Lingering Impact of the Shelved 710 Freeway Project

Research led by Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, will help guide a master plan for rebuilding Pasadena neighborhoods razed decades ago to make way for the 710 Freeway extension, a project that has now been abandoned. Pasadena Now covered Ong’s presentation before a city task force considering the future of the undeveloped acreage the size of 40 football fields, once the site of 1,500 homes occupied by mostly low-income and minority residents. Ong’s team will assess the historical impact of freeways on segregation in Pasadena by examining census data, policies and practices over more than seven decades. The 710 Freeway project came “at a juncture in our history that involved struggles around civil rights, around suburbanization of white flight, around post-industrial development and around immigration-driven demographic changes,” Ong told the task force. “Freeway development … occurs within a larger context, a societal transformation.”


How Stockton’s Asian Enclaves Fell Victim to ‘Progress’

A Zocalo article authored by researchers from the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin tells of the thriving Asian enclaves of Stockton, California, that were razed in the mid-20th century in the name of “progress” — and efforts today to make amends. The city’s Chinatown, Japantown and Little Manila were once filled with stores, restaurants, religious institutions and communal gathering spaces. But discriminatory laws meant the Asian community had to live in crowded, poorly maintained housing. Stockton leaders deemed the enclaves “undesirable slums” and set out to replace them with mainstream commercial development. The effort was accelerated by California’s Division of Highways, now known as Caltrans, which razed the community to make way for the Crosstown Freeway linking Interstate 5 and Route 99. Caltrans is now proposing a project that would revitalize the enclaves displaced by the freeway. The authors note, “It’s too early to know if such rhetoric will prove to be tokenism or materialize as real restorative justice.”


L.A. Asks How to Equitably Achieve 100% Clean Energy by 2035 — and UCLA Answers Luskin School research centers join cross-campus effort to guide LADWP strategies centered on equity and justice

By Mara Elana Burstein

In 2021, after the LA100 analysis laid out pathways for the city of Los Angeles to produce 100% renewable electricity, the City Council and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power committed to pursuing the most ambitious — and expensive — scenario: achieving the goal by 2035 at a cost of nearly $40 billion.

But cost is far from the only challenge. Facing a legacy of inequity within the city’s energy system, the LADWP turned to UCLA researchers to develop strategies for pursuing clean energy without perpetuating social, racial and economic injustices.

Five teams convened by the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge answered the call, bringing together more than 20 UCLA faculty and researchers with expertise in engineering, environmental science, law, labor studies, public health and urban policy. Working with researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which offered computing power and technical capacity, these scholars provided a deep local context, as well as behavioral, social and political expertise, to help Los Angeles ensure a more just transition.

The release of their two-year study, the LA100 Equity Strategies report, was announced today at a press conference at LADWP headquarters downtown, where Mayor Karen Bass’ “Powered by Equity” initiative, based on the report’s findings, was also unveiled.

“We have an opportunity to be innovative and bold,” Bass said in a press release. “We have an opportunity to shape our clean energy future in a manner that delivers benefits to community residents and our LADWP customers in the neighborhoods where they live. We’re making a conscious decision to take intentional clean energy actions that are ‘Powered by Equity,’ as recommended by the newly released LA100 Equity Strategies research study.”

Stephanie Pincetl, a co-author of the report and director of the UCLA California Center for Sustainable Communities, welcomed the initiative, which will kick off with a LADWP project to build, operate and maintain a network of electric vehicle charging stations in underserved communities.

“No other utility in the United States has made a commitment to not only 100% renewable but making sure it’s implemented equitably,” said Pincetl, who earned a PhD in urban planning from UCLA in 1985. “This is the power of a municipal utility, a utility owned by and for its customers.”

The UCLA authors of LA100 Equity Strategies found that significant changes will be necessary to prevent the energy system’s injustices from increasing both during and after the transition, particularly for underserved communities of color, which currently bear the brunt of bad air quality, extreme heat and electrical outages. Without mitigation, these communities are projected to pay more for energy and experience fewer benefits over time.

To that end, UCLA’s approach has been justice-centered, providing community-informed, evidence-driven strategies and recommendations on affordability and policy solutions, air quality and public health, green jobs and workforce development, and housing and buildings.

The cost of electricity will rise with the transition to clean energy, with average electricity bills predicted to increase by nearly 80% for households overall and by more than 130% for low-income households by 2035. Addressing those rate hikes has been a key goal for UCLA researchers.

The work of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, supported by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, provides specific recommendations for robust, long-term structural solutions to improve LADWP customers’ ability to pay their energy bills. These include addressing regulations that constrain rate affordability and continuing to explore and scale up innovative approaches to support affordability for ratepayers.

“Affordability is a key equity concern for all LADWP stakeholders, and protections for lower-income customers must be expanded,” said Gregory Pierce, a report co-author and research director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “And as exposure to extreme heat increases, universal access to residential cooling is essential.”

The UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute analyzed aspects of energy affordability for small ethnic-owned businesses. They recommended that the LADWP partner with community-based organizations to better engage with these businesses.

Other projects, led by teams from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and UCLA California Center for Sustainable Cities, focused on improving air quality, promoting green jobs abd equitable workforce development, and proving energy upgrades to housing and other buildings, many of them in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Achieving the city’s carbon-neutral goal equitably requires intentional, community-informed, bold decisions adapted over time, and UCLA will continue to work with the LADWP and local communities on these efforts.

Importantly, the researchers say, UCLA’s methods, tools, insights and strategies not only support the LADWP’s efforts but can be used other cities seeking a just energy transition.

In addition to Pincetl and Pierce, the UCLA teams were led by Paul Ong, director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge; Yifang Zhu, professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of North America Integration and Development Center at UCLA; and Abel Valenzuela Jr., interim dean of social sciences and professor at the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Read the full story.

Learn more about the Luskin Center for Innovation’s recommendations for how to expand protections for low-income customers.

Ong on How to Prepare for U.S. Demographic Changes

UCLA Luskin’s Paul Ong spoke to the Associated Press about new Census Bureau projections showing an older, more diverse U.S. population by the end of the 21st century. Whether the nation’s total population increases or declines depends on immigration patterns, the bureau said, but in all scenarios, older adults will outnumber children and white, non-Hispanic residents will account for less than 50% of the population. The projections can help the U.S. prepare for change, including anticipating the number of schools that will need to be built and what resources will be required to meet health care demands of older Americans, said Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin. “As most demographers realize, population projection is not an inevitable destiny, just a glimpse into a possible future,” Ong said, saying the information opens up opportunities for action. “Over 80 years, birth and death rates, fertility rates and migration rates can be changed through policies, programs and resources.”


Paul Ong Inducted Into UCLA Faculty Mentoring Honor Society

Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was among 10 UCLA ladder faculty honored this year for excellence in mentoring and for contributions to the professional development of early-to-mid-career faculty at UCLA. Ong, who retired in 2017, was inducted into the UCLA Faculty Mentoring Honor Society’s 2023 cohort during an April 27 celebration at UCLA’s Faculty Club. Ong was nominated by Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning and Asian American studies and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Gilbert Gee, chair and professor of the Department of Community Health Sciences. “We cannot think of anyone more deserving than Professor Ong, who has dedicated over 35 years to mentoring students, young professionals and junior faculty,” wrote Gee and Umemoto. “There are few people blessed to have a lifetime mentor,” said Umemoto, a graduate student of Ong’s in the 1980s when he was a relatively new assistant professor in urban planning and Asian American studies. “Mentoring is a two-way street,” said Ong, explaining that younger faculty bring new perspectives that challenge old ideas, prodding senior faculty to rethink their own research. “The benefits of mentoring go beyond individuals because advising new scholars of color is essential to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive community at UCLA and other universities,” added Ong, who remains active in research. The society, now in its second year, is supported through a University of California Office of the President (UCOP) grant to UCLA Faculty Development within UCLA’s Academic Personnel Office and co-sponsored by UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.


Ong on Census Miscount of Asian Americans

Paul Ong, head of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to National Public Radio about reports regarding an overcount of Asian Americans in the latest census. A recent analysis found that while national figures reflect an overcount, Asian Americans were actually undercounted in some rural parts of the country. Ong said miscounts should not be ignored because communities may risk losing representation in government, as well as federal funding for public services. “It goes along probably with the ‘model minority’ narrative that somehow there is some statistical result that says that there are no problems among Asian Americans and therefore we don’t need to pay attention to them,” he said. Ong said possible reasons for an overcount include college students being counted once on campus and once at home, and anti-Asian rhetoric that led to more people of Asian descent to check an Asian race box on census forms.


Ong on Post-COVID Population Shifts

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about population shifts in California counties. Factors affecting the shifts include college students moving back to campus, the easing of COVID-19 protocols and employees moving back to the office. Ong said the “waning of the worst days of the pandemic has slowed the exit from major cities,” as crowded spaces are no longer a major source of fear. While urban centers have “once again become appealing to a new generation of young workers,” it is urgent that cities address problems regarding housing, homelessness, infrastructure and safety, Ong cautioned.  “Without correcting these flaws, major cities will continue to depopulate.”


Ong on the Exodus Out of California

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times and NBC4’s NewsConference about California’s steep population decline. Between April 2020 and July 2022, the population dropped by more than 500,000 people. The number of residents leaving surpassed those moving in by nearly 700,000. Ong pointed to several economic, health and sociopolitical factors driving the exodus, with housing affordability at the top of the list. “California now has the highest housing burden — that is, the proportion of income that is going to pay for housing. Roughly between a fifth to a quarter of those who are financing a home or paying rent are spending more than half of their income on housing,” Ong told NewsConference. Los Angeles in particular saw a “fast, clear and sharp spike during the pandemic,” as remote work allowed people to move away from dense urban cores, he told the L.A. Times.


Shifting Self-Identity During COVID Years

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke with the Associated Press about new U.S. Census survey results that provide detailed data on how life in the United States changed during the COVID-19 era. During the first two years of the pandemic, the number of people working from home tripled, the share of unmarried couples living together rose, and Americans became more wired, the article noted. In addition, the percentage of people who identify as multiracial grew significantly — strong evidence of shifting self-identity, Ong said. “Other research has shown that racial or ethnic identity can change even over a short time period. For many, it is contextual and situational,” he explained. “This is particularly true for individuals with a multiracial background.”


Akee and Ong on Long-Overdue Tuition Scholarships for Native Students

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee and Research Professor Paul Ong co-authored a commentary in Indian Country Today about the University of California’s decision to waive tuition for Native American students. “Not only will the plan begin to address some of the education barriers that marginalize American Indian and Alaska Native people, it is also an acknowledgement that UC has benefited enormously from the sale of lands that were stolen through various means from Indigenous peoples,” they wrote. Campuses in the UC system are located on parcels that rightfully belong to tribal nations and communities, they wrote, noting the role of the Morrill Act in the creation of land-grant colleges resourced by the sale of federal lands. The authors hope that the new program will “help to close the persistent educational attainment gap suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives” and serve as a call to action to other public, land-grant institutions in the United States.