Last quarter, my colleague Zev Hurwitz argued persuasively for UCLA’s Jewish community to renew its commitment to social justice. Soon, Jewish Bruins will have an opportunity to do just that by voting for the formation of a new North Westwood Neighborhood Council on May 22.
Though the failings of the Westwood Neighborhood Council (WWNC) are many, its greatest sin is neither the imposition of arbitrary conditions on Westwood businesses nor its opposition to nightlife. The WWNC is unfit to represent UCLA because it is an organization that represents privileged homeowners at the expense of students. Though UCLA is saddled year after year with larger admit quotas, Westwood rents are rising and have become unaffordable for many. Homelessness is already such an issue that students have organized their own homeless shelters. The WWNC has repeatedly and disingenuously stood in the way of housing development by both the university and private developers. The WWNC is beholden to the interests of wealthy homeowners (the median home price in Westwood is $1.2 million) and prioritizes neighborhood aesthetics over beds and roofs. When our current neighborhood council stands in the way of housing development to preserve homeowners’ views of the Fox Theater and Santa Monica Mountains in the midst of a housing crisis, it is clearly not acting in the best interests of students.
There is, in fact, relevant precedent in the Jewish philosophical tradition, according to Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir. Though legal restrictions on land use and open space are established as legitimate in Numbers 35, the Mishnah (Oral Torah) establishes that such regulations must be for the “common benefit” of “joint owners.” Westwood’s restrictive zoning laws disadvantage students — whom the WWNC refuse to recognize as legitimate stakeholders — and fail to meet this standard.
So why should UCLA’s Jews vote for secession from the Westwood Neighborhood Council and form a new North Westwood Neighborhood Council? To be sure, we would all benefit from lower rents and a livelier Westwood Village. But we should not consider this vote simply from a place of self-interest.
Jewish Bruins should vote to move Westwood forward in adherence to tikkun olam, the imperative to perform mitzvot and better the world within our community.
Jewish Bruins should vote in honor of the Jewish people’s historical commitment to social justice and in recognition of the unjust behavior of the Westwood Neighborhood Council which privileges the aesthetic concerns of a wealthy few over the basic needs of many.
Jewish Bruins should vote with knowledge that, as a group that enjoys relative socioeconomic privilege, we have a moral duty — tzedakah (obligation to justice) — to support those who would be most vulnerable to housing insecurity and homelessness.
We should vote from a place of l’vadah ul’shamrah — stewardship of the Earth — to do that which is within our power to build environmentally-friendly high-density housing, shorten students’ commutes and lessen their carbon footprints.
We should vote to reaffirm our central role in campus advocacy at a time when it is easier to disengage and remain silent. We should vote to remind our politically-minded peers that, despite our disagreements, there is much we have in common, and the politically efficacious choice is not to push us out of advocacy circles but to welcome us in.
Westwood Forward is about a struggle for representation and social justice in our own community. I encourage the UCLA Jewish community all to vote yes, either by mail or at the John Wooden Center on May 22.