FINDING COMMON GROUND

Westlake seeks sister city


 

 

For many who grew up attending Southern California schools, Spanish was the standard foreign language class. But as business, cultural and technological relationships grow, Mandarin Chinese is a now a highly popular option.

In the same way that students are seeing a future in learning Mandarin, the City of Westlake Village is exploring the benefits of finding common ground with the people from the People’s Republic.

Last week, the Westlake Economic Development Committee voted in favor of developing a sister-city relationship with the Chinese city of Neijiang in the country’s Sichuan province.

The idea will be pursued by the City Council at an upcoming meeting—and with the relationship between the U.S. and communist Asia on the mend following President Trump’s meeting this week with the leader of North Korea, the timing couldn’t be better.

City Manager Ray Taylor said having a sister city in China could benefit Westlake Village in many ways.

“There could be both educational and cultural exchanges between the two areas. There could even be exchanges in terms of economic development, with global companies here or with companies from China wishing to do business in this region,” Taylor said. “I think the sky’s the limit. The first step in the process, I think, is for the two cities to sort of say, ‘yeah, let’s look at this,’ and then I think it can evolve over time.”

Taylor said former Westlake Village Mayor Bob Slavin has visited Neijiang several times in the last year and developed connections with the city’s government, which is the basis of the potential sister-city relationship.

If the council votes in favor of pursuing the relationship, Taylor said, it would need to extend a formal declaration to Neijiang expressing its desire to become sister cities. If the Neijiang city government expresses a similar interest, the cities can work together to define what the relationship would entail.

“We may find out in the not-too-distant future whether or not Neijiang is interested in a relationship with our city,” Taylor said. “They’re two different cities, for sure. We’re very small. Neijiang is about half a million in population, but it’s a high-tech city. As many cities in China, particularly over the last couple of decades, especially over the last decade, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. It’s a very cosmopolitan city, as I understand it.”

City Councilmember Susan McSweeney said Westlake has been interested in forming a relationship with a foreign city for many years but circumstances never allowed the project to move forward. She pursued a sister-city relationship with one in France 10 years ago, but nothing came of it.

“Their city (government) was so different. It was like every four months they vote them out, so it was hard to (arrange),” McSweeney said. “They had elections so quickly that talking to the mayor was like, ‘well yeah, that’s a great idea but I may be out in 60 days.’ It’s always been in the back of our minds that we’d like to do this.”

Local entities are an influence on the process as well.

McSweeney said that Oaks Christian School’s planned dormitories could benefit from Westlake having a sister city in China.

“We were involved in approving the dorm and found out they were building it because it was hard for (their) Chinese students to live with American families, so now they’re going to be all together in a dorm, so this all came together,” McSweeney said. “There just seems to be a lot of opportunity, particularly if you get a city that’s interested. If you get along it’s like anything else. If you have a relationship, you never really know where that can go.”