan O’Brien looks forward to busy time as Council Member

(Patrik Giardino)

While the votes are still being counted at the time of writing, the most recent count has Dan O’Brien in 4first place, 751 votes ahead of second place Freddy Puza. If this was being followed live on a news network, they would have called it so the NEWS feels confident in congratulating Council Member Elect Dan O’Brien.

The victorious candidate said that he’s feeling good about the achievement, and he puts the victory down to many things.

“First, my long time standing in the community,” he said. “I’ve been here for 22 years and I’ve built up a lot of positive equity in the community with all the work I’ve done. Second, we got our campaign started really early. I started reaching out to the community and formed my committee right around January, February. I know that one of the other candidates had their committee going but I don’t think anyone was seriously campaigning and doing the outreach that I was doing as early on as I did. The third thing is the people that I assembled around me. They’re all new to the campaign world and that freshness and lack of political baggage was refreshing and gave some nice perspective. That kept me grounded. We got out there and all those three things together worked out great.”

O’Brien’s message, of common sense decisions and bipartisan dialog, seems to have been attractive to voters who were maybe put off by the fractured nature of the council in recent years.

“I think that what I think I bring to the council is just someone who’s going to listen to all sides,” O’Brien said. “I don’t like to label any person or group of people as progressive or conservative. I’m going to listen to people as individuals and issues as they come, and not have a preconceived idea of what those policy decisions should be based on an ideology. People who label themselves progressive, or people who label themselves more moderate or even conservative, can feel good that I’m going to take whatever issue they’re focussed on on its face value and weigh everyone’s perspectives. My challenging job, as it is for any council member, is to distill all that and come to a fair conclusion.”

There’s a couple of months of transition period now, and O’Brien is glad of that time but he can’t wait to get going.

“It’s a different world – campaigning versus sitting on the dais,” he said. “It definitely moves slower although I did run a marathon with this campaign, doing it for almost a year. But I’m really excited. I think we can do some great things and I’m hoping there’s some hearing that goes on. It seems like, after every election, people have a bad taste in their mouths. I’m hoping that my tone and my calm, reflective attitude will help people feel a little more at ease.”

After listening to Culver City residents carefully over the year of his campaign, O’Brien said that the issue of homelessness will be at the top of his to-do list when he gets to work in January.

“Housing is a big component to that but providing housing is a long term game,” he said. “One year, two years, five years, ten years to provide enough affordable housing to make a dent. So what do we do in the meantime to allow our residents to feel safe and best serve those on the streets? We need to have a balance between services and enforcement. Right now, it’s not enough services and zero enforcement. I want to attack that with a housing and services first approach but also enforcement of encampment laws. We have some in certain areas like our senior center. It’s illegal to camp there but we’re allowing that. I know that there’s a state law that makes it illegal to encamp on the creek. I would like to direct council to approach those individuals with services and housing, and if they refuse say ‘I’m sorry you can’t be here.’ The neighbors in those areas are unfairly being impacted by the risk of fire, criminal activity – and it’s not just risk, it’s happened. So we need to balance that out. Then also, in the meantime, we need to draft an ordinance that makes camping on our sidewalks illegal. Have the same approach once that’s in effect.”

O’Brien does agree with outgoing Mayor Daniel Lee and (probably, based on the most recent count) outgoing Council Member Alex Fisch that the most vulnerable people in society shouldn’t be criminalized.

“But, if they are engaging in criminal activities such as open drug use, urinating and defecating in public, assault, theft, burglary – these things have happened in Culver City,” he said. “They are happening by a segment of the unhoused population. A segment, not the entire population. I do not believe we should incarcerate someone because they are unhoused.”

The other major issue on his agenda is to fix the issues with the Move project.

“There’s been a level of evaluation going on and selective publishings of data that has been accumulated but not looking on a granular level at the raw data and considering it honestly, I don’t believe,” O’Brien said. “We need to improve what we’ve got going on down there, and at this stage I believe we can keep the bike lanes downtown. I would like to make those permanent fixtures, and remove all the ugly, temporary, plastic markings and make it more of a hardscape part of what we see down there already so that it no longer looks like a construction zone. Then, for now, remove the bus lanes but with a longer term vision of having a networked public transit system in Culver City that ‘could’ include dedicated bus lanes. But we have to have the infrastructure to support it. Right now, we don’t have the ridership to justify eliminating an entire lane.”

It will be fascinating to see how the members of the City Council work together from January onwards.