By Ruby Bolaria
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
How would you use $100,000 to shape the future of Los Angeles?
My LA2050 challenged Angelenos to submit their most innovative and creative ways to tackle Los Angeles’ biggest problems and gave 10 winners $100,000 to make it happen. An impressive number of UCLA Luskin alumni made the list.
UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumni winners included Maria Cabildo, president of East LA Community Corporation (ELACC); Rudy Espinoza, executive director at Leadership for Urban Renewal Now (LURN); Vikram Jadhav, board member for LURN and an economic development professional; and Sandra McNeill, executive director at T.R.U.S.T South LA.
Cabildo graduated from UCLA Luskin with an Urban Planning degree in 1993 and started developing ELACC while she was working on her master's. The organization officially launched in 1995 with a commitment to thinking about affordable housing as part of a more comprehensive neighborhood strategy. Cabildo said "community organizing and development is critical to ELACC’s efforts, which is unusual for an affordable housing development organization that usually focuses on its tenants only. The community organizing really helps set the tone for the entire organization.”
Building her native East LA community in a meaningful way — engaging leaders and empowering community members to participate with the planning department on land use topics — was imperative to Cabildo and the other founders of ELACC.
Growing community capacity also means focusing on attracting investment and building capital within the community without displacing existing residents. Community members themselves helped decide ways to do this, giving rise to ELACC's street vending campaign.
ELACC members and leaders decided that street vending was an important community issue that demanded attention. Street vending in Los Angeles does not have formal regulations and is largely considered illegal. Vendors can be subject to heavy fines or jail time, or to having their business — and livelihood — confiscated.
“People said they were tired of seeing their neighbors being harassed by police – these people are not criminals but are treated like them," Cabildo said. "So we started working on street vending which has become a huge issue now with much greater visibility.”
LURN partnered with ELACC on the street vendor issue which fit well with their mission to build community capital through advocacy, innovative community development strategies and advisory services for change agents.
Espinoza helped start LURN as a voluntary project in 2009 and recently quit his job at a consulting firm to lead LURN full time.
“I found I was looking forward to my LURN meetings more than anything else and just had to go for it,” he said.
LURN came into being when 30 professionals of various backgrounds — activists, architects, planners, educators and politicos — came together to discuss their work. From the original group of 30 a core group of 10 members created LURN in 2009.
“LURN is essentially a laboratory where people who think differently are able to come together to design innovative processes to change the way the city works and improve the quality of life for people," Espinoza said. "The common denominator is that these people care about making things work.”
Jadhav was attracted to LURN for its ability to build the next generation of leaders and social entrepreneurs.
“LURN promotes economic development through the lens of social entrepreneurship, innovating and bringing growth without displacing residents,” Jadhav said.
This is particularly important in communities with little resources and access to leadership, said Jadhav. As a first generation American, Jadhav said his community was on the outside with little resources or access to opportunity. “There was a lot of intelligence and potential there, but people didn’t have the access to move forward. I was lucky to have parents that pushed me towards college which opened a lot of doors for me,” he said.
All the UCLA Luskin alumni attributed their success to tools and networks developed at UCLA. Both Espinoza and Jadhav mentioned multiple leadership meetings that had at least a few other Bruins at the table.
“The leadership community network for UCLA alumni is amazing," Jadhav said. "As a UCLA alumnus you get tied into that community and benefit from it personally and professionally."
“UCLA changed my life, perhaps in an indirect way," Espinoza said. "My cohorts were very special and everyone was extremely talented. I came in with a lot of passion and UCLA taught me how to refine my passion and find a constructive way to make change happen."
Cabildo transferred from MIT to UCLA for a more bottom-up approach to planning. She notes students should never be afraid of creating their own thing if they don’t find their fit.
“Create the time to do the thing that will feed your soul," she said. "Work needs to be fulfilling, and oftentimes you need to create that for yourself. You can’t wait for opportunities to happen to you. Be aggressive and go for what you want.”