Government Leaders, Scholars Discuss Policy Solutions During UCLA Luskin Summit Congresswoman Karen Bass opens the inaugural convening of a research-informed, cross-sector conference about issues facing the region

By Les Dunseith

Elected officials, scholars, civic leaders, and difference-makers in the nonprofit and philanthropic spheres came together April 24 to learn the results of the annual Quality of Life Index and discuss policy issues during a half-day conference put together by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Congresswoman Karen Bass provided the morning’s keynote address for “Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.,” an event that also kicked off the 25th anniversary celebration at the Luskin School.

Bass opened the conference by jokingly telling more than 300 people in attendance at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center that she “wanted to tell you about what we are doing in D.C. because, if you watch some TV news, you have no idea what we are doing in D.C.”

Bass has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011. She said that “Democrats and Republicans actually do work together” in the nation’s capital.

“We don’t hate each other,” Bass said, smiling broadly. “Our accomplishments unfortunately don’t sustain media attention. So you might hear that we passed legislation on something like gun control … and then somebody tweets, and that’s all you hear about for the next several hours.”

The congresswoman’s remarks set a cooperative tone for the inaugural Luskin Summit, which focused on finding solutions through research and policy change. The conference emphasized a Los Angeles perspective during breakout sessions moderated by UCLA faculty members that focused on issues such as public mobility, climate change, housing and criminal justice.

Providing a framework for those discussions was the unveiling of the fourth Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment under the direction of longtime Los Angeles political stalwart Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. The survey asks county residents to rate their quality of life in a range of categories and to answer questions about important issues facing them and the region.

“The cost of living, and particularly the cost of housing, is the single biggest drag on the rating that residents ultimately give to their quality of life in Los Angeles,” Yaroslavsky told Luskin Summit attendees. “The unmistakable takeaway from this project continues to be the crippling impact of the cost of living in Los Angeles County, punctuated by the extraordinary cost of housing.”

The housing affordability crisis was echoed throughout the event and in the days that followed as Yaroslavsky explained details of the survey in coverage by news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, local radio news programs, and broadcast television reports by the local affiliates for NBC and ABC.

The coverage by KABC (also known as ABC7 Los Angeles) included segments on daily news broadcasts and a follow-up discussion with Yaroslavsky scheduled to air May 26 on the station’s weekly public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.” That program is hosted by Adrienne Alpert, a general assignment reporter at ABC7 who served as the moderator for the Luskin Summit.

Alpert also hosted a panel discussion that closed the conference, during which mayors of four cities in Los Angeles County — Emily Gabel-Luddy of Burbank, Thomas Small of Culver City, James Butts of Inglewood and Tim Sandoval of Pomona — spoke frankly about the challenges their cities face in dealing with issues such as the rising cost of housing and its potential to lead to displacement of low-income residents.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a former colleague of Yaroslavsky on the Los Angeles City Council, was also in attendance at the conference. Padilla engaged in a lively exchange about election security and voter registration efforts with UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura during a lunch meeting of panelists, faculty members and sponsors that took place immediately after the summit.

Segura also provided remarks during the morning session, introducing Bass and giving attendees a preview of the day to follow.

“Today you will hear from a series of dedicated public officials who understand that as great as our nation is, it can be better,” Segura said. “And they are taking action to make our country and our city more effective, more innovative, more fair and more inclusive.”

During her remarks, Bass offered her perspective on the recently released investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“One thing that is a responsibility by the Constitution for Congress — we are supposed to provide oversight and investigation of the administration,” Bass said. “Most of the time it’s not that controversial, and you don’t really hear about it. But it’s made to be super-controversial now because we are in a hyper-partisan situation.”

The bitter partisanship prevalent in Washington today does have a positive aspect, she said, in that Americans seem to be paying closer attention to government and political issues.

“I am hoping that this trauma that we have collectively gone through will lead to a change in our American culture,” Bass said, “because as a culture we tend not to be involved politically.”

Bass said that more people seem to have a deeper understanding of political actions related to “immigration, the Muslim ban, the environment — all the kind of negative things that this administration has done,” said Bass, a Democrat who has been critical of many Trump administration policies. “I think he has sparked a new level of awareness and involvement, where we are working across our silos. I think, ultimately, we can take advantage of this period and bring about transformative change.”

The idea of initiating transformative change was a popular notion among many attendees at the Luskin Summit, as was the focus on making Los Angeles a more livable place.

“I can’t think of a better topic than how to make our city more livable and touch on all of these different aspects of life and the built environment and our environment in Los Angeles,” said Nurit Katz MPP/MBA ’08, the chief sustainability officer at UCLA.

Wendy Greuel BA ’83 is a former Los Angeles city controller and past president of the Los Angeles City Council. She noted that the research presented during the Luskin Summit was timely and focused “on issues that matter to Los Angeles, but also to this country and this world.”

Greuel served as the chair of the UCLA Luskin Advisory Board committee that helped plan the Luskin Summit. “I think that UCLA Luskin is at the forefront of really focusing on issues that matter and being able to give us real-life solutions and address the challenges,” she said.

Another UCLA Luskin Advisory Board member is Stephen Cheung BA ’00 MSW ’07, who is president of the World Trade Center Los Angeles and executive vice president at the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation.

“I think anything that has to do with sustainability and the growth of Los Angeles as a whole is very important to the economic vitality of this region,” Cheung said as the event got underway. “So this summit and all the information that’s going to be provided will really set a roadmap in terms of what we need to do, addressing public policies in terms of creating new opportunities for our companies here.”

Jackie Guevarra, executive director of the Quality and Productivity Commission of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, said she attended the Luskin Summit because of her interest in the issues under discussion, including housing affordability.

“Homelessness is a big issue that L.A. County is tackling right now,” Guevarra said. “That is an issue that touches all of us. … The more that we have that conversation, the more people we can get to the same way of thinking about how to address the need — so that maybe we can all say, ‘Yes, we need affordable housing, and it’s OK for it to be here in my community.’”

Misch Anderson is a community activist with the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, a volunteer organization created in 2013 after a series of fatal crashes involving cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

“I was feeling like my activism put me in touch with such a small, kind of silo-ized community mindset, and I really want to break out of that and connect with people on a larger level,” said Anderson about her reason for attending the summit. “I just wanted to get some inspiration.”

Her takeaway from the summit?

“The idea that we need cultural change, essentially. I think the realities of globalism should be forcing us as individuals to think more widely, more as a larger group, and not be so xenophobic,” Anderson said. “I keep hearing about cultural change [at the summit] and thinking about what can I do — what can each of us do.”

Among the UCLA students in attendance was Tam Guy, a second-year Urban Planning Ph.D. candidate who is studying equity in the city, which encompasses housing, transportation and environmental design.

“One thing that interested me about this summit in particular is that they’re bringing in people from outside academia to talk about the issues, people who are actually on the ground dealing with policy day-to-day,” Guy noted.

The Luskin Summit drew a large crowd to the UCLA campus, and several hundred people watched a live stream of selected presentations. It drew interest near and far. A prime example was a group seated together near the back of the vast ballroom during the opening session — high school students from New Zealand!

The youths had been traveling up and down the West Coast with Joanna Speed, international coordinator with Crimson Education, a college admissions consulting service that exposes teens to potential careers and educational opportunities abroad. Coincidentally, the group scheduled its campus tour of UCLA for April 24. When they saw that the summit was happening that day, they asked to attend.

“It’s been an incredible experience for them,” Speed said.

Mary Braswell and Stan Paul also contributed to this story. 

View additional photos from the UCLA Luskin Summit

UCLA Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.

Watch videos recorded during the event:

Yaroslavsky Explains Drag on Quality of Life in L.A.

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the recently released UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index. Poll respondents in Los Angeles County expressed satisfaction with health care, the economy and community relations. However, cost of living, particularly for housing, ranked lowest on the index. “This survey is important to our region and its communities in that it helps capture at a point in time what county residents consider most important to them, personally,” Yaroslavsky said. The study was also featured on media outlets including KABC7, NBC Los Angeles, The Patriot LA 1150, AM870 and LAist. In a KNX In Depth radio interview, Yaroslavsky said the rising cost of living is spurring residents to leave Los Angeles. “People who are economically on the margins and can’t afford to rent an apartment or buy a home are going to places where the costs are cheaper,” he said. 


Housing Costs Dampen Residents’ Satisfaction With Life in Los Angeles UCLA’s Quality of Life Index finds that renters and younger people are particularly vexed by sky-high prices

By Les Dunseith

The rising cost of housing continues to be the single biggest factor undermining residents’ satisfaction with life in Los Angeles County, according to the fourth annual Quality of Life Index.

The survey, a joint project of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and The California Endowment, found dissatisfaction with housing affordability to be particularly strong among a group designated by researchers as “struggling,” which includes mostly younger residents, those with household incomes of $60,000 or less per year, renters and people without a college degree. Their housing satisfaction rating of 37 was in contrast to the 48 rating among a group designated as “comfortable,” which includes mostly older homeowners with higher incomes and more education.

The cost of living category is the lowest-rated of any in the survey. More than half of respondents said that what they “pay for housing, mortgages or rents” is the most important factor in their cost of living and the primary reason that satisfaction with cost of living has declined by eight points since the first index was released in 2016.

‘In Los Angeles County, the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that we are paying too much money just to have a place to live.’ — Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin

“Since the inception of the report, people have been concerned about their cost of housing, and their level of dissatisfaction just continues to get worse,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

At a rating of 42, cost of living was again the lowest-rated category in the 2019 survey — below education at 49. Transportation and traffic (50) also rated negatively in the survey, which has a midpoint of 55. Three categories fell into a middle tier of satisfaction: the environment (56), jobs and the economy (59), and public safety (60). Survey respondents expressed the most satisfaction in the categories of race relations and neighborhood quality (both 68), and health care (69).

Residents were asked to rate their quality of life on a scale of 10 to 100 in the nine categories and 40 subcategories of the survey. The overall rating this year among all nine issues was 56, the same as 2018 but a decline from 59 in the first two years of the survey. Researchers noted that the overall Quality of Life Index score would have been 60 this year if the rating for housing had simply been .

“In Los Angeles County, the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that we are paying too much money just to have a place to live,” Yaroslavsky said.

More than half of respondents (57 percent) said they, a close friend or a family member has considered moving from their neighborhood in the last few years because of rising housing costs. This is an increase of 10 percentage points since the question was first asked in 2017. About two-thirds of respondents younger than age 50 said they had considered such a move.

A quarter of all respondents — the same number as in the previous survey — said they or someone they know have worried about becoming homeless in the last few years.

Key transportation findings

In addition to the questions used to develop the Quality of Life Index, the survey asked a number of other questions about important issues facing the Los Angeles region. Several of those questions were on topics of transportation and traffic.

  • Half of respondents said they commute longer than 30 minutes a day, a slight increase from 2017.
  • Nearly four in 10 people said they use on-demand, shared transportation — such as Uber or Lyft, and Bird or Lime scooters — at least once or twice a month. The number varied widely by age, with just over half of those under age 50 saying they use shared transportation but less than a third over age 50 reporting such usage. Six in 10 of respondents over age 65 have never done so.
  • Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they oppose charging a fee for use of designated roadways at peak periods of the day, an idea known as congestion pricing that has been touted by proponents as a way to reduce traffic and improve driving speeds on California streets and freeways.

“Even if policymakers who are studying congestion pricing determine that it presents the best hope of reducing the time we are stuck in traffic, it’s clear that officials face an uphill battle in trying to get the public to support it,” Yaroslavsky said.

Key growth and development findings

  • Respondents were asked whether they believe that people whose homes were burned in recent wildfires should be allowed to rebuild, and 76 percent said yes.
  • Conversely, 73 percent of respondents do not think that construction of new homes should be allowed in areas of Los Angeles County that are identified as being at high risk of wildfires.
  • A majority of people surveyed (62 percent) believe that the construction of new apartment buildings should be confined to areas zoned for multiple-family dwellings. Less than a third (29 percent) say apartments should be allowed anywhere, including in single-family zones.
  • Respondents are split about the impact of recent building development and growth in their community: 44 percent say they are having a positive impact, but 47 percent say they are having a negative impact.

Yaroslavsky pointed out that respondents’ household incomes have risen over the four years that the index has been conducted. In 2016, for example, 27 percent of respondents reported household incomes under $30,000 a year. By 2019, that income level was reported by 19 percent of respondents. Similarly, the percentage reporting an annual household income of more than $150,000 rose from 9 percent in 2016 to 13 percent in the latest survey.

The 2019 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index survey is based on interviews with a random sample of 1,406 county residents from March 1 to 20. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

The Quality of Life Index was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

The survey results are being released this year to coincide with a research-informed, cross-sector conference about the major issues facing the Los Angeles region known as “Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.” The inaugural Luskin Summit also commemorates the 25th anniversary of UCLA Luskin.

 

Read a Summary of the 2019 L.A. County Quality of Life Index

High Stakes for L.A. Sheriff, Yaroslavsky Writes

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times detailing the ongoing conflict between newly elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Years ago, in response to scandals surrounding the county jails, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence created a 600-page report with recommendations for reform in order to “establish a culture of constitutional policing, and consequences for those who wouldn’t acculturate,” Yaroslavsky wrote. Many of the reforms were implemented under former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, but Villanueva “has vowed to eviscerate these reforms,” he stated. Villanueva has prompted further criticism as a result of his reinstatement of a deputy who was discharged for domestic abuse allegations. Yaroslavsky wrote, “Alex Villanueva can either get on board with the U.S. Constitution or get out of the way.”


 

Yaroslavsky Offers Insights on State of the Union Address

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, provided in-studio commentary on KCAL9 following President Trump’s second State of the Union address. Yaroslavsky said Trump played to his base, spending almost 20 minutes speaking about immigration, but was also smart to acknowledge the record number of women now serving in Congress. “He was not as inflammatory as he’s been in the past. Let’s wait 12 hours and see what he tweets in the morning,” Yaroslavsky said. The former Los Angeles County supervisor also spoke about the changes in State of the Union addresses over the years. “It’s a television show,” he said. “In the old days, there was more substance, there was less theater. … During the civil rights movement and in the Vietnam War, the stakes were very high. So the theater was real, it wasn’t manufactured as it has been in recent decades.”


 

Yaroslavsky Offers Insight on California’s Political Landscape

Following the California midterm elections, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky appeared on several media outlets to offer insight into the state’s shifting political landscape. In an interview with TV station KCAL 9, Yaroslavsky said Gov. Gavin Newsom is “probably going to inherit a downturn of the economy” but he expressed support for Newsom’s economic philosophy “[not to] undertake programs in the good years that you can’t sustain in the lean years.” He said the new governor has a “good track record and experience to play the role he needs to play to keep the state in line” in the face of a legislature that wants to spend and a Trump administration that is “trying to undo … virtually everything that California has been a trailblazer in.” Yaroslavsky also spoke with Fox News about the state’s Democratic supermajority. “Republicans are politically less relevant in California than they have been in years, and it is really up to the Democrats to decide what role they play,” he said. “As long as Democrats stay unified, they won’t even need bipartisan support.” In a CNBC story on the legacy of Jerry Brown, Yaroslavsky spoke about the state’s rebound after the four-term governor cut programs and services to restore fiscal stability. “[Brown] made some very tough decisions to bring California from the precipice of fiscal demise,” Yaroslavsky said. “The last four years were maybe a little easier because the economy did finally turn around and he was able to build the state back up.”


Outgoing Sheriff Lacked Political Savvy, Yaroslavsky Says

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Jim McDonnell’s defeat in the Los Angeles County sheriff race. Yaroslavsky supported incumbent McDonnell’s last two campaigns but commented on his lack of political savvy. “He didn’t have a political calculus, like in how to show empathy for constituencies that are being squeezed in our community,” Yaroslavsky said. “The immigrant community was not happy about the way the department was dealing with its relationship with ICE.” The article also cited Matt Barreto, faculty co-director of the UCLA Luskin-based Latino Politics and Policy Initiative, which measured Latino turnout in the November 2018 election.


 

Yaroslavsky Advises Newsom to Pick Battles With Trump

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with CNBC about challenges facing Gavin Newsom, the next governor of California. Newsom inherits a booming economy and looks to steer the state in an increasingly progressive direction, with focuses on gun control, a single-payer healthcare system and affordable housing. His liberal-oriented ideologies put him in opposition to President Trump, who endorsed Newsom’s opponent, John Cox. Yaroslavsky, a former L.A. County supervisor, advised Newsom to focus on policy rather than constantly sparring with the president. “He’s going to have to take care of business in California and pick and choose his fights with Trump,”  Yaroslavsky said. “In my opinion, you can’t be, and shouldn’t be, a knee-jerk opponent of Trump on every single issue because people start to treat you as the usual suspect — and they don’t take you seriously anymore. I think he knows it.”


 

Yaroslavsky on O.C. Republican’s Reelection Bid

ABC News spoke to Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, for its report on Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s bid for reelection to the House of Representatives. Rohrabacher, the article noted, is a staunch Reaganite who took an unexpected ideological turn in advocating closer ties with Russia. In the November 2018 midterm elections, he is one of several California Republicans scrambling to defend his seat. Observers noted that Rohrabacher’s longevity and conservative record give him a strong change of reelection.  “He’s been around for almost 30 years in Congress,” said Yaroslavsky, who has known Rohrabacher for decades. “Don’t underestimate him because he will fight.”


 

Yaroslavsky Weighs In on the Ballot Battle Over Rent Control

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, shared his expertise on housing policy with several media outlets covering the November 2018 ballot measure that would give California cities more power to curb rising rents. “The state doesn’t do anything for renters. It does everything for property owners and developers,” Yaroslavsky told the Christian Science Monitor. “If we keep this up for another generation, we’re going to have far more homelessness than we do now.” The Monitor’s article on the fight over Proposition 10 cited the Los Angeles Initiative’s 2018 Quality of Life Index, which found that more than a quarter of L.A. County’s 10.1 million residents had worried about losing their home in the previous year. “These are the people who are a lost job or eviction notice away from winding up on the streets,” Yaroslavsky said.  The Monitor also cited a UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy working paper on the historical roots of the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles. Yaroslavsky has also been quoted in Proposition 10 coverage from Bloomberg News, the Guardian and Curbed LA.