In a drought-prone area like Los Angeles, rainwater provides tremendous potential to boost local water supply, as well as provide multiple other ecosystem and community benefits. That’s why in 2018, L.A. County voters approved Measure W, a tax that raises about $280 million annually to capture, clean and reuse water runoff. Measure W and the program it created, the Safe Clean Water Program, funds projects to clean and strengthen the local water supply and build community resilience. Research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Stantec is helping to ensure that these investments benefit all Angelenos, especially residents of disadvantaged communities, as the program already calls for. A new report provides advice to the county to strengthen the impacts of the program over time. The study analyzed 116 projects funded by the program — projects like converting open spaces into wetlands and adding rain gardens along transit lines. Researchers explored the program’s selection process and how projects are geographically distributed in disadvantaged communities. The team also conducted workshops with nonprofit, community-based, and public and private sector stakeholders to understand neighborhood needs and anticipated benefits from each project. “It’s crucial that members of disadvantaged communities have the opportunity to identify those benefits for their own communities. It can’t just be a top-down process,” said Jon Christensen, co-author of the report and an affiliated scholar at the Center for Innovation. This project builds upon the center’s research on local water resilience, environmental equity and urban greening, as well as L.A.’s voter-approved infrastructure measures.
“A Landmark Opportunity for Park Equity,” the fourth webinar in the 2021 Luskin Summit series, focused on the importance of public parks and other outdoor spaces for the physical, mental and environmental well-being of communities. The Feb. 17 panel was moderated by Jon Christensen, an affiliate faculty member of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Angela Barranco, undersecretary at the California Natural Resources Agency, explained that the “COVID-19 pandemic has elevated and revealed the importance of access to the outdoors for all.” She noted that 1 in 4 Californians has zero access to parks within walking distance, and 6 in 10 Californians live in park-poor neighborhoods. These inequities can lead to severe health consequences and in some cases could be the difference between life and death, she said. California voters have approved multiple statewide environmental bonds recently, making this a “watershed moment for park access,” said Alfredo Gonzalez, Southern California director of the Resources Legacy Fund. Norma García-Gonzalez BA ’95 MA UP ’99, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, highlighted the important role that the public park system has taken on during the pandemic, including serving as winter shelters and vaccination sites, and providing 40,000 households with food through a partnership with Los Angeles Food Bank. “Investing in parks for Black and brown youth is justice reform,” García-Gonzalez said. “This is a call to action that we must work with local and state leaders to make critical investments to support Black and brown students and their futures.” — Zoe Day