It may be difficult for UCLA students to serve a full term on the Westwood Neighborhood Council after its next election in 2018.
The council voted eight to seven to extend its two-year terms on council to four years at its Wednesday meeting. Vice President Sandy Brown proposed the change because it would reduce election costs and make the council more consistent. However, dissenting council members fear it could disenfranchise student representatives, who represent student interests in council motions and discussions.
Student representatives Angus Beverly and Trent Jolly said they were concerned the change will discourage students from running for council seats. Beverly said he thinks it is hard for students to serve a four-year term because they usually join the council in their second or third years of college and graduate by their fourth year.
“I just think four years definitely excludes students,” Jolly said. “They would have to know the spring of senior year (of high school) to run for the election for the next four years.”
Prospective council members, including students, currently run every two years. Students may run for at large seats, renter seats or designated student seats on the council.
If students or other council members resign before the end of their term, the council fills their vacancies through a special selection process. There are currently two renter seats open, because recent UCLA alumni Eugene Tseng and Ian Cocroft resigned in September and October. The council will select two residents or students to fill the vacancies at its January 2017 meeting.
After council members resign, the council selects a replacement from a pool of applicants that deliver speeches at a council meeting. The council appointed Beverly using this method in 2012, and he won subsequent re-elections in 2014 and 2016.
He said the change will not affect students’ ability to serve on the council but will create fewer opportunities for students to run. He said he thinks students do not have the voter base to win an election in their first year.
“For any election, you need a pool of people who can get out the vote to win,” he said.
Students would have to run for council in their first year in order to serve a full term, but first-year students are generally unaware of the council, he added.
President Lisa Chapman initially said she would be in favor of the extension but voted against it after acknowledging Westwood’s large student population.
“If you change this to a four-year term, perception is going to be that you are disenfranchising the community,” Chapman said. “I think that’s probably not a good thing for us to do.”
Proponents of the change argued the extension would cut back on election costs and give the council a sense of stability.
Brown said the council pays rent for polling places and staff, which cost $3,500 for this year’s election.
Costs would be reduced by half if elections were held every four years and the council would direct the money it saved every two years to neighborhood service grants, she added.
Outreach chair David Lorango said he thinks the term extension would add legitimacy to the neighborhood council in the eyes of the Los Angeles City Council.
“If they know we are just going to keep churning people out every two years, they’re not going to feel like we … have a strong voice,” he said. “We need to have … consistency so … (they) realize we are not going away. We need our demands to be met.”
The two-year term is unique to Westwood. Other Los Angeles neighborhood councils, including those of Bel Air and Beverly Hills, have four-year terms, Brown said. She added she agreed the term extension would make the council more consistent.
“You want to try to put your principles and issues in place on a more permanent basis,” she said.
Brown said the council would not implement the change until the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment approves it. The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment provides operational resources and legislative power to the city’s neighborhood councils. Current council members should be able to finish their two-year terms, Brown added. In the meantime, the council will fill its two vacancies to serve out the rest of the current two-year period.
“(Students) should start getting involved, getting contacts, and I would like to see smart, dedicated kids who want to make a difference in Westwood,” Beverly said.
The council announced the vacancies for the two renter seats on their website Oct. 31. Those interested, including students, should notify President Lisa Chapman via email by Jan. 3. Applicants will present their campaigns at the Jan. 11 meeting.