Financial Support Advances Timely, Problem-Solving Research Amid rising costs and declining state support, grants and gifts are more important than ever

By Stan Paul

In the most recent fiscal year, UCLA Luskin received more than $32 million in extramural funding, which includes research grants and contracts, gifts from individuals, foundation funding and endowments. The School’s fundraising efforts contributed to almost $11.5 million of that total.

Amid rising costs and declining state funding for the University of California system, this type of support is more important than ever. External funding sources large and small allow individual scholars and UCLA Luskin-affiliated research centers to continue to pursue important and timely research on numerous policy issues, including such pressing topics as the environment, labor, crime and social justice. Here are just a few examples:


The devastation of wildfires is well-known in California — loss of life, displacement of people from their homes, and high rebuilding costs to individuals, governments and the private sector.

Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, studies social dimensions of climate change, environmental and climate justice, and how cities are adapting to effects such as extreme weather and sea-level rise as a scholar at UCLA Luskin and in association with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

This research on wildfires and “managed retreat” has received support from the National Science Foundation, or NSF. The concept, in general, involves moving people and infrastructure out of harm’s way well before disaster strikes and is part a growing debate about managed retreat in high-risk coastal areas and fire-prone zones.

The grant resulted from the NSF’s 2022 call for proposals, which recognized wildland fire as “becoming an increasingly prevalent and pressing phenomenon nationally and globally.”

Her proposal received a one-year planning grant to develop a research agenda on the intersection of wildfire and managed retreat. The award is funded through the NSF’s Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment Program and the independent federal agency’s Human-Environment and Geographical Sciences Program.

“While there have been recent calls in the media, and by some policymakers and academics, to consider relocating people and infrastructure away from places facing high wildfire risk, little research examines whether retreat is an effective or equitable response in wildfire contexts,” Koslov said. The existing understanding of managed retreat is based almost exclusively on studies by herself and others that focused on flooding and sea-level rise.

Koslov and her co-principal investigator Kathryn McConnell, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University’s Population Studies and Training Center, argue that the dynamics of wildfire require attention in their own right.


Exposure to crime is among the factors that impact police decision-making and public trust in police, and that topic is part of a new study by Emily Weisburst, an assistant professor of public policy.

Thanks to a two-year grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, Weisburst and a UCLA colleague, Felipe Gonçalves of economics, plan to shed light on how and why the experience of crime and police enforcement of crime may differ in the United States for individuals from different races and income groups. The project uses descriptive mapping to look at disparities using high-frequency policing data — information that Weisburst said has not previously been available on a large scale.

Data from 911 calls, crimes and arrests across U.S. cities will be used to measure how Americans of different races and income levels are exposed to criminal activity. The researchers intend to document variations in exposure to crime and policing at a granular level in order to estimate the causal impact of residential segregation on racial gaps in neighborhood crime and arrest exposure.

“The analysis is really exciting, but it’s almost secondary to cleaning the data because the data collection is so ambitious. We’re getting these individual records of 911 calls, crimes and arrests from hundreds of cities around the country,” Weisburst said.

The data will come in different forms from different cities, and it all must be validated. Most of the data is now there to be verified, she said, “which allows UCLA graduate students and undergraduate students to get involved.”

Once disparities are mapped, the researchers will try to understand a primary causal factor: “We’re going to look at how these gaps vary across cities depending on their degree of segregation,” Weisburst said.

Guaranteed Income in L.A.

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Judith Perrigo is more than two years into a five-year study to evaluate an experiment whereby some Los Angeles residents negatively affected by the pandemic have been receiving a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month.

Perrigo’s work, funded in conjunction with Los Angeles County and the University of Pennsylvania, is part of a larger effort to evaluate similar programs in cities across the nation.

Perrigo is currently looking at L.A.’s version, a pilot program called Breathe in which 1,000 individuals received $1,000 a month for 36 months. She is working with a team that includes co-principal investigator Margaret Thomas, formerly of UCLA and now an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, as well as PhD students.

“We designed a randomized controlled trial following those 1,000 people that are receiving guaranteed income,” Perrigo said. In addition, researchers are contacting about 2,000 people who are not receiving guaranteed income, but applied for the program.

“We’re examining the differences between those two groups on overall health and well-being,” Perrigo said.

A digital dashboard shows in real time how people are using the funds. It includes demographic data on participants, and the economic context for pilot participants in terms of unemployment and inflation.

The spending breakdown shows that food, transportation and housing are among the top expenditures, whereas health care/medical expenses and education are closer to the bottom. “Not surprisingly, the majority are using [the money] for basic needs like rent and utilities,” Perrigo said.

More broadly, she is also interested in understanding the program’s impact on health, mental health, overall well-being and child development. The researchers are looking at a subset of families that have young children under age 5.

“We want to know if this program, or a program like this, can help disrupt intergenerational poverty,” said Perrigo, who specializes in advancing holistic well-being for young children.

A Second Chance for Incarcerated Youths

Laura Abrams, professor and chair of Social Welfare, is among a team of researchers from across the country awarded support by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to lead an extensive national study of young people sentenced to life in prison who are ultimately given a chance at freedom.

The team’s three-year project is building a base of knowledge that supports safe and equitable sentencing and “second-look” policies for people sentenced to life in prison for offenses committed before they were age 18. Some have spent years behind bars.

“This research seeks to answer critical policy questions,” Abrams said. “Can we develop a set of evidence-informed policies that provide second chances for people serving long sentences for violent crimes? Can we reduce our overreliance on long sentences in the future without compromising public safety?”

Koslov on the Retreat From Climate-Threatened Zones

Liz Koslov of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability spoke to Bloomberg CityLab about efforts to protect people from the risks of climate-related disaster through “managed retreat.” Communities threatened by flooding, wildfire and other emergencies face choices that can be emotionally and logistically difficult: Should they fortify their homes to withstand climate perils or retreat to safer locations? Koslov conducted extensive research into how this debate played out in coastal New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. With a National Science Foundation grant, she is now studying effective and equitable climate strategies for residents of areas with the highest wildfire risk. Coastal and wooded areas present different challenges, Koslov said. “With fire, a big contributor to fire risk is a lot of flammable overgrowth. If you just do a buyout with no attention to what happens to the land afterward, [you] could increase fire risk rather than reduce it.”


Koslov on New Approach to Disaster Relief

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov spoke to the New York Times about a new private lending program designed to fund disaster recovery and return victims to their homes. Federal aid programs can take years to get money to victims of natural disasters, including floods, wildfires and other catastrophes, which are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change. Renters, who are more likely than homeowners to be people or color or have low incomes, often must wait even longer for federal aid. The new program, funded by financial giant Morgan Stanley and the housing nonprofit Enterprise, will pay owners of apartment buildings to rebuild without waiting for federal funds; the loans will be repaid by taxpayers, with interest. The new lending arrangement “responds to a real need,” Koslov said. However, she noted that is problematic as it falls into a broader trend of private companies that profit from disasters.

Koslov on Social Causes of Climate Vulnerability

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov was featured in The City discussing a proposed voluntary buyout program for flood-prone houses in New York City. After Hurricane Sandy, many homeowners sold their properties back to the state through the Oakwood Beach buyout program. That successful effort was community-led and the housing stock was mostly single-family homes, Koslov said. Going forward, “a lot of the homes in the places that we now see are most at risk are also the most affordable,” she noted. Koslov pointed to social causes of climate vulnerability, including redlining and disinvestment, that cause people to live in those risky places in the first place. “If you’re just trying to un-build places that seem to be the most at risk, but you’re not addressing the underlying causes of that risk, which go far beyond climate change, it’s never going to satisfactorily or equitably reduce the risk that exists,” she said.

Koslov on Mobilizing to Combat Climate Change

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov was featured in a Katie Couric Media article about the growing threat of climate change. Many regions are already experiencing the consequences of climate change through frequent wildfires, long periods of drought, and increased frequency and severity of tropical storms. Rising temperatures and humidity have also prompted concerns about the health risks associated with climate change, including heat stroke and heat illness as well as exacerbation of chronic illness. While some changes such as rising sea levels are irreversible, there is still time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report describing five different climate futures depending on human action to reduce emissions and shift away from fossil fuel use. “There’s so much action happening to try to really transform these conditions,” Koslov said. “If anything, COVID showed us the power of mobilizing on a vast scale.”

Koslov on Preparing for More Flooding in NYC

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov spoke to the Literary Hub about New York City’s response to flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy and implications for the city’s future. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused 10 feet of flooding into the estuary, and researchers predict more frequent and severe flooding on the Eastern Seaboard as sea levels continue to rise. After Hurricane Sandy, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised not to abandon the waterfront and pledged millions of dollars to fortify existing infrastructure instead of taking the opportunity to reshape the shoreline based on anticipated sea levels. Meanwhile, the state government bought property along the coast, demolished houses and refused to allow future development. “Everyone was working at cross purposes,” said Koslov, who saw how funding and bureaucracy slowed down post-Sandy infrastructure projects. “People are not demanding change, so there is no real desire to reverse course,” she added.

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Koslov on Managed Retreat for At-Risk Communities

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov was featured in a review of Mark Arax’s “The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California” in the Los Angeles Review of Books. “The Dreamt Land” focuses on the water dramas of the Central Valley in California, including the environmental degradation of the region and the state’s ongoing efforts to manage climatic variability such as drought and fire. Managed retreat refers to the planned unsettling of or relocation from a threatened area, which is becoming an increasingly popular idea among communities in coastal and fire-prone zones. “Retreat is a powerful and evocative word, one that signals a change in direction — something we share the need for as a society even though we do not all live in places that are immediately vulnerable,” Koslov wrote. 

Koslov on NYC’s Battle to Protect Its Shoreline

Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, spoke with Curbed New York about the tense debate over how to protect New York City’s 578 miles of shoreline from the effects of climate change. Scientists forecast that lower Manhattan will see about six feet of sea-level rise in the next 80 years, triggering regular flooding and intensive storm surges. Koslov spoke about the competing impulses New Yorkers felt after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, with some pushing to redevelop valuable waterfront properties as others opted for “managed retreat” — relocating away from the perennially threatened coasts. Koslov, who is working on a book about Staten Island communities that rejected the rebuilding narrative, said managed retreat has won grassroots support but raises concerns including the impact of lost property taxes on local governments. She urged civic leaders to flesh out a vision for a well-planned “just retreat,” which can be “potentially empowering and a force for reconstructing communities and making the waterfront public again.”

Koslov on FEMA Buyouts of Flood-Prone Properties

Assistant professor of urban planning Liz Koslov spoke to NPR about Federal Emergency Management Agency buyouts of flood-prone properties. FEMA subsidizes the cost for local governments to buy out homes owned by people who want to relocate out of flood zones. A recent study found that counties that administer FEMA buyouts on average have higher incomes and population densities. The study also found that not all flood-prone communities can pursue a buyout because their local governments have not established FEMA programs. One reason that wealthier counties might be receiving more buyouts is that it requires significant bureaucratic and monetary resources to apply for and distribute buyout funds, the article noted. “Without public support, it’s clear that many people will be left without sufficient resources to move out of harm’s way,” Koslov said.


Koslov on Communities Rallying Around ‘Managed Retreat’

Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, spoke with Vice about “managed retreat” — the politically and emotionally complex process of moving entire populations away from escalating climate hazards. Common perceptions of retreat involve force — the government mandating the removal of a population or people barred from returning to their homes in the wake of a major disaster, Koslov said. This was not the case in many Staten Island neighborhoods that had experienced repeated floods for decades before they were devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, she said. Many residents were not only on board with managed retreat; they were actually impatient for state buyouts of their properties, her research found. “These are some of the most politically conservative parts of New York City, so I was really struck by watching older people who prided themselves on being individual homeowners — many of whom had longstanding, multigenerational ties to these neighborhoods — come together to organize essentially to disperse themselves,” Koslov said.