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Sunday, Aug 14, 2022

‘Mixed’ Message Received


Ten years ago, the Redevelopment Agency of Culver City decided it needed a catalytic project to shake the city’s reputation as a “place to drive by on your way to somewhere else.” A bold project was proposed that included movie theaters, a Trader Joe’s, retail shops, offices and public parking.

The neighbors did not like what they saw. “The proposed project is way too big and completely out of scale with the neighborhood,” some said. “The amount of traffic and congestion is of grave concern to us.” To anyone familiar with recent Culver City land-use politics, this is familiar. The twist is that the project that caused the uproar is not a proposed project but Culver Town Plaza, which has been widely credited with transforming Culver City into what the New York Times calls, “Los Angeles’ newest stylish neighborhood a magnet for lovers of the arts, good food and culture.”

Culver City has approximately 39,000 residents. Every day, approximately 22,000 people drive their cars into Culver City to work. The daytime population is an astonishing 56 percent higher than the nighttime population. The more startling fact is that despite all the excellent, high-paying jobs in Culver City, only 3,415 (17 percent) of the 39,000 residents work in Culver City. This imbalance creates a transient city where people spend much of their day driving somewhere else. It is imperative that new housing be built closer to employment centers to correct this imbalance. Putting people closer to where they work reduces the strain on our infrastructure, cuts down on traffic, curbs gas consumption and improves the environment. Correcting the imbalance of the housing-to-job ratio in Culver City will create a community with a higher quality of life.

The housing imbalance is exacerbated by the myth that there has been overbuilding in Culver City. From 2003 through 2007, permits were pulled for the construction of 79 homes, a good amount of which were built after existing homes were torn down. There have been approximately 50 net new homes added to Culver City over the past five years. This is a net gain of 10 housing units per year or .0013 percent annual growth. The Association of Governments’ Regional Housing Needs Assessment recommends that Culver City add 650 housing units before 2014. This represents 109 new homes per year over the next six years. Given this metric, Culver City is underbuilt by 545 housing units. The notion that Culver City has been overrun with new development in the past few years is a fallacy. In fact, Culver City has been severely underdeveloped and is in need of significantly more housing units to bring its housing-to-job ratio into balance.

Mixed-use momentum

In recent months, City Hall has moved to limit the size and scope of mixed-use development in Culver City. This was a responsible and sensible decision. Now that developers and neighborhood groups understand what the rules of the game are, as dictated by the new zoning code, everyone should be encouraging responsible growth. The primary vehicle for responsible growth in Culver City should be small- to medium-sized mixed-use buildings along commercial boulevards. By encouraging this kind of development, the city will be able to address the acute housing shortages while allowing new residents the ability to live near their jobs. The other important benefit of small and medium mixed-use projects is that they provide commercial uses on the ground floors, which create a tax base for the city, jobs for residents and a livelier streetscape for neighbors.

Culver City has done a tremendous job laying the groundwork for responsible growth. The City Council has paired a significant investment in infrastructure and streetscapes with the passage of a comprehensive mixed-use zoning code. What every responsible party in the city must do now is encourage developers to build new projects within the zoning code and show entrepreneurs that Culver City is a great place to do business. My vision of the city in 10 years is a place where single-family neighborhoods are protected because new housing is built on commercial boulevards. The auto-body repair shops and gas stations on Culver and Washington boulevards will be replaced with environmentally friendly projects that include housing and office uses, above street-level cafes, bookstores and other retail uses.

We all have an opportunity to build upon Culver City’s success. Developers, city government and neighborhood groups should all be working together under the new zoning code to make Culver City a growing, responsible, environmentally friendly city with an improving quality of life.

Joseph Miller is president of Runyon Partners, a real estate investment and development firm. He is building a mixed-use project in downtown Culver City.


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