Daniel Coffee MPP ’20, associate project manager at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an Orange County Register article about new legislation to address plastic pollution. There are a dozen state bills in California proposing reduction of single-use plastics and refilling of returnable beverage bottles, as well as a federal proposal that would place the responsibility for plastic reduction and recycling on companies that make and utilize single-use plastics. “In the past few years, we’ve had a breakthrough in terms of public awareness, but I don’t think we quite have the political will yet,” Coffee said. “The plastics industry and the fossil fuel industry aren’t shy about pouring money into influencing policymakers.” The state proposals, which are more incremental, are more likely to become law than the landmark federal proposal. “If SB 54 passes, then other states could see what’s possible and follow suit,” Coffee said. “California is often the leader in this type of legislation.”
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was cited in Los Angeles Times and USA Today articles about economic hardships among Asian Americans in the United States. Many hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and beauty salons were forced to close at the beginning of the pandemic, and a report by Ong found that Asian Americans accounted for one in four workers within those sectors. Now, long-term unemployment levels among Asian Americans have been exacerbated by a surge in anti-Asian sentiment. Among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, Asians have the largest income gap between the top and bottom 10%, and this trend has been accelerated by the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Ong explained that Los Angeles’ Chinatown “was hit earlier, even before the lockdowns, and it lost much more business and has recovered much more slowly,” a trend also seen in New York and San Francisco.
Professor of Public Policy and Social Welfare Martin Gilens was featured in an Atlantic article about the influence of wealth on politics. In his research, Gilens has found notable differences in the policy preferences of affluent Americans compared to the middle class. These differences are not limited to economic matters like taxation, but also include funding for public education, racial equity and environmental protections, which the wealthy are less likely to support. These differences in policy preferences are significant because of the influence the rich have over government officials. In one report, Gilens analyzed thousands of public survey responses and found that, on issues where the views of wealthy voters diverged significantly from those of the rest of the populace, the policies ultimately put in place “strongly reflected the desires of the most affluent respondents.” Gilens concluded that the policies on these controversial issues “bore virtually no relationship to the preferences of poorer Americans.”
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the growing role of technology in public transit service. New York, London and Los Angeles are releasing new apps and digital versions of their subway maps, which give riders access to information about how close a train is to their station as well as any closures or delays. Matute explained that the new platforms are designed with more focus on the user experience than some predecessors, which first appeared on app stores around 2010 and were often neglected by transit agencies afterward. “These apps just fell out of favor and ended up being removed from the marketplace,” he said. The growth of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber and competition with other navigation apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps has prompted public transit agencies to invest resources in improving the digital experience for riders.
A Daily Beast article about the impact of the pandemic on gay communities cited research by Ian Holloway, director of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice at UCLA Luskin. Stay-at-home orders resulted in the closing of many gay bars and other social spaces for LGBTQ individuals. Holloway was the lead author of a study that surveyed 10,000 gay men in 20 countries about their mental health and use of social networking during the pandemic lockdown. The study found that those who only left their homes for essentials during the first COVID lockdowns were 37% more likely to feel anxious than those who didn’t, and 36% more likely to feel lonely. It’s important to remember that gay men “come to this pandemic with disproportionate rates of mental health issues,” said Holloway, an associate professor of social welfare. Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is allowing some businesses to reopen, but no one knows when bars and nightclubs will return to normal.
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impending closure of a Ralph’s grocery store that serves a large Jewish community. The Pico-Robertson market, which has an extensive kosher section, is scheduled to close in May after the Los Angeles City Council voted to require large grocery stores to pay workers an extra $5 an hour for about four months as compensation for working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pending shutdown has sparked fierce debates on social media over who is to blame: parent company Kroger or city politicians. “It’s unusual for a business to pull out and just selectively pull out,” said Yaroslavsky, a former city councilman and county supervisor in Los Angeles. “They’re walking away from a community that’s been loyal to them.” The article also cited Zev Hurwitz MPP ’18, who started an online petition to keep the Westside market open.
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Time magazine about COVID-19’s impact on public transit systems around the world. Mass transit has seen steep declines in ridership and revenue as people have begun to work from home or opted for cars over public transportation. However, the COVID-19 disruption has also led to a global reckoning as leaders ponder how to positively reshape their cities for the post-pandemic era. “Many are arguing this pause could give us an opportunity to reallocate street space, to reconsider how much curb space we devote to the storage of people’s private property, which cars are,” Taylor said. Improving public transit and phasing out cars could lower greenhouse-gas emissions, make streets safer and more pleasant for pedestrians, and create opportunities for retail and hospitality sectors. According to Taylor, it all depends on the decisions city leaders take now to “intelligently manage automobiles” and protect public transit.
A Zocalo Public Square column on the urgency of fixing Los Angeles’ longstanding economic and equity problems cited research by Michael Storper, distinguished professor of urban planning. Storper studied the different trajectories of the Bay Area and Los Angeles, two big regional economies that were at parity in 1970, with similar education levels and numbers of engineers. The Bay Area’s leading institutions in education, business and government became highly networked and planned collaboratively. The Los Angeles region remained a collection of separate, siloed communities that competed with one another. Today, the Bay Area is 30% richer than the L.A. region, Storper found. Noting that COVID-19 made the depths of Los Angeles’ problems undeniable, the column called on leaders to build real foundations that allow people to find stability and health in the short term, while reducing inequality to spread prosperity in the long term.
Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning Martin Wachs spoke to Forbes about the possible construction of a high-speed monorail in Los Angeles. Local officials are evaluating proposals for a $6.1 billion monorail that would aim to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Transit systems in Germany, Japan, China and India use monorails, but the Los Angeles project would be the first in the United States. Wachs is skeptical but open to the possibility that a monorail could work in Los Angeles. “When you actually work out the numbers and do a careful and thorough design, and consider that in most places where a transit route is being contemplated it’s being added to an existing network, it just hasn’t penciled out,” he said. Wachs recalled working with science fiction author Ray Bradbury on a monorail proposal that was rejected 50 years ago. “The world’s a better place for having people who are visionaries, but it also needs traditional engineers.”
Professor of Social Welfare Mark Kaplan was featured in a Press-Enterprise article about the increase in suicide risk among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there has been a decline in adult suicides since the beginning of the pandemic, data show that suicides among minors have stayed consistent or increased compared to before the pandemic. Many experts have expressed concern that social isolation, distance learning and other pandemic stresses are hitting young people especially hard. Crisis hotlines have experienced an increase in calls from young people suffering mental health problems. Kaplan, who has been studying suicide for decades, explained that young people who were already more likely to consider killing themselves are more vulnerable now, including LGBTQ youth, those suffering abuse, homeless youth, those with substance abuse problems, those living in foster homes or those growing up in poverty. “There’s a physical isolation that’s taking its toll,” he said. “It’s leading to despair.”
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Ayako Miyashita Ochoa was featured in a Men’s Health article discussing the impact of the longstanding ban on blood donations from gay men. The country’s blood supply is running dangerously low, partly due to the cancellation of many blood drives during the pandemic. Gay and bisexual men, often referred to as men who have sex with men (MSM), are not allowed to give blood if they have had sex with another man in the past three months. A 2014 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that allowing MSM equal access to donating blood could increase the total annual blood supply by 2% to 4%, which would help save the lives of more than a million people. Miyashita Ochoa expressed frustration that the ban still has not been lifted. “It is my opinion that we continue to have a real problem with laws and regulations based on fear rather than science,” she said.
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to Politico about growing efforts to recall elected leaders in California, starting with Gov. Gavin Newsom. Five previous attempts to recall the governor have failed. Now, voters unhappy with Newsom’s handling of the pandemic are again seeking to remove him from office. While there have been 179 recall attempts in California since 1911, only 10 have qualified for the ballot. Recently, virus fatigue has strengthened interest in recalls among disillusioned voters stuck at home, and many elected officials are becoming the targets of recall efforts. “I think COVID is one of those issues, and criminal justice is one of those issues, where everybody has an opinion,” Yaroslavsky said. He explained that law enforcement issues and pandemic restrictions have created distinct camps of Californians who “have been cooped up in their houses for a year” and are refusing to wait until 2022 to hold their representatives accountable.
Director of the Center for Neighborhood KnowledgePaul Ong spoke to NBC News about his hopes for increasing Asian American representation in the Biden administration. The White House announced the creation of a new position, Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison, to ensure that the community’s voice is further represented and heard. Details of the duties and responsibilities of the position have not yet been announced, but Ong said the liaison will be effective only if given direct access to key decision-makers in the administration. In addition, he said, a staff is needed to ensure coverage of vital issues to the AAPI community, including education, civil rights, the economy and housing. “Appointing an AAPI liaison could be one of the much-needed solutions to ensure fair and adequate AAPI participation in the administration, but it is critical that the role is impactful and not window dressing,” he said.
A Transit California article put a spotlight on research from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies that showed a noticeable increase in people seeking shelter in public transportation stops, stations and vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic. A team led by Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris surveyed 115 transit agencies to produce a report investigating the intersections of the pandemic, transit and homelessness. Over half of the agencies said that they see at least 100 unhoused individuals per day on their systems, while 14 agencies reported 500 or more. “Homelessness in transit environments is a major challenge in the U.S. and in Canada, but especially in California,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. She noted, however, that the absence of reliable data makes it difficult to measure the magnitude of the problem. Loukaitou-Sideris’ team will continue its research into policy solutions to help people experiencing homelessness.
A Los Angeles Daily News article on the nomination of Assemblyman Rob Bonta as California’s next attorney general included comments from Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin. Bonta’s nomination completes a trio of high-profile appointments by Gov. Gavin Newsom. He tapped former Secretary of State Alex Padilla as the first California Latino to serve in the U.S. Senate. He picked former Assemblywoman Shirley Weber as the first Black secretary of state. And he selected Bonta as the first Filipino-American to be California’s top law officer. “I applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for making California a model for the country in how to rectify the willful neglect of growing and youthful communities of color who are left out of key decision-making positions across our most fundamental institutions by sending the first Filipino to lead the nation’s second-largest Department of Justice,” Diaz said.
Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to KCRW about the website Translate COVID, which provides information about COVID-19 in over 60 languages. Launched in May 2020, the site has been updated over the past few months with vital information about vaccination rules and eligibility. “We noticed that there was a lot of translated material beginning to come out from the CDC and local health departments across the country, but there was no central or easy-to-use site that consolidated all of that information,” Umemoto explained. “There’s so much misinformation on social media and especially within immigrant networks.” Umemoto, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, worked with the Fielding School of Public Health to aggregate information from vetted sources and organized it on the website. “More recently, we noticed that there was a lot of misinformation about the vaccines that would likely cause some vaccine resistance, so we put together an FAQ that will soon be in 20 languages,” she said.