Ballot Breaker: Andrew Lewis - Westwood's Son Gives Voice to His Hometown
Andrew Lewis is a born and bred Westwood boy. He was born at UCLA Medical, raised in Westwood, attended UCLA and now is President of the UCLA Mixed Alumni Association. Yet even as a Westwood boy through and through, Andrew Lewis never saw himself represented on his neighborhood council. He sought to change that. Andrew did just put himself on the ballot, he made a whole new ballot. Learn more about Andrew Lewis, one of the inaugural members of the new Northwest Westwood Neighborhood Council.
So let's start with a basic one. What exactly is a neighborhood council?
Neighborhood councils are the most hyper-local government structure in the city of LA. Currently, there's 99, we were the 98th. Since us, there was another neighborhood council that sprung up. Neighborhood councils represent individual neighborhoods across LA. and they make decisions that impact their areas. They cover everything the full city council covers, including housing, transportation issues, local businesses development and just any neighborhood concern. Neighborhood councils then send recommendations up to their city council member.
So when do I come to my neighborhood council as opposed my city or state legislature?
I always recommend keeping things as local as possible. That’s where the most impact is going to be, and that's where issues are going to be heard first and taken the most seriously. All neighborhood councils have monthly open meetings where you can speak during public comments. So if you have an issue or concern, you speak on those issues that are affecting you and your community and address it directly.
You’re a member of the inaugural Northwest Westwood Neighborhood Council, which used to be part of the Westwood Neighborhood Council. How did this new council come to be and what was the catalyst for its creation?
There still is a Westwood Neighborhood Council that's been around for a couple decades, and it’s largely made up of the local homeowners associations in Holmby Hills and Bel Air while Westwood Village is predominately students who are renters. For a while students had tried to get themselves onto that council - myself included to be completely honest - but I never stood a chance.
The current president of the Graduate Students Association, Michael Skiles is the the founder and the brainchild behind the whole operation. He realized that there was a way to subdivide out from an existing neighborhood council through a community vote. It was a long complicated process - you have to petition, get signatures, bring it to the city, then hold a community vote.
We were able to do all that and we had the vote on campus, which was a big victory in our efforts. For the first time it allowed students to vote and participate in the neighborhood council process. Historically, the council has had their polling location about two miles off campus. So it prevented students from being able to get there and being able to participate. So getting it on campus was a big way of getting that whole process started.
How challenging did you find that process and how did you first get involved?
Michael Skiles, who's currently the president of the Northwest Westwood Neighborhood Council, a few grad students, a couple undergrads, community members and myself came together about a year ago and really started to think about what a neighborhood council would look like and how it would work.
We had multiple town halls. We got students involved. There was a ton of outreach. It was about a year in the making, holding town halls because you have to get community input to see if this is something they actually want.
A large part of it really was preparing the community and asking, “This is something we want to do. Are you on board with it?” We just got a lot of support from the students, from UCLA, and renters in the area.
I think everyone should run.
When did the light bulb go off? When did you realize you wanted to run for office?
I was under the impression that you had to have all this formal training, you had to do these fancy internships at the mayor's office, you needed this ideal resume, and then you are somehow magically qualified to run for office. Only then would people trust you enough to vote for you. And since then, I don't believe that shit at all. I think everyone should run.
While doing outreach during your campaign, what issues did you learn people were most passionate about and invested in?
The housing market in Westwood Village is one of the most expensive in the state of California in terms of pricing. It's absurdly expensive. What I pay rent here, I could get probably a three story house in Iowa, with a backyard, agriculture. I would have land and animals. But in Westwood, I get half an apartment
The rent is absurdly high and there's a shortage of housing stock. But the demand is huge, because we have students that are coming in from around the world and university housing is only guaranteed for a year or two on campus. After that, you're pretty much you're on your own. You have to a lot of students that have to commute because they're priced out of living in Westwood. To be honest, the affordability of housing was really the impetus that pushed this forward.,
You know, the YIMBYism is something that shared among students. But it's completely cut off when you get to the homeowners in the area that have pretty much denied any new housing development for the past 25 years.
You mentioned that you didn’t feel represented on the original Westwood City Council. Do you feel like your council’s make-up adequately represents the demographics in your new district?
Oh, absolutely. I’m so happy with with our council’s makeup. I'd say socio-economically, gender equity, and age wise, everything across the board, I think we're one of the most diverse, if not the most diverse council out there. We have true 20 year-old junior UCLA students who are council members deciding major transportation projects, major housing projects on. We're mostly renters, we have a couple homeowners, we have business owners, we have transportation advocates, we have a member from the Westwood Neighborhood Council, who is also on our council at the same time. It's a much better representation of who's actually living in the village, who actually attends UCLA, the makeup of the area. We're a big step in the right direction.
Let’s talk about your connection to this area. You’re a Bruin all the way through. What keeps you tied to the area?
I was born in this neighborhood council district, and I'm not the only one. We have other council members that were born in the council district and still live here. My mom moved from Lima, Peru, she moved to Westwood and when she was pregnant with me, the closest hospital was UCLA Medical Center. I was born on campus and it's somewhere that I’ve pretty much grown up my whole life. I've watched it change, I've gone to UCLA and just like anyone else’s, “hometown”, it's weird to say, but this is like my hometown. This is where I've gone shopping and grown up skateboarding. I have a very personal connection to it more than just the university itself. And so to me, everything I'm doing now has a very personal attributes to it as well.
What best prepared you for this role?
On my neighborhood council I have the most traditional political background, having worked for the city and a bunch of political campaigns throughout my career. But I would say that's not necessary in terms of being a good council member and being a good representative of your community. Even on our neighborhood council, some of the most engaged folks who are doing the most on the council, are really just super invested in their community. People just need to have a deep authentic concern for their neighborhood.
It doesn't really require any formal training. You get that from the city once you're elected. You literally go through the same training process that the mayor and city council gets. But what makes someone a good representative for their communities is just getting out there, talking to people that knows what's going on, about what the real day to day concerns of folks living in the area. That makes someone a good neighborhood council member or even a good member of Congress.
Not all members of the council have such long roots in the community, you also have two current students at UCLA serving on the council. But while Westwood does cater towards a student population, it is a transient population. Most students will only live in the area for around 4 years. How do you foster ongoing sustainable engagement with the community with a population that regularly turns over?
We are a unique neighborhood council as we are dominated by the university that is the central point of our council district. Yes, students are coming in and coming out there. It is cyclical, but our terms are two years. So we can have student come on as a freshman and could ideally complete two terms as a council member. We really go out of our way to be accessible to students. We hold council meetings on campus at Ackerman Union, which is unheard of. And I don't know of other universities that have done that. But we do that because we want students are coming back from class that you can come to your neighborhood council meeting on campus and give public comment. We have potential community improvement projects that students can work on, and we encourage students to come to our committee meetings.
Also stakeholdership is not just who lives in the area. It also include the business owners who work in the neighborhood, and people who work in the district. We also have long term residents. We just had transportation committee in the GSA offices and former Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis attended and gave public comment. He a resident of 25 years in the village and gave public comment to a room full of students and our committee members. That encapsulated what we're about and what we're trying to do which is connect the dots and be truly be inclusive. We want to give a voice to the the folks that were left out of this whole process for so long.
What have you done on the council that has made you the proudest?
It may sound like a small thing, and I didn't know was even a thing until we passed it, but there was a literally a ban on dancing at Rocco's Tavern after 10:30pm. It was written into the Westwood specific plan that there's no dancing exactly after a certain time. Even for 1950, isn't that a bit stringent? It's an enclosed private space and they were telling students they couldn't dance.
But anyways, we were able to recommend a lifting of the ban to our city councilmember. For me, that was kind of symbolic of what we hope to do. Pushing Westwood in the direction we want and to our campaign slogan, bring Westwood forward. Going forward we want to make it more student focused. And something like that is a kind of a victory in my mind. These are tangible little steps, and they may seem kind of silly but to me it’s those things that we are going to keep working on and improving.
How do we get more young people civically engaged?
I mean, historically, voting in our nation is something that's actively being suppressed today. I'll keep it real. Voting is not easy. In theory it's simple, but getting the time off to do it, especially if you're a student, and and the polling station is two miles away and you don't have a car, don't have Uber, or you don't have the money to get there - it's tough.
We have to address the issue of making voting easier, whether it's making it a national holiday, bringing polling locations to where the students are so that they can take six minutes off on their way to class to go vote and continue their day. They don't have to take an entire day to do it is something that needs to be addressed.
What advice would you give to someone considering a run for office? How will they know when the light bulb has gone off?
Just do it. If you have the passion and you have the drive, there's no manuscript, there's no “ready to be a member of congress”, “ready to be a neighborhood council member” stamp. I think if you feel deeply enough about it, that is the light bulb.
UCLA will be hosting the athletes village for the 2026 Olympics. How has the Westwood community reacted to that announcement, positively or negatively? How do you think your council needs to help prepare for it?
The Westwood Community is thrilled and Excited that Westwood Village will be the Atheletes Home for the '26 Olympics. This will be bring a Global Spotlight on the Village (once again, as we did for the '84 Summer Olympics). We are excited to have the Metro Purple Line extension (from Downtown-Santa Monica) with a Westwood stop completed by then, as well as a potential Lightrail line from the San Fernando Valley to LAX with a Stop at UCLA. We believe having the
Olympics hosted in the Village will bring a considerable amount of new economic activity to the Village, as well as a chance to globally showcase the improvements to Los Angeles and Westwood.