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Westwood students, community leaders vote to create new neighborhood council after heated debate

Westwood students, community leaders vote to create new neighborhood council after heated debate
Westwood students and community leaders voted this week to create a new neighborhood council for Westwood in effort to recapture it's glory days. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/2008)

Student and community leaders voted this week to create a second neighborhood council for Westwood, the neighborhood around UCLA, promising to support revitalized nightlife and housing development and to be more inclusive to students and renters.

More than 2,000 students, residents, business owners and employees voted in favor of creating the North Westwood Neighborhood Council. A group of student leaders, known as Westwood Forward, was among the principal backers of the new council. A total of 3,521 people voted in Tuesday’s election. Results were announced Friday.

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The North Westwood Neighborhood Council will oversee UCLA and Westwood village, the area’s primary business community. It will also advise the Los Angeles City Council on decisions pertaining to Westwood, along with the existing Westwood Neighborhood Council.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic that for the first time in many years, perhaps the first time ever, there was a free and open election,” said Michael Skiles, UCLA’s graduate student association president and a Westwood Forward group leader. “Above all, it’s about those segments of the community — the younger, the less permanently present, the less affluent segments of the community that usually have very little voice in local decision making — having come together.”

Skiles’ group first submitted its application with the city in December to carve out a new neighborhood council district out of the existing council’s boundaries. Since then, the student leaders and members of the existing neighborhood council have been involved in a contentious debate about whether forming another council would bring Westwood, once a vibrant destination with restaurants, bars and live entertainment, out of its decades-long slumber.

Westwood Forward accused the existing council of making it difficult for new businesses to establish themselves in Westwood Village and add nightlife options. Group leaders also said the existing council disenfranchised students when it held elections.

Lisa Chapman, president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, denied those accusations. “They’ve created another level of bureaucracy for Westwood, which is pretty sad,” she said of the election outcome.

Chapman said she will be filing a petition with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to claim shared jurisdiction over the historic village.

In the next month, there will be a hearing by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners to certify the new council and approve the proposed boundaries and bylaws.

Skiles said the new council would then immediately have jurisdiction over the North Westwood area. But he said Westwood Forward would probably hold off on an election to select council members until early October, when students return from summer vacation. He said he expects the new council to hold its first meeting later that month.

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