Loukaitou-Sideris on Abuse Complaints Against Ridehail Companies

A CNN report about incidents of sexual assault and abuse committed by ridehail drivers from Uber and Lyft quoted Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning. Lyft has failed to publicly release reports disclosing complaints of sexual violence and now faces several potential lawsuits. Ridehail companies “should be very concerned if people start saying that there’s an increasing number of people that complain about harassment because this whole idea of safe travel through Lyft or Uber falls apart,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, who has conducted extensive research on sexual harassment on public transit. Information around safety incidents can help people make informed decisions about how and when to travel, but transparency also runs the risk of damaging a company’s reputation, she said. Loukaitou-Sideris added that one reason people do not report alleged incidents of sexual violence is that they believe that nothing much will happen as a result.

Public Health Benefits of Predictive Analytics

A Healthcare Innovation article on the use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to inform public health efforts put a spotlight on the work of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin. The center created a tool that maps Los Angeles County neighborhoods to assess residents’ vulnerability to COVID-19 infection. The predictive model used four indicators: preexisting medical conditions, barriers to accessing health care, built-environment characteristics and socioeconomic challenges that create vulnerabilities. “The UCLA case study is emblematic of precisely the kinds of use cases that will be emerging in the coming years, as healthcare leaders start to plumb the vast potential of AI and other forms of predictive analytics to serve the purposes of public health here in the U.S.,” the article said.

City Zoning Requirements Should Be Transparent, Manville Writes

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville wrote a Planetizen article about the nuances of city zoning requirements and the consequences for planning and development. Los Angeles has strict rules for land development and zoning, but they are often used as negotiating leverage. Developers are able to bargain with the city over parking and building height requirements by offering to contribute subsidized housing and building green spaces. “A zoning bylaw that contains onerous and unnecessary regulations might be good for bargaining, but it isn’t a good zoning bylaw,” Manville wrote. “Selectively enforcing rules can give officials more power to accomplish short-term goals, but it risks a long-term consequence of eroding faith in the rules themselves.” Furthermore, selective zoning can lead to corruption when rules are not universally enforced. Manville concluded that zoning should be transparent and that “our goal should be good policies that yield good outcomes.”

Tilly Comments on Rise of Instacart Services

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a New York Times article about the increasing popularity of online grocery shopping services like Instacart. In 2020, online grocery sales rose 54%. The technology needed to fulfill orders is costly for stores, and the workers who pick customers’ items off the shelves often feel the pressure of being timed and tracked to monitor their efficiency. “The guinea pig for this is warehouse workers,” said Tilly, explaining that many of the technologies for online grocery shopping and picking are adapted from warehouses. He predicted that facilities designed specifically for online orders will eventually be expanded as the current system is creating an additional financial strain for grocers. “There is a constant search for how to make this cheaper, more efficient and, in many cases, as a transition to something longer term,” Tilly concluded.

Millard-Ball Examines High Cost of Wide Streets

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Adam Millard-Ball spoke to Bloomberg CityLab about his research on the land value of streets in the United States. Millard-Ball calculated the widths, land areas and land value of streets in 20 different counties in the U.S., and he found that streets averaged 55 feet wide, even in residential areas with low traffic. Streets are much wider in the United States than in other parts of the world. In the counties he surveyed, Millard-Ball found that streets took up 18% of the total land area. He said cities could use some of the land currently allocated to streets for bike lanes, transit, green spaces or housing. He also noted that decreasing standard street sizes could help reduce housing development costs. “People are already using streets for housing, just not in a sanctioned way,” he said. “Why do we rule out 20% of a city’s land and declare it off limits for that?”

Monkkonen Analyzes San Diego Housing Plans

Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen was mentioned in a San Diego Union-Tribune opinion piece about the need to enforce housing regulations in San Diego. Every eight years, California cities are required to adopt a state-approved plan that includes rules about regional housing targets, sanctions and zoning restrictions. San Diego is currently out of compliance, but it is unclear how California’s Department of Housing and Community Development will enforce the rules. State law says that cities that lack a compliant housing plan forfeit authority to deny or downsize affordable housing projects. Monkkonen and his students studied San Diego’s housing plan and identified grave shortcomings. For example, they found that 65% of the sites San Diego identified for low-income and multifamily housing are located in the poorest third of the city’s neighborhoods, and the plan fails to open up neighborhoods reserved for single-family homes to multifamily housing.

Mukhija Highlights Difficulties in Fixing Unpermitted Housing

Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija shared his expertise on unpermitted housing units in Los Angeles on KPCC’s “Take Two” and in an LAist article. In 2019, there were more than 2,700 violations associated with unpermitted housing, but citations for these units plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving tenants in unsafe living conditions. “Unpermitted housing is very common in the city of L.A.,” Mukhija said. “People end up in illegal units because public housing assistance is extremely limited and L.A. wages haven’t kept up with skyrocketing rents for legal units.” Mukhija said many people end up “living wherever they can find housing they can afford.” The Unpermitted Dwelling Units program, created to bring units up to code, has failed to make a large difference. “I am very happy that instead of shutting down the units, the city is trying to preserve them,” Mukhija told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 22:20. “But this is a difficult task.”

Matute on Low-Speed Travel Network Plans

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Spectrum News about the creation of a low-speed travel network in South Bay cities in Los Angeles County. The South Bay Cities Council of Governments recently approved a resolution to implement a Local Travel Network, which would aim to reduce traffic, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve street safety. The network would designate low-speed streets for neighborhood electric vehicles such as GEM cars, e-bikes, e-scooters, electric skateboards and other forms of zero-emissions personal mobility devices. “The concept is a great idea … but I’m not quite sure about the implementation,” Matute said. He added that it “would really be quite neat to be able to get around some larger swaths of area in L.A. with those types of vehicles that aren’t highway legal but are still practical ways to get around in a place with Southern California’s weather.”

Tilly Anticipates Friction as Economy Reopens

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly joined KPCC’s “AirTalk” in an episode about decreasing unemployment levels in California. The number of people seeking jobless benefits has fallen steadily all year, but the economy is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. As restaurants and businesses plan to open back up to maximum capacity on June 15, many employers are struggling to get enough employees to return to work. “The labor market and the economy have been in a deep freeze” over the past year and a half, said Tilly, who predicted that there will be some points of friction as the economy reopens. “Many workers are not rushing to go back to work, either because they are still burdened with child or other dependent care, they have their own health concerns, or wages are not sufficient,” he said. But he added that markets have ways of balancing themselves out. “When wages increase, workers are going to materialize.” 

Shah Calls for Decriminalization of Sex Work

Global Lab for Research in Action Director Manisha Shah co-authored a Medium article about the unintended consequences of policies meant to protect sex workers. “Sex work is work. And evidence shows that when it is treated as such, everyone benefits,” wrote Shah and Global Lab intern Rachel DuRose. Research shows that decriminalization of sex work leads to a decline in incidents of abuse and rape, sexually transmitted infections and sex trafficking. Shah, a professor of public policy, explained that sex workers “are becoming victims of the very policies meant to protect them,” with increased levels of rape in communities that have banned the purchase of sex as well as increased prevalence of STI symptoms. The authors called on lawmakers and government leaders to decriminalize sex work. “Only when the community and leaders understand that sex work is work, can positive change at the local, federal and international level be achieved,” they concluded. 

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Gilens Sounds Alarm for Democracy

The Washington Post was one of several media outlets reporting on a statement of concern about threats facing American democracy, signed by Public Policy Chair Martin Gilens and over 100 other scholars. The statement was a response to efforts by GOP-led state legislatures to restrict voting, which President Joe Biden referred to as an “assault on democracy … aimed at Black and brown Americans.” The statement, published by the public policy think tank New America, highlighted Republican efforts threatening the fundamental principles of democracy and urged Democrats in Congress to reform or end the filibuster to pass sweeping voting rights protections. The authors called for federal protections to ensure the neutral and fair administration of elections and guarantee that all voters can freely exercise their right to vote. “Our entire democracy is now at risk,” they wrote. “History will judge what we do at this moment.” The Hill, Business Insider, Forbes and other news organizations also covered the statement.

Weisburst on Racial Disparities in Policing

Research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst was cited in a Star Tribune opinion piece about racial disparities associated with police presence and crime. Weisburst co-authored a paper that looked at changes in police force size, crime and arrests in 242 large American cities over nearly 40 years in order to draw conclusions about the impact of police presence on different populations. They found that “investments in law enforcement save Black lives … but at the cost of more low-level ‘quality of life’ arrests and all the insults and injuries of intensive policing.” The authors calculated that, on average, one homicide is prevented per year for every 10 to 17 additional police officers employed, but the number of street arrests for low-level offenses, especially for Black civilians, also increases with greater police presence. The paper concludes that “Black communities are simultaneously over- and under-policed.”

Trust Is Easily Shattered, Leap Says

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap appeared on a Fox11 News panel discussion about the growing fight for social justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and other Black victims of police brutality. Watching the cell phone video of Floyd’s final moments was like “watching a home movie that I was sorry to see,” Leap said. “Why are we watching this again and again?” Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd’s murder, but the fight against systemic racism continues. “What was so upsetting about recent events and what happened in Minneapolis that had affected people here is that trust is so easily shattered,” Leap said. “We need real change … so that people can feel safe.” The panel discussion took place after an episode of the documentary series “Rising Up” that focused on parallels between the Floyd case and the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police.

Matute on L.A. Public Transit Boom

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the expansion of mass public transit in Los Angeles. After several years of declining ridership, Metro ridership dropped by 70% at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the city took advantage of the opportunity to accelerate construction of public transit projects like the Purple Line, which will extend from downtown Los Angeles to Westwood. Matute called the Purple Line extension “the most important transit project in America, outside of Manhattan” because it links L.A.’s high-density corridors. It also may offer a quicker route than a personal vehicle, unlike bus options that double or triple commute times if they don’t have a dedicated traffic lane. Although transit in L.A. has predominantly been used by those trying to minimize costs, the new Purple Line expansion will be significant in that it also offers a time advantage, he said.

Manville Endorses Parking Reform in California

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville co-authored a StreetsBlog article about the possibility of parking reform with Assembly Bill 1401, which would eliminate minimum parking mandates for buildings near public transit in California. “Eliminating parking requirements is the simplest, most effective step that California can take to reduce carbon emissions, make housing more affordable, and increase production of homes for families across the income spectrum – all at no cost to the public,” wrote Manville and co-authors Anthony Dedousis and Mott Smith. Some opponents of the bill argue that eliminating parking requirements could harm affordable housing production by making California’s density bonus incentives less valuable. However, the authors pointed to the success of parking reform in San Diego, which eliminated parking requirements in 2019 and saw record increases in the amount of new housing built, including over 1,500 affordable homes in 2020. They see AB 1401 as an opportunity to “learn from San Diego’s success and take parking reform statewide.”

Matute Reflects on Garcetti’s Legacy as Mayor

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, was featured in a Guardian article about the strengths and shortcomings of Eric Garcetti’s administration during his time as mayor of Los Angeles. There is a possibility that Garcetti will cut his second term as mayor short to take a position as a U.S. ambassador and eventually return to pursue a higher office in the federal government. In Los Angeles, reviews are mixed about his efforts to address climate change, pollution, the affordable housing crisis and economic inequality. On transportation issues, Matute pointed out that the mayor succeeded in pushing a key funding measure in 2016 and set commendable goals for improving mobility and safer streets. However, the “execution of his plans has been slow and haphazard,” Matute said. “There was a lot of promise for changing mobility in Southern California that came through in plans … but they’ve fallen short of implementation.”