Face to Face With Would-Be Presidents

A large UCLA Luskin contingent came face to face with a field of Democratic presidential candidates at a town hall in downtown Los Angeles that focused on LGBTQ rights. Students, faculty and staff from the School were among 160 UCLA guests invited by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, sponsors of the “Power of Our Pride” event broadcast live by CNN on Thursday, Oct. 10. Public affairs pre-major Ayse Seker was one of several students and staff selected to pose questions to the candidates. “How would you address the at times juxtaposing issues of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights?” Seker asked of candidate Cory Booker. Citing his own faith, Booker replied that he could not allow religion to be used as a justification for discrimination. Other staff and students invited to address the candidates included undergraduate Brandon Broukhim, public policy graduate student Tamera Hyatte and Kevin Medina, experiential learning advisor for the undergraduate program in public affairs. Candidates present at the forum included former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, investor and activist Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The town hall, held on the eve of National Coming Out Day, marked the first time a major cable news network aired a presidential event devoted to issues of importance to the LGBTQ community.


 

Kaplan on Infrastructure for Suicide Prevention

In a Santa Monica Daily Press article, professor of social welfare Mark Kaplan discussed strategies for suicide prevention. Since September 2018, five people have taken or attempted to take their own lives in parking structures in downtown Santa Monica. Experts have found that barriers, cameras and signage can serve as prevention measures in parking structures. “It’s often an impulsive act, and there’s research showing that people think twice if there’s a barrier,” Kaplan explained. “That doesn’t mean people won’t go elsewhere or take their own lives some other way, but you can at least erect barriers that reduce the possibility of this happening again.” Those struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or chat online.


Social Workers Key to New Era of Juvenile Justice, Abrams Says

Professor of social welfare Laura Abrams was featured in a Social Work Today article about the role of social work in the U.S. juvenile justice system. Over the last half-century, the U.S. has favored a system of punishment that made it easier for juveniles to be treated as adults. But Abrams sees a new era unfolding with a wave of 21st century reforms that prioritize the protection of children’s rights and support for youth and families. “Social workers should care about juvenile justice reform because we need to restore our rightful place with youth who have been in contact with the law,” she said. She encouraged social workers to stay informed about the issues, become aware of local initiatives and connect with advocacy groups to advance the cause of juvenile justice reform. “We can’t consider [reform] done, even though a lot of progress has been made,” Abrams said.


Manville on Benefits of Congestion Pricing

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, was featured in a Sierra Club article about the prospect of congestion pricing in major U.S. cities. Earlier this year, paralyzing traffic delays in New York City prompted the state to approve a plan to implement congestion pricing by 2021, and Los Angeles recently approved a two-year study to investigate the feasibility of the traffic-management strategy. By charging people to drive on traffic-clogged roads, congestion pricing encourages people to drive at different times, carpool or take public transit, all while reducing carbon emissions and raising revenue for transportation projects. Manville explained that congestion pricing is “the only thing that has ever been demonstrated to reduce [congestion]. So either we can do this or everyone has to stop complaining.” Manville reiterated his support for congestion pricing as one of the most viable solutions to traffic gridlock in a Shift article.


Public Policy Hosts Weekend of Learning and Service

About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.

View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.

PPIA Public Service Weekend


 

Turner Tracks Effectiveness of ‘Cool Pavement’ Technology

A CityLab story on the city of Los Angeles’ efforts to pursue “cool pavement” technologies to address rising urban temperatures featured the research of V. Kelly Turner, assistant professor of urban planning. While other cool pavement studies have measured surface and air temperature, Turner’s research is the first to focus on “mean radiant temperature,” which is most related to thermal comfort. Turner and Ariane Middel, assistant professor of arts media and engineering at Arizona State University, studied unshaded streets in Pacoima and Sun Valley that had been coated with an asphalt mixture called CoolSeal, which reflects, rather than absorbs, the energy from sunlight. They measured air temperature, wind speed, humidity and radiation from morning to sundown, and their preliminary findings will soon be published by the American Meteorological Society. The project is one part of a greater effort to collect data on the effectiveness of strategies to address so-called urban heat islands.


 

Image of mini-mall in Southern California

Mini-Mall Model Troublesome, Yaroslavsky Says

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to Curbed LA about the development of mini-malls in Southern California. Yaroslasvky said that mini-malls were popular with the public but not so popular from a planning standpoint. “I viewed the new mini-mall model as troublesome,” he said, noting that mini-malls broke up the pedestrian character of streets by providing parking in front of the businesses. Yaroslavsky said Proposition U, a 1986 initiative he sponsored when he served on the Los Angeles City Council, limited commercial development but was not in response to the reemergence of mini-malls. Rather, it was in response to massive buildings. “People were fed up with the changing scale of new buildings in commercial zones adjacent to residential neighborhoods,” he said.


 

A Wealth of Knowledge About Debt In a new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, Hannah Appel will focus on the future of finance in an era of mass household indebtedness

By Les Dunseith

There are at least 13,500,000,000,000 reasons why people should care about the expertise of Hannah Appel and what she will be bringing to her new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

That eye-popping number represents $13.5 trillion — the Federal Reserve’s current estimate of consumer debt (which Appel prefers to call “household debt”) in the United States.

Ananya Roy, director of the institute, says Appel’s scholarship and her participation in organized efforts to combat predatory financial practices make her an ideal fit for a leadership role at the institute, which promotes a unique pairing of research and critical thought with social movements and activism in its efforts to combat societal inequalities.

“Hannah Appel is one of those rare academics whose scholarship has had a direct impact on the urgent social justice issues of the day,” said Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA. “We expect that she will greatly expand the impact of the institute on one of the key structural processes of inequality in the United States: crushing debt and predatory financialization.”

Financialization, which relates to a “growing scale and profitability of the finance sector at the expense of the rest of the economy,” according to Forbes, will be a primary focus for Appel as she oversees one of the four research streams heralded by the institute — “Debt and Predatory Financialization.”


‘You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have.’
—Hannah Appel, assistant professor of anthropology and global studies

One of her first goals? Rethink the name.

“I feel like debt is something that people feel trapped in — in a kind of permanent way. ‘I’m in it and I can never get out of it,’” Appel said.

By changing the terminology — the working title is the “Future of Finance” — she hopes to redirect conversations toward solutions; specifically, to look at the power that debt can wield if leveraged collectively. “You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have,” Appel said.

Although Roy and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy she founded in 2015-16 are based at UCLA Luskin, the mission has always been cross-departmental. Appel is an assistant professor of anthropology and global studies in the UCLA College and co-founder of the Debt Collective, an activist group that organizes debtors’ unions.

As she was finishing her doctorate in anthropology from Stanford during the Great Recession, Appel landed a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York City that happened to coincide with the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement there.

She soon found herself amid a collection of like-minded activists and intellectuals who were troubled by the fact that so many people wound up losing their homes as a result of greed and risky financial decisions made by wealthy investment interests.

“Why is it that this kind of drama on Wall Street is dispossessing people of their homes or knocking people out of their jobs?” Appel recalls thinking at the time. “People used to phrase it about 10 years ago as the relationship between Wall Street and Main Street. And I was very compelled by that question.”

The search for an answer relates directly to Appel’s involvement in social movements — and the promise of her role at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Viewed in isolation, she says, household debt may seem like a personal problem. But in aggregate — remember that $13.5 trillion? — such debt is potentially a new form of collective financial power.

Appel studies and teaches on the daily life of capitalism, from transnational corporations and the private sector in Africa to the relationship between financialization and household debt in the United States, where household indebtedness has become increasingly systemic during the last 30 years.

The astronomical rise in student debt is certainly part of that. “But there are people indebted for their own incarceration and having to pay legal fines and fees,” Appel said. “And then, of course, there is scale. It scales to municipal debt — where our cities are indebted and can no longer afford to fix streets or fund public schools.”

At the heart of Appel’s scholarship are people in crisis.

She cites an all-too-common example of a person saddled with student debt and household debt who then gets cancer and discovers that health insurance doesn’t fully pay for chemotherapy.

“If they can manage to pay for the chemo and still make the mortgage payments, of course they’re not going to pay their student loan, right?” Appel said. “So, there are ways that these forms of debt are always intersecting and can never be understood separately.”

Regarding student debt, she is encouraged that “transformative policy proposals are on the table” in the current presidential campaign. “Certainly, it’s the first time in my lifetime that there are two articulated proposals to discharge all $1.6 trillion in student debt,” Appel said, noting that other policy proposals would eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges like the University of California system.

Even if such sweeping policy changes never come to pass, however, Appel is certain that solutions to predatory financial practices can be achieved. It’s an optimism that is based on her own experience.

Appel’s involvement in Occupy Wall Street and her ongoing research related to the anthropology of capitalism led her to help found the Debt Collective. It’s an approach that borrows from workers’ unions by bringing together people with shared leverage over the financial system.

“If one of the very simple lessons of a union is that there’s power in numbers, then what would collective action under finance capitalism look like? Thinking analogously to workers’ unions, then the answer is debtors’ unions,” Appel said.

Soon after it started, the Debt Collective found success by uniting former Corinthian College students who were saddled with debt. At the time, Corinthian was the second-largest national chain of for-profit colleges in the country.

One group of people in Ontario, California, had a “tremendous amount of debt from the Corinthian Colleges. Some had degrees that were worthless or had dropped out because they realized how much debt they were accruing and how bad their education was,” Appel said.

The Debt Collective began working with Corinthian College debtors and this initial effort eventually led to “an enormous union of for-profit college debtors — roughly 150,000 people … and that union has discharged over $1 billion of for-profit students’ debt.”

Appel says this example shows that debtors’ unions can work.

She pauses to contemplate years of study, struggle and frustration that finally seem to be paying off in benefits for people in need. Appel takes a deep breath, smiles, then continues.

“You know, I also have a tremendous amount of student debt myself. I was thinking of making T-shirts that said, ‘I am your professor. I also have student debt, and I think yours is unjust. Let’s talk.”

Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Could be Ground Zero for Zero-Emission Trucks Electric trucks will be financially viable as early as the 2020s, a UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation report finds

By Colleen Callahan

The two San Pedro Bay ports — Los Angeles and Long Beach — form the largest container port complex in North America. While an important economic engine for Southern California, port-related activity is one of the largest contributors to air pollution in a region that regularly violates air quality standards.

Concerned about the public health and climate impacts of drayage trucking — which moves cargo from the ports to train yards, warehouses and distribution centers — the mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach set a goal to transition the fleet to 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2035. A new report from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, however, finds that an accelerated transition starting in the 2020s could be both feasible and advantageous.

The UCLA researchers analyzed the significant challenges and opportunities of replacing diesel drayage trucks with zero-emission trucks, specifically battery electric trucks, beginning in the 2020s. One advantage of an earlier transition is a quicker reduction in tailpipe emissions, they found. Unlike current diesel trucks, zero-emission trucks do not directly emit any regulated pollutants and can be fueled by renewable energy sources like wind or solar.

However, there are barriers to adoption of battery electric zero-emission trucks by the drayage industry. The UCLA report finds that current constraints include nascent technology not yet proven in drayage operations; limited vehicle range; high capital costs for trucks and charging infrastructure; uncertainty about which entity would shoulder the upfront costs; and space and time constraints for vehicle charging.

“Despite these challenges, we conclude that there is significant potential for zero-emission trucks to be used in drayage service,” said James Di Filippo, the lead researcher on the UCLA study. “Operationally, the range of early-state battery electric trucks is suitable for most drayage needs at the ports.”

The technology is advancing quickly. One manufacturer already has a zero-emission battery electric truck on the market, while five other leading manufacturers plan to do so by 2021. New entrants into the battery electric truck market expect to bring longer ranges and lower costs.

“We made a surprising finding: When incorporating incentives and low-carbon fuel credits, the total cost of ownership for a battery electric truck is less than near-zero-emission natural gas trucks,” Di Filippo said. “Even more surprising is that battery electric trucks can even be less expensive than used diesel trucks. This supports our finding that, even in the short and medium term, there is opportunity to electrify a meaningful portion of the drayage fleet at the ports.”

The Clean Trucks Program, adopted by the two ports in 2007, successfully spurred the replacement of the oldest, dirtiest diesel trucks in the fleet with cleaner diesel and natural gas models. UCLA researchers expect another nearly complete turnover of the drayage fleet in the 2020s. This presents a tremendous opportunity to transition to zero-emission trucks.

As demonstrated by the 2007 program, the strongest lever in the ports’ policy toolbox is the ability to assess differentiated fees to trucks entering the ports based on compliance with emission standards. The ports’ new clean truck program is set to differentiate between near-zero-emission trucks and zero-emission trucks by 2035. However, additional incentives to switch to zero-emission trucks from the start of the program could support a transition to the cleanest trucks sooner, the researchers concluded.

A swift move to zero-emission trucks could avoid the expense and disruption of two sharp technology transitions — one to near-zero in the 2020s and then to zero-emission in the 2030s. Meanwhile, early adopters could take advantage of current generous state and regional incentives for zero-emission trucks that make battery electric trucks less expensive to own and operate than all alternatives.

The UCLA report analyzed other options that the ports could pursue, including investing in technology that allows electric trucks to specialize in routes that suit their range. It also recommends that the ports collaborate with stakeholders — such as utilities and air regulators — to coordinate a wraparound strategy that provides technical assistance to trucking companies and drivers.

Other recommendations target incentives adopted by utilities and air quality agencies, which the researchers said could be updated to meet evolving needs.

The report by the Luskin Center for Innovation, which unites UCLA scholars and civic leaders to solve environmental challenges, was made possible by two separate funding sources: a partnership grant from California’s Strategic Growth Council, and members of the Trade, Health and Environmental Impact Project (THE Impact Project).

Public Financing of Elections Empowers Voters, Gilens Says

Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens penned an opinion piece for the Times Union in support of publicly financed state elections in New York. A change in the language used in the New York state budget created a commission to review the potential of publicly financing elections. Gilens argued that New York can “reclaim democracy from the jaws of Big Money through a statewide system of publicly financed elections.” Reform is necessary because 40 percent of the money spent on federal elections came from 0.01 percent of the population in 2016, he argued. Affluent and organized interest groups hold more influence over the outcomes of elections, while the lower and middle classes hold virtually no influence, Gilens’ research found. Gilens said New York has the opportunity to challenge the status quo and promote a government for the people.