Yaroslavsky on Inflation’s Fallout on Local Elections

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KPCC’s “AirTalk” about the impact of Southern California’s widening economic gap on upcoming elections. Yaroslavsky cited results of the 2022 UCLA Quality of Life Index, which found a steep drop in residents’ satisfaction with life in L.A. County, largely due to concerns over inflation and public safety. “What stands out is that people are unhappy, they’re anxious, they’re angry, they’re concerned,” Yaroslavsky said. Lower-income households, hard hit by lost wages and rising inflation, have been slower to rebound from the financial shock of the COVID-19 era, the survey showed. “We are the ground zero in this country of the economic divide,” Yaroslavsky said. The Quality of Life Index also showed a decline in approval ratings of many local government officials. “Inflation, I think, is the most pernicious thing economically that we have in our society,” Yaroslavsky said. “That will have a political bite like nothing else.”

Yaroslavsky on the Importance of County Government

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” about the race for Los Angeles County supervisor. The Los Angeles mayoral primary is getting most of the attention from voters and the media, but the race to represent L.A. County’s Third Supervisorial District, stretching from the Westside to the far northern San Fernando Valley, is consequential. “The County Board of Supervisors is a place where virtually every issue that matters to the general public crosses your desk every day,” said Yaroslavsky, who served as an L.A. County supervisor from 1994 to 2014. “Historically, a lot of people, especially middle-class voters, haven’t grasped the importance of county government and its services to millions of people — services that can literally mean the difference between life and death.” The Board of Supervisors oversees a $40 billion budget that acts as the human service arm of society, focusing on people who are economically marginalized, he said. 


A Shadow Over Garcetti’s Final Months as L.A.’s Mayor

A New York Times article on Eric Garcetti’s delayed nomination as U.S. ambassador to India cited the Los Angeles mayor’s declining favorability ratings as reported in this year’s UCLA Quality of Life Index. The nomination has been on hold during a Senate inquiry related to accusations of sexual harassment by one of Garcetti’s top aides. The Senate found that “it is more likely than not that Mayor Garcetti either had personal knowledge of the sexual harassment or should have been aware of it.” The mayor denies the claim, which the White House referred to as a “partisan hit job” meant to drag out the confirmation process. The Quality of Life Index, produced by the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin under the direction of Zev Yaroslavsky, found that Garcetti’s favorability ratings have slumped dramatically in the last two years, to 45% from 62%. The index is based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with 1,400 Los Angeles County residents.

Yaroslavsky on Worrisome Survey of L.A. County Residents

Worrisome findings from this year’s UCLA Quality of Life Index drew coverage from several print, online, television and radio news outlets. The index, a project of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, found that L.A. County residents’ satisfaction with the overall quality of their lives is at its lowest level since the survey was launched in 2016. “What the pandemic couldn’t do over the last two years, inflation and increases in violent and property crime succeeded in doing,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. Still, nearly 70% of respondents said that COVID-19 has fundamentally changed their lives. “This finding — that life has been permanently altered — may be the most profound,” Yaroslavsky said. News outlets covering the 2022 Quality of Life Index include the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine and La Opinión; television stations ABC7, CBS2, FOX11, KNBC, KTLA and Telemundo 52; and radio stations KFI and KNX1070.


 

Former Governors Wilson, Davis Discuss Housing, Crime and More at Luskin Summit The two leaders, a Republican and a Democrat, express their differing perspectives on 'The State of California'

By Les Dunseith

Former California governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis headlined the closing session of Luskin Summit 2022: Research in Action on April 22, often tackling political issues from starkly different perspectives.

In a session moderated by UCLA Blueprint Editor-in-Chief Jim Newton and titled “The State of California,” the former governors explored topics such as the economy and inflation, housing, environmental issues and rising crime during a discussion that mostly reflected a tone of respectful disagreement.

The governors spoke during a half-day event at the Luskin Conference Center at UCLA to close out this year’s Luskin Summit, which is a series of research-informed, cross-sector explorations of the major issues facing Los Angeles and California. The day’s agenda also included the unveiling of the annual Quality of Life Index led by Zev Yaroslavsky, a well-known former elected official in Los Angeles who, like Newton, is now a faculty member associated with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Yaroslavsky’s session, which was moderated by news anchor Phillip Palmer of ABC7, explained why the rating in his survey of Los Angeles County residents fell to its lowest point in seven years of existence. A majority of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives as reflected in nine categories, including cost of living, education, the environment and public safety. And those topics were also front of mind during the governors’ discussion.

Wilson, a Republican who was California governor from 1991 to 1999, took note of the current $80 billion revenue surplus in California, saying that if current lawmakers can’t solve the state’s shortcomings, it won’t be for lack of funds.

“The state is rolling in money. That’s not the problem,” he said when asked by Newton to speculate on the public’s downbeat mood. “The way it is spent is what’s causing a lot of the dissatisfaction. There are people who are very much concerned about crime because they’ve seen a dramatic shift, a really discernible shift. And they’re concerned about their children’s education, and they should be.”

Davis, a Democrat who was governor of California from 1999 to 2003, took a different tack on Californians’ current mood in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of good news globally, nationally and in California as it relates to people working again, and lower unemployment rates,” he said. “The bad news is that people have been through a very tough time. This has been two-and-a-half years where we’ve been told we can’t do this, we can’t do that. … People don’t like to be told what they can’t do.”

Solving society’s problems will require innovation, Davis said, and California is the right place. The number of U.S. patents that originated in California in recent years, he said, is roughly four times the number originating in the state that comes in second, Texas.

“If you want to invent something, this is the place to do it, in California,” he said. “We invent, we design, we create.”

Davis took note of the setting, a public research university in a state that is widely respected for its institutions of higher education. Mentioning that UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was in attendance, Davis continued, “There is nothing better about California than its 10 UC campuses. Nobody in the country has anything close to this.”

Block provided the introduction for the session, noting that Los Angeles faces substantial challenges relating to public safety, the ongoing pandemic and a shortage of affordable housing.

“These issues are bearing down on people all across the state. We’re not alone,” Block said. “Addressing them is going to require scholars, businesspeople, community leaders to really work together and devise and enact solutions.”

Noting the presence of the two former governors, Block continued. “Wisdom is gained by experience, and we have a vast amount of that here.”

Newton, a former reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times whose books include a recent biography of two-time governor Jerry Brown, asked Wilson and Davis to talk about their approaches to public safety.

Davis acknowledged crime rates are on the rise, although not to “where they were in the ’90s when Pete Wilson and I were a governor.”

One solution, he said, lies in effective law enforcement.

“Police have to be part of the equation,” said Davis, acknowledging past abuses by some officers. “Anyone who saw the video of the George Floyd murder knows it was appalling, not acceptable, and should never happen again. But there are some common-sense reforms that I think most law enforcement agree with.”

He called for a balanced approach. “The police have to behave in a respectful way, treat people with dignity, in a way that commands respect.”

Wilson echoed the sentiment. “It’s called community policing. And it makes great sense, as does treating people respectfully when you stop them as a police officer.”

In his view, however, effective law enforcement is too often undermined by a lenient criminal justice system, especially regarding violent crime.

“I think I was the first governor in the country to sign — what was also subsequently in the same year, an initiative measure — that was called three strikes. And what it did was to focus on recidivism, on the people who were career violent criminals. … It’s not fair to play with people’s lives by letting people out on the street who are known violent criminals.”

Davis countered by pointing to a shortcoming of taking a hard-line approach to crime — overcrowded prisons that tend to perpetuate societal and racial inequities. Incarceration without rehabilitation doesn’t work either.

“Getting people to transition from prison back to productive life requires an extraordinary amount of help,” he said.

Perhaps no public policy issue better represents the divide between the haves and have-nots in California than the housing crisis. At a time when many homeowners are sitting on a fortune in housing equity, millions of people in the state struggle to pay rent. Some end up homeless.

“The California legislature has to get serious about making housing more affordable,” Davis said.

He pointed to legislation pending in Sacramento that would allocate $25 billion to an agency that could help potential homebuyers with a down payment and closing costs. Another effort in the private sector is offering 10% of a home’s down payment in exchange for 25% of the homeowner’s future equity.

“I’m not saying it’s perfect, but that’s on the right track,” Davis said.

Wilson pointed to the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, passed in 1970 and signed by then-governor Ronald Reagan, as a major hurdle to building more affordable housing in the state.

“The best single thing that could happen is for CEQA to be reformed because that has held up the construction of homes,” said Wilson, who decried the long wait that developers often face to clear the environmental protection review process. “It has hugely added to the delay in providing housing. And that has cost a fortune in terms of the ultimate buyer.”

But the legislation still has value, Newton said. “It is protective of the environment. No?”

Davis jumped into the discussion.

“Look, the original idea was: If Caltrans was building a freeway, the public should comment on it, and it should be thoroughly debated before it occurs,” he said.

Today, circumstances have changed, and the focus has turned to building homes for the state’s large population. Environmental reviews and public hearings about land use take time, but there are ways to shorten the process.

“The good news is we are making some progress,” Davis said. “When it comes to the homeless — anything for the building of shelter for the homeless and for all the services attended to in mental health and social services — all those buildings should be exempt [from CEQA].”

Newton also asked the governors to weigh in on another hot button topic, giving some of the state’s budget surplus back to Californians.

“Absolutely. I mean, gas prices are near a record high,” Davis said.

“Well, I think that it’s not bad, but it’s like dipping into [the country’s] petroleum reserve, it’s not the answer,” Wilson said.

Newton pressed forward, seeking to clarify that both former governors think the current governor, Gavin Newsom, should send a portion of the California surplus back to the state’s residents.

“We have a big surplus. It should be used for one-time expenditures like this,” Davis said.

“If it’s a one-time, modest solution, that will help,” Wilson said.

“You do agree,” Newton said, smiling. “I was surprised.”

Soon after, Newton thanked the former elected officials for their years of government service and their willingness to participate in a public discussion of political issues seen from their different vantage points.

“We all will disagree on things,” Newton said to the in-person audience and those watching online. “I think it’s too commonplace these days to assume that disagreement is [just cause] to be enemies. And it’s heartening to have the both of you here to show otherwise.”

Watch a recording of the session:

See additional photos from both April 22 sessions on Flickr:

Luskin Summit 2022 Closing Sessions

Annual Survey of Los Angeles County Residents Finds Lowest Satisfaction Ever Anger over fast-rising costs and worries about crime and the quality of education are among key factors driving down the latest Quality of Life Index

By Les Dunseith

Los Angeles County residents are not happy.

They don’t like paying more for gasoline, fresh eggs or electricity. They’re worried about their family’s health and their children’s education. They don’t like hearing that homelessness and crime are up, and their confidence in public officials to solve such problems is down. And COVID-19? They just want to be done with it. 

Those are some of the key takeaways from the latest Quality of Life Index, or QLI, a project of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs that measures county residents’ satisfaction levels in nine categories. The overall rating fell sharply, from 58 last year to 53 on a scale from 10 to 100, marking the first time it fell below the survey’s 55-point midpoint since the index launched in 2016. That means a majority of respondents are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives.

“For the first time since the inception of this survey, respondents’ ratings dropped in each of the nine categories, and eight of the nine fell to their lowest rating ever,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative, who oversees the index. 

Researchers noted that overall satisfaction had remained relatively stable, between 56 and 59, throughout the survey’s first six years, despite drought, fires and the profound societal changes of the pandemic. But that changed as prices of food, gasoline and public utilities spiked in recent months — a trend that accelerated in the weeks after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in late February.

“What the pandemic couldn’t do over the last two years, inflation and increases in violent and property crime succeeded in doing,” Yaroslavsky said. “It appears that the dam has burst this year.” 

This year’s QLI is based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with 1,400 county residents over 30 days beginning on March 5. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%.

Scores declined in all nine of the survey categories, but the issues that were most responsible for the overall decline were cost of living, education and public safety.

“These three issues contributed heavily to the overall drop in our respondents’ satisfaction,” Yaroslavsky said. “Clearly, they are driving the political debate in this year’s city and county elections.”

Among the other results:

  • The largest decline was the cost-of-living score, which dropped to 39 from 45 last year.
  • The public safety score declined to 56 from 60 last year (and 64 in 2020), shaped largely by growing concerns over property crime and violent crime.
  • The score for transportation and traffic fell to 51, from 56 last year.
  • The score for jobs and the economy dropped to 56, from 60 in 2021.
  • The score for education dropped to 46, a new low, from 48 last year.

Most respondents, 69%, said life has been fundamentally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 28% said that life would return to the way it was before. 

“COVID has taken its toll on our society in profound ways,” Yaroslavsky said. “This finding — that life has been permanently altered — may be the most profound.”

Of survey respondents who are employed, 55% said they always leave home to go to their workplace, 18% always work at home and 25% have a hybrid schedule.

Many respondents said their income declined during the pandemic, with 15% saying it went down a lot and 16% saying it went down a little. Among those whose income declined, 33% said they fell behind on their rent or home mortgage, and 7% said they had to move for financial reasons.

One potentially lasting consequence of the pandemic relates to education. Seventy-one percent of parents of school-age children said they feel their kids have been substantially hurt either academically or socially by having to learn remotely. That figure was only slightly lower than it was in the 2021 survey, even though most students had returned to in-person instruction by the time the 2022 study was conducted. The parents who were most concerned were those who leave home to work (79%) and those with incomes under $60,000 (76%).

chart shows info also found in story

The survey also examined approval ratings for local elected officials. Mayor Eric Garcetti was viewed favorably by 45% of respondents, down from 62% in 2020.  

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva received mixed ratings: 37% very or somewhat favorable and 33% very or somewhat unfavorable, with 30% having no opinion or being unfamiliar with Villanueva. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s perception declined markedly from 2021. He was viewed very or somewhat favorably by 22% of respondents this year, down from 31% in 2021; 44% viewed Gascón very or somewhat unfavorably in the latest survey.

The Quality of Life Index is funded by Meyer and Renee Luskin through the Los Angeles Initiative. The report was released as part of the closing event in this year’s UCLA’s Luskin Summit, held April 22 at the Luskin Conference Center at UCLA. Phillip Palmer of ABC7 in Los Angeles moderated a discussion with Yaroslavsky, followed by a Q&A in which former California governors Gray Davis and Pete Wilson discussed the “State of California” with Jim Newton, editor in chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine.

The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm FM3 Research.

View the full report and other information about this year’s study, plus previous Quality of Life Indexes, on the website of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

Watch a recording of the session on Vimeo.

See additional photos from both April 22 sessions on Flickr:

Luskin Summit 2022 Closing Sessions

Yaroslavsky on Shifts in the L.A. Mayor’s Race

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to CBSLA News about a new poll showing Rick Caruso and Karen Bass leading the pack in the contest to become Los Angeles’ next mayor. After an early media blitz, Caruso’s poll numbers have tripled, with 24% of respondents expressing their support, just ahead of Bass’ 23%. Yaroslavsky said the trajectory of the race will shift as other candidates step up their marketing campaigns. “Karen Bass hasn’t been on television at all. Kevin de León can’t be discounted, hasn’t been on television at all. … So, it will change, I’m sure, in the weeks ahead,” he said. The race also stands to tighten as undecided voters make their choices as the June 7 primary nears, he said. “Most people don’t know all that they want to know about the candidates. Forty percent don’t know enough to make a decision at this point or they are withholding their judgment until they hear more.” 

Luskin Housing Scholars Weigh In on California’s Crisis

A UCLA Newsroom article on how to tackle California’s affordable housing crisis cited several scholars from UCLA Luskin. Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen sees the housing crisis as a combination of “unaffordability, instability and inability to house” and has urged the state to “use many levers to push cities to allow more new housing.” Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky has cautioned against changes that fundamentally undermine the character of neighborhoods. He suggested increasing zoning capacity but allowing the city to decide where it should take place. “You don’t need to destroy communities,” Yaroslavsky said. Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Michael Lens highlighted the urgent need for more money for permanent supportive housing. The article was written by Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, who concluded that the competing arguments “reflect and shape California’s ongoing and urgent search for ways to adequately house every resident of the state.” 


Yaroslavsky Cautions Against Splintering Electorate

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky was featured in the Orange County Register discussing the lengthy requirements for political parties to qualify for the California ballot. Only 19 parties have been on the ballot in the 112 years since California started the nomination process, and California state laws make it difficult for new parties to break through. “I don’t think it should be impossible, but it also should not be so easy that you could have 30 parties on a ballot,” Yaroslavsky said. “I don’t think most voters like to throw away their vote to very minor parties.” Yaroslavsky expressed concern that lowering the bar for new parties to get on the ballot can further complicate and splinter the electorate. If a party can’t even drum up enough support to get on the ballot, he asked, what kind of impact could it actually make?


Yaroslavsky on Newsom’s Message to California

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to CBS2 News ahead of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022 State of the State address. Californians are concerned about pressing issues including homelessness, public safety and criminal justice reform, Yaroslavsky said. “The average person does not see the progress that’s been made, and I think that’s what the governor has to address,” he said. On the state’s response to COVID-19, “There’s a lot that went right with it just as there was a lot that went wrong with it. He ought to thank the people of California for what they’ve done to put this, so far, in the rear-view mirror.” Newsom survived a recall attempt last year and is running for re-election. Yarsoslavsky commented, “Now people are asking the question, ‘What are you going to do going forward? What’s your plan? You’re asking us to re-up you for another four-year contract. What are you promising and what can you deliver?’ ”