UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Alumnae Elevated to Public Office

Caroline Menjivar and Nikki Perez, two members of UCLA Luskin’s Master of Social Welfare Class of 2018, have turned their background in social work into successful bids for public office. Menjivar has been elected to the California State Senate, and Perez will join the Burbank City Council, results from the Nov. 8 election confirmed. The two alumnae will bring a broad range of perspectives into the halls of government. Menjivar, a Marine Corps veteran and the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, will be the first out LGBTQ legislator to represent the San Fernando Valley. She told CalMatters that she plans to use her personal experiences and background as a social worker to advocate for mental health services and housing solutions. While at UCLA Luskin, Menjivar worked in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as a David Bohnett Fellow. Perez was the top vote-getter in the Burbank council race. She told the Burbank Leader, “As the first Indigenous and openly LGBTQ woman elected to council, it’s a tremendous honor to bring a unique perspective and representation to our city government.” A lifelong Burbank resident and graduate of its public schools, Perez said she will be a voice for the city’s underrepresented populations, including renters, working-class families, union members and the Latino community. Since graduating from UCLA Luskin, Perez has worked as a nonprofit program manager and staff member with the California Legislature.


 

Weekend Event Harnesses the Power of Service Public Policy hosts aspiring public servants from across America for workshops focusing on policy issues and solutions

Twenty-nine undergraduates from across the nation came to UCLA in mid-August for three days of study and discussion as UCLA Luskin Public Policy returned to in-person programming for its third Public Service Weekend.

“Harness the Power of Action-Oriented Public Service” provided aspiring public servants an in-depth look at a diverse array of career opportunities, policy developments, and social issues such as environmental justice, inequality, homelessness and immigration reform.

The program, which was produced in cooperation with the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) organization, included a tour of a Los Angeles clean technology site and workshops conducted by UCLA faculty, alumni and staff.

“Additionally, we aimed to inspire students by sharing the life stories and successes of UCLA graduate students, alumni, policymakers and faculty doing the work on the front lines of advocating for policy reform and social change,” said Kenya Covington, a senior lecturer at UCLA Luskin who coordinated the program.

Speakers included Dean Gary Segura, as well as alumni William “Rusty” Bailey, the former mayor of Riverside, and Dan Coffee, a project manager for the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Second-year MPP student Elliot Woods, chair of the School’s Black Student Caucus, shared educational and personal insights. He said experiences with the foster care system early in life have sharpened his determination to improve society through a career in public service.

A site tour of the La Kretz Innovation Campus exposed participants to creative clean technology ideas seeking to decrease the emissions that cause climate change. Participants learned about pilot projects involving lithium battery recycling, for example, and they witnessed how welding workspaces, 3D printing technology and chemistry labs can all play a role in developing green technology solutions.

The student participants were challenged by Covington to identify pressing societal problems, and faculty and staff facilitated learning exercises that helped them to define values that have been violated and the scale of problems to be addressed. The students wrapped up the Public Service Weekend with mock professional presentations that focused on potential solutions.

“The presentations were impressive,” Covington said. “Future social change depends largely on the development of leaders capable of taking on the most pressing social problems that we face in the world. With partners like PPIA, the Luskin School is doing just that.”

View photos on Flickr:

Public Service Weekend 2022

‘Social Workers Who Drive Social Change’ Students from around the world gather at UCLA to reimagine their chosen field through a justice-first lens

By Mary Braswell

The aspiring social workers from around the world gathered on a shaded lawn at UCLA to process what they had seen that morning.

Their visit to an agency on Skid Row, epicenter of Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, came after several days immersed in conversation about how to engage communities on society’s margins, and the group’s reflections pointed to one overriding question:

How can individual social workers move away from managing misery and toward a transformation of their entire field, upending systems that perpetuate inequity in order to truly change lives?

That aspiration guided this year’s International Summer University in Social Work, hosted by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare over two weeks in July.

More than 20 scholars and graduate students from universities in Australia, Canada, China, India, Israel and Switzerland joined a large UCLA contingent during the collective multinational inquiry.

“We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another,” said Amy Ritterbusch, the assistant professor of social welfare who developed the curriculum with Professor Emerita Rosina Becerra.

‘We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another.’ — Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare

The summer university has convened around the world for more than a decade, governed by a consortium of universities to bring a global lens to core social work theories and practices.

This is the first year that UCLA has hosted, and finding a place on a full agenda were topics such as racism, the wealth gap, gender bias, housing and health inequities, children’s rights and elder abuse.

Faculty members from each participating university shared their scholarship on community engagement, as did the keynote speaker, University of Washington Professor Karina Walters, a triple Bruin who earned her doctorate in social welfare in 1995. Walters drew from her Choctaw heritage and research, using the elements of water, land, air, wind and fire to frame the dialogue.

Off-campus elements of the program revealed the extremes of L.A. society: the structural poverty and exclusion seen on Skid Row and at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the spaces of privilege glimpsed during cultural outings to the Hollywood Bowl and Pantages Theater.

Also built into each day’s schedule was space for group dialogue to share the unique cultural perspectives and social work practices each participant brought to the summer university.

Vanessa Warri, a UCLA doctoral student studying social welfare and a leader in the summer university, said the program challenged students to broaden their thinking about their chosen profession.

“There’s a history of social workers showing up as ‘saviors’ — at best providing resources to an underserved community and at worst managing the suffering of a population, but not necessarily helping to alleviate it,” she said. “So how can we engage and advocate in the spaces we are in and build more sustainable communities?”

Before and after the trip to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Cardinal Manning Center on Skid Row, the group grappled with the enormity of the homelessness crisis, the limits of social work, and the concern that taking a tour of life on the streets would be more voyeuristic than educational. The shelter staff invited them to take note of the sights, smells and sounds, then ponder how policies are addressing or not addressing what they observed.

Bobby Benny, a student from the Rajagiri College of Social Science in India, was struck by the dozens of shelters and service providers within a few blocks but wondered how they could possibly meet the needs of the 6,500 unhoused people in downtown Los Angeles, much less the tens of thousands countywide.

“How is that building with 100 beds a solution? How is any of it a solution?” Benny asked as the students gathered back at UCLA. “I’ve seen this in India, but something is different here.”

On the institute’s final day, Benny shared a poem juxtaposing the Los Angeles he had dreamed of and the one he woke up in, where “those skyscrapers were acting as a source of shade for the people who were forgotten in the City of Angels.”

Group presentations allowed all the students to synthesize their experiences and reflect on how they could apply what they learned in their home cultures. And they expressed a desire to stay connected even over long distances.

Said Ritterbusch, “We hope to leave here with a collective commitment to become social workers who drive social change.”

View lectures and photos from this year’s International Summer University in Social Work.

International Summer University in Social Work

Urban Planning Marks Half a Century of Action-Oriented Scholarship Alumni, faculty, students and friends gather to honor the program's activist ethos and focus on equity since its launch in 1969

It was a celebration 50 years in the making, plus a few for good measure.

UCLA Urban Planning, launched in 1969, marked its golden anniversary this spring with a series of events aimed at showcasing the program’s activist ethos and focus on equity.

As a finale, alumni from across the decades joined students, faculty, staff and friends at a May 14 commemoration, “50 Years of Scholarship to Solutions.”

Dolores Hayden, professor emerita at Yale University and noted scholar of the history of the American urban landscape, delivered a keynote address to the Urban Planning community. Panels of faculty, doctoral students and alumni, moderated by Cecilia Estolano MA UP ’91, explored UCLA Luskin’s latest research.

The crowd then moved to UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden to enjoy music, food and drink, and reminisce about the last half-century of making a difference in Los Angeles and cities around the world.

During the gathering, Jacqueline Waggoner MA UP ’96, a member of the UCLA Luskin Board of Advisors, gave an update on the new Urban Planning Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Fund, established to support student fellowships and assistantships.

Since March, the 50th anniversary celebration has hosted thought leaders on planning, policy and environmental justice.

They included L.A. City Council member Nithya Raman, an urban planner by training, who came to UCLA to speak about the need for creative solutions of all types to make headway against the crisis of homelessness.

Environmental advocate Elizabeth Yeampierre shared stories about the power of front-line communities working for climate justice.

And Robert Bullard, known as the father of environmental justice, spoke of the undercurrent of racial discrimination beneath the growing climate crisis.

Several other speakers appeared as part of the Harvey S. Perloff Environmental Thinkers Series.

The weekslong commemoration also included an afternoon marking the legacy of Martin Wachs, scholar, mentor and key influencer of transportation policy and planning. Wachs, who died in 2021, held top research and leadership posts at UCLA and UC Berkeley for over five decades.

On May 13, students, colleagues and friends gathered to remember his impact and watch as Wachs’ wife, Helen, accepted two prestigious honors on his behalf: the Planning Pioneer award and the Planner Emeritus Network Honor award from the California chapter of the American Planning Association.

From its beginnings as part of UCLA’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, the program has evolved and expanded. In the 1990s, it joined what is now the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and continued to build a reputation of interdisciplinary, action-oriented scholarship.

Ranking among the top planning programs in the nation, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning offers master’s and doctoral degrees in urban and regional planning, as well as several dual-degree programs, including a new partnership with European research university Sciences Po in Paris.

Read more about 50 years of urban planning at UCLA.

View photos from the Urban Planning at 50 celebration.

View photos from the gathering recognizing the legacy of Martin Wachs.

Connecting the Dots on Climate Change Environmental scholar Robert Bullard charts a path to a more equitable future — if America can avoid repeating past mistakes  

By Les Dunseith

Robert Bullard has been called professor, dean, author, policy influencer, important thinker, movement starter and the father of environmental justice. But that’s not how he chose to describe himself during a May 12 talk at UCLA.

“I do what’s scientifically called kick-ass sociology,” Bullard said playfully in his opening remarks to a roomful of students, faculty, staff and other interested parties, plus an online audience. “And what I’ve tried to do is to make it simple, make it plain, make it real and connect the dots.”

The renowned scholar from Texas Southern University has written 17 books. “But it’s really just one book — don’t tell anybody,” Bullard said slyly. “The central glue that connects all of those volumes? Fairness, justice and equity.”

He often blended humor into his discussion of serious topics such as America’s history of racial discrimination and the growing global climate crisis. Titled “The Quest for Environmental and Climate Justice,” Bullard spoke and took audience questions for more than an hour in the Bruin Viewpoint Room of Ackerman Union as part of the UCLA Luskin Lecture series. It was presented in conjunction with the Harvey S. Perloff Environmental Thinkers Series and UCLA Urban Planning’s 50th anniversary celebration.

In his introductory remarks, Dean Gary Segura of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs said, “At the Luskin School, we try to have conversations about things that actually matter — climate degradation, environmental degradation and its impact on working class and poor people of color — and for which there is a desperate need for solutions.”

Bullard is known for his courage and “his insights into how questions of race figure into environmental justice,” said the evening’s emcee, Susanna Hecht, a geographer and professor of urban planning who also serves as director of the Brazilian Studies Center at UCLA.

“He is a person who has a broad perspective and broad horizons,” Hecht said. “His work has expanded to embrace a range of topics that evolved at the center of environmental, civil rights, human rights and the question of race and vulnerability under climate change, as well as patterns of pollution in both urban and industrial landscapes.”

So, what is environmental justice?

Bullard sees it as an essential notion that all people and communities are entitled to equal protection to ensure they have adequate housing, quality health care, and access to the energy and transportation they need in their daily lives. Civil rights and human rights.

The reality rarely matches the ideal, however. He cited as an example a study that showed government relief after a natural disaster going primarily to wealthier, predominantly white communities rather than to poorer, predominantly Black areas.

“We know that all communities are not created equal,” Bullard said. “There are some that are more equal than others.”

Without action, disparities are likely to grow as industrial pollution further degrades our planet, he said.

“Climate change will make it worse on the populations that are already suffering,” Bullard said. “Those who have contributed the least to the problem will suffer the most. That’s the inequity that we’re talking about. You can’t have your basic human rights if even the right to breathe has been taken away from you.”

Despite decades of experience documenting human nature at its worst, Bullard has not given in to despair.

“I’m hopeful and optimistic that we can get this right. I’ve been working on this for 40 years, but we don’t have another 40 years. We only have, maybe, a dozen to get this right,” Bullard said.

He cited California as a leader in environmental equity and climate change responses and noted the state’s history of finding out-of-the-box solutions in technology and government, as well as its highly regarded universities.

“Let California be California. That’s my answer. Push the envelope as far as you can,” Bullard said.

“And so, I’m looking to young people. I’m looking at your faces,” he told his audience of mostly young scholars. “You are the majority now. I’m a boomer and proud of it. But millennials, zoomers, Gen X, Y and Z — you outnumber my generation. Take the power.”

View photos from the event on Flickr.

Robert Bullard Luskin Lecture

Message From the Dean: Grappling With the Tragedy in Buffalo Some thoughts in the aftermath of a mass shooting in which Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, were targeted

To the Luskin Community:

Let me echo the Chancellor’s comments in this BruinPost regarding the events in Buffalo. More than a dozen people shot, 10 killed, in another explicitly racist attack by a gunman intent on killing African Americans. And let me augment the chancellor’s remarks by reminding us all that just three days earlier, in Dallas’ Koreatown, three Asian women were injured in a mass shooting that is now ruled part of a string of anti-Asian hate attacks on Asian-run businesses across Dallas, and a growing record of anti-Asian hate up more than 300% in the last year.

These attacks occur at the intersection of two of America’s most grievous plagues — the ongoing scar of racism in too many forms to count, and the seemingly endless capacity for gun violence. I am angry. Perhaps you are too. I am angry because neither of these struggles is occurring by chance, in a social vacuum, emerging un-prompted from other social phenomena. Rather, these emerge from explicit ideologies of white supremacy and entitlement to the means of deadly force which are promoted — previously with a wink and a nod and increasingly with shameless embrace — by political forces who think they can manipulate these evils to their own political gain.

I will not stay silent in these moments. The parroting of racist conspiracy theories by elected officials inspire, encourage, and provide emotional justification for the evil and the disturbed in our society to carry out these attacks. They are not isolated social phenomena and we should never treat them as such.

I do not have the right words of comfort here, other than to remind you that there are services available on campus (see links in the Chancellor’s message) for those of you grappling with these events. And I want you to take comfort in each other in knowing that the forces of light — those of us who would resist, battle, engage the forces of divisiveness and hate — are stronger. The good outweighs the bad, those motivated to peace and coexistence have right on our side. Our work at Luskin is explicitly dedicated to empowering those with solutions and stopping those interested only in destruction and nursing their resentments. Meet violence with determination for change. Speak out. Shout out. Work harder to create justice.

In solidarity and sadness,

— Gary

Gary M. Segura
Professor and Dean

 

‘A Book Can Save a Life:’ UCLA Luskin Alumna Starts Library at L.A. County Jail Ahmanise Sanati is named Social Welfare Alumna of the Year

By Madeline Adamo

Social worker Ahmanise Sanati was stuck. Five weeks into her therapy sessions with a man incarcerated at the Los Angeles County Twin Towers Correctional Facility, and he still wouldn’t say a word.

Then Sanati started talking with him about the popular philosophy book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and he finally opened.

“Asking them what kind of books they like sparks their interest, because it might be one of the only interactions they have with another person who has taken an interest in them,” said Sanati, an alumna of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ graduate program in social welfare and a mental health clinical supervisor with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

“They love reading for just the same reasons any one of us love reading,” she said. “This is a time when a book can really save a life.”

‘When we stand up for something, we never know how much we are affecting other people who are watching.’ — Ahmanise Sanati, MSW ’10

Sanati has worked at the Twin Towers for 11 years, during which time she’s brought in books and articles for the people who are incarcerated there. But in 2020, as COVID-19 tore through prisons and jails in the United States, including Twin Towers, the already dehumanizing environment of jail got much worse, Sanati said. In response, she started a “passion project,” expanding her book exchange into a catalogued system with 16 mobile bookshelves that would be dispersed throughout the jail. Then came the donations.

“It’s just spiraled out of control, because people care,” said Sanati, who has accumulated about 5,000 books, which rotate on and off the shelves, thanks to collection drives and strangers reaching out with donations. Sanati said she was most surprised by support she got from the Rotary Club of Westchester, as well as a crowdsourcing campaign for the cause started by Skylight Books in Los Feliz. The Skylight campaign raised more than $11,000 and went toward purchasing new books.

“When we stand up for something, we never know how much we are affecting other people who are watching,” Sanati said.

Most of the book requests have been either mysteries and science fiction titles, but a few outlier requests have touched Sanati, including one person who devoured the “Harry Potter” books and another who was into “Game of Thrones.” She said that many of the incarcerated individuals who cannot read have asked for graphic novels, which she is working hard to source along with books in Spanish.

For this amazing work, Sanati has been chosen as the Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year. The award recognizes social work professionals who have contributed leadership and service to the school, university or community, and who have distinguished themselves through commitment and dedication to a particular area of social work.

The award is named after Nunn, who received his master’s in social welfare from UCLA in 1970 and his doctorate in 1990, and has been given out since 2007. Nunn was also former director of field education and vice chair of UCLA Social Welfare. Sanati, who was selected as the social welfare student of the year while a graduate student, was recognized at a May 12 ceremony at UCLA.

An innate desire to challenge social injustice put Sanati on the path to becoming a social worker soon after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Sanati said she saw a graduate program in social welfare as an opportunity to nurture the “dignity and worth of human connection” in the name of change.

Having grown up in L.A., Sanati said UCLA was her natural choice for higher education, but also a “long shot” for someone who, up until that point, hadn’t known much about master’s programs. “I just didn’t know that I could do it,” said Sanati, who got accepted to UCLA and received her master’s in social welfare in 2010.

During the MSW program, Sanati completed her field placement at the Twin Towers and her second-year placement as a school social worker. But having loved her experience working with people who are incarcerated, Sanati returned and has been there ever since. That’s not to say things have always been easy. In 2020, Sanati reached out to elected officials with her concerns about the jail not providing personal protective equipment to its staff and inmates to fight against the spread of COVID-19.

“This is what I signed up for,” she said. “This is part of the good trouble I have to get involved with and the only way to make change.”

The Twin Towers Correctional Facility, located in downtown Los Angeles, is the nation’s largest mental health facility, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

Unlike prison, people in the jail are confined to their cells at all times, with people at risk for suicide often facing solitary confinement for their own safety, Sanati said. When a book is the only item an incarcerated person can have, she said the jail ought to provide it.

Sanati has remained active at the Luskin School, where she works with current UCLA students as the California Region H director of the National Association of Social Workers. She served as student liaison for the region during her master’s program, attending the association’s legislative lobby days (an annual two-day trip to Sacramento that provides college students across the region the opportunity to meet with legislators and speak about different bills important to social welfare).

Sanati is now serving her second term in the role and mentoring social welfare students, some of whom are expanding her vision of correctional facility libraries. One Cal State LA student, who is not affiliated with UCLA, reached out to Sanati on social media expressing her desire to start a library at a youth detention center.

“I want to continue to help speak to and represent our profession,” Sanati said, “and I want to do whatever I can to help foster and support social workers not only in school, but moving forward into our communities.”

For more information on the mobile library, please contact: libraryproject.lacountyjail@gmail.com

View a Flickr album of photos from the 2022 Social Welfare alumni reception.

Social Welfare Alumni Reception 2022

Alumni Awards Recognize Three With Ties to Luskin School Debra Duardo, Sheila Kuehl and Kristen Torres Pawling are honored for their service to UCLA and their communities

By Manon Snyder

The UCLA Alumni Association will pay tribute to policymakers, activists and other leaders for their lifelong dedication to bringing Bruin values into the world.

Of the seven 2022 UCLA Award honorees who will be recognized at a May 21 ceremony at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, three have ties to the Luskin School of Public Affairs:

Debra Duardo — UCLA Award for Public Service

Duardo is a triple Bruin who earned her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and Chicana/o studies in 1994, her master’s in social work in 1996 and a doctorate in 2013 from what was then called the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. In 2013, she was named UCLA Luskin’s Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year.

After having to drop out of high school to work full time and postponing higher education until her late 20s, Duardo has dedicated her career to ensuring a safe environment for underrepresented students. Duardo worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for 20 years and in 2016 was appointed Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools by the county board of supervisors, where she continues to pursue equity for 2 million students.

Sheila Kuehl — Edward A. Dickinson Alum of the Year

Kuehl earned her bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA in 1962. She is a former University of California Regents’ Professor in public policy at UCLA Luskin, where she received the Ruth Roemer Social Justice Leadership Award for her work in homelessness.

Kuehl has been a lifelong trailblazer for women’s rights and queer representation in politics. In 1994, Kuehl was the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to the California Legislature, and throughout her many tenures in public office, she has passed important bills advancing the rights of disenfranchised communities in Los Angeles County and California as a whole. She will retire from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this year. Kuehl has been previously honored by UCLA in 1993 with the UCLA Award for Community Service and in 2000 with the UCLA Award for Public Service.

Kuehl attended UCLA at the same time as she was filming “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” playing the character of Zelda Gilroy. Upon graduation from UCLA, she became an associate dean of students. In addition to her position as a Regents’ Professor at UCLA Luskin, Kuehl taught law at UCLA, USC and Loyola Law School.

Kristen Torres Pawling — Young Alumna of the Year

Pawling completed her bachelor’s degree in geography and environmental studies from UCLA in 2009 and her master’s in urban and regional planning in 2012. She served as an executive fellow in the office of the chair on California climate change policy in Sacramento, where she also joined the Sacramento Alumni Network and helped grow its young alumni program. Pawling brought her expertise to the climate crisis as an air pollution specialist for the California Air Resources Board Transportation Planning Branch and helped the Natural Resources Defense Council’s urban solutions department implement its strategic plan in Los Angeles. She is currently the sustainability program director for Los Angeles County.

Other 2022 UCLA Award honorees are:

UCLA Alumni Band — Network of the Year

Monica Ebeltoft — Volunteer of the Year

Alberto Retana — UCLA Award for Community Service

A. Wallace Tashima — UCLA Award for Professional Achievement

Read more about all of the 2022 UCLA Award Recipients.

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

In Memoriam: Karen Lee, Former Field Faculty Member A co-founder of a national consortium focusing on geriatric social work, she educated and mentored hundreds of students during 12 years at UCLA

Former UCLA faculty member Karen Lee died of cancer Jan. 25 at her home in Eugene, Oregon. 

Lee’s tenure at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare began in 2002 as a member of the field education faculty, and she later served as associate director of the Master of Social Welfare program. She retired in 2014.

Known for fostering student interest in geriatric social work, Lee represented UCLA as a founding member of the Geriatric Social Work Education Consortium, or GSWEC. Twenty years later, the consortium continues to flourish, and the partnership of universities and centers of excellence has expanded. 

Lee is fondly remembered for her passion and guidance by many, including her former colleagues in Social Welfare.     

“I truly considered her a role model in the way she interacted with students and taught in the classroom,” Laura Alongi Brinderson said. “Her sweet smile and infectious laughter will not be forgotten.”

Michelle Talley recalled being assigned to work with Lee when she first arrived at UCLA, shadowing her and learning how to teach and manage a classroom. “It really helped me to understand the role,” Talley said.    

“Karen Lee will be missed by our Social Welfare community at UCLA and beyond,” said former colleague Gerry Laviña, director of field faculty at UCLA Luskin.

Laviña recalled that the “Advanced Practice in Aging” course taught by Lee was highly evaluated, and she was known to be a readily accessible field liaison who touched the lives of many students.

As news of Lee’s death spread on social media, several alumni and friends posted remembrances on the Social Welfare alumni page on Facebook saying they viewed her as a pivotal mentor during their time as MSW students and as someone who continued to make an impact in their personal and professional lives well after graduation.   

“She was more than a teacher — she was friend, mentor, cheerleader, and all around mensch,” wrote Charlie Padow MSW ’07. “I am not alone. She touched countless lives as an educator and a friend.”

Jean Dorsky wrote: “As a gerontology specialist, Karen was pivotal in my career choice. I will always remember her as being honest, fair, and funny and insightful.”

“This is such a surprise. … Karen was a mentor in more ways than one,” wrote Brittany Leigh, who continued to say that Lee cared not only “about what we did at school, but really cared about me as an individual.”

She is survived by her husband, Joseph “Joe” Lee, and sister, Eileen. The family has requested that donations in her name be made to Food for Lane County, a nonprofit food bank near their home.