North Westwood Neighborhood Council experiences issues with probation restrictions
North Westwood Neighborhood Council members voiced their concerns over ongoing probationary restrictions placed on their council. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
By Justin Jung
Nov. 6, 2021 4:19 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 11 at 2:39 p.m.
North Westwood Neighborhood Council members are raising concerns over restrictions placed on the neighborhood council by the city of Los Angeles.
On Oct. 7, the NWWNC was placed in a probationary status, Exhaustive Efforts, by the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for noncompliance with an agenda-posting policy.
During the tentative three-month Exhaustive Efforts period, the neighborhood council’s meetings will be controlled by an LA city representative, and all committee meetings will be suspended.
NWWNC President Furkan Yalcin said the Exhaustive Efforts process is too restrictive and it prevents the council from advocating for its constituents, including UCLA students and Westwood residents.
Since the council cannot set its own agendas, it is unable to allocate money toward community projects through neighborhood purpose grants and make its voice heard through Community Impact Statements, said Yalcin, an at-large stakeholder. Community Impact Statements are resolutions adopted by neighborhood councils, advising the LA City Council on policy.
The Budget and Finance Committee typically oversees neighborhood purpose grants, but since all committees are suspended, this has brought uncertainty to many ongoing projects pending grant funding, said Nuha Khalfay, the co-chair of the budget committee.
Because of Exhaustive Efforts, the council formed an ad hoc committee Monday at its special board meeting to develop a budget plan for allocating the remaining $42,000 of its fiscal year budget.
Mario Hernandez, the neighborhood empowerment advocate overseeing the NWWNC, confirmed at the Monday special board meeting that the council would not be allowed to discuss Community Impact Statements.
Ann-Marie Holman, a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that the department suspended committee activities to expedite addressing Exhaustive Efforts. “In order to make this focused period of work as short as possible, the Department has suspended all committee activities until further notice,” Holman said. “However, NWWNC members will still be actively working to serve their neighborhood during this time, by meeting work plan goals such as developing an inclusive community outreach program and an NWWNC Strategic Plan for the current fiscal year.”
Yalcin and Andrew Lewis, the NWWNC vice president, said the council would have discussed passing a Community Impact Statement on a recent City Council motion banning homeless encampments in Westwood Park. However, the council was prevented from discussing the topic at the last board meeting because of Exhaustive Efforts, they said.
In addition to stopping Community Impact Statements, the probation has paused discussion on adding a pedestrian crosswalk at the intersection of Hilgard Avenue and Manning Drive, Yalcin said. Community members had previously raised safety concerns regarding the lack of a crossing there, Yalcin added.
The suspension of all NWWNC committee meetings has also halted previously ongoing community projects, several NWWNC members said.
Khalfay, who is also the co-chair of the Homelessness and Community Health Committee, said the committee had previously been working on several initiatives prior to Exhaustive Efforts that are now suspended.
“The committee was just really a wonderful space for a lot of different partners to come together, share their work and get connected to one another,” said Khalfay, an at-large stakeholder and medical student. “Not having that space to build those connections is definitely harmful for the community, and especially for Westwood residents who we are trying to serve (and) who are some of the most vulnerable.”
Sachi Cooper, the co-chair of the Planning and Land Use Committee, said the committee’s suspension has caused issues for business developers and owners seeking approval for zoning and business permits.
Zoning regulations in Westwood require developers to receive conditional use permits, such as for selling alcohol and many other kinds of businesses, and they all go through the Planning and Land Use Committee.
At least one pending conditional use permit has been delayed because of Exhaustive Efforts, Cooper said, adding that the restrictions have resulted in miscommunications with the developer.
The council requested to discuss the conditional use permit at the Monday special board meeting since it was not able to do so in committee, said Cooper, an undergraduate student member and fourth-year geography student. However, the council was not allowed to do so, Cooper added.
Yalcin and other council members said their main priority for the next several weeks will be to comply with all Exhaustive Efforts requirements as quickly as possible to resume normal operations. The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment tentatively set the probationary period to three months while reserving the right to change the period.
“We expect that North Westwood Neighborhood Council will benefit from this period, and that their accomplishments during this time will increase their capacity to serve the Bruin community and build active participation from Bruins and other stakeholders,” Holman said. “We understand the frustration, but we expect that this time spent on reflection and restructuring will soon be followed by intensive activity from a Neighborhood Council fully dedicated to their community.”