In case the Westwood Neighborhood Council hasn’t realized, students represent a major stakeholding group in Westwood. But, instead of encouraging their involvement in the neighborhood, the council is trying to exclude them from the decision-making process.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, the council voted 8-7 to increase council members’ terms from two years to four years. However, the council needs to reconsider its decision and stick firmly to the two-year terms because a four-year term is a move against students.
The city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment will have to approve the change before it goes into effect, but four-year terms are the norm in many neighborhood councils, such as Bel Air’s and Beverly Crest’s, so there is nothing to suggest the department will veto the change.
According to Sandy Brown, the council’s vice president, longer term periods are necessary for the council to have more clout at the Los Angeles City Council. Council members in support of the change also argue that extending term limits will reduce election costs, and that the extra money can be redirected to neighborhood service grants – ultimately benefiting Westwood and the council.
These are understandable concerns, but the term change will make it much more difficult for students to have a voice in the council. Four years is an eternity in the life of a college student, and the change will prioritize the interests of homeowners and long-term residents who could feasibly stay in Westwood for the entire term. As a result, students elected to the council will likely resign in middle of their term, as they may graduate before it ends, which has already happened before. And in the case of a vacancy, the council directly appoints new members without any voter input.
On the other hand, the current two-year terms give more room for students to engage in the council – which is essential to the neighborhood’s function. As such, the council ought to reconsider its decision and place the interests of the Westwood community above the desire for political convenience. After all, it’s not a neighborhood council if half the neighborhood can’t get involved.
First-year students could theoretically serve the entire four-year term on the council throughout their college careers if they applied as incoming freshmen. However, few incoming UCLA students really understand the role of the council and how its decisions can affect students’ Westwood community members’ lives.
Third- and fourth-year students, who have had a significantly greater exposure to the Westwood community, are more likely to take part in the council – something the council members themselves acknowledge. Yet the term change ultimately discourages these upperclassmen from running for the council, since they would not be able to serve the full term unless they decide to live in Westwood after graduation.
While students’ residence in the neighborhood may be more temporary than others’, shutting them out goes against the principles the Westwood Neighborhood Council was founded on: giving members of the community a voice.
As such, two-year terms are the way to go. Four years is asking for too much.