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Culver City Set to Ban Being Unhoused

Culver City Council introduced an ordinance that is set to ban tent encampments, without providing services or housing for their unhoused population.

five councilmembers sit around a dais
Culver City Council at the January 23 meeting. (Source: City of Culver City | Youtube)

Update: On February 14, Culver City Council approved an ordinance banning encampments Citywide. Councilmembers Dan O’Brien, Göran Ericksson and Mayor Albert Vera voted in favor, with Vice Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin and Councilmember Freddy Puza voting against.

While the councilmembers in favor alluded to instructing city staff to not enforce the ordinance until housing resources are in place, there is nothing in the actual ordinance containing such language. Currently, there is not nearly enough housing or shelter for the approximately 140 people living in Culver City in encampments, and when those resources come online, the city will still be around 30–40 units short.

Council also voted to suspend the issuance of citations or related fines pertaining to the ordinance, until otherwise noted by council, with McMorrin and Puza voting against. McMorrin expressed concern that law enforcement would be present when city staff does outreach at these encampments and said that “the power dynamics are not balanced,” and said she does not “understand the cruelty” of the ordinance. “We can provide services without the enforcement. … It’s disingenuous. It’s harmful. It’s going to bring harm to people who have very little. It’s shameful.”

Public comment throughout the meeting was overwhelmingly against the ordinance. One supporter of the ordinance who spoke, Paula Gerez, is a realtor who opined that people who cannot afford to live in one of the properties owned by her family must be “doing other things” with their money. She is also the President of the Westchester/Playa Neighborhood Council.

Bubba Fish — vice chair of the council’s Advisory Committee on Housing and Homelessness — reiterated that the committee had voted 8–1 against the ordinance, and said that they had also not been consulted on it.

Culver City Council — which has a newly elected conservative majority, buttressed by Mayor  Albert Vera and Councilmembers Gorӓn Eriksson and Dan O’Brien —  declared a State of Emergency on homelessness earlier this month, which earned the support of LA Mayor Karen Bass.

Last night, the council voted to introduce an ordinance completely banning tent encampments throughout the city. It passed 3-2, with Councilmembers Freddy Puza and Yasmine-Imani McMorrin voting against. 

The ordinance defines camping as “settling, fixing in place, setting up, storing, locating, or leaving behind in a prohibited public place any or a combination of the following: tents, huts, other temporary physical shelters, cots, beds, or hammocks.” The law specifically excludes “sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, and/or similar bedding used while sleeping.” 

Culver City Housing Administrator Tevis Barnes said in the meeting that there were five temporary shelter spots available at the time of the meeting, while there are no safe camping or safe parking sites available. The city’s Project Homekey sites — which were voted on by the previous progressive-led council and would provide 73 units of housing — have not yet completed construction. 

The city estimated that it has 229 unhoused people, with 100-140 who would be affected by the ordinance. 

City staff also noted that police would not be issuing tickets unless there were repeated violations of the ordinance, but that officers would be present at sweeps — which staff said they call “clean-ups” — in “the background in a passive capacity.” Staff and councilmembers in support of the motion said they would lead with a housing-first approach, but that is not codified in the actual ordinance. 

Public commenters were overwhelmingly against the ordinance. Bubba Fish — who is the vice chair of Culver City’s committee on homelessness — commented that the city did not go through the process of consulting with the committee on the ordinance, likely because the council would not be happy with the feedback they would have received. 

Ndindi Kitonga, who does outreach with Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid, noted that she observed a lack of consistent services in the city, and said that people did not receive housing offers.

Jennifer Stavros said that when she was previously unhoused in Culver City, she received no help from anybody, and called the ordinance a “death sentence.” Ruth Rooflesser, who is unhoused, called in to say unhoused people were not brought to the table on the discussion. She called the ordinance “anti-Black racism” and an attempt by the city to keep unhoused people — who are disproportionately Black — from owning property.

Assistant City Manager Jesse Mays cast doubt on these lived experiences, claiming that unhoused people aren’t “reliable narrators.”

Mays did not respond to Knock LA to provide comment when asked to support his allegation.

Former Culver City mayor Daniel Lee also called in to speak against the ordinance, suggesting it was a particularly cruel time to be introducing this legislation. He said that more unhoused people die during the winter from the weather and develop medical issues due to rain falling on their items. 

Councilmember Puza called the ordinance “premature and cruel.” Councilmember McMorrin said more resources should be devoted to harm reduction like street medicine, NARCAN, and streamlining housing. She called it an “anti-living ordinance.”

O’Brien, who supports the ordinance, said he would only like to see it enforced when there is housing available, though, again, there is nothing codifying that in the actual ordinance. Both he and Eriksson said it was a step towards something being done to address concerns around public health and safety. 

Culver City Council will likely vote to approve the ordinance when they convene next on February 13.