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UCLA students want to start their own neighborhood council

UCLA students are organizing to create a Westwood neighborhood council of their own after disputes with the current council over housing development and building design.
UCLA students are organizing to create a Westwood neighborhood council of their own after disputes with the current council over housing development and building design.
Photo by Chris Radcliff via Flickr Creative Commons

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A group led by UCLA students wants to create a new neighborhood council for Westwood, saying the existing council does a poor job of representing their interests, especially when it comes to housing.

UCLA's 45,000 students make up the bulk of Westwood’s population. But Michael Skiles, a philosophy graduate student helping to lead the new group Westwood Forward, said student voices are marginalized by the current council.

Neighborhood councils don’t make planning decisions for the city, but Skiles said the Westwood group's opposition to more density has stymied residential development in the past.

"UCLA is a very expensive area, and now you’ve got students cramming into apartment units because there’s just no affordable housing anywhere near here," Skiles said. 

The typical one-bedroom in Westwood rents for about $2,600. Skiles said those who can't afford the high rents end up commuting from such places as Palms and Culver City.

Lisa Chapman, president of the Westwood council, responded by email: “We have never opposed more student housing at UCLA, not once.”

Chapman added members recently opposed a housing project she described as "a monstrous 20-story building on an incredibly vulnerable, dense, and busy corner of Westwood." She said the council asked that the housing be built elsewhere on campus.  

UCLA students and council leadership have also butted heads over how the council treats Westwood businesses. Skiles said the council is too stringent and "nit-picky" about design criteria that local alcohol-serving establishments must meet. Chapman said the council has to consider constituents other than the businesses, including residents living nearby. 

Grayce Liu, general manager of the city department governing Los Angeles’ 97 neighborhood councils, said if the students get their application in on time, a vote to create a new council could take place next spring.  

Liu said the city has been piloting online voting for its neighborhood councils, and that an online vote could be conducted for a new Westwood council. 

Skiles said online voting would almost assure passage of their proposal because UCLA students already have high participation rates in online voting for student government elections.