In a move meant to expedite proposed changes to the project, the Culver City Council voted 3-2 to approve exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the Move Culver City Project. Claiming these exemptions would allow the project to forgo an Environmental Impact Review, allowing the city to begin work on the changes approved several weeks ago.
The proposed changes to the project would replace a protected bike lane and separate bus-only lane with a singular bus/bike lane through Downtown Culver City. Move Culver City has been both praised as an important step towards an idealized bike network and scrutinized as a further clog to the already difficult traffic throughout the Downtown area.
Proponents of the bike lane argued that an EIR was necessary because there is no debate that adding a lane of traffic — and by proxy, increased car traffic — would cause detrimental impacts to the environment.
Several open letters were also penned to the council from lawyers arguing the exemptions the city was attempting to claim were inapplicable to the project, one of which was read during public comment at Monday’s council meeting.
According to that letter, the exemption in CEQA Section 15301 the city was attempting to use — which provides exemptions to changes in existing facilities “involving negligible or no expansion of existing or former use” — was not applicable to this project.
“That phrase, ‘former use,’ was added only to account for vacant properties that were recently vacated,” said the letter from Ed Casey at Alston & Bird. “Clearly that exception does not apply to the proposed project.”
There were several speakers who also spoke in favor of exempting the project, arguing that the Move Culver City project was initially implemented as a pilot and not a permanent program. They argued that because the purpose of pilot projects is to test ideas and make adjustments when necessary, putting obstacles in front of these changes would discourage using pilot projects for their intended purpose.
“If you face the threat of litigation every time you try things out and want to change it, cities and municipalities will stop trying things,” speaker Gary Zeiss said during his public comment. “It was a pilot, and pilots get adjusted.”
While the council chambers have been full of residents arguing for and against the paths, Councilmember Dan O’Brien noted in his comments that many people have come to him outside of council chambers to discuss the project, and he has received petitions and other pleas from businesses in Downtown to move forwards with the changes as soon as possible.
“We’ve had virtually every small business in Downtown begging us to hurry up with this,” O’Brien said. “We have had a lot of people who advocate for keeping the pilot as is come up and speak, but there’s a lot of other people who are not coming, but are signing petitions and letters…add it all up and I see much more in favor of where we are going.”
As they have in previous meetings related to the topic, both Vice Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin and councilmember Freddie Puza expressed their dissatisfaction with the changes and emphasized their support for the current Move Culver City configuration.
Puza noted that the move strayed from the initial intent of Move Culver City, which was to turn the corridor downtown into a “complete street” that would help reach the city’s sustainability goals, encourage alternative forms of transportation, and mitigate traffic. He also noted that third-party reports indicated that the Move Culver City project has been successful in these goals as it stands, but the majority is choosing to ignore that.
“This is a pilot project,” Puza said, “But the council also rejected data that measured the results of Move Culver City…which demonstrated the project was a complete success.”
In the aftermath of the meeting, a GoFundMe effort was organized by “Friends of Move Culver City” with the goal of raising $10,000 and titled “Save protected bike lanes in Culver City.” The GoFundMe has raised almost $5,000 in its first full day, with former Mayor Alex Fisch among the donors.
“No comment, other than it’s time: #MoveCulverCity needs your help if it’s going to get an honest environmental assessment,” Fisch posted on his X page Tuesday morning.
A date has not been set for the completion of this project, but Culver City Downtown Business Association Executive Director Darrel Menthe said at the meeting that business owners hope the changes can be made before the upcoming holiday season, assuming the project goes unchallenged.
Photo by Laser1987