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Opinion: North Westwood Neighborhood Council probation hinders community representation

The NWWNC has been placed on a three-month probationary period which harms the involvement of UCLA students and neighborhood stakeholders in their local politics.

By Andrew Raychawdhuri

Nov. 15, 2021 2:54 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 17 at 10:31 p.m.

Something is rotten in Westwood Village.

According to the city of Los Angeles, at least.

On Oct. 7, the North Westwood Neighborhood Council was placed in Exhaustive Efforts for three months by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, an unelected body entrusted with promoting civic engagement by supporting the neighborhood councils throughout LA.

Since then, all NWWNC committee meetings have been suspended, and the neighborhood empowerment office has been in charge of setting the council’s agenda and organizing training for board members. Exhaustive Efforts is the first step in decertifying a neighborhood council, which would mean the council would no longer exist.

This decision by the city of LA is a highly disproportionate response to the NWWNC’s failure to comply with an agenda-posting policy by not directly posting its agenda on its website. This decision harms students and Westwood community stakeholders by effectively stripping them of their representation to the LA City government for the foreseeable future.

And, contrary to the stated goals of the neighborhood empowerment office, this decision hurts local politics and makes a mockery of the system by dictating such a harsh punishment for a minor infraction.

The NWWNC serves as a critical outlet for students and stakeholders in Westwood to make sure their voices are heard throughout LA. However, this probationary period all but permanently abolishes that outlet.

“Essentially our entire function is voting on things and then getting them implemented. We are not allowed to do any of that, nothing,” said Furkan Yalcin, the president of the NWWNC. “So as far as serving the needs of students, or business owners, or unhoused members of the community, or workers, or anybody who’s a part of an organization in North Westwood, they have no representation right now. They’re not being represented by anybody at the local level.”

This punishment certainly does not fit the crime.

It is unfair and undemocratic. While the NWWNC is in a probationary period, students have no council to advocate on their behalf and prioritize issues that affect their daily lives.

“I think there are a lot of crises that are impacting students, and renters, and business owners, and community organizations in the village,” said Evan Farrar, a fourth-year public affairs student and an organizational stakeholder on the NWWNC. “We are still facing a lot of the problems that we were facing pre-pandemic, and coming out of the pandemic, they have gotten worse.”

It’s a shame that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment seems so focused on punishing the council for minor rule violations that they are willing to suspend the consequential work of the NWWNC.

Last year, the NWWNC authorized an emergency fund to distribute supplies to people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, the council worked to implement a four-way stop sign that would make pedestrians feel safer and recommended altering zoning regulations to reduce barriers for businesses to set up in Westwood Village.

An agenda-posting violation does not come close to being severe enough to sacrifice this important work for three months.

Sachi Cooper, an undergraduate representative and co-chair of the planning and land use committee on the NWWNC, said this action was the most extreme measure, aside from decertification, that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment could take against the council.

“It was definitely really unexpected for us – it’s definitely not something that people are used to seeing happen. But on the other hand, I think agenda posting issues are very, very common,” said Cooper, who is a fourth-year geography student.

A stated goal of the Exhaustive Efforts period is to “promote public participation in City governance by developing and initiating a comprehensive community outreach program.”

However, suspending the NWWNC will do the complete opposite by demonstrating to students and others that local government is hindered by bureaucratic nonsense, contrary to the interests of the general public.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment insists that NWWNC members will still be working to serve their neighborhood.

But it’s hard to see how the council can do that when unelected bureaucrats have suspended committee activities and barred the council from making its voice heard through Community Impact Statements that serve as official statements from the council on issues in LA.

After this probationary period finishes, students will likely disengage from a system that only seems interested in punitive measures rather than helping serve the people that councils are elected to represent.

However, the NWWNC is not free from blame in this situation.

It certainly has some work to do to improve its conduct and ensure it is following guidelines. Westwood Neighborhood Council President Lisa Chapman has said previously that the NWWNC had consistently violated agenda-posting policy for a few years and that this action doesn’t allow stakeholders to participate.

However, being placed on probationary status will allow fewer stakeholders to participate than an agenda-posting violation would.

None of the recent actions of the NWWNC warrant such a harsh response. This attempt at remediation will do much more harm than good for the Westwood community.

Let’s be clear: The only thing rotten in Westwood is the unjust treatment of a democratically elected council.

And for the next three months, Bruins will have to deal with the consequences.

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Andrew Raychawdhuri | Opinion columnist
Raychawdhuri is an Opinion columnist.
Raychawdhuri is an Opinion columnist.
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