By Stan Paul
For more than a quarter-century, a unique UCLA community outreach experiment has brought UCLA Urban Planning students, faculty and community stakeholders together to focus on jobs, wages, workers and many other important Los Angeles issues.
The Community Scholars — a joint initiative of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ Department of Urban Planning and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education — began with the first evening class in 1991.
“The very first class was a totally an experiment,” said UCLA Urban Planning instructor Gilda Haas. Haas and Urban Planning lecturer Goetz Wolff continue to teach in the program, and both have been a part of Community Scholars from the beginning.
Haas said it began with conversations on rethinking economic development in Los Angeles and “how the university could be more helpful to the community.”
Community Scholars has won the Landmark Award as the 2016 UCLA Community Program of the Year, an award recognizing UCLA programs that have made a significant impact in the communities they serve throughout many years of service.
Keith Parker, assistant vice chancellor of government and community relations, said that Community Scholars was selected because of the “longstanding commitment to economic and environment sustainability and the work of labor, community organizations in greater Los Angeles over 26 years.”
The Community Scholars program serves as part of a capstone project for 15-25 master of urban and regional studies (MURP) students each year. And, while the yearly two-quarter research seminar serves as a graduation requirement for the students, the program also recognizes the role the community plays in shaping development policy in L.A.
Past Community Scholars project topics have included manufacturing, banking, Walmart, home-care workers, immigration, green-collar jobs and the right to health in South Los Angeles. Although looking at industries in L.A., at their core, these topics focus on the human dimension and are “concerned about working people,” Haas said. For example, the project for the first year was Accidental Tourism, and it focused on the hotel and restaurant industry, specifically unions and workers.
The most recent project was dedicated to longtime Urban Planning professor Jacqueline Leavitt, who had served as the director of the Community Scholars program since 1999 until she passed away in November 2015. The most recent report was led by Goetz Wolff, “Delivering the Good: Strategic Interventions Toward a Just & Sustainable Logistics System in Southern California,” and served as the client project for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.
“Delivering the Good” focused on the movement and distribution of goods, via the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the disproportional negative impact on local communities, labor and the environment.
As for future topics, Wolff said, “They bubble up, issues that arise in the community. They all look at what will it take to improve L.A.”
Haas said that a number of students who have participated in the program have gone on to become research staff for labor unions and community organizations.
“People learn to appreciate, listen to and communicate with others,” Haas said. “This is a good role for a university and students.”
The award was presented Oct. 13 at the annual UCLA in Downtown L.A. reception at Los Angeles City Hall.