Sunday, May 24

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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