The Virtual Shovel
by Nathan Walpow
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It’s September 16, 2010. A community meeting at which Los Angeles Housing Partnership proposes an affordable housing development in Culver City. Thirty-three apartments, plus a ground floor for business. Underground plus street level parking, lots of greenery, lots of effort to fit into the neighborhood. But the neighborhood doesn’t want the project In Their Back Yard. Because those people would live in it. Plus the traffic is bad and the parking is lousy and there’s a mosque a couple of blocks away that has the chutzpah to have their services on Friday, which is street cleaning day. Little of which has anything to do with Tilden Terrace, as the thing is to be called, but so what? It’s democracy in action, and it’s educational and entertaining. I write a letter of support and I meet with the people from LAHP.
October 4. There’s a Culver City city council meeting called for 7 pm. It commences at 7:39, shortly before the natives revolt. The Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation; I’m all church-and-statey until the invocation turns out to be an ancient Chinese poem. I’m set to see a lineup of anti people, but they don’t show. I speak in favor, like a golem at first, then loosening up: logical but passionate. They move on to other things. I sit through an hour or so before ODing on democracy and slipping out.
October 7: An Advisory Committee on Redevelopment meeting, where we hear about Culver City’s miserable record on affordable housing. Like one development since 1980, and it’s only for old people. LAHP does its dog and pony again, and the committee acts receptive. There’s public comment. A lot of “wrong project for that spot” talk, as if there were anything they’d accept as the right project for that spot. But already the edge is off the complaints. Realistic expectations are going to be met and unrealistic ones will be recognized as such.
architect rendering of Tilden Terrace
October 13: Second community meeting. I have been rope-a-doped. There’s a mass of antis over on one side of the room, grumbly yet vociferous. They’ve formed a community association. Because they’re so concerned about their community. (If they’re so concerned about their community, why didn’t they form an association before?) A city councilmember chats them up. Highlights:
- A tedious presentation by the traffic department. I learn that a speed hump is longer than a speed bump.
- The city councilmember, citing executive privilege, asks his questions first. Stuff he’d already know if he’d been at the first meeting.
- A woman asks the antis, “So if we solve the traffic and the parking, you’re for this?” “No.” “Why not?” “33 units.” All the moaning about traffic is a smokescreen.
- Another woman tries to speak in favor. The city councilmember shuts her down, saying the meeting is for those with concerns to talk with the developers, et al. Not for fellow citizens to try to share views with them.
- An anti tells us she’s been in social work for 20 years. And that she pays a high rent to live in low density. She doesn’t want to live near the people she does social work with. Those people.
- At the end, I am in a knot of people explaining to the councilmember how democracy works. The social worker appears and congratulates him on shutting that other woman up. I engage her in conversation. Said conversation turns rancorous. Democracy in action.
November 19: LA Housing Partnership runs a tour of two of their properties, a senior project in the Rampart District and a general population one in Hollywood. Several TT supporters show up, along with one barely anti woman and two councilmembers. Both buildings are lovely. Each has a charming resident manager. There’s a sense of community at the senior development. Residents hanging out with each other, drinking coffee and playing games. In Hollywood, there’s an Armenian wedding going on in one of the units.
December 13: Meeting of Culver City’s redevelopment agency meeting. Concurrent with city council meeting; all members wear both hats. Tilden Terrace is on the agenda. Several (including me) speak in favor. A couple against, but halfheartedly. The council votes to sign an exclusive negotiation agreement with LAHP.
January 13, 2011: Third community meeting, billed as a design workshop. Attendance way down. Based on community input, things have changed some. Bigger setbacks. Commercial space down from 13,000 square feet to 10,700. I spot a couple of the loudest antis in cordial conversation with LAHP people. It appears detente has been reached. Issues addressed and funds promised and street sweeping studied. Tilden Terrace starts to feel like a done deal.
March 2: Fourth and final community meeting. Eleven people show up.
March 3: Culver City Planning Commission meeting. The culmination of 16 months of negotiations and outreach. The commissioners hear neighbors who had written vehement protest letters declare that their issues are being addressed. It’s clear that Tilden Terrace will receive unanimous approval. Yeah. Done deal.
January 10, 2011: California Governor Jerry Brown announces his budget. Among the cuts: funding to redevelopment agencies is cut off. If the ceremonial shovel hasn’t been stuck in the ground, you’re screwed. Tilden Terrace depends on funding from Culver City’s redevelopment agency. Without that funding, the project dies.
March 8: I sit in as two representatives of Los Angeles Housing Partnership meet with a rep of state assembly member Holly Mitchell, in whose district Tilden Terrace lies. There’s a movement afoot in Sacramento to allow projects that are essentially approved, but not up to shovel stage, to get their redevelopment money. Mitchell knows about this, and seems supportive, but we’re there to ask her to fight for it. We make our case. Mitchell’s rep, a former nonprofit housing guy, gets it and will update Mitchell.
It’s not enough. We need your voice. Send an e-mail to Assembly Member Mitchell’s field office. Say that you want to see Tilden Terrace happen and ask that she support distribution of redevelopment funds for projects approved in spirit. Tell all your friends to do the same. Do it soon. Do it today. The budget vote is imminent, and if the virtual shovel isn’t approved, then on March 21, when the Culver City city council votes final approval for Tilden Terrace, completing the city’s baby step toward affordable housing for everyone, it’ll be an empty victory.