The future of Westwood Village is now in students’ hands.
Students from UCLA’s Graduate Students Association and Undergraduate Students Association Council announced Wednesday night they are in the process of creating a new neighborhood council aimed at better meeting students’, UCLA’s and other Westwood stakeholders’ needs. The existing Westwood Neighborhood Council, which is primarily composed of homeowners and renters, makes recommendations to Los Angeles officials about decisions regarding Westwood.
This is an extraordinary turn of events. The initiative is led by student leaders such as Michael Skiles, GSA president, and Chloe Pan, USAC external vice president, and some homeowners and UCLA faculty. Under the proposal, the North Westwood Neighborhood Council, not the WWNC, would represent the North Village and greater Westwood Village.
In other words, the proposal usurps the WWNC by taking away a good chunk of its area and stakeholders.
And it’s a detailed proposal at that. The cohort of students and faculty has already drafted a set of bylaws, covering everything from the composition of the new council to the procedural rules it plans to use in council meetings. Notable among the new measures are the inclusion of two council positions to represent business stakeholders and the addition of a general resident stakeholder position on the council. The latter would allow members of the Westwood community – be they homeless, renters or subletters – to serve on the council.
These measures would allow the proposed council to do what the WWNC has not: revitalize Westwood. The existing council has stifled development in the Village for far too long, be that in suffocating businesses trying to offer entertainment in the neighborhood or opposing the construction of new housing units because the view of the Santa Monica mountains would be blocked. This kind of insular thinking has turned Westwood into the ghost town it is, and students and business owners have increasingly turned away from the area because its neighborhood leaders have insisted on sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring constituents’ needs.
The proposed neighborhood council offers a change to this, though. Students and other community members have until mid-December to sign a petition that would allow stakeholders to vote next year on the creation of the new council. Westwood deserves to be reclaimed by its majority constituency, and we shouldn’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass by.
Of course, creating a new neighborhood council may not seem all that important to Bruins. Students hardly care about UCLA student government matters, let alone the WWNC, which holds its meetings nearly a mile away from campus.
But almost all community members have had to tread through the failures of the WWNC in one way or another. The Village has a disappointing nightlife that consists of little more than two bars and a couple of small-scale movie theaters. And Westwood also suffers from stale businesses that either fail to grab interest or vacate the Village after a short amount of time. Sure, not all of this can be attributed to the WWNC, but the council no doubt has contributed to Westwood’s decaying college town vibe.
Just look at how the WWNC has advised the city about granting alcohol permits to local businesses. The council requires alcohol permit applicants meet 32 sample conditions, which include no dancing and limited sale of alcohol after midnight – a wholesale restriction on the college party scene.
The WWNC also obstructs general business and housing development in the Village. In 2015, the WWNC opposed the City of Los Angeles allowing Nushii, a sushi wrap business on Broxton Avenue, to convert the venue from a restaurant-style space to a fast-food joint. And earlier this year, the WWNC did not support the construction of a 10-unit apartment building on Landfair Avenue because it thought the building’s color and style was incompatible with the rest of the street’s buildings, prioritizing aesthetic over the need for additional housing in Westwood.
To make matters worse, the council has made it a point to maintain the stagnant status quo. Community members have repeatedly called for the WWNC to implement online voting measures in its elections, which students typically don’t participate in because the elections tend to fall during spring quarter final exams, but members of the WWNC have insisted against such a voting system, despite 36 other neighborhood councils in Los Angeles using online voting in the 2016 elections.
This is where the North Westwood Neighborhood Council comes in.
The proposed council is designed as a far more inclusive space than the WWNC, allotting council seats not only to homeowners and renters, but also to students, faculty, university staff and administrators and business owners.
Skiles, who helped draft the proposed council’s bylaws, said the North Westwood Neighborhood Council would work to bring in nightlife ventures and new businesses to the Village, sometimes by granting variances, or exceptions, to building codes such as those stipulated by the Westwood Village Specific Plan, to businesses if they stand to help revitalize Westwood and meet stakeholders’ needs – something the WWNC doesn’t readily do.
And unlike the WWNC, where many members are able to seek re-election year after year – and few outsiders try their luck at the council – because the council’s bylaws don’t stipulate term limits, the new council specifies term limits that afford constituents the chance to remove board members should they not properly represent constituents. The new council also states in its bylaws that it will offer online voting to constituents when possible to make the voting process more accessible to stakeholders.
Westwood stakeholders are clearly being given a better deal with the proposed neighborhood council. And students need to support that future by signing the petition to put the new neighborhood council on a ballot next year.
This isn’t to say the WWNC hasn’t tried to be more inclusive of students’ and other stakeholders’ needs. The WWNC created a student advisory committee in July that allows students not elected to the council to serve. But council members already made clear which constituents they really care for. For example, most council members decided a 20-story university housing development that would offer affordable housing for students wasn’t to their liking because it didn’t fit the Village’s aesthetic, and the council refused to support an online voting system that would allow students to better participate in neighborhood council elections.
Council members can certainly argue the WWNC is just an advisory board that doesn’t have real power – and that students’ grievances are just a byproduct of them not understanding what the WWNC does. But the truth is the city does listen to the neighborhood council, and the council does have the power to shape the Westwood landscape. Westwood just hasn’t seen notable change because the WWNC has made a point of blockading it.
The North Westwood Neighborhood Council, however, promises to reverse that.
Maybe then, we can finally begin revitalizing Westwood.