Saturday, November 16

Submission: Westwood Forward is a misinformed threat to experienced leadership

In early November, a student-led group called Westwood Forward announced it was attempting to create a new neighborhood council in Westwood. Some of the group’s claims against the Westwood Neighborhood Council – Westwood’s existing neighborhood council – are patently false or greatly exaggerated.

The opinions expressed here are my own. Our council has not had an opportunity to voice its stance on this issue.

I love Westwood Village. I have lived here for 30 years and have worked at UCLA for almost 32 years. My kids were raised in Westwood. I dine, shop and hang out here. My husband owns a business in the Village. I remember what the Village once was and believe it can be an amazing place again.

It is fantastic that students wish to create a neighborhood council that represents UCLA’s campus and the North Village area. Having an independent neighborhood council would give them the autonomy they seek.

However, the coalition’s students are inexperienced and misinformed, and have little idea of how the city of Los Angeles actually works.

What Westwood Forward proposes is a form of gerrymandering. The group aims to carve out an entire section of Westwood to suit its singular needs, and has made a blatant attempt to stifle and disenfranchise whole sections of the neighborhood. It aims to exclude the WWNC from its existing boundaries, including Westwood Village, half of the families in Westwood and half of the Persian business community.

These students are attempting to silence the WWNC’s voice and render it powerless, despite it being a dedicated board of volunteers that has worked diligently to make Westwood a better place. The students have talked of their principles of inclusion, and yet their boundaries are anything but inclusive.

Everyone wants affordable housing in Westwood. And more affordable housing should be built. But neighborhood councils do not create affordable housing. All they can do is encourage affordable housing. I have heard repeatedly from students how the WWNC does not support more student housing at UCLA. Nothing could be more false. We support every single bed UCLA proposes in its long-term housing plan. The council only feels it is better to move some of those beds to other identified sites, as UCLA’s proposed 20-story residential hall on Le Conte Avenue sits in front of both a busy traffic intersection and the emergency route to Westwood’s level I trauma center.

Westwood Forward also likes to talk about variances, or granting exceptions to city codes. Neighborhood councils do not have the power to change or approve variances. Westwood follows city codes, and project approvals come from the city and its planning department.

The WWNC’s position on Rocco’s Tavern has also been misconstrued countless times. We fully supported Rocco’s coming into the Village. Rocco’s asked for a large garage door with a retractable window facing Gayley Avenue. But the Gayley Terrace Apartments’ managers filed an appeal with the Westwood Community Design Review Board and the Area Planning Commission against such a door because of the potential noise issues coming from a loud sports bar with a large, open window close by. The commission ultimately did not approve the Rocco’s Tavern’s window because of the design and potential noise levels.

And there is the urban myth that there is a prohibition of nightlife in Westwood, including dancing and live music. While the WWNC’s sample alcohol permit conditions may make it seem like the council is against entertainment, many on the council support a more active nightlife in the Village and look forward to those types of businesses. The fact remains that anyone can request permission to provide entertainment services in the Village – they just need to apply for the proper permits.

Westwood Forward also likes to claim the WWNC made derogatory comments about the D1 Cafe owner’s English-speaking skills when he applied for an alcohol permit. Though some in our council have expressed personal opinions on the matter, we never officially referred to the owner’s lack of English skills. In fact, his own representative was the one who brought up his language difficulties in trying to explain why he refused to comply with the city’s orders.

Westwood Forward is built on the argument that the WWNC marginalizes students in its elections. But the WWNC has 19 seats, and students can run for 18 of those. The council currently includes three UCLA students and at least six UCLA alumni. Many students just don’t run for council seats, even with outreach via social media, the Daily Bruin and students themselves.

While an online voting model seems viable, the WWNC has not opted to use one because the process has not been fully vetted. The Los Angeles City Council has a moratorium on online voting for this reason. If the process is proven to be safe and accurate, we would reconsider.

I don’t know how the property owners, the Westwood Village Improvement Association and the merchants will vote on Westwood Forward’s proposed neighborhood division. It’s hard to believe in any scenario they would consider an ever-changing group of students better than the WWNC.

I want the Village to be competitive with other areas, and I care deeply about its success. However, this can only happen with consistent, trusted and experienced leadership. The WWNC provides those qualities.

Chapman is the president of the WWNC.

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  • Alex

    Really. Come on Lisa. I think the cat is out of the bag.

    • Lisa Chapman

      What does that even mean? Is that your argument? LOL

      • Alex

        Just tired of my company named being used in lies.

        So when the owner of Rocco’s Tavern, not Josh.
        Leo Amari who founded the company which started in 2000 reached out to you to sit and discuss neighborhood concerns you replied yes?

        Or would you like to tell me your reply? Or paste the email thread?

        Alex, cofounder Rocco’s Tavern

        • Lisa Chapman

          Alex, you definitely DO NOT want me to post email trails with Rocco’s, you or Josh, or Leo. That would make things much worse for you all. You were denied by the DRB and Planning because you were directly adjacent a large apartment complex. They complained, those entities agreed. Fact.

          • Alex

            Thank you for now again using your power to threaten my business on a public forum.

            “That would make things much worse for us all”

            Only confirms what people have been saying about the neighborhood council.

            Being in business almost 20 years in LA, I have never been threatened like this by you, Steve Sanns (“your not opening in my village”) and others from your side.
            This is like “The Wild Westwood Village”. Bonkers.

            Enjoy the holidays.

          • Lisa Chapman

            Alex…you started this thread. I am not threatening you, in fact no one is threatening you. You were the one that brought up emails. You were attempting to threaten me. But I have all those emails and I have absolutely nothing to hide. The Neighborhood Council has done nothing to you, or your business. The Neighborhood Council has to listen to ALL it’s constituents, just like the DRB and the Planning Commission. They decided against your open window due to the noise and adjacent neighbors. Your business is up and running, so what is the complaint here? Steve Sann is the chair of the community council, he is not a part of the Neighborhood Council, not does he ever speak for us. Whatever transpired between you and Steve has nothing to do with us. You are placing blame with us rather than the DRB and area planning commission because you think we are an easier target. You really should understand the facts. We wish Rocco’s well. Our council goes to Rocco’s and supports it. I think you are creating drama where there is none. Not sure why you are so angry.

          • Alex

            Hi Lisa,
            Fact, i didn’t start this thread. You publicly posted your Opinion.
            I honestly only replied to your opinion on a public forum because you mentioned my company. Pretty simple, don’t speak of my company and i won’t have to defend it.
            You keep asking me to understand the facts? We the owners of Rocco’s Tavern requested a meeting with you personally in July 2016.
            You denied that meeting. That is fact.
            I really wish this conversation could of happened like we requested back in July of 2016. But for some reason you never granted us the opportunity.
            Maybe one day we can all sit down and laugh abut this.
            Have a nice Holiday Season.

          • Lisa Chapman

            My opinion piece mentions your company because I am referencing false statements made by Westwood Forward in the WWNC’s dealings with your company when you first came to Westwood. Since the WWNC was being blamed, I merely pointed out that WE were not the ones who made the decision for your company not being granted the retractable window. My first email from Leo was on 7/28/2016, and by that time it had already been decided by both the DRB, planning, etc that Rocco’s would have to only have a fixed window, not a retractable window.They were forced to take the retractable window equipment down. Meeting at that point was unnecessary, and I can’t meet with someone without the rest of the council anyway. At that point,everything had been decided upon by other entities. The time to have had that very important conversation was when your company and Josh were working your way through the planning process. You or Leo did not come to us then. As I continue to have to state (for some reason), we have no ill will against Rocco’s Tavern in any way.

  • Taylor Fife

    Thanks for this piece, Lisa! It’s interesting to hear your opinion on all this.

    A few questions though:
    -I’m wondering if you could clarify what you mean when you say that the WWNC supports “every single bed UCLA proposes” but that they feel “it is better to move some of those beds to other identified sites.” The chancellor has stated that constraints on the other sites make moving beds to those places impossible. Do you think that he is wrong or lying? Do you have some alternate proposals that explain exactly how they should move those 200 beds to other sites?
    -I’d appreciate some clarification on your statement that WWNC supports more student housing. The only data point I have is that the WWNC wants less student housing than the university has proposed. Is there other information that I’m missing? In what ways does the WWNC plan to encourage more student housing? In particular, I’m curious about how the WWNC plans to encourage more housing in and near Westwood Village, where students are particularly keen on living due to proximity to commerce and entertainment.
    -Similar to the above, you say that all that neighborhood councils can do is encourage more affordable housing. Again, the only data point I have is the WWNC fighting for *less* affordable housing. I’d love to hear how the WWNC has been encouraging more affordable housing in the area and any accomplishments that the WWNC has made. If there are no accomplishments to speak of, I’d at least like to hear what plan you have.
    -Finally, I’d appreciate it if you could explain your line of thought when you say that the council opposes the proposed 20-story building on Le Conte because of the busy intersection and the nearby trauma center. I immediately assume that adding more beds to that area would dramatically *improve* traffic and congestion in the area. I’m curious how you seem to have arrived at a different conclusion. I’ll explain my thinking: If more students live close to campus and close to businesses, then there will be reduced traffic because students will now walk or bicycle to their destinations. If students live further from campus and Westwood Village, they’ll be forced to drive to school, and they’ll very likely take Gayley, Le Conte, and other nearby roads to get there. Just so you understand where I’m coming from, I’m a student at Anderson, and most of my classmates drive to campus. Anecdotally, my understanding of my classmates’ situation is that they would prefer to live within walking distance of campus, but cannot because of a lack of housing in the area. Since the university proposes no parking for the building other than what is required by law (in my limited understanding, this is just parking for the handicapped), it seems like more residential living at this intersection would be a dramatically positive thing for traffic congestion in the area.

    I’d love to hear a response to these questions when you have time! Like I said, I’m a student at Anderson, and I live in the North Village close to Westwood Village. Since moving to the area, I’ve been extremely disappointed in the lack of cultural amenities like bars, nightclubs, and good restaurants in Westwood Village. I’m also shocked at the lack of dense housing near the UCLA campus, which forces many thousands of people to commute to the area by car.

    If the WWNC is committed to fixing these issues, then great, I support you! But I’d like to see some evidence that you are committed to these things, and I would expect some accomplishments so that I can see that you’re an effective organization. My understanding of Westwood Forward’s argument is that the WWNC is not committed to residential densification nor improved amenities. If Westwood Forward is correct, then there’s no way I can support the status quo. If Westwood Forward is wrong, then please give us evidence!