JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in a Popular Science article about General Motors’ announcement that it plans to eliminate emissions from passenger vehicles by 2035. “This is a seismic event that is hard to overstate in its importance to America’s transition to zero-emission vehicles,” DeShazo said. The company hopes to expand its electric vehicle fleet to 30 all-electric models and have 40% of the entire fleet composed of battery-electric cars by 2025. According to DeShazo, these plans are the strongest thus far to come from a traditional American automaker. While international companies like Volvo and BMW have announced similar goals, the U.S. industry has lagged behind. GM’s statement is going to force other automakers to respond, which will stimulate competition in the industry, DeShazo explained. However, he added, the adoption of zero-emission vehicles must go hand in hand with investment in renewable energy sources in order to effectively combat climate change.
Over 500 participants joined the Luskin Summit 2021 webinar “Preparing for Even Wilder Wildfires” on Feb. 4 to learn about the impacts of wildfires on health, housing and infrastructure, particularly in low-income communities. The webinar was moderated by JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, and featured a panel of experts from government, nonprofits and academia. Calling 2020 a year of disastrous wildfires, Professor Michael Jerrett of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health pointed to an indelible human fingerprint on forest mismanagement. He identified wildfires as an environmental justice issue due to the disproportionate impact on people of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to the destruction of housing and infrastructure, wildfires emit complicated mixtures of pollutants that can have negative health consequences on human populations, he said. DeShazo explained that even in an ideal wildfire management scenario, we will still face small wildfires, reinforcing the importance of developing policies to mitigate their impact on our health and environment. Gregory Pierce, associate director of the Center for Innovation, spoke about the housing affordability crisis that has led to a pattern of building homes in fire-prone areas. He suggested increasing the supply of affordable housing in areas that are not prone to wildfires, updating zoning and urban design standards, and implementing policies to increase the fire resistance of buildings. Justin Knighten, advisor to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, highlighted the importance of infusing equity into the conversation and reimagining what it means to be prepared for wildfires while working with vulnerable communities. — Zoe Day
By Michelle Einstein
In California, local demand for renewable energy is helping the state exceed its clean energy goals, according to a new UCLA study.
Research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation shows the growing impact of community choice aggregators, or CCAs, on energy procurement and illustrates the effects cleaner energy providers are having on the state’s power supply.
Community choice aggregators buy clean energy on behalf of their residents and businesses, offering an alternative to investor-owned utilities and enabling localities to take control of their energy procurement. The CCA serving much of the Los Angeles region is Clean Power Alliance, which provides energy to customers in 31 cities and counties, including Alhambra, Culver City, Downey and Santa Monica.
“Community choice in energy has largely fallen under the radar, but it is rapidly reshaping the energy sector in California,” said Kelly Trumbull, a researcher at the Center for Innovation and lead author of the report (PDF).
According to the report, the use of community choice energy has grown quickly in the state. More than 30% of California households and businesses — more than 10 million customers — now have the option to choose a CCA as their electricity provider, up from less than 1% in 2010.
The vast majority of these energy providers offer more energy that derives from renewable sources. In all, the energy delivered by CCAs comes from renewable sources by an average of 25 percentage points more than energy from investor-owned utilities in the same regions. CCAs purchased twice as much renewable energy as required by the state from 2011 to 2019, researchers found.
That has helped the state achieve a cumulatively larger reduction in greenhouse gas emissions each year. The clean energy goals, established by the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, stipulate that 100% of the state’s energy be carbon-free by 2045. An interim target was set at 25% renewable energy until 2019. According to the report, a weighted average of 50% of the CCAs’ energy came from renewable sources that year.
The trend toward cleaner energy providers has also benefited residents by providing cheaper electricity: 73% of communities that offer community choice do so at a lower default rate than their investor-owned counterparts, the study found. And the CCAs often provide additional environmental and economic benefits, including financial assistance programs for low-income residents and incentives for electric transportation.
The authors write that the community choice aggregator model could be replicated in a variety of communities across the nation.
“We found that in California, CCAs successfully serve a wide variety of communities with ranging sizes, median incomes and political affiliations,” Trumbull said. “This suggests that CCAs could be implemented throughout the country.”
Nine states currently allow for a community choice approach, and interest is growing. Among the study’s takeaways from the California model:
- CCAs are most effective in communities where the demand for carbon-free energy exceeds what is currently provided.
- Partnerships among multiple cities and counties give CCAs an economy-of-scale advantage by keeping operating costs low.
- State policy and regulation play a critical role in the success of the community choice approach, starting with the fact that California needed to enact legislation to allow for CCAs to exist.
The research, which was supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, adds to the Luskin Center for Innovation’s large body of research on community choice electricity and renewable energy.
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, expressed doubts about the future of hydrogen-powered vehicles in an ABC News article. A small market exists for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which convert hydrogen gas into electricity to power an electric motor. These “plug-less” vehicles can refuel in less than five minutes and have a long driving range. However, DeShazo noted that the infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel for transportation has never materialized. “If there were stations everywhere, hydrogen would be an obvious solution,” DeShazo explained. “Refueling stations are really expensive and require significant economies of scale to be cost effective and compete with gasoline and electricity.” There are currently 42 hydrogen fueling stations in California, and the average price of hydrogen is much higher than a gallon of gasoline. DeShazo also pointed out that the production of hydrogen causes greenhouse emissions, making it less environmentally sustainable.
The Trump administration’s decision to remove federal Clean Water Act protections from millions of acres of wetlands and millions of miles of streams is based on dubious methodology and flawed logic, according to a new report by environmental economists from leading research institutions across the United States.
“The EPA’s decision to make major changes to the rules protecting the nation’s waterways relies on economic analysis that may underestimate the benefits of streams and wetlands, especially as they affect waters downstream,” said David Keiser of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a co-author of the report. “The EPA also failed to adhere to its own guidelines. The new rule includes many contradictions that are inconsistent with the best available science.”
The study is titled “Report on the Repeal of the Clean Water Rule and Its Replacement With the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to Define Waters of the United States.” It was prepared by the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, which is partially funded by the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA and co-chaired by JR DeShazo, a professor of public policy, urban planning, and civil and environmental engineering at UCLA.
Last January, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers removed the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which clarified which bodies of water fell under federal protection from pollution under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Earlier this year, the agencies replaced that rule with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removes isolated wetlands, and ephemeral and intermittent streams from federal pollution protection.
The rule change makes it much easier for developers, agricultural operations, oil and gas companies, and mining companies to dredge, fill, divert, and dump pollution into ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands. Ripple effects could include worsening water pollution; loss of habitat for birds, fish and other species; diminished recreational waterways; more frequent algal blooms; and increased flood damage to communities as wetlands disappear, according to the report.
A 2017 staff analysis by the EPA and the Army Corps found that the new rule would leave over half of U.S. wetlands and 18% of U.S. streams unprotected, including 35% of streams in the arid West.
While developing the rule, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers considered water quality as only a “local public good.” This ignores extensive scientific research that shows that even ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands are connected to larger watersheds, so what happens upstream affects waterways downstream, increasing the risk of flooding, diminishing water quality and causing other problems that don’t stop at state borders. The report finds that this artificially narrow view skewed benefit-cost analyses in a way that favored removal of regulations.
The agencies also relied on some questionable assumptions. For example, EPA projections of nationwide benefits assumed that every state — including arid places like Nevada or Arizona and wetland-rich states like Florida — has the same baseline number of wetland acres.
The agencies based the benefit-cost analyses on the assumption that leaving streams and wetlands unprotected won’t cause any harm to water quality in many states, the report says, because those states will rush in to protect waterways as needed.
“Experience shows that’s just not credible,” said Sheila Olmstead of the University of Texas at Austin, a report co-author. “We have a real-world apples-to-apples comparison to look at: When the Supreme Court removed federal protection from many U.S. wetlands by overturning the Migratory Bird Rule in 2001, only a few states moved to expand their own jurisdiction over some of the affected waters over the next 20 years. Given this prior behavior, EPA’s prediction that dozens of states will move to protect wetlands and streams this time around seems highly unlikely. In addition, assuming that many states will enact new legislation that doesn’t currently exist violates EPA’s own Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analysis.”
Environmental federalism — the idea that states do a better job at environmental regulation than the national government — can work in some situations, but it is not supported in this case, the report says. In addition to Keiser and Olmstead, co-authors include Kevin Boyle, Virginia Tech; Victor Flatt, University of Houston; Bonnie Keeler, University of Minnesota; Daniel Phaneuf, University of Wisconsin; Joseph S. Shapiro, University of California, Berkeley; and Jay Shimshack, University of Virginia.
President-elect Joe Biden has said his administration will review the Trump administration’s decision to remove Clean Water Act protection from wetlands and intermittent streams. But reversing that decision could be messy: At least a dozen court cases have been filed so far, and defining the protected waters of the United States has been the subject of debate for decades.
In the meantime, businesses are not waiting to take advantage of the weaker rules. For example, Twin Pines Minerals says it no longer needs a federal permit and so will start work on a controversial titanium dioxide mine near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, which is home to the largest National Wildlife Refuge east of the Mississippi.
“The Biden Administration will attempt to respond to a number of EPA rule rollbacks undertaken by the Trump administration. This report points to how a Biden administration can correct structural weaknesses in this rule as well as other important EPA policies,” said DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center of Innovation.
The External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee was established after the EPA dissolved its own internal Environmental Economics Advisory Committee in 2018. That committee had contributed to policy analysis for 25 years as part of the EPA’s science advisory board system, and the new group is continuing this work from outside the agency.
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, co-authored an article in the Morning Consult about the state of science on the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency. DeShazo wrote that four years of the Trump administration have weakened the rules that protect Americans’ health and environment. The Trump administration removed independent scientific advisors who protected the rulemaking process from political influence and eliminated the EPA’s Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, allowing expertise and technical know-how to fall by the wayside. DeShazo pointed to the COVID-19 crisis as evidence of the “damage caused when politics take precedence over research, science and expertise.” He expressed hope that the “EPA will soon return to robust, science-informed environmental policymaking” under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. “Re-elevating the role of science within the EPA would be the best birthday gift the agency could receive today,” he concluded.
JR DeShazo, director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an ABC News article discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on electric vehicle sales. Electric vehicles, or EVs, are already more expensive than their gasoline-powered equivalents, and widespread economic insecurity as a result of the pandemic has made Americans less likely to buy one during this time, even if they can afford it. DeShazo, a professor of public policy and urban planning, predicted that the pandemic may usher in new environmental policies around the country. “A lot of states are talking about sustainable stimulus package incentives for vehicles that would include used and hybrid vehicles, charging equipment at home and at work, and subsidies for clean transportation,” he said. “In some ways the pandemic has made people appreciate life without all this car-created pollution. It has changed how people think about EVs.”
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to LAist about the complicated effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on vehicle emissions and air pollution in Los Angeles. Emptier roads have decreased vehicle emissions and nitrogen dioxide levels, yet experts have noted that smog levels are staying high later in the evening. While air pollution due to transportation-related emissions is decreasing, researchers can’t yet say with scientific certainty by how much — or what the lasting effects of that drop in emissions will be. Furthermore, DeShazo warns against compartmentalizing only the benefits of improved air quality while ignoring the huge human costs of the unprecedented global health crisis. “We’re seeing how important travel is to producing employment opportunities and educational opportunities and access to health care,” he explained. “I think we have to be very cautious in how we interpret this impact.”
By Colleen Callahan
The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) has supported the launch of California’s innovative Transformative Climate Communities Program (TCC), one of the world’s most comprehensive sets of investments in local climate action. This includes developing the evaluation plan to track progress and evaluate outcomes from investments that could serve as a global model for community-scale climate action.
Now, inaugural progress reports for the first communities awarded TCC grants — Fresno, Ontario and Watts in Los Angeles — are authored by LCI researchers. These reports, and other resources related to LCI’s tracking of the groundbreaking efforts in local climate action, are centralized on a new TCC resource page. Policymakers, community stakeholders, researchers and others interested in local strategies to combat climate change can use this page to monitor progress, best practices and lessons learned over the five-year TCC grant implementation period that began in the spring of 2019.
The program to fund the development and implementation of neighborhood-level transformative plans that include multiple projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was authorized by Assembly Bill 2722 in 2016. In addition to fighting climate change, the program empowers disadvantaged communities impacted by poverty and pollution to support projects that advance their local economic, environmental and health goals.
“TCC may be the most holistic investment in neighborhood-scale and community-driven climate action anywhere on the planet,” said Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project manager of UCLA’s TCC evaluation. “Lessons learned from this new program could have potentially broad implications for climate action elsewhere.”
The California Strategic Growth Council serves as the lead administrator of TCC and awarded the first round of grants to Fresno ($66.5 million), Ontario ($33.25 million) and the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles ($33.25 million).
Communities are empowered to customize their projects and plans based on their priorities and partnerships. The program includes mechanisms for accountability, including oversight from community members as well as third-party evaluation from academic researchers.
The team at the Luskin Center for Innovation and a similar group from the UC Berkeley Center for Resource Efficient Communities comprised the evaluation team for round 1 of TCC grants. UCLA researchers will take on a fourth TCC site for evaluation, Northeast Valley Los Angeles, during round 2 of TCC implementation.
The evaluation team worked with Fresno, Ontario and Watts stakeholders to create the Transformative Climate Communities Evaluation Plan, which UCLA published in late 2018. This research roadmap is being used to track and assess progress and results over a five-year period in those communities.
Now, UCLA has released the first annual report spanning the initial months of grant implementation.These reports highlight a wealth of data, including community conditions that could change during the five years of TCC implementation. Baseline trends relate to demographic, economic, energy, environmental, health, housing and transportation conditions.
“This first set of reports also documents progress on TCC implementation to date, including project milestones and personal stories of how TCC investments are affecting the lives of people who live and work in the pilot communities,” Karpman said. “This includes the voices of resident leaders in Ontario working to implement the site’s community engagement plan, a job trainee in Fresno learning how to install solar panels, and a high school student in Watts helping to expand a community garden.”
The first set of annual reports focuses on the period following the initial announcement of the TCC awards in 2018 through June 2019, which includes the first few months of project implementation. Common milestones across the three sites include laying the foundation for grant success, establishing partnerships and a governance structure, and launching new local initiatives around health, economic development and the environment.
UCLA’s page includes a number of other resources. Photos of residents and project staff show them working to bring their communities’ vision to reality. Supplemental methodological documentation such as open source code is available for those seeking to replicate findings. And staff bios show the evaluators involved with the project.
TCC is part of a suite of efforts, known as California Climate Investments, funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program. It unifies many of the California Climate Investments project types into a single, place-based initiative. Specifically, TCC funds the following project types:
- construction of affordable housing near transit;
- installation of rooftop solar and energy efficiency improvements for homes;
- purchase of electric vehicles, including buses, that can run on clean energy instead of fossil fuels;
- expansion of bus service coverage or frequency;
- improvement and expansion of bike lanes and sidewalks;
- planting of trees along bike and pedestrian routes and near buildings;
- implementation of waste diversion programs, such as the collection and reuse of food waste and neighborhood-scale composting.
To maximize the benefits of these types of projects, grantees also must develop and implement the following transformative plans:
- a community engagement plan to ensure TCC investments reflect the vision and goals of community members;
- a workforce development plan to bring economic opportunities to disadvantaged and low-income communities;
- a displacement avoidance plan to minimize the risk of gentrification and displacement of residents and businesses following neighborhood improvements.
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.”