Pierce on California’s Water Quality

Greg Pierce, director of UCLA’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab, commented in a CalMatters article about nearly 1 million California residents whose water does not meet state standards, according to an annual assessment released by California’s State Water Resources Control Board. The report, which updates earlier research by Pierce and colleagues at the Luskin Center for Innovation, notes that while more than a decade has passed since the state recognized clean, safe, affordable and accessible drinking water as a human right, nearly 400 water systems statewide don’t meet state requirements, particularly in disadvantaged and lower income communities of color. Despite nearly a billion dollars spent on grants in disadvantaged communities, estimated costs of fixing water systems would require billions of dollars over the next several years. “The subtext of this report is pretty clear,” said Pierce, who commended the water board’s transparency and extensive analysis. “The state just needs to put its money where its mouth is.”

Pierce on Water Safety, Affordability and Dwindling Supply

Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to news outlets about California’s water supply, safety, access and affordability. Around the country, water bills are rising as utilities upgrade aging infrastructure to meet standards for clean drinking water. New federal legislation would make permanent a pandemic-era program to help low-income families pay their bills and prevent shutoffs of water service. Investing in water infrastructure is an urgent priority, Pierce told the Los Angeles Times, adding, “We need to do more to support those who can’t pay.” Pierce also spoke to the Water Values podcast about water service and inequity in mobile home parks, and to CapRadio about below-average snowpack levels in California. Warmer storms this winter brought lots of rain but less snowfall — “a worrying trend to see coming to fruition,” said Pierce, who directs UCLA’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab.


School Travels to State Capital for Research Briefing and Alumni Gathering Back-to-back events in Sacramento provide networking opportunities and showcase scholarly works

In mid-February, a contingent of more than 30 people from UCLA Luskin made the trip to northern California in an effort to connect with alumni, government officials and policy experts involved in state government.

The two-day gathering in Sacramento was envisioned as the first of what will become an annual feature of the Luskin’s School’s outreach efforts, pairing an alumni get-together in the state capital with a research-focused briefing for elected officials and their staffs.

The UCLA Luskin Briefing at UC Center Sacramento took place during the time when new bills were being finalized for the next legislative session, and the hope is that the research of UCLA Luskin and its various research centers can put current and future legislative leaders in a better position to make data-informed decisions.

“It was very well attended by elected and appointed officials,” noted Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who made the effort a priority for this academic year and actively participated in the planning process. “The elected officials I talked to afterward were very appreciative for the event and told me that they hope to see more such events from our School.”

Two briefing sessions were held. A session on water management highlighted research by Adjunct Associate Professor Gregory Pierce MURP ’11 PhD UP ’15, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. A session on affordable housing was led by Associate Professor Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

The briefing and the Alumni Regional Reception, which took place the evening before, brought together faculty, staff or alumni from all four departments — Public Policy, Social Welfare, Urban Planning and the Undergraduate Program — as well as members of the Luskin School’s Board of Advisors.

A group of about 20 current Master of Public Policy students also made the trip, getting an opportunity to connect directly with alumni whose footsteps they may hope to follow, including Assemblyman Isaac Bryan MPP ’18, a member of the affordable housing panel.

Find out more about the briefing and view the bios of the 12 people who participated as speakers or panelists.

View photos from the alumni reception

Sacramento Alumni Regional Reception 2024

View photos from the research briefing

Sacramento Briefing 2024


An Equity-Focused Transition to Clean Energy in L.A.

Media coverage of UCLA’s LA100 Equity Strategies report, which will help the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power meet its goal of prioritizing equity as it transitions to renewable energy sources, featured several members of the UCLA Luskin community. Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, which produced the report’s chapter on energy affordability, addressed the DWP’s goal of transitioning to 100% carbon-neutral power by 2035 on KCRW’s Greater L.A. “I’m fairly optimistic that the city will get there, but it needs to move really quickly,” Pierce said. The report, which featured research from across the UCLA campus, was also highlighted in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times. Their stories cited Stephanie Pincetl UP PhD ’85, a professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and Cynthia McClain-Hill, president of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners and a member of the UCLA Luskin Board of Advisors.


Pierce on Water Safety Near Tustin Hangar Fire

An LAist story on contaminated debris from a massive fire at a World War II-era hangar in Tustin cited Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Lead, arsenic and asbestos have been detected in some ash and debris tested in the air and on the ground. While some groundwater has been contaminated, toxins are unlikely to make their way into drinking water systems, the story noted. Pierce, who directs the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab, said he has confidence in local water suppliers and official monitoring bodies to manage any potentially toxic effects from the fire on the water system. He added that the volume of toxic sediment that could reach waterways is likely small and diffuse and therefore unlikely to have a big impact on surface water quality.


L.A. Asks How to Equitably Achieve 100% Clean Energy by 2035 — and UCLA Answers Luskin School research centers join cross-campus effort to guide LADWP strategies centered on equity and justice

By Mara Elana Burstein

In 2021, after the LA100 analysis laid out pathways for the city of Los Angeles to produce 100% renewable electricity, the City Council and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power committed to pursuing the most ambitious — and expensive — scenario: achieving the goal by 2035 at a cost of nearly $40 billion.

But cost is far from the only challenge. Facing a legacy of inequity within the city’s energy system, the LADWP turned to UCLA researchers to develop strategies for pursuing clean energy without perpetuating social, racial and economic injustices.

Five teams convened by the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge answered the call, bringing together more than 20 UCLA faculty and researchers with expertise in engineering, environmental science, law, labor studies, public health and urban policy. Working with researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which offered computing power and technical capacity, these scholars provided a deep local context, as well as behavioral, social and political expertise, to help Los Angeles ensure a more just transition.

The release of their two-year study, the LA100 Equity Strategies report, was announced today at a press conference at LADWP headquarters downtown, where Mayor Karen Bass’ “Powered by Equity” initiative, based on the report’s findings, was also unveiled.

“We have an opportunity to be innovative and bold,” Bass said in a press release. “We have an opportunity to shape our clean energy future in a manner that delivers benefits to community residents and our LADWP customers in the neighborhoods where they live. We’re making a conscious decision to take intentional clean energy actions that are ‘Powered by Equity,’ as recommended by the newly released LA100 Equity Strategies research study.”

Stephanie Pincetl, a co-author of the report and director of the UCLA California Center for Sustainable Communities, welcomed the initiative, which will kick off with a LADWP project to build, operate and maintain a network of electric vehicle charging stations in underserved communities.

“No other utility in the United States has made a commitment to not only 100% renewable but making sure it’s implemented equitably,” said Pincetl, who earned a PhD in urban planning from UCLA in 1985. “This is the power of a municipal utility, a utility owned by and for its customers.”

The UCLA authors of LA100 Equity Strategies found that significant changes will be necessary to prevent the energy system’s injustices from increasing both during and after the transition, particularly for underserved communities of color, which currently bear the brunt of bad air quality, extreme heat and electrical outages. Without mitigation, these communities are projected to pay more for energy and experience fewer benefits over time.

To that end, UCLA’s approach has been justice-centered, providing community-informed, evidence-driven strategies and recommendations on affordability and policy solutions, air quality and public health, green jobs and workforce development, and housing and buildings.

The cost of electricity will rise with the transition to clean energy, with average electricity bills predicted to increase by nearly 80% for households overall and by more than 130% for low-income households by 2035. Addressing those rate hikes has been a key goal for UCLA researchers.

The work of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, supported by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, provides specific recommendations for robust, long-term structural solutions to improve LADWP customers’ ability to pay their energy bills. These include addressing regulations that constrain rate affordability and continuing to explore and scale up innovative approaches to support affordability for ratepayers.

“Affordability is a key equity concern for all LADWP stakeholders, and protections for lower-income customers must be expanded,” said Gregory Pierce, a report co-author and research director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “And as exposure to extreme heat increases, universal access to residential cooling is essential.”

The UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute analyzed aspects of energy affordability for small ethnic-owned businesses. They recommended that the LADWP partner with community-based organizations to better engage with these businesses.

Other projects, led by teams from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and UCLA California Center for Sustainable Cities, focused on improving air quality, promoting green jobs abd equitable workforce development, and proving energy upgrades to housing and other buildings, many of them in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Achieving the city’s carbon-neutral goal equitably requires intentional, community-informed, bold decisions adapted over time, and UCLA will continue to work with the LADWP and local communities on these efforts.

Importantly, the researchers say, UCLA’s methods, tools, insights and strategies not only support the LADWP’s efforts but can be used other cities seeking a just energy transition.

In addition to Pincetl and Pierce, the UCLA teams were led by Paul Ong, director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge; Yifang Zhu, professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of North America Integration and Development Center at UCLA; and Abel Valenzuela Jr., interim dean of social sciences and professor at the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Read the full story.

Learn more about the Luskin Center for Innovation’s recommendations for how to expand protections for low-income customers.

Pierce Says Think Again if You Believe El Niño Means No Water Worries

The last 12 months have been wetter than normal in California. And the traditionally wet season of mid-October to April arrives with predictions of a normally rainy El Niño climate pattern. Does that mean state water officials can take it easy because we’ll be seeing another robust Sierra Nevada snowpack, rapidly filling reservoirs and no need for drought mitigation measures? Unfortunately, no, said Greg Pierce, the director of the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab based at UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation. As he told LAist, “We may be right back in the situation we were before this last wet year in a year or two.” If the rains do come over the next few months, that’s an opportunity for conservation. “That should set us up again to avoid desperation for maybe, instead of one to two years, maybe three to five years,” he said.


‘A Ticking Time Bomb’ for California’s Water Systems

Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about failing water systems in California, which raise the risk of serious health issues for about 1 million residents. Concern over the availability of clean drinking water has grown as drought and climate change threaten traditional sources. “It’s a bit of a ticking time bomb,” said Pierce, who directs the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. Many water systems must take urgent steps or “they’ll be out of compliance and be failing” under new regulations that will soon be in place. The article also cited Max Gomberg MPP ’07, a consultant working with environmental justice advocates. “I think with enough resources, money, people and political will, the human right to water is absolutely achievable in California,” Gomberg said. “But it’s going to take all of that to a degree that has not been provided in the 11 years since the Human Right to Water Act was passed.”


Safety of Tap Water Discussed by Pierce on NPR Broadcast

Gregory Pierce, director of the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, participated in a discussion about the safety of tap water in California organized by KQED, the NPR and PBS member station for Northern California. Pierce, who received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, spoke about findings in a recent study conducted in cooperation with the University of Texas at Austin that found social factors — such as low population density, high housing vacancy, disability and race — can have a stronger influence than median household income on whether a community’s municipal water supply is more likely to have health-based water-quality violations.


UC Grant Will Fund EV Research by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation Team led by a Fielding School professor gets nearly $2 million to pursue an equitable model for electrical vehicle charger placement

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation will be a key contributor to research recently funded through a partnership between the University of California and the state intended to spur real-world solutions relating to climate change in California.

A team from the Center for Innovation, or LCI, will focus on community engagement relating to a project led by Yifang Zhu, professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, that will look at how efforts to reduce greenhouse gases can better enable residents of disadvantaged communities to adopt electric vehicles more readily. 

A $1.99 million grant under Zhu’s direction will fund the study of EV usage in communities that have historically lacked access to charging stations. The LCI researchers will work with local residents and community-based organizations to identify barriers, improve knowledge and awareness of EVs, and design plans for deploying and installing charging stations in underserved areas. 

To date, the siting of EV chargers has been a top-down process driven by business priorities rather than community needs and preferences. Gregory Pierce, adjunct associate professor of urban planning and co-executive director of LCI, said researchers will partner with three community-based organizations in the Los Angeles area to co-design the first-ever procedurally equitable process for placement of EV chargers. 

“We hope that this project leads to a new community co-designed model for placing electric vehicle charging stations throughout California that can accelerate our transition to a zero-emissions transportation future,” Pierce said. 

The UCLA Luskin-affiliated team will be co-led by Rachel Connolly, project director for air quality and environmental equity research at LCI. The effort will include surveys and a three-part workshop process relating to the siting of EV chargers and future investments in coordination with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and other partners. Connolly, who earned doctorate and master’s degrees in environmental health sciences from UCLA, has been working at LCI since 2017. 

In all, $83.1 million in California Climate Action grants were awarded to a total of 38 projects involving researchers from across the UC system, as well as California State University campuses, private universities and community, industry, tribal and public agencies. The two-year grants are part of $185 million allocated by the state for UC climate initiatives that advance progress toward California’s climate goals.

Read about other UCLA research funded by California Climate Action grants