Pierce on Solutions to Mitigate Floods in San Francisco

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to SFGATE about San Francisco’s lack of preparation to prevent flooding after supercharged storms. The city’s sewage infrastructure is extremely antiquated, combining raw sewage and stormwater runoff into a single system. San Francisco’s vast concrete landscape also enables flooding as it doesn’t allow for any stormwater to absorb into the cityscape. Creating a landscape that allows for such drainage will help reduce the chances of flooding. “Reducing paved area is the biggest factor we need to take into account that we haven’t historically,” Pierce said. In addition, about 4,400 of the city’s 25,000 catch basins have been “adopted,” but they are not regularly cleaned by volunteers. “It’s great if neighborhoods and local communities can take additional ownership of unclogging issues,” Pierce said. But he stressed the importance of having centralized maintenance of the system in order to keep the basins clean.


 

Pierce on End to Water, Power Shutoffs for Low-Income Angelenos

A Los Angeles Times story on the decision by local utility officials to halt shutoffs of water and power for low-income customers who can’t pay their bills cited Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The story cited research from the center showing that Los Angeles’ communities of color were disproportionately affected by utility debt and shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Protection from utility shutoffs for those enrolled in low-income discount programs will help lessen the debt burden for [L.A. Department of Water and Power’s] most vulnerable customers,” said Pierce, who leads UCLA’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. Pierce comments frequently on issues of water access and equity, including in a USA Today fact-checking article on false claims that water scarcity is an illusion. Climate change has created weather extremes, he said, but excess water in one place doesn’t help another place that’s parched by drought.

Pierce on Misconceptions About Prop. 30

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Vice about Proposition 30, the measure to fight climate change by taxing the rich, which was defeated at the polls. The California initiative, which would have added a 1.75% tax to income over $2 million to fund the transition to electric vehicles and fight wildfires, was opposed by a coalition that called Prop. 30 a scheme by the ride-hailing company Lyft to secure a huge taxpayer subsidy. Pierce said that characterization was inaccurate. “There’s nothing about Lyft drivers or Lyft, or anything in particular benefiting them except that Lyft drivers have vehicles like other folks who might benefit from a lot more money for EVs,” he said. Pierce noted, however, that the measure’s lack of clarity on how revenues would be spent was a legitimate concern. The need to reduce emissions is urgent, but money spent on the wrong programs would not help the crisis.

Pierce on Rising Cost of Water Amid California’s Drought

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was cited in a Los Angeles Times article about Californians struggling to pay skyrocketing water bills. “Water prices are going up for the next several decades, so we need some assistance program in place like we have in so many other sectors,” Pierce said. “Water is pretty much the first service that the government can and should provide.” About 13 million Californians in low-income communities are suffering from high water bills during the current drought, and many must choose between paying for electricity or water. Recently, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 222, which would have required water systems in California to offer rate assistance to residential water customers. His reasoning was because the program lacked a source of funding, but Pierce said that signing the bill would have been an important step in the right direction.


 

Pierce on Preventing Water Shortages in L.A.

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was cited in a Los Angeles Times article about low water supplies in the L.A. region. As much of the county’s water supplies become unreliable due to less rainfall, wastewater recycling is becoming a more viable option. The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant treats wastewater and releases it into Santa Monica Bay, but the L.A. Department of Water and Power hopes to turn it into an advanced purification facility to provide water for 2 million people by 2035. Pierce said the project is “a little bit late, obviously, but I think it will be early enough to avoid complete disaster in terms of people actually running out of water, and having to ration much more radically than we are right now.” He also pointed to San Fernando Valley groundwater as a valuable resource now that advanced technology is available to clean up polluted water.


 

Pierce Provides Cost-Effective Options to Ocean Desalination

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, wrote an article for The Conversation to discuss how desalination may not be the most viable option for creating a more sustainable water supply. In an effort to combat California’s record-setting drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced an $8 billion plan to increase the state’s water supply. The plan includes methods like water conservation, storage, recycling and ocean desalination. Pierce explains how desalination creates more consequences than solutions as it kills aquatic life, pollutes ecosystems with brine and wastewater that can end up in the ocean, and poses a very high cost. He instead suggests conserving water, reusing treated wastewater which is cheaper than desalination, and increasing storage capacity even in places with infrequent rain to capture stormwater. “Even cleaning up polluted local groundwater supplies and purchasing water from nearby agricultural users, although these are costly and politically difficult strategies, may be prudent to consider before ocean desalination,” said Pierce.


 

Megan Mullin Becomes an Endowed Chair and Faculty Director at UCLA Luskin Environmental politics scholar joins Luskin Center for Innovation leadership team as urgent climate change challenges face California and the country

By Stan Paul and Michelle Einstein

Megan Mullin an award-winning scholar of American political institutions and behavior, focusing on environmental politics —  has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, filling two endowed roles. 

In January, she joined the faculty of UCLA Public Policy as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Endowed Professor of Innovation and Sustainability. Mullin, currently a professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has also been appointed the new faculty director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. Meyer and Renee Luskin recently endowed both the professorship and faculty director roles.

“Megan Mullin is a unique scholar whose work, at the intersection of environmental protection and the policy process, is perfectly suited to take the Center for Innovation to the next level,” said Gary Segura, former dean of the Luskin School.

Mullin’s appointment comes amid challenges facing California and the country relating to heat, drought and wildfires related to climate change. The path to solutions is steeped in politics from the level of local communities to the nation’s capital.

“I explore environmental policies that are just, effective and environmentally sustainable. Governance research can help ensure that policies are successfully implemented,” Mullin said.

Her areas of research include the governance and finance of urban water services, public opinion about climate change and the local politics of climate adaptation. 

“Megan understands the factors necessary for action – from the role of public opinion and elections, to how environmental policy is affected by the complex layers of American federalism,” said Public Policy chair Mark A. Peterson. “My colleagues and I are thrilled that Megan will be joining our department as she also takes on the faculty director role at the Luskin Center for Innovation.”

As faculty director, Mullin plans to build upon the center’s work solving environmental challenges through collaborative, actionable research.

“I’m delighted to help advance the Luskins’ vision of bringing UCLA’s expertise to confront our biggest public challenges. The center is bringing that vision to life by collaborating with decision-makers and community members to make on-the-ground impact in environmental policy,” Mullin said. “I look forward to joining that important work and furthering it.”  

Mullin brings a breadth of qualifications for the position. In addition to her role at the Nicholas School, she also held appointments at Duke’s Department of Political Science and Sanford School of Public Policy. Mullin is a 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow and serves on the leadership team for C-CoAST, a National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary initiative to study human-natural interactions in coastal systems. Recipient of five awards from the American Political Science Association, she earned a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley.

“Megan is one of the nation’s most esteemed social scientists addressing the local politics of inequitable access to clean water and climate adaptation,” said Gregory Pierce, formerly the acting co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “She will increase our local and national impact through her scholarly and community-engaged understanding of how to affect change at a critical time.”

In a recent article in Nature, Mullin explained why Americans have been slow to respond to the climate crisis and argued that “it is time to bring political knowledge to bear on decisions about protecting people from its consequences.”

Mullin envisions expanding upon the center’s work with a governance lens. Her research aims to understand political feasibility. Specifically, Mullin wants to increase the Luskin Center’s influence on environmental policies in California and more recent work on the national stage. 

“There are so many lessons learned from California’s environmental innovations that can be applied elsewhere,” Mullin said. “That’s not just about helping California learn, but also understanding what’s transportable to different contexts.” 

“She will bring an integrated set of research skills, teaching experience and policy impact that’s a fantastic fit,” said Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law at UCLA. 

Mullin plans to start teaching courses in the spring quarter and said she believes that students are an important bridge for research and practice. 

“And yes, I really love teaching and mentoring students,” Mullin said. “That’s an excitement about Luskin – the extent to which the center is integrating students into so many different parts of its activities.” 

She also welcomes the Luskin School’s focus on the intersection of policy, planning and social welfare. “That intersection is a powerful combination to understand environmental policy at the local level,” Mullin said. “For instance, confronting climate change also requires thinking about housing and social services. And considering how communities have enormously different risks and capacities. This is a unique opportunity to bring all of those pieces together.” 

Mullin is the recipient of a Duke University award for excellence in graduate student mentoring. She teaches and advises students in the areas of environmental politics, local politics and water governance in the United States.

“So many of my former students are now out working in environmental professions, and that’s how I understand what challenges they’re confronting. That informs my research agenda. It’s an ongoing conversation,” said Mullin, whose research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Carnegie Corporation, the JEHT Foundation, and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation. 

Mullin’s appointment completed the Luskin Center for Innovation’s leadership transition following the departure of JR DeShazo, the founding faculty director, who was appointed dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in 2021.

As the faculty director of the center, Mullin joined an existing executive team with Pierce,  V. Kelly Turner and Colleen Callahan. Pierce and Callahan continue to serve in executive leadership roles, and Turner is taking on a new leadership role furthering her research on climate action.

Pierce on Heat’s Impact on Quantity, Quality of California’s Water

A Los Angeles Times story about Central Californians who are bearing the brunt of the state’s dwindling water supply cited Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Drought, heat, agriculture and overpumping have parched communities and contaminated water sources. Few anticipated the dire impact of heat on water quality, and some residents are at risk of running out of water entirely, said Pierce, who directs the Center for Innovation’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. On KCRW’s “Press Play” and Minnesota Public Radio, Pierce weighed in on how the state is bracing for an expected 10% loss in water supplies over the next two decades. Radical proposals include a giant pipeline ferrying Mississippi River water across the Rockies, but that would be prohibitively expensive and politically untenable, he said. More feasible approaches include calling on consumers to step up conservation, expanding stormwater capture and wastewater recycling, and cleaning up contaminated groundwater.


 

Pierce on Failing Water Systems in California

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke with Courthouse News about a new state audit that found that nearly 1 million Californians lack access to safe water. The audit classified 418 local water systems as “failing,” meaning their water supply exceeds the maximum allowable contaminant levels for safe drinking water. This could expose customers to a range of health dangers, including an increased risk of cancer as well as liver and kidney problems. Complicating efforts to improve water quality is the state’s decentralized patchwork of local agencies composed of roughly 7,400 “drinking water systems,” some private, some public. “Every state has way too many drinking water systems, compared to other utilities,” said Pierce, who leads the UCLA Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. He said the state water board has been trying to consolidate these systems to improve accountability and performance, but “it’s slow going. It takes a long time. And it’s political.”


 

UCLA Teams Up With LADWP for Equitable Energy Solutions

More than 20 UCLA faculty and researchers have entered into a $2.6 million agreement to conduct research for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to help the city achieve its goal of producing all of its energy from carbon-free and renewable energy sources by 2035 and doing so in ways that benefit all Angelenos equitably. The Luskin Center for Innovation, Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and Latino Policy and Politics Institute are among several UCLA research entities collaborating with the LADWP’s LA100 Equity Strategies, which will guide the department as it creates the first justice-focused, carbon-free energy transition of any major city. The effort builds upon interdisciplinary work already being done across campus, including the Center for Innovation’s research on energy affordability. “It takes careful intent to ensure that the costs associated with the transition to renewable energy get translated equitably through rates, and to protect low-income households in disadvantaged communities from bearing too much of that cost,” said Gregory Pierce, co-director of the center. “Historically, sustainability investments have not been equitable, so in some ways this project is trying to tackle that transition.” Recommendations from Pierce’s team could include enhanced rate discounts, speeding up energy efficiency and solar programs, and adjusting what criteria would trigger the shutoff of a household’s water or energy if it falls behind on payments. The university’s participation was made possible through an existing agreement between the LADWP and the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. — Jonathan Van Dyke

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