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Westwood Neighborhood Council opposes The Agora plans amid building controversy

The Agora is a proposed 16-story housing project on Hilgard Avenue. The Westwood Neighborhood Council voted to maintain its opposition to the project Feb. 13. (Courtesy of Aaron Green)

By Marilyn Chavez-Martinez

February 14, 2019 11:16 pm

The Westwood Neighborhood Council voted to maintain its opposition to a high-rise housing project in Westwood.

The WWNC reviewed its initial vote in January to oppose The Agora, a 16-story housing project on Hilgard Avenue, on Wednesday. Lisa Chapman, council president, said the city attorney recommended the council revote on the housing development in their February meeting due to a complaint from Aaron Green, an Agora spokesperson, regarding possible biases from council members.

Scott Whittle, a neighborhood council member, made a motion to validate the WWNC vote from the January meeting, and Ann Hayman, a member of the Land Use Committee, seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously with one abstention.

The Agora project developers announced plans in November to build a 16-story building on Hilgard Avenue that is to have a total of 231 bedrooms spread over 64 residential units. The developers doubled the number of beds to 462 last month. The project has been met by both support and opposition from different neighborhood councils and community groups.

The WWNC voted in January to request that Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents UCLA and Westwood, oppose the development project and any changes to city guidelines or ordinances that would facilitate the approval of the development project.

Chapman previously said the council would consider repealing its initial opposition to be fair to The Agora developers and give them a chance to respond. The council invited The Agora representatives to present at WWNC’s February meeting, but they did not attend.

According to the agenda for the council’s February board meeting, groups supporting and opposing the project were invited to participate in the discussion. However, only Esther Magna, a proponent for the Save Hilgard Avenue opposition group, attended the meeting.

Chapman voluntarily recused herself prior to council deliberations as per the request of the city attorney and left the room before discussion began.

Chapman said the city attorney asked her and Sandy Brown, council vice president, to recuse themselves from council deliberations to avoid the perception of bias. She added she was unsure of what biases she or Brown may have had.

Green said in a letter to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment he thought Brown was biased because she is a homeowner, and he thinks she had preconceived opinions on the housing project before it was brought before the council. He also thought Chapman was biased because she sent messages to him about the housing project that he thought were threatening.

Chapman said she sent messages to Green, but not on behalf of the council. She added she thought posts made by The Agora on Facebook were based on inaccurate stereotypes of local homeowners. She added she recused herself so that her vote could not potentially be used against her later.

“I recused myself last night for the discussion and vote so that he would not be able to use this as any kind of leverage in the future,” Chapman said about Wednesday’s vote in an email statement. “So last night was a clean vote.”

Brown said the city attorney also asked her to recuse herself, but she did not leave because she did not think it was right to single out Chapman and herself and not other members. Stephen Resnick, council secretary, chaired the discussion in Chapman’s absence.

Magna asked the WWNC to oppose The Agora project because it exceeds both height and density restrictions allocated for the land.

The Agora housing project was also discussed at a Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting Tuesday to discuss its impact on students, where Agora representatives were also present. Magna said she also presented then in opposition of the project.

She said she thinks The Agora representatives were using scare tactics at the USAC meeting to encourage students to support the project.

At the USAC meeting, Green said The Agora is a first step toward addressing student homelessness and asked students to think of it as a precedent for future development projects.

“If this project can’t be built, what student housing can be built in Westwood?” Green said. “If you give into this, if Westwood gives into this, if students give into this, what’s going to change? Westwood is going to continue to die, and future generations of students are going to have it much worse.”

Magna said that she was surprised to hear the different perspectives USAC members brought to the discussion, both for and against the project, but ultimately thought students may be leaning toward supporting The Agora project.

USAC was unable to vote on the development during the meeting because they did not have quorum at the time of the presentations.

USAC is set to vote on The Agora at the Tuesday forum.

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Marilyn Chavez-Martinez | Assistant News editor
Chavez-Martinez is the 2019-2020 Assistant News editor for the Campus Politics beat. She was previously a reporter for the beat. Chavez-Martinez is also a second-year English major.
Chavez-Martinez is the 2019-2020 Assistant News editor for the Campus Politics beat. She was previously a reporter for the beat. Chavez-Martinez is also a second-year English major.
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