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Culver City Mayor Discusses New Developments, Transportation And Homeless Issue

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Culver City is going through a tremendous amount of change. 

In the next few years, the city, which is in the midst of a development boom, will soon welcome upward of 10,000 new workers when Google, Amazon, Apple, HBO and others move into their new offices at the Ivy Station or Culver Studios, or the soon to be converted Westside Pavilion

Along with this change, comes great responsibility, Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells tells Bisnow

Sahli-Wells will speak at Bisnow's Culver City State of the Market at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 400/600 Culver Pointe at 400-600 Corporate Pointe in Culver City.

Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells
Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells

At a time when Culver City should be excited about welcoming these multinational corporations, Sahli-Wells said it is also important to make sure that the quality of life for the city doesn't go down and that longtime residents are not displaced.  

The big question is how this city of about 40,000 residents is going to handle issues that will affect residents' quality of life. This includes traffic, congestion, residential home prices (the average home is $1.2M) and high rent. 

As the city is in the midst of updating its general plans, which will serve as the blueprint for the next 20 years, Sahli-Wells said this is precisely the time to rethink the city's zoning, mobility and housing plan. 

"I'm hopeful that we can have a lot of public and business participation to make sure that we are moving ahead thoughtfully and together, while keeping in mind that housing, mobility and all of these things also have a huge climate impact," Sahli-Wells said. "If we want a future period, we need to look at the carbon footprint of what we do. Planning is climate."

Bisnow caught up with Sahli-Wells to talk about how her city will adapt to the influx of new office tenants and workers slated to move into the city, how the city plans to alleviate traffic and how they are dealing with the challenges that tech and high-paying jobs bring.

Bisnow: Give us a general sense of the sentiment in the city. What are your thoughts on all these new commercial real estate developments and new businesses such as Google, Apple, Amazon and others coming into the city?

Sahli-Wells: Overall, it's really exciting to see such an influx of high-quality jobs in Culver City and this clustering that has happened. I had the opportunity to attend a tour of Culver City organized by the Los Angeles Conservancy. They had this great talk called "From the Heart of Screenland to the Heart of Streamland." That aptly describes what's happening. It's both transformational and part of Culver City's history to be the beating heart of the entertainment industry even as the industry itself is changing.

It's exciting but at the same time it is challenging. We have a job and housing imbalance that is growing exponentially. With this opportunity comes a responsibility on the part of the city to ensure that we build more housing so that people who already live here aren't displaced and to be aware of our environmental footprint.

To quote Dickens, "It's the best of times and the worst of times."

Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells speaks at a press conference during a CicLAvia event.
Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells speaks at a press conference during a CicLAvia event.

Bisnow: With all these new workers expecting to come in, how is the city handling the potential traffic issues that will probably surface when the other big developments such as the Ivy Station or Westside Pavilion and others go live?

Sahli-Wells: Along with housing, this is one of our biggest challenges and they are absolutely linked. It's undeniable that the cause of traffic is cars. The way to relieve traffic is to remove cars from the road. You can only do that if you are providing an alternative.

We happen to have in Culver City the second-oldest municipal bus line in the state of California, the Culver City Bus. We provide excellent service but our buses, too, are stuck in traffic.

Something that we are also looking at very seriously is dedicated bus lanes, making it so taking an alternative form of transportation is not just a dream but that it can be more efficient, more comfortable and by the way you can be on your phone the whole time. Let someone else do the driving. We need to rethink and reprioritize our streets.

Another thing we did in the past couple of months is adapt the metro bike share ... and looking at things such as micro-transit. 

I fantasize about shutting down the streets in downtown Culver City and make it more pedestrian friendly like we see in Europe and places in South America. You really see a renaissance of local businesses when you take away the noise and pollution of cars and create human access.  

Bisnow: Several months ago, Culver City implemented a rent freeze. Will that rent freeze be permanent?

Sahli-Wells: I certainly hope so. This was a grassroots initiative that came from homeowners in the community whose best friends or children's best friends were being displaced by runaway rent. As the only city on the Westside without renter protection, we were seeing a lot of displacement from everybody. It's been the Wild West here.

The housing crisis that we are in has no single solution. You have to build housing, you have to build market housing, you have to build affordable housing and you have to build housing for the middle class and give protection to [renters]. About 47% of our population are renters. We can't leave them behind as we are careening into the future.

I hear from some folks that are afraid that these big multinational corporations are going to take over. We saw what is happening in Seattle and Silicon Valley and my hope is to learn the lessons from that and be proactive and start creating housing opportunities.

Bisnow: I wanted to get your thoughts on the homeless issue. Obviously, like many cities across Los Angeles, Culver City is not immune to the homeless crisis. What is Culver City doing to prevent those homeless numbers from increasing?

Sahli-Wells: You hit a nerve. This is a humanitarian crisis. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Culver City has risen 60% this year. The homeless count was about 286 individuals, the most we ever had. 

This is what's keeping me up at night. We have a committee on homelessness that are looking at things like prefab housing and motel conversions.

Bisnow's Culver City State of the Market will be held at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 400/600 Culver Pointe at 400-600 Corporate Pointe in Culver City.