Yaroslavsky on Role of Unwieldy Government in Vaccine Rollout

In a Los Angeles Times article about California’s chaotic distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke about the role played by unwieldy county governments. “The weakness of the county governance structure reveals itself when there’s a life-and-death issue like coronavirus,” said Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor. Most California counties are governed by an elected board of supervisors, meaning there is no single executive in charge. In the early days of the vaccine rollout, L.A. County’s enormous size — 10 million people — created an additional hurdle. Yaroslavsky said strong, decisive leadership is key. “You have to have someone in charge who is the field general who says, ‘We’re marching this way. I’ve taken into account all the evidence,’ ” he said. “And everyone marches in lockstep.”

Yaroslavsky on Frustrations Over Vaccine Rollout

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Daily Breeze about frustrations surrounding Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. While thousands of people were able to sign up to receive the vaccine, many were blocked, battling a severely limited supply, extraordinary demand for the available slots and a flurry of technical challenges. Yaroslavsky said much of the confusion stems from muddled messaging from federal, state and local authorities. “There’s been a total communication failure on the part of all levels of government,” he said. “To the average person … not savvy to the jurisdictional issues, they are just saying, ‘What are the rules?’ and ‘Hey, I’m 70 years old. Am I eligible or not eligible? The next day I hear something else from my local officials,’ ” Yaroslavsky said. “Everybody’s culpable on this, starting with the White House on down, and hopefully this is going to change in the days ahead with the new leadership.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon Opens UCLA Luskin Summit Legislative priorities relating to police reform and climate change are topics of focus in the keynote webinar to begin the third annual conference

By Les Dunseith

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon spoke about California’s policy priorities during remarks Jan. 28 when the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs opened its third annual Luskin Summit.

As one of the state’s top political leaders, Rendon outlined his legislative priorities for 2021 — police reform, climate change and broadband internet access —  as the first presenter in a virtual series of discussions set to continue in February, March and April.

Dean Gary Segura said Rendon was invited to open the Summit in part because his background and political views are of interest to UCLA students, faculty and alumni. “In his career as educator, child well-being advocate and policy innovator, Rendon represents the best values of the Luskin School and our mission.”

Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Rendon, a Democrat, said Californians are already seeing benefits from the election of Joe Biden as president.

“One thing we can be sure about is the importance of having a plan. Throughout 2020, when COVID first appeared on our radar, we did not have a national plan,” Rendon said. “Biden came in, and he released a plan in his first week.”

He noted the tension that existed on many issues between the Trump administration and California officials, which led state leaders to work independently of the federal government on issues such as immigration and climate change.

“With Biden in the White House … I think we’re going to have a little bit more help and more opportunities to work with this administration instead of against it,” Rendon said.

As a legislative leader, Rendon has stressed inclusion and diversity, and he noted that more women hold committee chairs today in the state assembly than at any time in the past. He also pointed to his appointment of the first Muslim, Imam Mohammad Yasir Khan, to serve as assembly chaplain.

His leadership style emphasizes sharing of responsibility, Rendon told the online audience of more than 100 scholars, social services advocates, philanthropic and public leaders, and other interested parties. 

“I believe that the assembly works best when the individual members of the assembly, particularly the chairs, are able to utilize their skills, to utilize their life experiences,” he said. For example, Rendon said he has sought to embolden the chairs of legislative committees related to health and education whose expertise exceeds his own. “That’s been my philosophy, that I can be the best leader if I’m enabling others to do their jobs.”

In terms of legislative priorities, Rendon acknowledged that California lawmakers “fell short” on police reform in 2020, including failing to pass a bill that would have changed the disciplinary processes for police officers.

“We need to change those processes so that public safety is not just about officer protection,” he said. “Of course, we want to make sure that we’re not endangering the people we trust with patrolling our streets and neighborhoods, but we also have to make sure that they are careful.”

Rendon said California is already a national and international leader in dealing with climate change, but more work can be done.

“We need to ask if our climate change actions benefit disadvantaged communities,” he said, noting that his assembly district includes some of the most densely populated areas in the nation. “Southeast L.A. communities have around 17,000 people per square mile, but we have severe park shortages.”

Parts of his district were once farmland, but when they were developed for housing, the emphasis was placed on building high-density apartment dwellings without retaining open spaces. “Parks and vegetation are really important ways to reduce the heat island effect that drives warming in urban communities,” Rendon said.

His third legislative priority for 2021 also focuses on disadvantaged communities. In the past, discussions about a lack of broadband internet access centered around rural communities in the extreme north and south of the state.

“When COVID happened and when folks started having to go online for schooling, we discovered that there was a lack of broadband access all over the place,” Rendon said. “And those problems really started to manifest themselves, particularly in disadvantaged communities.”

He views the internet today as a critical public utility. “It’s not just a rich and poor issue; not just an urban and rural issue,” Rendon said. “It’s an issue that affects every single part of the state.”

In answer to a question posed by Segura about housing affordability, Rendon talked about visiting a neighborhood where he had once lived and noticing a flurry of housing construction. He reached out to a local official to praise the effort, only to be told to take a closer look at the upper floors of the newly occupied buildings.

“Those are all dark, right? Nobody lives there.”

In Rendon’s view, this example illustrates an ongoing problem in a state in which high-end housing continues to be built without enough pressure being brought on developers to balance their projects with affordable units.

When he first got to Sacramento, Rendon said, he noticed a disconnect in people’s minds between housing and homelessness. Over time, this misconception has slowly changed, in part because of “incredible data that show the number of people who would become homeless if they missed one month of pay, if they missed two months of pay.”

To further illustrate his point, Rendon noted that as assembly speaker he serves on the UC Board of Regents and the Cal State Board of Trustees. The statistics on housing scarcity among university students are staggering, he said, noting that many students can be found sleeping in their cars or couch surfing with friends from one night to the next.

“We know that housing and homelessness are linked,” said Rendon, whose 20 years of work in the nonprofit sphere often leads him to look for solutions in service delivery mechanisms. “I think if we’re going to solve the housing crisis, we need to address homelessness. And if we’re going to address homelessness, we really need to think about comprehensive services for homeless folks and for near-homeless folks.”

Additional information about the Luskin Summit, including previews of other sessions and a registration link, can be found online. Sponsors include the Los Angeles Rams, Gensler, the Weingart Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation. The media partner is ABC7 in Los Angeles.

In late April, the final event of Luskin Summit 2021 will be unveiling of the 6th annual Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment and Meyer and Renee Luskin under the direction of 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. Last year’s survey happened to coincide with the early stages of the pandemic.  

Watch a recording of the keynote session:

Yaroslavsky on GOP Congressional Wins in California

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the significance of recent Republican victories in Congress. In November, California Republicans recaptured four of the seven congressional seats that had flipped to Democrats two years earlier. All four winning congressional candidates are from immigrant backgrounds, illustrating that the Republican Party can achieve voter support by avoiding political extremes and appealing to diverse communities. The four congressional districts that flipped back to Republicans still chose Democrat Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, indicating voter desires for moderation instead of extremism. Yaroslavsky expects these districts to be highly competitive for years to come. “For Republicans to be a viable party, they’re going to have to expand their base,” he said. “They can’t just rely on white voters, because that number is dropping. As we’ve seen, the trend is a more purple 50-50 split in these areas.”

Yaroslavsky on Fallout From Assault on U.S. Capitol

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KCAL9 News after a mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol. “What happened today did not happen by accident,” said Yaroslavsky, noting that Trump had for weeks called on his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, the day Congress was scheduled to certify  President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Yaroslavsky said invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power could have a calming effect on the nation. “It’s been four years of this tension, of this instability, of this constant drone of craziness,” he said. “In the next 14 days, if you have an unstable president, there’s a lot of damage he can do.” Yaroslavsky, who has served as an overseas election observer for three decades, lamented the damage done to the United States’ reputation as a beacon of democracy. “Imagine people all over the world watching the spectacle that we were all watching.” 

Yaroslavsky on What’s Next for Mayor Garcetti

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, weighed in on Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s future political prospects in a piece by Politico. An early supporter of President-elect Joe Biden, Garcetti served as a national campaign co-chair, helped to vet vice presidential candidates and serves as a co-chair of the committee planning the upcoming inauguration. While many presumed Garcetti would land a spot in the Biden administration, he did not, and the mayor has confirmed that he will stay put in City Hall as Los Angeles grapples with pandemic-induced health and budget crises, homelessness and a rise in violent crime. Some observers say Garcetti’s next career move is likely to be a mid-term appointment in the Biden administration. “This is not a time to write Eric Garcetti’s obituary,” Yaroslavsky said. “Biden remembers his friends, and Garcetti is his friend.”

Yaroslavsky on Newsom’s Chance to Reshape State Politics

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Hill about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s opportunity to reshape California’s political hierarchy with his selections to fill high-level vacancies in government. In addition to choosing someone to fill Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ seat in the U.S. Senate, Newsom must replace California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who was nominated as U.S. health and human services secretary in the Biden administration. Once the governor selects their successors, additional powerful posts in state government could open up. “There are a considerable number of possibilities for filling constitutional offices that no governor in the history of the state has had,” Yaroslavsky said, noting that Newsom’s choices will leave an imprint on both state and national politics. “It’s an unprecedented opportunity and responsibility that has fallen in the governor’s lap.”


Yaroslavsky on Funding Olympic Games

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Utah’s Deseret News about hosting the Olympic Games in U.S. cities. Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Games in 2002, and Utah is bidding to again play host in 2030 or 2034. Similarly, Los Angeles will host its third Summer Games in 2028. Yaroslavsky said it makes sense to hold future Olympics in places like Utah and Los Angeles because they already have facilities in place. “The cost of putting on the Games is largely in the infrastructure you have to build,” he explained. Yaroslavsky, a former city councilman, worked to prohibit the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles from using general fund money from the city, pushing organizers to find private funding instead. “I am a cheerleader for the Games,” Yaroslavsky said. “But I’m a cheerleader for a Games that doesn’t cost taxpayers money.”

Yaroslavsky on Conflicting Messages from Public Health Officials

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, joined KPCC’s “AirTalk” to discuss confusion surrounding the latest safer-at-home order in the Los Angeles area. City, county and state officials have issued new rules as COVID-19 cases have reached unprecedented levels. However, many residents are confused by conflicting messages from public health authorities and frustrated by contradictions in the new rules. Yaroslavsky agreed that “there has been a messaging problem” at the local and federal levels. “The longer you delay a difficult decision, the more difficult that decision will be when you finally make it,” Yaroslavsky said. “The public has good instincts and want to be communicated with honestly.” He acknowledged that this is an unparalleled crisis and that many health experts are learning more as they go along. “We need to be informed about what we need to do to take ownership in our own households,” he concluded.

Yaroslavsky Defends Right to Access the Justice System

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky co-authored an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about threats to cut funding for legal self-help service centers, which provide free assistance to Angelenos who cannot afford legal representation. These services are used by 150,000 people a year in Los Angeles County, particularly those in poverty, experiencing homelessness, facing domestic abuse or with limited English proficiency. A decline in sales taxes due to COVID-19 has put the existence of these centers in peril. “We cannot afford to let this happen,” Yaroslavsky wrote. Self-help centers have always been “a place that residents can go to get information they trust and the free legal help they need.” Protecting legal self-help centers is “morally and fiscally the right thing to do,” he concluded. “We must use every tool at our disposal to reach those who need our help, and self-help legal access centers are a key part of that strategy.”