Image of Chevron gas station price sign in Fresno, California

Newton and de León on California’s Skyrocketing Gas Prices

Jim Newton, lecturer of public policy, and Kevin de León, distinguished policymaker-in-residence, spoke to the Sacramento Bee’s California Influencer series about the rising cost of gas in the state. Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, said California should not be too concerned with high gasoline prices because they will lead to the development of alternative, clean technologies. “This has to happen,” Newton said. “It might as well start now.” De León, a former state senator, said, “The bitter irony about gasoline is that even though we need it to work, travel and live our lives, it is choking the clean air out of our lungs.” But he, too, pointed to a silver lining: “The pressure of high gas prices isn’t just an obstacle — it’s also an opportunity to drive a broader adoption of more affordable, renewable energy sources in California and across the nation.”


 

Yaroslavsky and Newton on Power of Endorsements

A Long Beach Post article on upcoming local elections called on two UCLA Luskin experts to weigh in on the power of political endorsements. The public is thirsty for authenticity, and that can be more meaningful than prominent backers, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky said. “The landscape is littered with insurgent candidacies that have prevailed and surprised a lot of people,” said Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles city councilman and county supervisor. Unions that offer endorsements often mobilize their members to campaign for candidates, which could make a difference in a low-turnout area, public policy lecturer Jim Newton added. But the impact of endorsements is limited, he said. “It really is an instance where voters have the last word,” Newton said. “In the end, voters can say ‘no’ to that.”


 

Newton on Subdivisions, Strip Malls and Sprawl

Public Policy lecturer Jim Newton commented on suburban sprawl in a New York Times article about the demonization of developers. Homebuilders, who once personified progress and opportunity in the United States, are now often vilified as unscrupulous characters driven by greed, the article said. In many cities, developers are blamed for the shortage of affordable housing; the irony is that remedying the shortage will probably require yet more development. Newton weighed in on the trend toward housing subdivisions and mass production to save time and money. “If you drive through the San Fernando Valley, you wouldn’t feel like someone did all of that because they were driven by a desire to create community, or that they were really modeling their housing on aesthetics,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of houses and strip malls.”


 

Newton Debates Eisenhower’s Stance on Desegregation

Jim Newton, public policy lecturer at UCLA Luskin, shared his interpretation of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s actions on desegregation while serving as president in a recent CJ Online article. According to Newton, President Eisenhower’s public statement that “the Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country, and I will obey,” after the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision banned racial segregation in schools in 1954, illustrates Eisenhower’s “lukewarm” stance on desegregation. “He did what was required of him but evidenced no enthusiasm for it,” Newton said, arguing that he believed Eisenhower didn’t fully anticipate what he was getting in the area of civil rights when he appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the United States. Newton, who has written biographies of both Eisenhower and Warren, commented that Eisenhower’s enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education at Little Rock was more about power than about desegregation.


Blueprint editor Jim Newton, left, with panelists Vinit Mukhija, Christina Miller and Phil Ansell. Photo by Les Dunseith

A Moral Imperative to Combat Homelessness A dialogue on 'the most pressing problem in this region' draws in civic leaders, scholars and citizens

By Mary Braswell

Ending homelessness is a stated priority for legislators and policymakers up and down the state.

But it’s also a moral imperative for every citizen, one that will “define our civic legacy in the eyes of future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“Homelessness is the most pressing problem in this region,” he said to open a wide-ranging dialogue hosted April 30 by UCLA’s Blueprint magazine. “Mere steps away from the dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find Angelenos — our brothers and our sisters — in utter squalor.”

Blueprint is a civic affairs publication of the UCLA chancellor’s office and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The event drew about 100 people to Cross Campus, a co-working venue in downtown Los Angeles.

Joining the conversation were public officials and scholars on the front lines of the region’s fight against housing insecurity: Phil Ansell, director of L.A. County’s homeless initiative; Christina Miller, deputy mayor for the city of Los Angeles’ homeless programs; and Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. Mukhija’s research focuses on substandard housing in the United States and abroad, and it was featured in the latest issue of Blueprint. Editor-in-chief Jim Newton, a UCLA Luskin lecturer in public policy, moderated the panel.

Stark numbers framed the conversation: “We have 52,000 people on any given night experiencing homelessness in the county,” Miller said.

To ensure housing security for all who need it, 560,000 affordable units must be built, Ansell added.

The discussion made clear that homelessness takes many forms. The chronically homeless may spend years on the street. Others find shelter in their cars or dwell in makeshift or substandard living conditions. Many drift in and out of homelessness due to precarious incomes and high rents.

Each of these populations requires a different response. And all of the proposed solutions require not just money, but time.

Miller said 10,000 “permanent supportive housing” units will be built over 10 years thanks to Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion city bond measure passed by voters in 2016. These units are designed for people suffering chronic disabilities — a small subset of those in need.

For short-term assistance such as temporary rent subsidies and job training, both the city and county offer rapid rehousing programs.

“People haven’t always connected the fact that the homelessness crisis is a housing crisis,” Miller said. “We see our system get better at lifting people up once they become homeless and getting them back into housing as quickly as we can, but we’re not seeing progress because the tide is too strong.”

Mukhija advocated for interim steps to provide safe living conditions while more permanent solutions make their way through the system.

“I love hearing all the numbers about 10,000 permanent supportive houses, and I think that’s the kind of thing that gets people galvanized to vote for a proposition and that’s wonderful,” he said. “But I would like to see storage for the homeless. I’d like to see more toilets. … I would like to see money targeted for improving existing accessory dwelling units,” such as garages that can be converted into shelter.

Ansell spoke about the county’s expanding Safe Parking L.A. program, which will soon be the largest of its kind in the nation.

“Safe parking means a parking lot where a person who lives in their car, van or RV can sleep safely at night, where there is security and they won’t be bothered, and there’s [an outdoor toilet] or other restroom facility, and hand washing,” Ansell said. “I think that’s a very important and promising strategy, particularly in a community where over half of our unsheltered homeless population is living in vehicles.”

Another county resource is la-hop.org, the county’s homeless outreach portal. “Anyone in Los Angeles County — a resident, a first responder, a city employee, a business, a faith organization — can use it 24 hours a day” to reach one of nearly 800 full-time outreach workers, Ansell said. A homeless person who needs immediate assistance should find a phone and dial 211.

The county’s homeless initiative was bolstered by the 2017 passage of Measure H, a sales tax expected to raise more than $350 million a year to combat homelessness. However, Ansell said, “This is not a crisis that the county can effectively address on its own.”

Citing support from government, philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and faith organizations, Ansell said, “We have hundreds of organizations and thousands of people who are involved on a full-time basis as part of this movement, and hundreds of thousands of other Los Angeles County residents who care very deeply about bringing their homeless neighbors home.”

“Housing and the Homeless: A Crisis of Policy and Conscience” is the theme of Blueprint’s latest issue, funded by a grant from Wells Fargo Bank.

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Blueprint Panel: Homelessness

Newton on Conflicts Between Sheriff and Supervisors

Jim Newton, public policy lecturer and editor of Blueprint magazine, wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed on L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has faced heavy criticism from the County Board of Supervisors and other observers who believe he is abusing his power. “The trouble, as boards of yore long ago discovered, is that the supervisors have an intense interest in the conduct of the sheriff, but they can’t do much about it,” Newton wrote. Supervisors are having difficulty controlling Villanueva because they can merely limit his budget, he explained. Newton urged the board to continue to seek creative ways to rein in a sheriff  whose judgment they do not trust. “It would be a tragedy if the sheriff’s department, so long hampered by misconduct and sloppy management, were to backslide on the progress of recent years because yet another sheriff was allowed to slip the reins of authority,” Newton wrote.


 

Blueprint Discussion: Housing and Homelessness

Join UCLA Luskin’s Jim Newton, editor-in-chief of Blueprint magazine, and experts from academia and government for a live conversation about one of our most basic needs — shelter — and how the region is working to help vulnerable Angelenos.

On any given night in Los Angeles County, an estimated 53,000 people are homeless — roughly 31,000 in the City of Los Angeles alone. About a third are chronically homeless with challenges related to mental health and addiction, but most are homeless because of a lack of affordable housing. While the income of renters has declined by 3 percent since 2000, rents have increased by 32 percent. Families falling on hard times have no place to go. A countywide tax raises more than $300 million per year to address the issue, but NIMBYism (not-in-my-backyard) is often an insurmountable hurdle when it comes to building permanent and temporary housing for the formerly homeless.

PARTICIPANTS

PHIL ANSELL
Director, The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative

CHRISTINA MILLER
Deputy Mayor, City of Los Angeles Homelessness Initiatives

VINIT MUKHIJA
Professor and Chair, Urban Planning, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

MODERATED BY JIM NEWTON
Editor-in-chief, UCLA Blueprint

With opening remarks by Los Angeles County Board Supervisor MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS.

 

 

Newton on ‘Golden Age’ for California Democrats

In a BBC News article relating the launch of Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential bid to a resurgence of Democratic power in California, Public Policy lecturer Jim Newton weighed in on the so-called Golden Age for California Democrats. Harris, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gavin Newsom represent a consolidation of the Democrats’ progressive wing. Newton explained, “You don’t have to look back very far for [California] to be fairly reliably Republican. This notion of it being an absolutely rock-solid Democratic bastion is a relatively new phenomenon.” After decades of economic failure, California is reaping the benefits of rapid economic expansion. Experts do predict a downturn, but Newton still sees opportunity for Democrats. “There’s going to be a downturn, and how Newsom handles that really will help send the message of whether this state is something different or just better than most at riding an upward business cycle,” he said.


Police Unions Object to Transparency, Newton Writes

Public policy lecturer Jim Newton recently published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times denouncing police unions’ “blanket attempts to shield [police] records.” Police shootings across the country have prompted demands for more transparency in law enforcement. A new law in California, SB 1421, requires that “records of police shootings and other uses of force be made public,” including “cases in which officers were investigated for dishonesty or sexual assault.” According to Newton, police unions are resisting the law by arguing that it “only applies to new records created after the law took effect.” Newton compares SB 1421 to other sunshine laws like the Freedom of Information Act, where access to “old documents … shed substantial new light on American history.” Newton acknowledges the special circumstances that may require withholding certain records from the public, but stresses the importance of transparency as a “crucial tool for keeping police accountable.”


Newton Pens Piece on Police Accountability

Jim Newton, UCLA Luskin lecturer of public policy, contributed a CALmatters “My Turn” commentary on proposed California legislation that would undo overly broad protection of police personnel records currently exempted under the California Public Records Act. “Senate Bill 1421 would undo a misguided effort in the 1970s to over-protect police from public scrutiny and yet preserve protections for officers who have done their jobs well,” wrote Newton, who also serves as editor-in-chief of the UCLA magazine Blueprint.