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Why the Harvard-Westlake expansion question is unfair to council incumbents

Harvard-Westlake parents and concerned citizens came out in great numbers.
Harvard-Westlake parents and concerned citizens came out in great numbers.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner

One of the most controversial issues facing the community lately is the proposed parking structure and bridge over Coldwater Canyon that Harvard-Westlake School wants to build.

Neighborhood Council meetings had some controversial meetings.
Neighborhood Council meetings had some controversial meetings.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner

Community activists have rallied to try to preserve open spaces and some of them are now trying to be voted onto the Neighborhood Council. They are against the expansion.

Harvard-Westlake parents and families who live in the area are for the proposal, even calling it beautiful and a way to make the roads safer. The wealthy families for the prestigious school are for the expansion.

The problem is that it may be against the Brown Act for members of the SCNC to discuss the issue now that it is pending for a vote. There are reports yet to be filed, there are threats of lawsuits and there are pending matters before the council.

The debate got rather heated at a community forum for the candidates for the upcoming Studio City Neighborhood Council last week. Members of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for the city tried to tamp down questions about the controversial issue that some of the 50 community members brought up, and they tried to keep some of the council candidates from speaking up about their concerns.

“As the Chair of the Bylaws Committee, I know that we should not be giving our opinions about pending votes in a gathering like this (which is not an official board meeting),” said Jane Drucker, an incumbent on the council.

Incumbent Lisa Sarkin added, “There has been an extensive examination of this issue and we have had tremendous community input. It is in their court now.”

An environmental report and impact statement is being reviewed and the council could take action on it soon. A committee offered input into the proposal and Harvard-Westlake could amend or change their plans in the meantime. President of the SCNC John Walker has met with the school officials and walked the premises. Richard Niederberg, a concerned incumbent, has attended all the information sessions and meet-and-greets held by the school.

Incumbent Lana Shackelford said, “There must be a better solution, we need to keep digging deeper.”

Incumbent Scott Ouellette said, “They deserve a chance. Harvard-Westlake is a respected part of our community.”

A few of the candidates were unaware of the Harvard-Westlake issue.

Some of the candidates, like Alex Izbicki, are part of Save Coldwater Canyon, (http://savecoldwatercanyon.com) the group that is fighting the project.

New candidate Richard Adams, who is also strongly against the development, said, “Harvard-Westlake made poor decisions. They need to find something that is mutually acceptable. The plan now is poorly thought out.”

In Studio City, the Neighborhood Council representatives run for a specific seat, like the Renter seat or the Employee seat, and only people qualified to vote in that section of the election are allowed to vote in that category.

Parents of students going to Harvard-Westlake, for example, are allowed to vote in the Service Organization category. There are two seats available in that category, now held by longterm incumbents Remy Kessler and Richard Niederberg. A longtime critic of the council, Richard Adams, is the third person running for one of those seats, hoping to bump out one of the two incumbents. He is running as someone against the project, and an abundance of voters for that category could unseat one of the incumbents.

Izbicki and newcomer Lawrence Beer are running for two seats in the Employee and Independent contractor category that could unseat incumbent Brandon Pender.

If Harvard-Westlake parents who live in the area come out to vote en masse, then there are four incumbents on the four seats for the Residential Homeowners seats being challenged by George Weisenfeld and Seraphine Segal, who is dropping out of the race. John Walker, Lisa Sarkin, Gail Steinberg and Denise Welvang are the incumbents.

The most hotly contested seats are for Residential Renters, where there are seven people running for three seats. The three incumbents are Jane Drucker, Lana Shackelford and Brian Mahoney. The challengers are Howard Gillingham, Steve Vincent, Farid Enrique Ben Amore and Anthony Lopez.

Overall, the makeup of the SCNC can drastically change, but ultimately, it is unfair to base decisions solely on the Harvard-Westlake issue, or perceived future votes of the incumbents now on the council.

See all of the candidate’s statements on the DONE website: empowerla.org/scnc/studio-city-nc-2014-election
The election takes place on Thursday, March 20 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City at 4525 Irvine Ave.