An L.A. Story of Power, Influence and Big Personalities

The Los Angeles Times put a spotlight on the newly released autobiography of Zev Yaroslavsky, a fixture in L.A. civic life for decades and now the director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “Zev’s Los Angeles: From Boyle Heights to the Halls of Power” revisits “the period in which Los Angeles became what we know today: big and complex, multiracial, exciting, divided and far deeper than what meets the eye,” writes UCLA Blueprint editor Jim Newton in his review of the book. “Zev’s Los Angeles” recounts Yaroslavsky’s family history, his UCLA student activism and forceful defense of Soviet Jews, and his election to the L.A. City Council at age 26, which spawned a long and consequential career in politics. Newton calls the memoir “a solid history, an insightful analysis of power and a sincere reflection on a life of service,” with fresh insights and behind-the-scenes details about key turning points in the region’s polity.


Younger Angelenos Hit Particularly Hard by Inflation, Pandemic Stresses

Spectrum News 1’s “Inside the Issues” spoke with Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, about this year’s Quality of Life Index, a countywide survey that captures Angelenos’ feelings about inflation, housing affordability, health care, race relations, education and more. “For the last three years, dissatisfaction has definitely been on the rise,” said Yaroslavsky, who has directed the survey since its launch in 2016. “Where it hits the hardest is among younger people,” particularly those in their 30s whose families may have been turned upside down by pandemic stresses followed by spiking inflation. The index also polls residents on the favorability of public officials, and Yaroslavsky spoke about the broad popularity of Mayor Karen Bass in the city she leads as well as countywide. “She’s off to a strong start, and she’s using her political capital to try to do big things,” he said. The interview begins at minute 30.


‘Powerful, Strong, Indefatigable, Courageous’

News outlets covering the death of trailblazing Los Angeles political leader Gloria Molina spoke with Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime public servant who served alongside Molina for nearly a quarter-century. Molina was a “powerful, strong, indefatigable, courageous woman” known for her unflagging commitment to regular people, Yaroslavsky told KCAL News. She was “the greatest ally you could have when you were on the same side — and she was the worthiest of adversaries when you were on opposite sides,” he told LAist. Her fierce independence and confrontation style grated on some colleagues “because she held up a mirror to ourselves,” he told the Los Angeles Times. Molina was the first Latina to serve in the California Assembly, on the L.A. City Council and on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Molina and Yaroslavsky left the Board of Supervisors in 2014 due to term limits, and Yaroslavsky now serves as director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

Pandemic Worsened L.A. Income Divide, Survey Finds

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to news outlets about this year’s UCLA Quality of Life Index, a countywide survey that revealed that the deep income divide among Angelenos has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The lower-income folks are the same people whose income hasn’t come back to pre-pandemic levels, and they’re the ones getting clobbered by inflation,” Yaroslavsky told ABC7 News. This has occurred while many more affluent residents of L.A. County saw their incomes rise over the last three years, the survey found. On NBC Los Angeles’ “News Conference,” Yaroslavsky explained the index’s many findings, including a point of consensus about one way to expand housing options in the region: Three-quarters of respondents supported using vacant commercial and retail buildings for residential use. Coverage of the Quality of Life Index also appeared on news outlets including KCAL News, KTLA, Telemundo and the Los Angeles Daily News.

‘We’re Beginning the Work of Rewriting the Next Chapter of Los Angeles History’ Top officials join scholars and advocates to tackle the region's most pressing problems at the fifth annual UCLA Luskin Summit

By Mary Braswell

A search for solutions to Southern California’s most urgent problems brought top researchers together with government and civic leaders at the fifth annual UCLA Luskin Summit.

Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian gave the keynote address at the April 19 gathering, attended by more than 200 scholars, students and community members seeking to learn more about how the region is responding to homelessness, climate change, racial disparities, voting rights violations and more.

Krekorian spoke about the state of governance at L.A. City Hall, acknowledging that citizens’ faith has been shaken by corruption cases, politicized redistricting and the release of a racist recording that led to high-profile resignations. But he added that the upheaval has opened the door to a period of change.

“The kind of city hall that the people of Los Angeles deserve [is] a city hall that’s more ethical, more transparent, more trustworthy, more urgent, more collaborative and hopefully much more effective,” Krekorian said.

He laid out a roadmap that includes a top-to-bottom charter review that could add more seats on the City Council, change who decides land-use issues to reduce incentives for corruption, and take the power of setting district boundaries away from elected officials.

“Together, we’re turning the page on a very dark time and we’re beginning the work of rewriting the next chapter of Los Angeles history,” Krekorian said.

Zev Yaroslavsky, who oversees the annual UCLA Quality of Life Index, reports on this year’s findings. Photo by Les Dunseith

The Luskin Summit, held in person at the UCLA Faculty Club after three years of remote and hybrid convenings, continued its tradition of spotlighting the UCLA Quality of Life Index (QLI), a wide-ranging survey of Los Angeles County residents.

This year’s QLI revealed deep dissatisfaction with many aspects of life in L.A., a sign of the region’s slow emergence from the dual shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring inflation, said Zev Yaroslavsky, who oversees the survey as director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

In conversation with ABC7 News reporter Josh Haskell, the emcee of this year’s Luskin Summit, Yaroslavsky said the high cost of housing continues to sow anxiety, with 28% of respondents saying they worry about losing their home and becoming homeless as a result.

“Now, let me put this in more stark terms than just percentages,” Yaroslavsky said. “The county’s population is a little over 10 million people, so 28% means that there are 2.8 million people in this county who are going to bed every night worried about whether they’re going to lose their home. Think about it that way. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of stress.”

The region’s housing emergency also took center stage at a plenary session that illustrated a hallmark of the Luskin Summit: the participation of key elected and appointed officials in a position to turn social science research into policies for change.

Lourdes Castro Ramírez, secretary of California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, moderated the dialogue with L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, L.A. City Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson and the city’s chief of housing and homelessness solutions, Mercedes Márquez.

The conversation emphasized a new push to coordinate efforts by a multitude of agencies to relieve California’s housing emergency.

“A challenge of this magnitude requires all levels of government to work together, and that’s exactly what we have been doing over the last two years, working very closely with our federal partners, working very closely across the state agency and department, and working in a unified and coordinated manner with local cities, counties, continuums of care and folks on the ground that are doing this work every single day,” said Castro Ramírez, a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumna who oversees 11 state departments and boards.

With the end of pandemic-era eviction moratoriums, Horvath said her office is working with cities to implement new protections for both renters and mom-and-pop landlords, with the aim of keeping residents in their homes.

“We have no time to waste,” she said. “We’re not going to wait until every detail is perfect. People are dying on our streets and we have to do something.”

The panelists credited newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass for jumpstarting efforts to shelter the homeless, including the appointment of Márquez to cut the red tape that has delayed the construction and acquisition of desperately needed housing.

“We have identified 360 projects that are 100% affordable. That’s over 8,000 units that are now on a fast track,” Márquez said, adding that her team is also reviewing government-owned land including Metropolitan Transit Authority car lots that could be converted to residential development.

Harris-Dawson, whose district includes South Los Angeles, said housing strategies must be guided by a sense of equity to prevent poverty from becoming concentrated in pockets of the city.

“The commitment has to be both to build and build fast, but also to build where it’s difficult to build,” he said. That includes parts of the city where the prevailing attitude is “ ‘send all the poor people over there, build housing over there and build it as dense as you need to, but keep them over there’ — as if poverty is a communicable disease and living near it damages your quality of life somehow.”

The Summit also featured a series of breakout sessions where scholars, officials and advocates zeroed in on critical issues. They included representatives from UCLA Luskin research centers, including the Luskin Center for Innovation and its Human Rights to Water Solutions Lab, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies  and the UCLA Voting Rights Project. The sessions explored:

  • vehicular homelessness, the unique circumstances of those who must shelter in their cars;
  • persistent disparities based on race and ethnicity in the mortgage industry;
  • how to build popular support and political momentum for investments in climate infrastructure;
  • whether California’s plan to transition to zero-emission vehicles is sufficient to meet climate goals;
  • the uncertain future of voting rights pending decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court;
  • and the activation of far-reaching programs to bolster the region’s water supply.

Following the Summit, several participants gathered for a lunch presentation on equity and clean energy that included UCLA experts and representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the lead sponsor of this year’s Luskin Summit. Other sponsors include Bank of America, the Weingart Foundation, David Bohnett Foundation, California Community Foundation and California Wellness Foundation. The media partner is ABC7.

View photos from the 2023 UCLA Luskin Summit on Flickr.

Luskin Summit 2023

L.A. County Residents Express Second-Lowest Satisfaction Ever With Quality of Life Despite overall uptick in eighth annual index, dissatisfaction remains high due to inflation, homelessness and the COVID-19 pandemic

By Les Dunseith

Los Angeles County residents are feeling more upbeat today than a year ago — but not by much.

Inflation remains a primary concern as people worry about losing their homes or feeding their families. Many residents said their quality of life had been affected by a homeless encampment. And they believe the pandemic’s impacts on L.A. life will be long-lasting.

Those are just a few 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 rose two points to 55, but it was still the second-lowest rating in the eight years of the project. The highest rating of 59 was recorded in 2016 and 2017.

“Last year’s record negativity appears to have bottomed out and made a slight upward turn,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative, who oversees the index. “But inflation has taken a toll, especially among lower- and middle-income residents.”

In fact, 94% of respondents said they were affected by inflation and the increase in costs of basic needs. And 71% said it had a major impact. Rising housing costs were an issue for 82% of respondents, and 58% said it’s a major concern.

More than a quarter, or 28%, of respondents worried about losing their home and becoming homeless, while 25% were afraid their families will go hungry because they can’t afford the cost of food. Nearly half of people in households earning less than $60,000 were concerned about becoming homeless.

Almost three-quarters of residents, 73%, said their quality of life had been impacted in the last year by a homeless encampment. A major impact was reported by 43% of respondents, with San Fernando Valley and Westside residents at 50% and San Gabriel Valley residents at 28%.

Most respondents, 75%, said life has been fundamentally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 23% expect life to return to the way it was before.

Of survey respondents who are employed, 49% said they always work away from home, 36% divide their work between home and a workplace, and 14% always work from home. Lower-income residents were far more likely to always work away from home, 61%, than higher-income households, 39%. Hybrid schedules were more common for higher-income workers, 41%, compared to 29% for lower-income households.

Many respondents said their income changed during the pandemic, with 27% saying it went down and 30% saying it went up. More than a third, or 35%, of those with a household income below $60,000 said it declined. Nearly half, or 45%, of respondents with a household income over $120,000, said it rose.

“The income disparities that have defined the Southern California economy for several decades have been exacerbated by COVID, as the rich seem to be getting richer while the poor are getting poorer,” Yaroslavsky said. “County residents whose incomes have not rebounded have less money than they used to, and what they have doesn’t buy what it did before. They’re getting hurt coming and going.”

This year’s QLI was based on interviews conducted with 1,429 county residents over 30 days beginning on Feb. 24. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%.

Ratings were up slightly in all nine categories except health care, which remained the same as 2022 at 66.

Among the other results:

  • Cost of living, which is always the lowest rated, increased to 41 from 39. White respondents gave it a 37, among the lowest in any category in the survey’s history.
  • Also scoring below the survey’s midpoint of 55 were education, 48, and transportation and traffic, 53.
  • Public safety, jobs and the economy, and the environment came in at 58.
  • Race and ethnic relations, 67, and their neighborhood, 68, were the top-rated categories.

The survey also examined approval ratings for local elected officials. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass had the highest favorability, with 46% of all respondents viewing her favorably and 23% unfavorably. City of L.A. respondents were even more positive, with 51% favorable and 17% unfavorable.

Sheriff Robert Luna was rated 37% favorable and 21% unfavorable. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore received a 31% favorable and 22% unfavorable rating.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer was viewed favorably by 34% and unfavorably by 20%, with respondents ages 65 and older giving her a 47% favorable rating. Meanwhile, ratings for District Attorney George Gascón improved somewhat from last year but were still negative — 27% of county residents view him favorably, compared to 40% who view him unfavorably. Last year, the result was 22% favorable, 44% unfavorable.

The Quality of Life Index is funded by the Los Angeles Initiative and Meyer and Renee Luskin. The full report will be released on April 19 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is being held in the Faculty Center at UCLA. In addition to a presentation by Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian will deliver a keynote address. A series of breakout discussions on issues of public concern will precede a closing session on the local homelessness emergency featuring state, county and city officials. The full agenda for Luskin Summit 2023 is available online.

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

View the 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.

report cover with text


Yaroslavsky on the Hammer Museum as a ‘Living Organism’

A New York Times article on the $90 million renovation of UCLA’s Hammer Museum cited Zev Yaroslavsky, the longtime civil servant and patron of the arts who now directs the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “For a museum to really have longer-term impact on the community, it has to be a living organism,” said Yaroslavsky, who served on the L.A. City Council in the 1980s when the museum project was approved. “Annie and UCLA have ensured that this is a 21st-century space, not just a 1980s space,” he added, referring to Ann Philbin, who commissioned the renovation soon after she arrived in 1999 to assume the role of museum director. The New York Times said the renovation is part of a building boom that is transforming the vibrant Los Angeles museum world and caps the Hammer’s emergence as one of the more influential museums in the country.


Yaroslavsky on L.A.’s Neighborhood Councils

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to LAist’s AirTalk about how Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils work and whether they make a difference within their communities. Los Angeles has almost 100 neighborhood councils, which function in an advisory capacity to provide a direct mode of communication between residents and the City Council members who represent them. The system “has brought communities closer to municipal government,” Yaroslavsky said. “How much impact it’s had is not clear.” He said a big strength of the councils is that they bring together a cross-section of community members who are actively involved in local issues. But there is also a risk that the councils be asked to endorse projects from special interests without complete and transparent information, leading to unintended consequences. “That, to me, is a weakness,” he said.


Yaroslavsky on the Evolution of L.A. Governance

Zev Yaroslavsky, who served as city councilman and county supervisor in Los Angeles for 40 years, spoke with the California Sun about the evolution of L.A. governance. Politics today is “much more coarse, meaner … less of ‘how do we solve the problem’ and more of ‘how do I score a political point,’ ” he said. But he expressed faith in the county’s young, energetic voters who are holding officials accountable. “Voters are not as foolish as the political class thinks they are. They have a pretty good B.S.-sniffing meter, they’re attuned to what’s going on, and they know what they want,” he said. Now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, Yaroslavsky shared results of the annual Quality of Life Index, which identified housing costs as residents’ top concern. Homelessness, he said, is “one of the great stains on our society,” caused by a wealth gap that lies at the root of most of our social problems.


Yaroslavsky on Standing Up Against Hate

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KPCC’s “AirTalk” about a new report on hate crimes in Los Angeles County. In 2021, the number of reported hate crimes rose from 641 to 786, the highest since 2002, according to the county’s Commission on Human Relations. The most targeted groups were the Black, LGBTQ, Latino and Jewish communities. Yaroslavsky said public officials must use their positions of authority to stand up against hate. “You speak up. You make it socially unacceptable to behave in bigoted ways, not just antisemitism but racism, sexism, homophobia,” said Yaroslavsky, who served as a Los Angeles councilman and supervisor for 40 years. “One of the most important roles an elected official can perform is to set the bar high when it comes to human relations, and to give no quarter to anyone who advocates persecution, who traffics in bigotry and antisemitic or racist tropes.”