For 30 Years, Lewis Center Has Responded to L.A. Issues With Ideas All six current and former directors gather to recall the challenges and successes they experienced while leading regional policy research at UCLA

By Lauren Hiller

During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.

All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.

In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.

“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.

“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.

Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.

“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”

Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.

By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.

Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.

Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.

Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.

DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.

“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.

“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.

The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.

Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.

He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.

Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.

“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”

A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.

“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.

Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?

The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.

“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”

Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”

DeShazo on Future of Electric-Car Infrastructure in Indianapolis

JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and professor of public policy, spoke to the Indianapolis Star about the demise of the electric-car-sharing service BlueIndy. The service allowed people to rent a car in one neighborhood and leave it in another for a relatively low cost, but the company never gained traction. After nearly five years of sluggish growth and financial losses, the car service will shut down in May, and the city must decide what to do with the 81 electric car stations that have already been built. City officials are debating between reverting the stations to parking spots or purchasing the charging stations and building upon environmentally friendly infrastructure. According to DeShazo, BlueIndy’s demise creates a potential opportunity for Indianapolis. “Even if the car-share isn’t successful,” he said, “they’ve created a network of charging stations, which can be repurposed to support other charging needs the community might have.”


UCLA Study on Plastic Waste in L.A. County Will Inform Ordinance Research shows that recycling is not a panacea for plastic waste problem and finds that reusable alternatives can be cost-effective

By Colleen Callahan

A new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) that highlights impacts of plastic production and waste in Los Angeles County will benefit the county in drafting an ordinance addressing plastic waste.

“One of the findings from the report that may surprise Angelenos is that a majority of plastic waste in L.A. County is not currently recycled,” said Gary Gero, the county’s chief sustainability officer. “This is just part of the problem behind the environmental, economic, energy and human-health-related impacts associated with plastic production and waste in L.A. County, which this study clearly reveals.”

The report also analyzes alternative options in food service and singles out single-use plastic food service waste for its outsized representation in litter and its low recycling potential. No facility in L.A. County currently recycles plastic food service ware because of concerns about food contamination and other issues. After a policy change from China in 2018 to limit recyclable waste materials accepted by that country, only #1 and #2 plastics are commonly recycled.

“Fortunately, there are alternatives to plastic containers, cups, straws and ‘sporks’ that make practical and economic sense,” said JR DeShazo, the principal investigator on the study and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “Solutions are on hand, as the report makes abundantly clear.”

Researchers found that compostable ware can reduce environmental impacts as compared to plastic. But the report also explains that a full transition to compostable ware across the region would need to be approached carefully.

For one, it would require an expansion of the currently limited composting infrastructure in L.A. County. Fortunately, state regulations are in place to mandate this expansion over the next few years and the county is actively working toward meeting those state targets. In addition, a larger transition to compostable ware would require thoughtful consideration of materials in order to select products with a lower lifetime environmental impact as compared to plastic. Compostable products that are 100% fiber-based without chemical treatment produce the best environmental outcome.

No disposable ware can beat the environmental footprint of reusable food service ware, researchers found. Moving to reusables in place of disposables represents a large shift for many food vendors, with higher up-front costs but lower expenditures over time.

The fiscal break-even point for businesses can generally occur within the first year of transition, with direct cost savings for businesses afterward totaling thousands of dollars per year, according to the study.

“It was heartening to see the conclusions related to economic impacts of moving our businesses to more sustainable materials,” Gero said. “It’s also relatively easy for us, as individuals, to do something about it — like bringing our own cups, straws and utensils when we dine at a fast-service type of restaurant.”

In California, 135 cities and counties have adopted ordinances related to single-use plastic reduction. Researchers interviewed officials from eight of those cities, mostly in L.A. County.

The experiences of these jurisdictions indicate that policies restricting plastics have been effective at reducing the adverse impacts of plastic waste with no reported negative economic impacts. These jurisdictions have provided avenues for vendors to claim exemptions for financial hardship, but the rate at which vendors have applied for such exemptions is very low, the study notes.

The Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office commissioned the study, per a motion by county supervisors directing the office to contract with UCLA to study the issue of plastic waste, processing, recyclability and alternatives in the county. The motion came after supervisors earlier in 2019 approved the OurCounty Sustainability Plan, a comprehensive approach to help L.A. County transition to a more sustainable future through actions that include plastic waste reduction.  The county plans to release its draft ordinance later in 2020.

 

image of polluting factory

Environmental Economists Warn EPA Analysis Undermines Pollutant Protections

Roll Call, The Hill and Reuters were among news agencies covering a report finding that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that could lead to an increase in mercury pollution from power plants relied on a flawed analysis. The report was issued by the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC), which is co-chaired by JR DeShazo, Public Policy chair and director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation. The E-EEAC examined the cost-benefit analysis underpinning the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards proposal, which emphasized the cost of pollution controls rather than the overall public health benefits. This approach could lead to legal challenges, the E-EEAC warned. The group, made up of environmental economists, is an independent organization providing guidance to the EPA. It was created after the EPA disbanded its own advisory committee of environmental economists in 2018.


 

A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019

Summit Highlights Local Transitions to 100% Clean Energy

The Summit on State and Local Progress Toward 100% Clean Energy, which brought experts from 30 states to UCLA to discuss different community approaches to environmental goals, was covered by media outlets including Forbes and Greentech Media. The summit was hosted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), which issued a report finding that more than 200 cities and counties have committed to a 100% clean electricity target — and dozens have already hit it. The report highlights differences in how and when communities plan to achieve their targets. “We’re going to look back on this moment as the moment when local action and state commitments began to push the entire nation toward this goal,” LCI Director JR DeShazo said. Senior analyst and policymaker-in-residence Kevin de León added, “The lack of leadership at the national level has forced states, cities and counties to take the lead and fight for their own public health.”


image of solar panel

DeShazo and Callahan on California’s Move Toward Clean Energy

Luskin Center for Innovation Director JR DeShazo and Deputy Director Colleen Callahan co-authored an opinion piece for the Capitol Weekly that explores the rise of clean energy in cities. Dozens of cities and counties in California are already running on 100% clean energy, a transition often spearheaded by local leaders, the authors found. They argued for a statewide move toward clean energy achieved by reforming state and utility policies, modernizing grid operations and increasing grid connectedness. “Local communities are proving possible what once seemed impossible: Cities and counties can run on 100% clean power,” DeShazo and Callahan wrote. “By achieving this goal today, local initiatives can light the way for the rest of the country. They can and should serve as inspiration to other cities, states, and the federal government to support 100% clean energy commitments, and to take bold action to achieve those goals.”


 

Public Policy Hosts Weekend of Learning and Service

About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.

View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.

PPIA Public Service Weekend


 

Incisive, Loyal, Droll: Remembering Mark Kleiman

Colleagues, students and friends of Mark A.R. Kleiman, professor emeritus of public policy, gathered to remember the noted educator, author and expert on drug and crime policy at a Sept. 23 memorial at the UCLA Faculty Club. Kleiman, who helped build UCLA Luskin’s Public Policy program when he joined the faculty in 1996, died over the summer after a long illness. In his 17 years with the program, Kleiman was intellectually aggressive, incredibly loyal and deeply dedicated to teaching policy analysis to the next generation, said JR DeShazo, chair of Public Policy. Kleiman was remembered as a sometimes intimidating presence known for his sly humor and ability to turn complicated ideas into “beautiful pearls.” His incisive questions cut to the heart of any issue and enlivened discourse in the classroom and at faculty gatherings, his colleagues and students recalled. “He loved learning, he loved knowing, and he loved arguing,” said Barbara Nelson, former dean of the Luskin School and professor emerita of public policy, social welfare, urban planning and political science. Brad Rowe, MPP ’13 and a lecturer in public policy, knew Kleiman as a professor, then a colleague at the drug policy consulting firm Kleiman founded. “I don’t use this term lightly,” Rowe said, “but I had a front-row seat at witnessing genius for a period of my life and I’m very thankful for that.”

A memoriam to Kleiman’s life and career can be found here.

View a Flickr album of the memorial.

Remembering Mark Kleiman

UCLA to Conduct First-of-Its-Kind Analysis for Drinking Water in California $3 million contract from the state will help reveal water system risks and solutions

By Colleen Callahan

California is the only state to legally recognize a human right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. But this right is not yet a reality in all communities. About 400 water systems in California are currently known to be noncompliant, with many others suspected of being at high risk of violating quality or affordability standards.

Through a $3 million contract with the California State Water Resources Board, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) will conduct a statewide drinking water needs analysis to identify risks and solutions for water systems and private wells throughout the state.

LCI, which unites UCLA scholars and civic leaders to solve environmental challenges, will analyze the technical, managerial and financial capacity of hundreds of systems that provide drinking water to Californians, which has never been done comprehensively before. The center will start with the state’s existing database of noncompliant water systems and will also identify systems at risk of future violations.

“About 90% of California’s public water system violations occur in systems serving less than 500 service connections, underscoring the inherent risk of small size and lack of capacity,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and lead researcher on the analysis.

The center will develop a method for assessing different types of drinking water risks, then evaluate solutions for those risks. Recommendations will be tailored for each water system and private well in violation or at risk of violation. Interventions could include:

  • Using enhanced treatment technologies.
  • Consolidating with a system that has more capacity.
  • Providing emergency water during an interim period.

In addition, the center will analyze the costs of interim and long-term strategies, identify the appropriate funding source and determine whether additional funding is needed.

Recognizing that advancing the human right to water must be a collaboration, the LuskinCenter for Innovation will partner with several entities to conduct the analysis. Subcontractors include the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center, Corona Environmental Consulting, Cal State Sacramento’s Office of Water Programs and the nonprofit Pacific Institute. The work is expected to conclude in 2021.

“This work recognizes that California needs to further address the drinking water quality and affordability issues faced by a number of small and medium-sized water systems and private well owners in a more strategic and better-funded way,” Pierce said.

This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 200, which established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to help finance the effort to bring adequate water supplies to disadvantaged communities.

The LCI analysis will help inform the spending plan for SB 200 and other associated funding streams by prioritizing which water systems and wells get funding and determining the best solutions for each community.

For the smallest systems, water safety is a primary concern; for larger systems, the center will focus on affordability. LCI’s previous research identified wide disparities in the cost of water. In Los Angeles County, different rates charged by water providers can lead to average annual water bills that are up to $2,000 higher in some households.

In the years since California enshrined a human right to water in 2012, LCI has supported its implementation. This work includes the design of a statewide water rate assistance program for low-income households, as required by Assembly Bill 401, which then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2015. The center’s report will be released later this year.

In another example of support for sustainable water systems in L.A. County, JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, is serving on an oversight committee for Measure W, which will raise hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes to capture and treat stormwater runoff.