Steven Gourley, 42, Culver City councilman and former mayor.
Claim to fame: Elected to the council in 1988, he quickly established himself as his city’s leading Los Angeles-basher. Early this year, he attracted widespread attention with a proposal that barricades and military patrols be set up at the Mexican border to halt the flow of illegal immigrants.
Background: Gourley, raised in Westchester, graduated from UCLA with honors in political science. He earned a law degree from UC Berkeley.
A Democrat and slow-growth advocate, Gourley has lived in Culver City for 14 years.
Interviewer: Times staff writer Bernice Hirabayashi.
Q: What do you think are the biggest problems facing Culver City?
A: Traffic, development, crime and money.
Q: What is the problem with traffic?
A: Most of the traffic problems are from Los Angeles development. Culver City could develop every square inch to three times the density it is now and it wouldn’t have one-tenth the effect as Los Angeles has on it.
Q: How does this affect Culver City?
A: The traffic is going to come through Culver City. Residential development impacts us additionally because people need parks. L.A. doesn’t have them. They come to Culver City. Also, Los Angeles causes a tremendous impact upon our police because 80% of the people that we arrest are from outside Culver City--everything from traffic citations to serious violent crime. And that gets back to the issue of money, because close to 60% of our budget is fire and police. No matter how law-abiding our community is, we have to deal with the criminals who come from outside of our community.
Q: What can be done about this?
A: I don’t know. My feeling is Los Angeles is ungovernable. It’s too big. The school district can’t handle the schools, the city can’t handle its city government and the area they police is just far too big to deal with, and too diverse.
Q: Is it your view that many of Los Angeles’ problems stem from illegal immigration? A: One of my favorite topics is illegal immigration, and no one seems to want to do anything about that. According to the L.A. Times, 25% of the (local) jail population is illegal immigrants--and not for being illegal immigrants, but for other types of crime. We have enough trouble with people who were born here committing crimes. Why are we allowing 500,000 people across the border every year?
Q: That’s legally or illegally?
A: Illegally. We’re allowing 700,000 every year legally (nationwide). And of course, many of the 700,000 that are coming in legally, as well as the 500,000 that are coming in illegally, are settling in Southern California. People claim that I’m being racist when I say it, but as a liberal I was always told that lack of education and poverty cause crime. Well, if that’s the case, when you allow 500,000 poor, illiterate people into the country every year, are you not encouraging crime?
Q: But they are not purposely let in.
A: But we’re not doing anything about it.
Q: What more can be done? We have a Border Patrol.
A: The Border Patrol is hopelessly small and underfunded.
Q: Bringing the issue home, how should Culver City deal with all these outsiders?
A: You can’t pull up the drawbridge, unfortunately. The best thing that we can do is continue to keep ourself small and responsive and local and pay attention to our problems.
Q: You stirred up a fuss back in March with some statements about illegal immigration. Would you recap your views?
A: I didn’t think it was controversial until people started coming after me. Think of it in these terms: You know what the state’s budget problem is, you know what the county’s problem is, you know what all the little-city problems are. Well, imagine 10 Culver Cities coming across the border every year. But those are not 10 Culver Cities of plumbers and engineers and doctors and lawyers and college-educated and high school-educated people. Those are 10 Culver Cities coming across the border every year of illiterate people, with large families, with diseases, with social problems, who cannot speak English and who are, to a great extent, unemployable in the United States.
Q: What do you think happens to them?
A: I think they get thrown into ghettos. I think they get exploited. I think that there’s basically a slave trade going on in the United States based on these people.
Q: What kind of slave trade?
A: In agriculture and the garment industry, for example. As long as there’s a constant influx, salaries will always be very, very low and rents will always be very, very high for these people.
Q: So what else were you saying?
A: I’m not saying send anybody back. I’m not saying take anybody’s rights away from them. I’m just saying that as long as they’re on the other side of the border, we don’t have to worry about giving them rights, paying for their benefits or doing anything with them. They’re Mexico’s problem. But Mexico is not going to deal with its problems as long as it can give them to us. We’re the escape valve. When they come over to this side of the border, we pay the freight for them all. I’m saying let’s absorb the people we’ve got here. We’ve got whole generations of people who don’t speak English, who don’t read or write any language, who are wholly illiterate. Let’s absorb them, let’s make them good taxpayers, let’s absorb them into our system.
Q: So what do you think should be done?
A: Two things. One, you do everything you can to close the border, which is to put political pressure and economic pressure on Mexico to close the border. Two, you pass a law saying that if you’re born here illegally to people who are illegal aliens you’re not a citizen and you’re not entitled to the benefits that other people are entitled to here. Can you imagine two people sneaking into Switzerland and having a child and then saying, “Please send us welfare checks every month?” But as soon as a child is born here the parents are entitled to Aid for Families with Dependent Children.
Q: What kind of reaction did you get after making your views public?
A: I’ve gotten overwhelming response in my favor. I’ve gotten maybe three letters against me.
Q: How many for?
A: Probably 150 to 200, from all over the state. Someday I’ll share with you the nasty letter that Congressman Esteban Torres sent me. He compared me to Hitler. I wrote a letter back saying someone has basically sent me a crank letter and signed your name, can you please confirm to me that it was sent from your office. I haven’t heard anything back.
Q: What made you voice your views?
A: I was just telling the truth. I wasn’t playing out any racial disparities. I wasn’t saying somebody’s inferior. I didn’t send anybody back. I just said we can’t absorb the people that we got, we just can’t do it. Our hospitals can’t do it, our jails can’t do it, our social services can’t do it, our parks can’t do it. We can’t handle it anymore, we can’t afford it, we’re falling behind. Let’s do something about it at the source. That I don’t think was controversial. Apparently it was.
Q: Do you have any political goals beyond being councilman for Culver City?
A: I really enjoy politics. I would love to be able to do this at a higher level. But somebody once asked me what would I do if I could do anything in the world--and I’d play center field for the Dodgers. I don’t see any likelihood of that either.
Q: Do you intend to run for another term on the City Council?
A: Yes, definitely.
Q: Let’s talk about a couple of proposed developments in Culver City. First, Columbia Studios’ expansion plans: Do you have any major concerns about that project, maybe about the height of the proposed buildings?
A: The height doesn’t concern me as much as the traffic. I feel that if we had a master plan for the city we wouldn’t need to have height limitations. One of the things that I say about Columbia is, how can we require a master plan for Columbia when we don’t have a master plan for downtown? How can we say it does or does not fit into what we want to do when we still haven’t said what we want to do?
Q: And what about the height limit that voters passed last year?
A: Even though I have my concerns about the 56-foot height limit being too restrictive, my belief is that when the people voted that limitation in, they believed it would apply to the entire city. I’ve told people at Columbia that unless there’s another election that clarifies whether voters want it to apply to redevelopment areas, or the specific approved plan at Columbia, I’m not going to vote for anything above the 56-foot height limit.
Q: Any criticisms of the project?
A: I think the eventual solution is that Columbia will spread out its development throughout the downtown area so that they won’t have to have as many big buildings.
Q: But their current proposal is to have all their buildings in the same location.
A: But that’s the concern. If you keep it on campus, it not only creates the traffic and congestion problem, but it doesn’t provide any renovation for downtown. It doesn’t interact. Those people won’t go to restaurants downtown, they won’t walk and buy things and go to drugstores. They’ll drive in, stay on the campus lot all day and drive home.
Q: About the proposed regional mall, Marina Place: Why does Culver City need another mall? You already have Fox Hills.
A: It’s felt that this mall, in a different area down in the marina, will generate more sales taxes from different people, from the more Westside people, than Fox Hills does. It will also generate an incredible amount of traffic and I voted against it for that reason.
Q: You’ve said that a similar project in Santa Monica is bringing $9 million to that city in park improvement funds and other developer incentives. Where does Culver City stand with the Marina Place developers?
A: When it originally went through, we were just going to get $1 million in traffic impact fees. We turned that around and got about $7.5 million out of the project.
Q: Did you have to sue to get it?
A: No, we were able to negotiate it. Obviously, the developer lied to us when he said there’s no money. I don’t like dealing with liars. They promised us a Macy’s and Nordstrom in that center. If we can’t believe them on the money, how can we believe that we’re not going to end up with a K mart and Mervyn’s?
Q: Culver City schools took some big cuts this year. Is the City Council planning to help?
A: The question is, from where? You’ve seen our budget. We’re already maintaining school grounds by using them as parks. We also pay for the crossing guards for all the schools. We’ve done it for so many years they now think it’s a city responsibility.
Q: Do you support the school parcel tax?
A: Yes. I think it’s important to have independent and good local schools.
Q: Do you think the parcel tax will pass?
A: It depends on who shows up to vote. If people who are activists in the community and who believe in it show up, then we’ll pass it. But if people who basically say, “I’ve gotten mine and I don’t want anybody else to have any more,” and “I can’t afford it,” show up, then it’ll lose. My feeling is that for $100 a year, what are you talking about? Somebody was saying that’s the price of a dress. The trouble is people are willing to buy dresses and they’re willing to buy things, but they’re not willing to invest in education. I think that’s a shame.