Demand no cuts to ‘vital programs’

Culver City’s draft 2023- 24 budget was published on May 10, 2023, and it’s the first city budget to include the new Housing & Human Services department. The department’s debut includes a $15.7 million allocation from the General Fund, a city fund that comes mostly from local tax revenue (in contrast to other funds that, for example, come from state or federal sources).

This number, presented as a $12.5 million increase over funding in the prior fiscal year, is a victory to celebrate. In just a handful of programs, it’s the manifestation of years of effort by staff members (especially Housing Director Tevis Barnes), city council members, and activists, including activism by current and former unhoused Culver City residents.

Nearly all these programs can be found in the city’s detailed housing plan — known as the Housing Element of the General Plan — which was adopted in 2022 by Councilmembers Yasmine McMorrin, Daniel Lee, and Alex Fisch, over opposition from Councilmembers Albert Vera and Göran Eriksson.

The plan describes converting motels into supportive housing with Project Homekey grants, developing the “Virginia lot” into a site for unhoused residents (now known as “Safe Sleep”), paying for motel stays, and contracts for additional homeless outreach and services.

The biggest line item for the new department in the proposed budget is $4.9 million in operating funds for the city’s two supportive housing projects that are set to go online this year. Though the operating budget will come out of our General Fund every year, construction was largely funded by a Project Homekey grant from the State of California. Eriksson voted against the construction grant funding in 2021.

Another important initiative related to homelessness is also being funded: a mobile crisis response team (the pro- posed $1 million mobile crisis funding this year is a cut from an ongoing $1.5 million/year budgeted in the two prior fiscal years). The creation of this team started with a motion by McMorrin in April 2021, supported by Fisch and Lee, and again opposed by Vera and Eriksson. The city’s delay in bringing this team online had a tragic consequence in December 2022 when a CCPD officer shot in the back and killed Guillermo Medina, a Culver City resident who was experiencing a mental health crisis.

I expect that, despite their prior opposition to these programs, Eriksson and Vera will vote to approve the over- all budget without cuts to the new department — and it may require our continued pressure at the June 12 meeting to ensure no new cuts.

I also expect McMorrin and new Councilmember Freddy Puza to continue to look at the overall budget with skepticism.