Culver City natives Kim and Jose Garcia lived at 4047 Duquesne Ave. for 19 years until 2013, when a new landlord doubled their rent from $975 to $1,900. Everyone who tried to challenge the landlord at the 12-unit property eventually left to escape the stiff rent hikes.
The Culver City Council has spent millions of dollars on redevelopment, successfully gentrifying the small town and wooing Sony studio workers and other highly paid creatives to live there. Longtime residents, many working-class, are being driven out. Culver City Vice Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells says, "Little by little, you're losing the soul through these insane increases in rent."
So tenant-activist Shireen Daytona has launched a rent-control movement, setting up the potential for a political showdown:
Daytona has submitted to the City Council a 500-signature petition supporting rent control and has launched an online petition at her website, www.culvercityrentcontrol.com. But according to Daytona, landlords dominate politics in Culver City, which is 45 percent renters.
Last summer, Daytona and Kim Garcia asked the City Council to help their tightly knit, 12-unit village of modest cottages. Mayor Jeffrey Cooper referred them to the city's Landlord Tenant Mediation Board.
That board - dominated by people in the financial and real estate industries - granted the Garcias and their 4-year-old child 60 more days renting at their original rate of $975. But the other tenants were discouraged, Kim Garcia says. Daytona explains, "We tried the mediation, it didn't work. ... It didn't do anything because everyone had to leave."
Garcia's own mother, who also lived on the property, moved far north to Paso Robles; one disabled tenant died during the controversy; and a third elderly woman left behind all her belongings to move to her brother's home in Chicago.
"The trouble is the laws are behind the landlords, and that limits the effectiveness of the [city's] Landlord Tenant Mediation Board," Daytona says. "The landlords know what the laws are and that they don't have to pay" for tenant relocation.
And yet, Vice Mayor Sahli-Wells says, "I'm not seeing huge support from my [City Council] colleagues" to institute tougher landlord rules or renters' protections, "which underlines the importance of a real movement from the community to make sure it stays front and center."
But Jose Garcia isn't sure that anything can be changed, saying, "I love Culver City - it's turning into a yuppie town. What can you do? The rich are moving in."
Under California law, landlords must give tenants a 30-day notice for rent increases of 10 percent or below, and a 60-day notice for rent increases of more than 10 percent.
Last June, when Kim Garcia and Daytona brought their concerns to the Culver City Council, Garcia explained, "Our community is filled with many senior citizens on fixed incomes that have received increases of over 100 percent. In this community we are far behind providing ample housing for seniors and low- to moderate-income members of our community who have been here for many, many, many years."
She said a rent-control movement in Culver City is "long overdue - this should have been discussed 15 years ago."
Culver City Mayor Jeffrey Cooper was not immediately available for comment, but we'll add his views if we hear from him. Vice Mayor Sahli-Wells says, "Not only is it imperative to have a vote on this, but before that we need to have a discussion."
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She notes, "When I moved here in 1984, it was a very different city. It was an affordable city. ... It was that affordability that allowed my mom to buy this home where I'm living in Culver City. What's happened is, through the redevelopment and the success of the downtown, we've become more high-end and we're losing that economic diversity."
"That, in my mind, is very important to our health as a city, to our history, and obviously you want the people who are teaching your kids or working in the offices here or in the studios to be able to afford to live in this city," Sahli-Wells said.
"On the other hand, it seems like we're on this cusp where you have these mom-and-pop owners of these older apartment buildings and that's their income, that's their savings, but then you have these companies, these larger companies that see Culver City as this desirable investment."