giant sequoia in snow

Lens on Desirability of California Living Amid Climate Disasters

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was cited in an ABC News article weighing whether California remains a desirable place to live or visit as extreme weather takes its toll. Despite the constant risk of fire, flooding, earthquakes and drought, the state continues to attract residents and vacationers. Lens, who researches inequities in the housing market, noted that the rising cost of buying or renting a home is one indicator of California’s desirability. “That’s certainly part of why the cost of living is so high we like living there,” he said. While some residents are relocating to more affordable states, most are choosing to stay put. The story noted that California home prices have continued their steep ascent even in the wake of devastating natural disasters.

Anheier on Germany’s Uncertain Stance on the Russia-Ukraine War

Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of social welfare and public policy, wrote an opinion article for Project Syndicate regarding Germany’s indecision about the role it should play in the Russia-Ukraine war. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germans were split on what action to take, with some advocating for more military support for Ukraine and others favoring a settlement to prevent the war from extending to other European countries. Anheier stressed the importance of NATO working with China, India and midsize powers such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia to improve communication and security. By doing so, nations would understand how conditions in Ukraine could easily worsen if action is not taken soon. “This is no time for fence-sitting and free-riding. Everyone will lose out from a broader conflict. If Germans want the fighting to end, they should demand that their government do its part to bring other governments to the table,” he said.

Astor on Reimagining School Safety

Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare, co-authored an article on reimagining school safety for the American Federation of Teachers. Adapted from a chapter in the book “Our Children Can’t Wait: The Urgency of Reimagining Education Policy in America,” the article focuses on the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent forms of racial activism within the K-12 education spectrum. Astor and co-author Heather Reynolds promote creating sustainable systems and infrastructure to combat inequities within higher education. Through implementing mental health and student outreach resources, schools can address ongoing issues with victimization across campuses. For change to happen, there must be “a shift of funding and support from policing, punishment and surveillance to long-term investments in holistic prevention and empowerment of schools and communities,” the authors write.

orange bus on city street

Taylor on State’s Efforts to Boost Transit Ridership

A StreetsBlog article on transportation issues in California cited urban planning and public policy professor Brian Taylor, who testified at a joint hearing of the state Legislature. The hearing focused on how to build transit ridership after declines due to pandemic travel patterns, service cuts, safety concerns and rising rates of car ownership. Taylor spoke about systems for measuring how well a transit system is doing its job, including the amount of fares collected. “Farebox recovery requirements were set up as a performance measure in the 1980s to encourage agencies to build ridership” but have caused unintended problems in the years since, he said. ”If the goal is to increase transit ridership overall, it might make sense to change this threshold requirement. The government could reformulate funding and performance measures away from farebox recovery and towards the number of people being moved.”

three men in blue jackets in deep snow

Pierce on Long-Term Impact of State’s Wet Winter

As California’s wet winter continues, Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, has helped news outlets make sense of the long-term impact on the state’s water woes. Pierce told the Los Angeles Times that, while water conservation measures should continue indefinitely, some of the most extreme restrictions could be lifted. “We bought ourselves some more time so we don’t need to be in that hyper-emergency, but we’re always in a drought,” he said. Pierce, director of the center’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab, also appeared on the podcast Water Talk to share information about green infrastructure, wastewater equity and the intersection of two of the state’s most pressing needs: clean water and adequate housing. “The biggest issue in the water-housing nexus is how can we build more affordable housing supply in California, which we absolutely need, but do it in places that have enough water and also don’t have too much fire,” he said.

Two police officers on street blocked with police tape

Leap on Need for Fair, Accurate Depictions of Mental Illness

A Los Angeles Times story on the arrest of a man accused of two stabbings, including a fatal attack on a high school student, cited Jorja Leap, adjunct social welfare professor and expert on criminal justice. The suspect’s motives were unclear. City Councilman Kevin de León, whose district includes the site of the attacks, suggested that he suffered from mental illness and referred to the streets of Los Angeles as “the largest psychiatric ward in the United States.” Leap countered that it was “inaccurate and irresponsible” to paint Los Angeles with such a broad brush depicting mental illness. Law enforcement agencies do not track crimes committed by mentally ill people, she said, adding, “So many [people with mental health issues] cannot even care for themselves, let alone think about taking the life of another human being.”

metro subway car

Brozen on New Metro Ambassador Pilot Program

Madeline Brozen, deputy director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, spoke to CBS Los Angeles about the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new ambassador pilot program. This program was implemented to reduce crime rates on Metro lines, which have been steadily rising since 2021. The program is one of the largest of its kind in the country, with nearly 300 ambassadors deployed throughout the Metro bus and rail system. They are specifically trained in areas including customer service, conflict de-escalation, emergency preparedness and disability awareness. “It’s just a real human touch that I think does have a lot of promise,” Brozen said.

street corner in downtown Pasadena

After Decades of Research and Advocacy, Parking Reform Is Finally a Hot Topic

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, is highlighted in the New York Times and Public Square, a journal of the Congress for New Urbanism, for his impact on parking policies nationwide. Decades of auto-centric planning in the United States have made it difficult to achieve walkable cities, but more and more local and state governments are overhauling their parking regulations. They include cities such as Pasadena and San Jose, which have joined the parking reform train to encourage walkable and bikeable spaces. The humble parking spot is suddenly a hot topic, the New York Times writes, even though Shoup has been promoting these reforms since the 1970s. His 2005 book “The High Cost of Free Parking” had an impact on the entire country and is now considered a classic in planning literature. “Shoup’s influence is a credit to persistence and focus in academic research,” Public Square noted.

crowd of students and parents

‘No Child Should Be Killed by Going to School’

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat after a 16-year-old student was stabbed to death during a classroom fight at a Sonoma County high school. While the nation has seen an increase in mass shootings on campuses, school violence more broadly has declined by more than 50% over the past two decades, Astor said. But he added, “Our norms are that this shouldn’t happen at all. No child should be killed by going to school.” Research on school violence often focuses on firearms, not knives and stabbings, he said. “It’s a concern because almost every child has access to a knife.” Tracking and analyzing data is key to understanding what interventions and policies work, said Astor, whose research has shown that providing schools with resources including school psychologists, restorative justice programs and more extracurricular opportunities for students has helped reduce day-to-day violence on campuses across California.

Lens on More Renters as Elected Officials in L.A.

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was interviewed by NPR about a shifting trend in the demographics of elected officials in Los Angeles, where more are identifying as renters as opposed to homeowners. Residents of Los Angeles rank housing affordability as one of their biggest concerns, with 30% of renters spending over 50% of their income on rent. As more renters are elected to office, they may do a better job of representing the voices of fellow renters who have gone unheard for years. Lens explained that attempts to diversify politics in Los Angeles have in the past focused on race, gender and sexuality. The renter demographic has not been represented until recent elections. “It does, I think, matter to have representation along that axis,” Lens said. “It’s a pretty fundamental part of who we are and how we live in a city.”

A Call for Shelter for L.A.’s Bus Riders

A lack of bus shelters in the Los Angeles region poses a health risk to those who frequent buses, according to new research by UCLA and advocacy group Move LA that has received attention in news outlets including Los Angeles magazine, the Los Angeles Times and Smart Cities Dive. “Heat already kills more people than any natural disaster, and that’s at the levels that we have now,” said Madeline Brozen, deputy director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and co-author of the study. “It’s going to be getting worse in the future as climate change worsens and L.A. County continues to get hotter and hotter.” Without shelter, many users of public transportation are at risk of cardiovascular, kidney and respiratory disorders. Most of the city’s bus stops are located in the hottest areas where low-income people of color often reside, and the decision to provide shelter is left to local jurisdictions, Brozen explained.

How Transportation Departments Can Help the Unhoused

Jacob Wasserman, researcher at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to Streetsblog USA about how state departments of transportation (DOTs) can help unhoused people. Researchers from the institute created a meta-analysis of how transportation officials respond to encampments on government property. “DOTs do tend to frame [this issue] as a safety problem, and they’re not wrong; these are often dangerous environments, particularly for unhoused people themselves,” Wasserman said. “But there are benefits, too. [Highway overpasses] are often sheltered environments where people can congregate, find community, have eyes on the street.” The report stressed the importance of baseline training for front-line transportation workers on how to interact with unhoused people in humane ways. Wasserman added, “When it comes to making repeat visits to encampments, building trust with unhoused people, giving [them] proof that your interventions are actually going to put them on a path to stability — that work is probably best done by service providers.”

Taylor on Newsom’s Proposed Transit Funding Cuts

Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy, was cited in a Sacramento Bee article about how the state’s funding cuts on transportation will negatively impact Californians. As ridership has decreased on public transit, Gov. Gavin Newsom is looking to make cuts to the current budget, but transit advocates argue that these cuts will only push more residents to become reliant on cars. With a large population of Californians commuting to work alone in their vehicles daily, the state’s plan to reduce car dependence may falter if transit budgets are cut. Taylor said that the state has a responsibility to continue providing funding for public transportation and suggested that a resolution to the funding issue could be to reform the current law that determines how much and where state funding is allocated, which is “structured in a way that limits the flexibility and the movement.”

Monkkonen on How Tech Companies May Cause Gentrification in Culver City

Paavo Monkkonen, professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Culver City residents who are fighting back against gentrification. As tech giants and streaming studios including Apple, Amazon, HBO and TikTok enter the city, neighborhood tensions flare as locals worry that they may be pushed out. “You have this kind of collective action problem where every small neighborhood or every municipality wants the jobs but not the new housing,” Monkkonen said. “So that pushes people out [with] farther commutes or gentrifying formerly lower-income neighborhoods nearby.” Culver City officials said they are attempting to address the housing issue by zoning for over 3,000 additional housing units by 2029 and enacting rent control ordinances like one from 2020 that caps annual rent increases to 5% for certain residential buildings.

protesters at city council meeting

Segura on Approaches for Reforming City Government

UCLA Luskin Professor Gary Segura spoke to LAist’s “AirTalk” about the L.A. Governance Reform Project, an effort by Southern California scholars to develop proposals to reform Los Angeles’ scandal-scarred city government. While the project will initially focus on establishing a fair redistricting process, it will also consider the merits of increasing the number of City Council members, which currently stands at 15. “The idea is that there should be a representation system in which all of the city’s various ethnic, racial, sectarian and linguistic groups have an opportunity to see their views represented,” said Segura, the team’s co-chair. “The truth is that’s just easier when there are more seats.” The scholars will invite civil society and social justice organizations to weigh in on this approach. Past efforts to expand the council have met with public opposition, and Segura acknowledged that recent controversies exposing corruption and racist conversations may make electing more City Council members seem unpalatable.

map of Los Angeles

Yaroslavsky on L.A.’s Neighborhood Councils

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to LAist’s AirTalk about how Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils work and whether they make a difference within their communities. Los Angeles has almost 100 neighborhood councils, which function in an advisory capacity to provide a direct mode of communication between residents and the City Council members who represent them. The system “has brought communities closer to municipal government,” Yaroslavsky said. “How much impact it’s had is not clear.” He said a big strength of the councils is that they bring together a cross-section of community members who are actively involved in local issues. But there is also a risk that the councils be asked to endorse projects from special interests without complete and transparent information, leading to unintended consequences. “That, to me, is a weakness,” he said.