The Culver City Council closed out August with a number of important policy discussions on Monday evening, two of which surrounded huge national issues – homelessness and gun violence.
Motel Master Leasing and Nutrition Program
After receiving a staff update on progress in alleviating the declared Homeless Emergency and new mobile medical care to be provided, the council started with consideration of the new proposed Motel Master Leasing and Nutrition Program to provide housing and supportive services to the unhoused. There are a number of new features being proposed for the program, under a two-year lease, including:
- Twice-weekly outreach, engagement, and case management services through St. Joseph’s Center
- 24/7 security services
- Rooms to accommodate single or double occupancy for families
- Accommodations for pets
- Accommodations for private showers and toilets
- Accommodations for storage and preparation of food/meals
- Three nutritious meals a day and a special Sunday meal through EveryTable
- A mobile crisis team
Currently, 35 unhoused neighbors are in this temporary housing, but city staff proposed that through contracts with two new motels, a total of 64 units will come online to serve the unhoused.
When Councilmember Freddy Puza asked Culver City’s Housing Director Tevis Barnes about the length of stay afforded to the homeless, she assured him no one is “exited” from the approved sites until they are able to hand them off to another housing option.
“It is so critical that we have paths toward housing for folks, and I really appreciate staff, doing what you can to center the needs of unhoused folks, to meet them where they are, and to continue to build trust,” said Vice Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin.
McMorrin also asked staff why the city didn’t apply for another grant through Project Homekey, now in its third cycle, which uses former motels and hotels for permanent supportive housing. Barnes stated that the city would have needed to demonstrate “site control,” and they were unable to budget for the rate the one interested motel was demanding in order to participate in the program. She later added that the city was fortunate with previous rounds as they had money from a housing fund and a grant from then State Senator Sydney Kamlager-Dove that helped them participate in Project Homekey.
City Manager John Nachbar also defended the move, or lack thereof, saying staff would have needed clear direction from City Council to set aside as much as $5 Million a year in operating costs to add a motel to the program.
Councilmember Göran Eriksson also defended a lack of action on Stage Three of Project Homekey, saying “I think it’s amazing we’ve gotten this far this quickly” and prefers for things to “stabilize” before deciding what to do next.
McMorrin was successful, however, in securing support from three of her colleagues to explore additional options for, as she put it, “housing more of our neighbors.” So the item will come up for discussion again.
The Master Leasing Program passed unanimously, 5-0.
Urgency Ordinance on Nonconforming Uses of Firearms
There are two firearms dealers in Culver City – Martin B. Retting and Big 5 Sporting Goods. If the shops sold firearms before certain measures were passed, for example, the 2005 measure barring a site from selling firearms within 1,000 feet of a school, they could obtain a waiver for a legal nonconforming use of their property given they were there selling firearms legally before such a policy was put in place.
The question before the council on Monday evening was whether to pass an urgency ordinance barring the transfer of nonconforming uses going forward. Specifically, at issue is whether legal nonconforming uses could be transferred to a new gun store owner, as Martin B. Retting is due to close its doors for business at the end of the month. Should a new gun shop at this location be allowed to essentially “inherit” the practice of a legal nonconforming use?
Megan Oddsen Goodwin, a Culver City parent, was the first member of the public to speak. She reminded the council that despite assurances to the public that having a gun shop in town was no threat to public safety, an astounding 87 calls to police pertaining to this particular location have taken place in just the last five years. She also said that at the time of the last inspection of the shop by Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents, seven violations were cited.
“All of this from a trusted gun store we know,” said Oddsen Goodwin. “And what about the gun store that we don’t know yet? What activity will it bring to 11029 Washington Blvd.?” she asked, citing the address of the Martin B. Redding gun shop. She made reference to a letter signed by more than 300 Culver City residents that she says spans the local political spectrum, asking for the council to end nonconforming uses at this property with the closure of the Retting store (published by Westside Voice: https://westsidevoicela.com/2023/08/gun-safety-advocates-in-culver-city-have-strong-message-for-councilmembers-staff/).
Another parent cited a state study that discovered 1 in 67 guns sold in Culver City could be connected to a crime.
“We can’t miss this opportunity to keep our kids safe because we’re afraid of frivolous litigation from conservative activists,” said Planning Commissioner Stephen Jones, whose child – like those of many who spoke – attends La Ballona Elementary, which is less than 1,000 feet from the Retting gun shop.
Former School Board Member Summer McBride said ensuring no new gun stores open in Culver City would send a powerful message that the city values the safety and well-being of its residents above all else.
Resident Suneal Kholluri seemed to mock the current council majority for a lack of action thus far in allowing a gun store to remain in town, saying they were far more animated and quick to act on simply pairing a bus and bike lane in recent months.
Puza, stressing urgency, moved to form an ad hoc committee to come up with an urgency ordinance their colleagues could consider, and to hold an emergency meeting to vote on it.
“There’s no reason that a developed society like the United States should have this kind of menace going on in our society,” said Eriksson in support, who noted America’s gun violence has always troubled him as someone who grew up in another part of the world.
Councilmember Dan O’Brien expressed optimism that something could be resolved within a 45-day moratorium on nonconforming uses outlined in the proposed action. McMorrin proudly seconded Puza’s motion to establish the ad hoc committee and for an emergency meeting, and volunteered herself for the committee.
Mayor Albert Vera also volunteered himself for the ad hoc subcommittee, and said that if a lawsuit is brought against the city, “So be it.”
The motion passed unanimously, 5-0.