‘Unsung Hero,’ Leader in South L.A. Named 2017 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99 was inspired to develop a healthier generation by award namesake Joseph Nunn

By Stan Paul

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, this year’s Social Welfare Alumna of the Year, has a lifelong personal and professional connection to South Los Angeles.

The 1999 Master of Social Welfare graduate of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs came to California from Mexico at the age of 3, grew up in South Los Angeles, witnessed firsthand the 1992 riots, and has gone on to be a leader and change agent in the community.

In recognition of her work and commitment to the community, Montes-Rodriguez was presented the Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year Award on May 20, 2017. The award is bestowed annually in honor of Joseph A. Nunn, UCLA alumnus, former vice chair and longtime director of field education for the UCLA Department of Social Welfare.

“I am surprised and very humbled to be nominated and selected, especially for an award named after Dr. Nunn,” said Montes-Rodriguez. “When I was a student I looked up to him and admired the work he had done around juvenile criminal justice — thinking about ways we could do a better job eliminating the cradle-to-prison pipeline so we can develop a healthier generation.”

Montes-Rodriguez, who now serves as executive vice president of organizational growth at Community Coalition, a social justice nonprofit based in South Los Angeles, was honored at a social welfare alumni gathering in Los Angeles.

Toby Hur MSW ’93, a longtime member of the social welfare field faculty, nominated Montes-Rodriguez and shares some history with her.

“My history with Community Coalition goes back to 1992,” Hur said. “In the aftermath of the rioting that rocked a city marred by racial division and economic disparity, a small group of community leaders emerged, such as Karen Bass, a current congresswoman, of Community Coalition, and B.H. Kim of Koreatown Youth and Community Center and a Luskin Senior Fellow, in order to bring forth a constructive agenda for healing and rebuilding of L.A.”

Hur said that, as a graduate student during that time, he became very involved in those efforts. The experience has deeply impacted his professional career and teaching in the ensuing years.

“Community Coalition has stayed true to its roots and continues to develop community capacities and future leaders,” Hur said, adding that Luskin students continue to be trained at Community Coalition in grassroots organizing, advocacy and political action. “Aurea is one of the unsung heroes, the all-important and crucial glue, holding the organization and its causes together. I think she is well overdue for recognition as one of the best Bruin MSWs.”

Since joining Community Coalition, Montes-Rodriguez has made significant strides in helping the organization grow and she has led efforts to raise funds to purchase and renovate its current headquarters in South L.A. “To be nominated by someone who understands the importance of building multiracial coalitions is really special,” she said of Hur.

She credits her success and inspiration to lessons learned at UCLA Luskin. Among those were leadership seminars led by Nunn, who focused on social welfare beyond the individual treatment model to build organizations and change the systems that prevent people from reaching their potential, taking on leadership roles to change those situations. She cited courses on leadership by social welfare professor Zeke Hasenfeld, as well as courses on grant writing and fundraising — skills that she said “were critical in helping us build community coalitions, long-term fundraising strategy and growing the organization.”

“The late Mary Brent Wehrli really brought us out to communities and organizations who were doing great work, went out of her way to help us understand the theory with the practice in communities,” Montes-Rodriguez said. Wehrli, a former member of the field faculty, was “one person who really pushed us to see leadership opportunities and a contribution we could make to the social welfare field, providing us with concrete training.”

“Since I graduated, that’s exactly the work I have been doing … organizing everyday people about having a voice in addressing the most-pressing issues so they can be the drivers of change,” Montes-Rodriguez said.

Another of Montes-Rodriguez’s mentors is Gerry Laviña, director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare.

“Community Coalition has hosted MSW interns for decades, provided summer jobs for our MSW students through their youth programs, and has hired many of our graduates — some like Aurea who remain and create and build capacity,” Laviña said. “Whenever someone asks about an example of a successful grassroots organization or doubts the possibility of African-American and Latino communities effectively working together, I hold up Community Coalition as a shining example.”

Montes-Rodriguez is a big reason why Community Coalition has been successful, Laviña said. “Aurea has had a part in all of this, and has been steadfast and resolved in her commitment to giving back to the community where she was both personally and professionally raised,” he said. “I have always appreciated Aurea’s blend of strength and humility, her commitment to her family and community. Los Angeles needs leaders like Aurea, and we need to highlight her as someone to aspire to.”

Social Workers Come Together for ‘This Incredible Conference’ At student-organized event, professionals and scholars gather at UCLA Luskin to hear experts discuss issues of vital importance to the Latina/o community

By Les Dunseith

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and the second floor hallway of the Public Affairs Building at UCLA is abuzz with activity as professional social workers join UCLA Luskin students and faculty for a daylong series of lectures and workshops designed to help them do the best work possible for Latina/o populations in Southern California.

“People come from all over for this conference,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare, as attendees began to file into a large classroom to begin the 15th annual Social Services in the Latina/o Community Conference on May 13, 2017. “They look forward to it.”

One group, from Ventura County, even arrived two hours early. By the time Dean Gary Segura delivered his keynote address shortly after 9 a.m., a total of about 100 people were on hand. Other participants would continue to arrive as workshops proceeded throughout the day. The student-organized conference has become so successful, in fact, that advance registration had to be capped at 220 this year.

A 1988 graduate of UCLA Luskin’s MSW program, Laviña noted during his opening remarks that such popularity wasn’t always the case. When it began a decade-and-a-half ago, the conference “was struggling, struggling, struggling,” he said. “But now it’s this incredible conference — all for free — because of the hard work that the students have done.”

Christina Hernandez, a second-year Master of Social Welfare student and one of the three co-chairs of the Latina/o Caucus, said the conference is the culmination of a yearlong process that starts with the writing of grant applications soon after the academic year begins. This year, a total of about $7,000 in grant funding was obtained.

The six-member board of the Latino Caucus includes two first-year MSW students whose participation is designed to help them be better prepared to lead the caucus and its annual conference next year. It’s a tradition that Hernandez said benefited her personally, as it did her co-chairs and fellow MSW students, Sandra Cervantes and Corina López.

“In my first year, I saw the time commitment that was required for the conference,” Hernandez explained. “So going into this year, I knew that I had to give it my all in order to make it a successful conference.”

As the date drew nearer, the students worked with Laviña and their other faculty advisers, Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08, to issue a call for proposals from potential speakers on various topics. The number of applicants exceeded the time and space available, which led to a culling process.

“We select proposals that seem most appropriate,” said Hernandez, who also noted that the organizers seek a balanced program of workshops, in part because many professionals earn continuing education credit for licensing purposes by attending. For instance, “two really good candidates” proposed workshops on law-related topics, but only one of them made this year’s agenda.

That session, “Trauma-Informed Immigration Law for Social Workers,” was one of nine workshops that took place during the day, which included a lunch break that featured a performance by Aztec dancers. A sample of other workshop topics included “Critical Race Theory in Social Work Practice: Going Beyond Competency” and “Queer Latinx: Policy & Critical Discourse.”

Although workshop topics were highly varied, one theme that got a lot of attention was the symbolic and practical impact of Trump administration policies on the vital work being done by the social workers who interact on a daily basis with members of the Latino community.

The rhetoric from Washington has left many social welfare students and professionals — not to mention their clients in disadvantaged and immigrant communities — feeling fearful and angry.

In his keynote talk, Segura detailed examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout history, noting that Latinos have often felt like unwelcome outsiders because of America’s prevailing Euro-centric culture and view of history.

“It is a reflection of our lives as being principally valued for our labor rather than our personhood,” Segura said, “persistently marginalized for our phenotype rather than any actual transgressions, and conceived of in the eyes of those who hold power as a community that is less than equal.

“At the Luskin School of Public Affairs, we like to say we create change agents,” Segura said during his talk. “I sure hope so. Because we so badly need change. Fight like our lives depend on it. They just might.”

Serna and Laviña offered similar thoughts during their own remarks.

“This act of being of service is an act of resistance to injustice and oppression,” Serna told the crowd. “We are sending a message of hope and solidarity to the communities we serve, while raising a fist to those that desire to restrict us and remove funding to deter us from our purpose.”

Laviña, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion, talked about the importance of taking the high road, especially amid political and policy uncertainty.

“In this time of anger and standing up, I think we need to rely not just on ‘othering’ people. Because we have all been the ‘other,’” he said. “So I hope that today you leave with tools and knowledge and, most importantly, an increased sense of community. Because we cannot do this work alone.”

Making a Local Impact Luskin Senior Fellow Mitchell Katz talks about boosting health care at the local level — even when the feds won’t pitch in

By Zev Hurwitz

Mitchell Katz, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow, knows of several projects that would demonstrate the potential for effectiveness of local government.

“When people talk about public policy, typically people think about Washington [D.C.] or they think about state government,” said Katz, MD, director of the Los Angeles County Health Agency during a talk May 9, 2017, at the UCLA Faculty Center. “I have to say I’ve never been interested in working in either because I like seeing problems directly and figuring out how to solve them. What I want you to think about is, ‘What are the opportunities to do interesting things at a local level that perhaps you could never do at a federal level?’”

More than 50 attendees also heard from Director of the Los Angeles Initiative and former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who moderated a Q&A that followed Katz’s discussion of experiences that employ creativity to improve public health.

For example, when HIV/AIDS was spreading in San Francisco more than two decades ago, Katz helped create a needle exchange program that drastically lowered the number of new infections. In order to bypass state laws prohibiting taxpayer-funded needle exchanges, Katz and his colleagues needed to be creative in finding a legal loophole.

“We came up with the idea that we would declare an emergency,” he said. “The idea was that this was the leading cause of death among men … and here was something that was a transmissible agent. It seemed to me that this cause of death was a public health emergency.”

Katz likened the response to AIDS during the epidemic to an earthquake, during which normal county bureaucratic channels would be bypassed in providing emergency services.

“You were on the County Board of Supervisors for many years,” he said to Yaroslavsky. “If there’s a huge earthquake, you don’t want Zev and his colleagues to follow the process of getting request for proposals and figuring out who’s going to clean up your street — you want everybody to waive all the rules.”

Because rules for emergencies are time-sensitive, keeping the needle exchange program alive meant renewing the emergency order every two weeks for the next nine years.

“This gives you some sense about how absurd it was,” he said of navigating the bureaucracy.

Needle exchanges finally became legal in 2011, yet today no federal funding can be used to pay for such programs.

Katz also spoke about his work banning tobacco sales in pharmacies, improving public housing for homeless and chronically ill patients, advancing teleretinal screenings and remote doctor’s appointments to reduce waiting time for specialist appointments.

During the Q&A, he and Yaroslavsky engaged in a conversation about the future of health in Los Angeles and the country.

Yaroslavsky had high praise for Katz. “One of the best decisions the Board [of Supervisors] made in my day was getting Mitch Katz to come to Los Angeles even though he was from San Francisco,” he said.

Associate Dean and Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris opened the event, which was co-sponsored by the Fielding School of Public Health, and she introduced Katz. She also discussed the Luskin Senior Fellows program, which pairs leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with graduate students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for mentorship and engagement on field-specific issues.

VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at Luskin, oversees the program, which is now in its 20th year. She noted that the fellowship program’s speaker series allows the Luskin community to hear directly from community leaders.

“The Senior Fellows Speaker Series was created to provide a public square in which these prominent community and policy leaders can discuss their roles in public service and provide insights to their efforts to solve pressing public and social policy challenges,” she said.

 

The Lost Shtetl In a new book, Professor Emeritus Jack Rothman chronicles his journey to find the forgotten village in Ukraine where his family had lived for generations

By Zev Hurwitz

With the advent of the internet and Google Maps, searching for virtually any town in the world is just a few clicks away. But for Luskin School of Public Affairs Professor Emeritus Jack Rothman, planning a visit to his father’s birthplace, Butsnevits, was a little more challenging. The biggest issue: No map seems to acknowledge the existence of such a place.

In a new self-published book, “Searching for Butsnevits: A Shtetl Tale,” Rothman sets off to find the titular shtetl, a word for a small Jewish village, of which his father would speak fondly about.

After writing some 25 other books with more traditionally academic prose, Rothman’s latest publication takes on a much more personal feel. Described in the introduction as “part autobiography, part social history, and part detective story,” Rothman pieces together clues to the shtetl life of his family in early 20th century Ukraine.

He describes the book as an encounter with the past, with the history of his family and the region, and what has happened since to the people and the place. No Jews are left in the village anymore. They were decimated by the Nazi destruction machine during WW II. Women work the fields now, and men do maintenance and repairs. Most youth leave for work in the cities. And the old Jewish cemetery has no defining walls left and almost all the stones are gone.

“I wanted to tell the story of my trip and what I experienced, and have the reader accompany me on the journey,” Rothman said. “I wanted the reader to learn what I learned when I learned it.”

His interest piqued growing up with a family that referred to Butsnevits as “der haim” (“the home”). As a researcher at UCLA, Rothman plowed through the records at the UCLA Jewish Library and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, neither providing any hint to the location of Butsnevits.

The book tells how Rothman, in 1995, tacks on a side trip to Ukraine while in Europe for a speaking engagement in Poland. After changing planes in the bustling airport of Frankfurt, Rothman finds himself further and further removed from modern luxury as he teams up with a local tour guide and driver and sets off to Letichev, which a family member had told him was in the general vicinity of Butsnevits. The rural journey continues only through clues such as a beautiful nearby lake and an old mill, and interviews with locals. Rothman writes about staying in Kiev in a hotel with “cardboard simulations of towels” and navigating towns without running water.

In addition to recounting the journey through rural Ukraine, Rothman also sets the journey and the shtetl in question in the context of the Russian Revolution. As made famous by the film “Fiddler on the Roof,” Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe were threatened by attacks called pogroms from anti-Jewish nationals.

Rothman says he typically tries to avoid focus on the tragic nature of large parts of Jewish history.

“I didn’t start off with a strong intention to deal with anti-Semitism,” Rothman said. “The thing I didn’t like about my Jewish education was dwelling on all of the tragedies that took place. I sort of longed for a Jewish history that was a little brighter.”

In writing “Searching for Butsnevits,” Rothman found it impossible not to contextualize the shtetl’s history and decline without taking into account the history of Eastern Europe. There were the Khmelnytsky massacres of 1648, the Czar Alexander III repressive May Laws of 1882, and the Nazi invasion starting in 1939. The chaotic civil war in the region following the Russian Revolution was also an important element of the oppression of Jews.

“The anti-Semitism hit me in the face,” he said of learning the backstory for Butsnevits. “I had to give it a good deal of play.”

Rothman said that he didn’t face any sort of anti-Semitic interactions during his trip and noted that every interaction with locals — save for a xenophobic innkeeper — was very pleasant. The people in the village were honored to have a visitor from America, whose family had lived among them, and gave him the utmost courtesy, he said.

In the second part of the book, Rothman includes a harrowing firsthand depiction of a violent pogrom attack on the shtetl as witnessed by his older cousin, Sally, who lived in Butsnevits as a child. Rothman had relied heavily on Sally’s description of the shtetl prior to his trip in 1995 and included her firsthand account, recorded in 1973, of an attack on the village and her family’s home.

“I thought of Sally’s narrative as simply being documentation of what many, many people experienced. This is an on-the-ground story of the antipathy and violence experienced by Jews and how it caused this family to pick up and leave this place that they had been in for generations.”

Sally, who was 8 when she and her family fled Butsnevits for the United States, was Rothman’s sole source of information about Butsnevits when he was planning his Ukraine trip. Rothman says that his search for the shtetl and learning about shtetl life has given him new admiration for the family that pioneered life in the United States.

“When they came to the United States, they were what people called ‘greenhorns,’” he said. “They spoke only Yiddish and had no education. It was painful for them to learn how to navigate institutions like hospitals and schools.

“They came from a tiny and isolated rural village and crossed a wide ocean into the frenzy and complexity of tumultuous New York City. I don’t know how they did it — surviving and raising families that even the Rotary Club would admire,” Rothman said. “After visiting the postage-stamp-sized Butnevits, in my mind, they skyrocketed from ‘greenhorn’ immigrants to heroes.”

Rothman is a former social welfare professor at UCLA Luskin, where he focused his research on community organizing for social change. (“I was a community organizer before President Obama,” he said with a laugh.) He previously taught at the University of Michigan and has held emeritus status at UCLA since retiring shortly after his visit to Ukraine.

“Searching for Butsnevits: A Shtetl Tale” is available for purchase from Amazon.

70 Years of Improving Workers’ Lives at UCLA UCLA Luskin's Abel Valenzuela, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, reflects on seven decades of labor market research during a rousing anniversary celebration

By Stefani Ritoper
UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

On April 11, 2017, more than 250 attendees gathered at UCLA’s Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center to celebrate the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment’s 70 years of work. In an evening with music, food and camaraderie, community and campus leaders reflected on the Institute’s long and storied history.

The theme of the evening was “UCLA’s Role in Workers’ Lives Today.” Institute director Abel Valenzuela, who is also a professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, opened the evening by posing the question: In this divided political climate, what is UCLA’s responsibility to improve workers’ lives?

Part of the answer lies in the work that the Institute has undertaken over the past seven decades, Valenzuela said. For seven decades, the Institute has conducted timely and impactful research on labor markets and how work impacts workers and their families. Through the work of its units – UCLA Labor Center, Human Resources Roundtable and the Labor Occupational Safety and Health program – the Institute has created programing to improve workers lives, researching key issues such as worker health and safety, the minimum wage, wage theft and immigrant worker issues.

“It’s amazing that you’re still here,” said History professor Robin D.G. Kelley about the Institute’s long tenure at UCLA. He spoke about the work that IRLE has done to build the capacity of worker organizations, and what this has done in turn for workers’ issues in Los Angeles. “What you’ve been able to do is shift attention to low-wage, marginalized workers. It’s not just a position of defending labor; it’s a vision of transforming society.”

UCLA alumna Ana Luz Gonzalez MA UP `02 PhD `15  and political science student Fernando Antunez spoke about the Institute’s teaching program. Gonzalez talked about her research on day laborers and wage theft, and how this research has been pivotal in advancing policy and educational programs aimed at ending wage theft among low-wage workers. Antunez talked about how work and mental health are connected, sharing the moving story of his own family as they coped with his mother’s deteriorating health.

Keynote speaker and former labor leader Maria Elena Durazo described the importance of UCLA’s commitment to working families. “It’s working families that pay for public higher education,” she said. “They are the permanent donors of the public university system.”

Durazo emphasized that working people need to protect their ability to defend their rights because many laws are not enforced. She spoke of the UCLA Labor Center’s work, partnering with worker organizations on issues such as wage theft, as well as the role of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in preventing worker deaths on the job.

All speakers emphasized the hopefulness that the work of the Institute brings in this current political and economic era. “These are not dark times. These are bright times,” Kelley said. “And you’re shining the light.”

A Speedy Solution to Networking A new format for the UCLA Luskin career event gives students direct access to alumni in their fields and fosters ideas about what they can do after graduation

By Zev Hurwitz

Taking a cue from speed dating, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs held its first alumni career networking event in which graduates of the school’s three departments met with current students about professional opportunities.

The event, held April 20, 2017, at the UCLA Faculty Center, was the first career development opportunity for students in which each employer was represented by an alumnus or alumna of the Luskin School.

Edon Cohanim, a first-year MPP student, said he appreciated the directness with which alumni provided tips on best practices.

“Alumni are more willing to help us and are more down-to-earth with us,” he said. “I got some advice on my career and how to pursue it, and they helped me understand what good moves are.”

Barbara Andrade-Dubransky MSW `00, director of program support at First 5 LA, said she hoped to help students understand more about career options in social welfare.

“There’s interest for students in knowing what’s going on out in the field, and I’m happy to share not only what I know about my organization, but I have relationships with other organizations, so I’m happy to share information to help students find other opportunities as well,” Andrade-Dubransky said.

UCLA Luskin Career Services launched Alumni Career Connections in lieu of its annual career fair. In past years, Luskin had held career events that more closely resembled traditional job fairs. This year, students met one-on-one with alumni who graduated from the same department or who currently work in the student’s desired field. Each student had the opportunity to meet with up to three alumni over the course of an hour.

VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at UCLA Luskin, said the change was in response to feedback from employers whose participation in the annual job fair had dwindled in recent years.

“For many employers, these small career fairs are passé,” she said. “I shared that with my student advisory committee, and one of the students said, ‘I want an alumni career fair.’ I lit up at the thought of that and said, ‘That’s a great idea!’”

Although many students attend career fairs in the hopes of finding a job, Powe noted that most UCLA Luskin students end up securing employment through networking.

“Networking, especially with alumni from your program, is extremely important,” she said. “This is more of a ‘We share a career-field, and am I prepared to do what you’re doing?’ kind of event.”

Alumni met with as many as eight students over the course of the evening. In all, 105 students and 42 alumni participated.

Jasneet Bains, a second-year, dual-degree graduate student in urban planning and public health, said she attended because she liked the structure of meeting with alumni from her programs and wanted to broaden her professional network.

“We were matched up with alumni who share our interests, and that’s very valuable,” Bains said. “They’re able to provide specific insight. Having gone through that process, they’re able to teach us about how to take knowledge from our program and apply that in the field.”

Adrian Cotta, a second-year MSW student, said he had no expectations about leaving the event with a job offer, but she hoped to learn from alumni who had the same educational experience as he did.

“I’m hoping to get some advice from people in the field to see how to begin a career — and make a new friend, if nothing else,” he said.

Wendy Yan MA UP `97, vice president of underwriting at affordable housing syndicator WNC and Associates, said that she attended not only to inform students about the field but also to recruit for summer internships and possibly full-time jobs.

“We’re always looking for good people,” Yan said. “Being an alum of the urban planning program, I know there are a lot of students who specialize in affordable housing, and so we’d love to have good people from Luskin work with us.”

Rima Zobayan MPP `01 currently works at Westat, focusing on an implementation project for national assessment on educational progress for the U.S. Department of Education.

“I was in the fourth class of public policy students, so there weren’t a lot of alumni who could participate in something like this for us,” Zobayan said. “It’s great for alums to have a chance to talk to current students, to share what we’re doing and to see what students’ interests might be.”

Autonomous Vehicles Are on the Way. Are Cities Ready? UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment focuses on planning for the connected movement of people and goods

By Stan Paul

Autonomous vehicles, once considered science fiction, are quickly becoming a reality.

With the technology and testing of driverless cars and trucks progressing rapidly, private industry is investing. At the same time, planners and policy makers are confronting another challenge: How will technology, policy, governmental legislation and industry practices come together to make the potential benefits of autonomous transportation a reality that is responsible, equitable and good for the environment?

To address these issues, two UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs research centers — the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies — used their April 13, 2007 transportation conference to focus on the implications of autonomous vehicles. The 10th UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment brought together speakers representing the technology industry, along with planning researchers, and practitioners in the government and private sectors.

This year’s downtown forum, held at the California Endowment Los Angeles Conference Center was titled, “Steering Connected and Automated Mobility in the Right Direction.” Speakers and expert panels provided a look at the policy aspects of ridesharing and driverless transportation, from liability and equality viewpoints to greenhouse gas emissions and infrastructure. The panelists also discussed how the anticipated disruption of autonomous vehicles might play out locally, across California and around the nation.

Lauren Isaac, director of business initiatives for EasyMile, a high-tech mobility startup, discussed how connected and automated technologies may shape the future.

“What the data shows is that there needs to be either a costs savings or a time savings” to get people to participate, Isaac said. “There needs to be some benefit to a user to make that decision. The good thing is because of the way technology is evolving there’s great potential for both.”

Governments also play a part by providing HOV lanes and infrastructure for a faster ride, she said. “I think those are the kinds of levers that both technology providers and government can pull.”

Isaac said that freight companies will most likely be the No. 1 sector among the early adopters. “That industry is really interested in this,” she said, citing a shortage of drivers and huge cost savings that could come from moving goods this way.

“On the passenger side, I think without question we’re seeing the best response come from the younger generation,” she said, noting that there is also significant interest from the senior and disabled communities. “That being said, the challenge is how do you transfer people in wheelchairs or if they need additional help? People still rely on humans to get into the vehicles. So there’s still a lot of issues to work out around the para-transit piece,” Isaac said.

Chris Ganson, a senior planner from the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, described some of the research he has seen. “The plus side here is — with a lot of this kind of thinking on automated vehicles — it’s really kind of this funny combination of research and futurism that’s going on,” Ganson said. “We’re extrapolating from our current experiences to try to figure out what things might be like in the future, and what we might need to do about them, but there is a lot of convergence in that thinking.”

Despite this, he said, “We have some tough things to do policywise and politically to receive these autonomous vehicles into our society.”

Ganson also said that it makes sense to be proactive while planning for the future. “While you’re repaving … or building a new transit system, adding the technology now saves 10 times the cost of putting it in later,” he said.

Maya Buenaventura, assistant policy analyst at the RAND Corp., provided a quick primer on common law, tort law and liability issues that would come with taking humans out of the driver’s seat, as well as product liability issues for manufacturers of autonomous cars and parts. There may be some uncertainty in the details initially, she explained, but many of the longstanding concepts of common law that apply to personal injury and property damage would also apply to autonomous vehicles.

“The outcome might not be optimal from a social welfare perspective right away,” she said. “Judges need to start thinking in the long term — what are the long-term costs and benefits — if this is something they’re just going to pick up as autonomous vehicles get introduced. But it is not clear that there are any better options.

“Another thing that we’ve come to realize is the identity of potential defendants isn’t going to be very different when autonomous vehicles are introduced,” Buenaventura added. “There’s still going to be, potentially, lawsuits against the driver, against manufacturers, against the component part manufacturers. And suits against these defendants already exist today.”

For Eric Shaw, director of the Washington, D.C., Office of Planning, “This question of why we want to be ‘smart’ in the first place is actually a question we haven’t answered yet. For us, it’s not just smart vehicles, it’s smart planning. We need to understand how to be smart.”

Shaw, a pre-Luskin 1998 UCLA graduate minored in what was then policy studies, said his city’s overarching commitment is to spatial and racial equity, which must be balanced with the goal of livability, new innovation and understanding urban efficiency.

“We are having crazy growth in our city,” Shaw said of Washington. “We’re a historic city, one of the oldest cities in the nation. We’re one of the most planned cities in the nation.”

With equity and access in mind, Shaw pointed out that the nation’s capital has a huge income disparity. He asked whether creating a system around pricing automatically creates a system that excludes the city’s low-income residents.

With this in mind, Shaw said that his department was looking at a number of scenarios for the city’s future.

“We’re not afraid to test; we’re not afraid to pilot. So we are looking at some of the best practices, looking at ideas of shared mobility and performance, and we’re not afraid to get it all right before we do that,” Shaw added. “We’re OK to test and take some risks, but with the same question right now — racial equity, spatial equity of land use of the built environment.”

Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and director of both the ITS and the Lewis Center, pointed out the importance of addressing the issues covered in the forum.

“The presentations and discussion made clear that the rise of shared, connected and autonomous vehicles poses significant new challenges for transportation planners and policymakers, and in addition cast existing challenges into sharper relief,” Taylor said. “Addressing these challenges head-on today will help to ensure that we steer these new systems in the right direction.”

On the Job Training UCLA Luskin alumni return to campus to share career insights and tips with students seeking full-time and summer work

By Zev Hurwitz

With second-year Luskin students searching for career opportunities and first-year students looking to lock in summer placements, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs presented an alumni panel to give timely advice about what types of jobs might be out there in the public service sector.

At an evening panel discussion hosted by Luskin School Career Services on March 9, 2017, alumni of all three UCLA Luskin master’s programs spoke about working professionally with local governments and how their degrees opened those careers as possibilities.


Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who has taught as a visiting professor at the Luskin School each winter for more than 20 years, spoke about the opportunities for Luskin students to engage in public service, and he challenged the audience — mostly current Luskin students — to make strides in addressing the world’s issues.

“Five-sixths of the world today is conflict-free,“ Dukakis said. “The challenge now is how do we get the remaining one-sixth to join the other five-sixths? I just hope that, in addition to everything else you’re doing, you’ll be working hard for that kind of future.”

Five UCLA Luskin alumni spoke on the panel, which was moderated by Emily C. Williams MPP ’98, a member of Luskin’s first-ever graduating Master of Public Policy class. Williams noted that the panel’s academic diversity demonstrated the value in having cross-educational opportunities for current students, and she encouraged the audience to enroll in courses in other disciplines.

“It’s really nice that we have this great array of talent from all three departments in the school,” Williams said. “What was nice, for those of us who took classes outside our department, is that we really got to know some of the people outside of our programs, which lends itself to great working relationships.”

Paul Weinberg MPP ’98 is now emergency services administrator in the Office of Emergency Management for the City of Santa Monica. Weinberg spoke about how his schooling — Dukakis’ course in particular — gave him important insight into professionalism.

“Always return your phone calls — I cannot tell you how important that is,” Weinberg said. “You’ve got to find a way to acknowledge people reaching out to you,” attributing that advice to Dukakis. “Also, never say or write anything you don’t want to see on the cover of the L.A. Times. If you think about that now, that is more important than ever because [if] you put something out there in social media, it’s everywhere.”

Nahatahna Cabanes MSW ’13 is director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program at L.A. Works. As a former Bohnett Fellow, Cabanes had the opportunity to work in the administration of former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa while a student at Luskin. She said her current job is different from her role in the mayor’s office, but both jobs speak to her interests.

“It’s because I’m a little bit bipolar in term of my interests that I still have the compassion that drove me to social work, but at the same time, I’m a community organizer at heart and I love the world of politics,” Cabanes said. “I sort of balance between the macro and the micro.”

Molly Rysman MA UP ’05 is now the housing and homelessness deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Rysman discussed her experience bringing a priority issue to the mainstream of local politics.

“When I joined [Rysman’s] office, I worked really hard during her campaign to educate both her and her challenger that homelessness was an important issue — because back then you had to actually tell elected officials to care about homelessness,” she said. “Now I get to work on an issue that’s top of the agenda.”

Also serving on the panel were Daniel Rodman MURP ’14, now transportation manager in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, and Everado Alvizo MSW ’08, a former Bohnett Fellow who now works as a project coordinator and registered associate clinical social worker for Special Service for Groups.

VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at Luskin, said that giving opportunities for current students to engage with alumni is critical in providing a realistic idea of what life after UCLA will be like.

“When we have representatives from an organization talk about their work, they’re going to give you all of the formal, appropriate ‘yes-you-need-to-know’ detailed background about the organization,” Powe said. “When you’re talking to an alum, they’re also going to give you the inside story and they’re going to be honest. The alum knows what the students have learned here, so they can tell them how to tailor their experience to the jobs they’re seeking. I think that’s a very important difference.”

 

 

‘Day of Remembrance’ Blends History and Activism Panel at UCLA Luskin marks 75 years since Japanese American internment camps by advocating resistance to modern-day efforts that target immigrant populations

By Les Dunseith

Marking the passage of 75 years since a presidential executive order that led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs hosted a panel discussion on Feb. 23, 2017, that took place at a time when many U.S. citizens believe history is in danger of repeating itself.

The session was opened by moderator Lisa Hasegawa, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow and one of two alumnae who are activists-in-residence on campus for the winter quarter. She told of her Japanese American family’s experience of being unjustly forced into internment camps in 1942. Hasegawa likened that long-ago situation to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in January that sought to bar entry into the United States by immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“All of us in different generations are trying to figure out how we learn the lessons from the past and figure out how we activate those lessons in our daily lives,” Hasegawa said of the correlation between these two historic and controversial presidential actions.

The desire for activism amid a political climate that many people find fearful was a dominant theme of the panel discussion, which included five activists and filmmakers. Several showed clips from documentary films and other video projects that they have helped create in response to the Trump administration and its efforts that seem to target minority populations, particularly Muslim Americans.

“When Trump got elected, it was definitely very devastating to the Muslim community. I think we were all in shock,” said panelist Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who co-hosts a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim.”

But Ahmed has since been heartened by the showings of support that have taken place at protest marches and rallies around the country, including a sit-in at LAX that united various ethnic communities in opposition to the immigration ban.

“It is super-powerful as a Muslim to go into these spaces and to see non-Muslim people of color coming together in solidarity,” Ahmed said.

The mass protests in January at Los Angeles International Airport were also the subject of a “rough cut” clip for a documentary film shown by panelist Tani Ikeda, a filmmaker and member of imMEDIAte Justice. Her video focuses on two women (one Muslim, one Japanese American) from a grassroots solidarity group known as Vigilant Love that helped organized the resistance effort at LAX.

Ikeda said her father, who had been incarcerated as a draft resister when he was young, inspired her involvement in political activism and her pursuit of filmmaking as a career. Ikeda said she struggled with frustrations about societal and educational hurdles related to her minority status when she was young, but her father advised her to find strength, not despair, in those moments.

“Everything that makes you different is what gives you this unique perspective on the world, and that’s so needed,” Ikeda said her father told her. “So start making art.”

Also joining the panel, which was sponsored by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, was Sasha W. from the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. She seeks to “redefine security” by helping more people understand why many U.S. residents, especially those at the margins of society, don’t always feel safe.

For example, she was recently involved in a project in which average U.S. citizens were approached on the streets under the pretext of an opinion survey, but then were asked the sorts of questions that someone being racially profiled would hear.

Two other filmmakers also joined the panel discussion. The team of Mustafa Rony Zona and Koji Steven Sakai are working together on a documentary about the experiences of a young Muslim girl and her mother who recently relocated from Syria to Los Angeles. And they are in the development stage of a feature film about what might happen if new terrorist attacks sparked a modern-day effort to round up Muslim Americans in a manner similar to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

They hope to make a film that would lead people to recognize the parallels of the internment of Japanese Americans 75 years ago and anti-immigration efforts today.

“Today it’s Muslim Americans, Arab Americans. But tomorrow we don’t know who it is,” Sakai said. “It’s not about Muslim Americans; it’s not about any other group. It’s not even about Japanese Americans. It’s just making sure it doesn’t happen to anybody, ever again.”

A Case of Arrested Development UCLA faculty members join the discussion on an upcoming city ballot measure that could block big development projects in Los Angeles for two years

By Zev Hurwitz

The merits of an upcoming ballot initiative, Measure S, that would mean big changes for big development projects in the city brought together a panel of UCLA faculty members.

If passed by voters in March 2017, Measure S would impose a temporary moratorium on development projects that require changes to zoning, land use and building height laws in Los Angeles. In addition, the measure would restrict other changes and impose mandatory review procedures to the Los Angeles General Plan, while preventing project applicants from conducting their own Environmental Impact Reports (EIR).

“If you’re a developer and you want to do some affordable housing … it would be informally discouraged in wealthier areas,” said Joan Ling, a longtime lecturer in the UCLA Luskin Department of Urban Planning. “There’s a lot of talk about reforming land use laws in L.A., but there’s very little desire for actual results because the councilmembers want control of what gets built and that is tied to election campaign fundraising.”

In addition to Ling, the panel, which was produced by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studiesincluded urban planning faculty members Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Manville. Jonathan Zasloff, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, also joined the conversation, which was moderated by Rosslyn “Beth” Hummer, the chair of the Land Use Planning and Environmental Subcommittee of the Real Property Section of the L.A. County Bar Association.

Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning, introduced the panel and gave background on the ballot measure. Most panelists oppose Measure S, he noted, but the goal of the forum was to forecast both electoral scenarios.

“Measure S is something that urban planners should be informed about,” he said to an audience comprised mostly of master’s students in UCLA Luskin’s program. “Our goal here is not to push you in any one direction. We’re hoping to provide you with the best possible projections for what might happen if Measure S is actually passed.”

Ling talked about the housing regulatory infrastructure in the city, the leadership of which includes a planning director designated by the mayor and the 15-member City Council. She described the zoning and development realities for what she referred to as Los Angeles’ three cities, “the rich areas, the very low-income areas and the transitional areas.”

Monkkonen discussed a recent White Paper he authored in which concerns of residential leaders about construction in California were voiced. He identified several major reasons why neighborhoods and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) leaders opposed big development projects.

“Some people have concerns about the built environment of their neighborhoods,” Monkkonen said. “They’re concerned about strains on services, their roads, their schools. They have anger at developers for being rich and seeming to get away with things.”

Zasloff noted that the movement to put Measure S and similar initiatives on the ballot is not uncommon for residents who want to maintain the status quo for housing in their neighborhoods.

“When you consider that the vast majority of wealth for many Americans is tied up in their house … many people are scared for what this is going to do to their property values,” he said. “It’s a real concern for people when they set financial expectations for themselves and aren’t sure where to go with them.”

Opponents of big development projects are often concerned about increases in traffic resulting from new population density. Manville said he thinks Measure S would provide little benefit regarding congestion, however.

“It ends up being a very small and uncertain reduction in traffic, played against a much more certain cost in housing prices,” Manville said.

The measure is opposed by the Los Angeles chapters of both the Democratic and Republican parties —giving it a rare bipartisan opposition.

Asked to name one positive that is coming out of the Measure S movement, Zasloff replied that the threat of ballot items similar to Measure S keeps pressure on local elected officials to be more involved with constituency planning.

“If there were a way to scare the bejesus out of City Council on a regular basis, that would probably be helpful,” he said.

The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and drew more than 50 students, faculty and community members.