Higher housing prices have Culver City anticipating downsides of growth

By Gary Walker

Culver City’s newfound success as a magnet for tech companies and as a destination for arts and entertainment has prompted city leaders to consider the downsides that often accompany growth: soaring real estate prices, lack of affordable housing, increasing density and snarled traffic. In other words, some people are excluded, while those able to remain often face new pressures and challenges.

And so as Culver City officials begin the process of updating the city’s general plan — the overarching framework that guides local decisions about growth and development — they also turn to questions of equity.

Last month the city hosted a public discussion of social equity and growth led by economic and environmental justice expert Dr. Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology and American studies at USC. Citing societal trends toward greater income and educational inequalities, Pastor told an audience of about 75 at La Ballona Elementary School that cities absolutely must take housing costs into consideration when making future planning decisions.

“Los Angeles is now the seventh most unaffordable rental market in the country relative to people’s income. There’s disparity by race, and that burden is particularly sharp here in Culver City, where your household prices and rents have doubled the county’s average,” Pastor said.

Previously, Culver City’s average income was about 33% higher than Los Angeles County.

“Now it’s about 45% to 50% higher,” he said. “So Culver City has become a more exclusive place over time.”

Pastor believes Metro’s new investment in portions of South Los Angeles, including the Crenshaw/LAX Green Line extension, is likely to lead to rising home prices there. He also expects that trend to continue northward along connected light rail stations from Inglewood up into Culver City.

“The gentrification pressures you think you’re facing now are going to be much worse because [light rail is] opening up South Los Angeles,” he said.

Racial disparities in education are among the most important injustices that cities should consider in their planning, Pastor said. Nationally, “Two-thirds of Latino children attend ‘high-poverty’ schools, 55% of black kids attend high-poverty schools, and only about 10% of white kids go to high-poverty-schools,” he noted.

Art Namora, who works for an inclusive pedagogy committee at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, acknowledged that the roots of racism in American “run very deep” and agrees with Pastor that equity should be considered in future city planning.

“The question is how we remedy the inequities that we have. It’s going to take a massive reeducation effort where people can find a little bit of hope,” said Namora, a Culver City resident.

“It seems like those who ‘have’ might have to give a little bit — or maybe a lot — and those who don’t somehow have to take that opportunity and not squander it.”

Residents of the hilltop neighborhood of Fox Hills are worried that future planners might not include equitable proposals in the city’s general plan. The Fox Hills Alliance currently objects to city plans for a 712-unit mixed-use development in Fox Hills, advocating instead for new affordable housing to be built elsewhere on city-owned land.

“If Culver City really means they are a ‘city for everyone,’ then every neighborhood should share the burden and responsibility of affordable housing and not just the overpopulated communities like Fox Hills; quite simply it is not fair,” wrote Fox Hills Alliance President Deborah Wallace in an email. “We are only a mere square mile in size, yet we have nearly 3,000 units of housing and nearly 6,000 residents —making us the densest area of Culver City.”

Pastor pointed out that conversations about inequality will not be easy.

“There will be challenges and conflict along the way,” he warned. “But that’s just part of the process. We often forget that conflict is part of our process toward conciliation.”