Mayoral Roundtable Highlights Launch of Luskin Summit 2022 With a theme of “Research in Action,” the fourth annual series resumes with five webinars spotlighting UCLA’s role in understanding and solving issues of current public concern 

By Les Dunseith

A roundtable discussion about the upcoming election of a new mayor in Los Angeles and four other sessions focusing on timely policy issues made up the agenda when the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs launched its fourth annual Luskin Summit.

Of the 10 currently declared mayoral candidates, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass has the advantage of name recognition and national political experience, panelists agreed. But City Councilman Kevin de León was also cited as a favorite of many voters based on his prior experience in Sacramento and name recognition from an unsuccessful 2018 bid for U.S. Senate. 

The panelists included Steve Soboroff and Wendy Greuel, former mayoral candidates themselves. 

Soboroff, who ran for mayor in 2001 in a race won by James K. Hahn, said, “At this point, I think it’s Karen, plus one. And everybody else is trying to be that one.”

He cited Bass’ experience as an elected official at both the state and national levels. “A lot has to do with bringing resources from D.C. and from Sacramento to Los Angeles. And she has the best chance of bringing resources that the others can’t.”

Greuel, who ran for mayor in 2013 in a race won by Eric Garcetti, sees this year’s mayoral election as very close, with even greater uncertainty because of COVID-19 and its ever-evolving impact on society and public opinion. 

“Normally, if you were ahead [in polls] five months out, you’re good, you know, and it’s not going to change,” Greuel said about speculating on a political candidate’s prospects for victory. “Now, it changes on a weekly basis.”

Like the mayor’s race, the Luskin Summit was impacted by COVID-19, with the launch event taking place on a remote platform after having been originally planned as an in-person conference. This year’s theme is “Research in Action,” and the sessions include recent research from the Luskin School that relates to current policy issues. The Summit series will continue through April.

The other sessions on Jan. 19 were moderated by faculty members at UCLA Luskin whose areas of expertise include housing policy, climate change, transportation, and class and racial inequality. Recordings of all five sessions are available online.

Author and UCLA Luskin faculty member Jim Newton, the editor of UCLA Blueprint magazine, led the questioning during the mayoral panel. The panelists were Soboroff, Greuel, longtime officeholder and current UCLA faculty member Zev Yaroslavsky and Antonia Hernandez, the president and CEO of the California Community Foundation.

They agreed that homelessness is likely to remain a dominant issue as the mayoral candidates vie for voter attention and approval prior to the June 7 primary and a likely Nov. 8 runoff election.

“I think in every public opinion survey that’s been done in town for candidates … homelessness is No. 1 and nothing else comes close,” Yaroslavsky said. “But it’s more than just homelessness. From my point of view, many people just feel that the wheels are coming off the city and it’s just not working.”

Hernandez said voters are eager for leadership and trustworthiness. 

“They want to have a sense of the person —  not the political person but the real person. You’re electing a whole package, a whole human being,” she said. “I think the public is really tired of platitudes, you know: ‘I’m going to solve homelessness in the first year.’ Well, it took us 40 years to get to where we are.”

Yaroslavsky said candidates also must navigate sometimes unrealistic voter expectations. 

“It’s better to underpromise and overdeliver,” he said. “You’ve got to be honest with the people. One of the lessons I learned in 40 years in politics is that the electorate has a very sensitive BS-sniffing meter. They know when they’re being conned.”

Hernandez expressed similar thoughts:  “If it’s not honest, it’s not realistic, then the platitudes aren’t going to get you any votes,” she said.

Homelessness was also the focus of the Luskin Summit session led by Ananya Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who is director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

In opening remarks, Miguel Santana of the Weingart Foundation set the stage for a discussion about expanding housing security for L.A.’s unhoused population without losing sight of each individual’s right to self-determination. 

“The thing that’s been missing at the heart of homeless service solutions are the actual voices of the people who have been impacted,” said UCLA alumna Ashley Bennett, a founding member of the community organization Ground Game LA. 

Joining Roy and Bennett was Gary Blasi, a UCLA professor emeritus of law whose scholarship has shed light on the plight of renters in California. 

“Homelessness begins with eviction,” he said. “These are not two separate things, they’re tightly linked.”   

A third session taking place during the Summit launch event focused on another issue of huge current public concern: climate change. The session zeroed in on the dangers of rising heat.

Climate change has increased the frequency and lethality of wildfires, floods and hurricanes, said moderator Kirsten Schwarz, associate professor of urban planning. “This session will explore design and policy interventions that can create more livable and resilient cities, specifically focusing on interventions aimed at protecting the most vulnerable populations,” she said.

Among the panelists was Kelly Turner, assistant professor of urban planning and the interim co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA. She spoke about possible mitigation strategies and the importance of partnering with communities that are most vulnerable to extreme heat.

“The burden of heat is incredibly inequitable,” Turner said. “We learn more from talking to the community members about all the pernicious ways heat can impact people and their daily lives. Involving these community groups is going to be essential to any solution.”

Other panelists were Veronica Padilla-Campos MURP ’06, executive director of the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful; Kristen Torres Pawling MURP ’12, sustainability program director at the Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office, and Helen Dowling, data manager for the Public Health Alliance of Southern California. 

The Luskin School of Public Affairs is well-known for its research on transportation issues, and Adam Millard-Ball, associate professor of urban planning, moderated a session that included new research on the widespread impact of Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies on a community’s economic, environmental and equity goals.

 “How can ride-hailing best serve the public interest?” he asked. “Certainly, on the positive side, ride-hailing is an important mobility option, particularly for people who don’t have a car or perhaps people who can’t drive. But at the same time Uber and Lyft mean more traffic and more local air pollution.”

About a fifth of drivers simply drive around, burning more gasoline and creating more congestion and pollution, according to Millard-Ball and fellow presenter Joe Castiglione, deputy director for technology, data and analysis at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. 

Also participating in this panel was Saba Waheed, research director at the UCLA Labor Center, who noted that gig workers have few employment protections.

The fifth panel discussion of the Summit launch event focused on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on systemic class and racial inequality.

Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was joined by Silvia González, a former colleague at CNK who now works with the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative; Karen Umemoto, a professor of urban planning and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center; and Vickie Mays, a professor of psychology and health services at UCLA.

“Clearly we all understand the last two years has transformed the way we live, work and socialize,” Ong said. “The pandemic has been a once-in-a-century public health crisis, but beyond that, it’s also a pandemic that has generated dramatic economic disruption.”

He noted that racial disruption has been another byproduct, including a rise in hate crimes directed at Asians and health disparities experienced by other races.

The panelists also discussed the so-called digital divide and how unequal access to high-speed internet connections have impacted education, social and racial relationships during the pandemic. 

“I think one of the things that we don’t really know exactly the impact of yet is the impact on children for those who don’t have internet access,” Umemoto said.  

Leading the city toward solutions to such issues is an expectation of the Los Angeles mayor. Among voters’ biggest concerns is rising crime and how the LAPD should approach it. Los Angeles is among the cities increasingly turning to community policing tactics. 

“It’s preventative policing. It’s getting involved with the communities. It’s having a hundred different programs to keep kids from submitting to gangs and submitting to the influences that make them break laws,” said Soboroff, a longtime member of L.A.’s Board of Police Commissioners. “A candidate needs to understand that.”

Yaroslavsky, whose legacy as an officeholder includes police reform, is interested in seeing how the mayoral candidates talk about crime. 

“How will the candidates frame it? Are you going to land on one end or the other?” he asked. “I’ve always maintained that good community and police relations, and public safety, are not mutually exclusive.”

The choice of mayor is important, the panelists said, even though the mayor of Los Angeles has limited authority to enact unilateral change.

“In Los Angeles, we have 21 people — 15 council members, one mayor and five supervisors — that control everything,” Soboroff said. “The issue is not about taking power; it’s about giving up power … so something can get done.” 

Hernandez said candidates like Bass, de León, City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Councilman Joe Buscaino all have solid records as public servants. 

“They are good, decent people. They have served in different positions in government, and … you know that they care deeply about the place,” she said. “So, the real issue is how are they going to bring us together and make us believe that government can work for the people.”

Greuel, whose deep public service experience includes being the current chair of the Board of Advisors at UCLA Luskin, said winning the San Fernando Valley remains pivotal to the mayor’s race. Yaroslavsky agreed, but noted that changing demographics in the Valley, and throughout Los Angeles, mean that strategies that won past elections may not hold true anymore.

“It’s a much more complicated electorate now,” he said. 

The Luskin Summit is scheduled to resume Feb. 15 with a session focusing on voter suppression attempts. Sessions to follow will look at policy issues from a global perspective. Details about the Luskin Summit series can be found online, and interested parties may register at this link. 

Luskin Summit 2022 will close April 22 with a two-session event focusing on the Quality of Life Index, a project under the direction of Yaroslavsky in his role with the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA, and a roundtable discussion about the importance of governors in California moderated by Newton. It will be presented both virtually and in-person on the UCLA campus if COVID-19 protocols allow. 

This year’s Luskin Summit sponsors are the Weingart Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the David Bohnett Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the Los Angeles Rams. The media partner is ABC7 in Los Angeles.

Stan Paul and Mary Braswell also contributed to this story.

Wells Fargo Provides $500,000 for LPPI, CNK Research The grant to UCLA research groups will support policy solutions to benefit small business owners of color

A new grant of $500,000 from Wells Fargo will support efforts by researchers affiliated with the Luskin School to determine best practices and policy solutions to benefit businesses operated by persons of color.

The award will go to the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (UCLA LPPI) and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) for research aimed at increasing access to capital, technology and environmentally sustainable practices for these businesses.

“COVID-19’s disparate impact on small business owners of color highlighted the enduring legacy of structural barriers that impede economic opportunity and social mobility for large swaths of working Americans,” said Maria Samaniego, deputy director of UCLA LPPI. “This grant will allow us to develop policy research and resources that are specifically tailored to the needs of communities of color, which have the power to transform small business ownership in ways that will drive our economy for generations.”

UCLA LPPI and CNK will focus on understanding how to broaden access to financial services and technology tools. They will also explore how to best leverage public, private and social partnerships to boost the entrepreneurship potential of small businesses owned by Latinos and other people of color. The findings will lead to more informed decisions about post-COVID economic recovery policy relating to minority-owned businesses. Another goal will be increasing labor force participation in those communities.

“We cannot ignore the bright spotlight the pandemic has put on inequity, nor the responsibility and opportunity we have to close gaps in resources that have existed for far too long,” said Jenny Flores, head of small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “Investing in UCLA LPPI and CNK will offer an in-depth view into how the public and private sectors can better support and accelerate access for business owners of color who will be at the forefront of building an inclusive economy.”

Research Professor Paul Ong, director of CNK, pointed to previous research from UCLA that has identified economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and produced insight into how society’s systems and institutions often work against the interests of people in disadvantaged communities. “With this funding, we will be able to pinpoint the exact systemic barriers and to generate the knowledge to remove them for future generations,” he said. “Equally important, new insights will inform new practices that create greater equity for people of color.”

Support from Wells Fargo will also enable UCLA LPPI and CNK to identify best practices in sustainability that small businesses can adopt to help them meet the challenges presented by climate change.

Gas Bill Debt Disproportionately Burdens Low-Income Neighborhoods As California’s utility shutoff ban ends, UCLA research shows where unpaid gas utility bills proliferated amid the pandemic

By Lauren Dunlap

Unpaid bills for heating and cooking gas are unevenly distributed among Californians, according to a new report from the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin in partnership with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and the Luskin Center for Innovation.

Since Oct. 1, customers who are behind on utility bills are no longer protected from shutoffs by a statewide order enacted in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The study reveals clear patterns of inequity: Neighborhoods with high gas bill debt rates also have higher poverty rates, lower incomes, more renters than homeowners and higher proportions of Black and Latinx residents than the average neighborhood served by Southern California Gas.

The research team analyzed data from the utility, which provides gas service to about 50% of California residents. The team found that, as of February 28, 2021, 1 in 5 customers were at least 30 days behind on their gas bill payments, and almost 1 in 10 were at least 90 days behind. 

The report provides several lessons for policymakers to equitably relieve the burden of utility debt on customers. The authors recommend improving the data available on utility debt and shutoffs to lead to better-informed decisions. They also note the importance of targeting relief aid at the most affected, lowest-income households. 

The co-authors also emphasize a connection between their findings and the growing movement toward building electrification. Transitioning residential buildings to run on electricity alone is significant to avoid greenhouse gas emissions — especially since natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a major contributor to climate change. But this transition may impose high costs on people who already face utility debt. 

“When higher-income households stop using gas, lower-income households may be saddled with higher and higher gas costs,” said Silvia González ’09, MURP ’13, UP PhD ’20, director of research at LPPI. “It is essential to make electrification equitable, which means households don’t get left behind or stuck with increasingly unmanageable energy costs.” 

Because lower-income households could be negatively impacted by the fixed costs of gas service — the costs that don’t go down when there are fewer customers — the researchers advise that more research is needed to understand and mitigate this impact. 

This study is the third and final in a series examining utility debt inequity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous policy briefs focused on unpaid utility bills among Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Pacific Gas and Electric Company customers. 

 

High Temperatures Increase Workers’ Injury Risk, Whether They’re Outdoors or Inside The finding reflects another consequence of climate change, according to new study led by R. Jisung Park of UCLA Luskin Public Policy

A UCLA study published today shows that hot weather significantly increases the risk of accidents and injuries on the job, regardless of whether the work takes place in an indoor or outdoor setting.

The report is based on data from California’s workers’ compensation system, the nation’s largest.

“The incidence of heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke definitely go up on hotter days,” said the study’s lead researcher R. Jisung Park, an assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. “But what we found is that ostensibly unrelated incidents — like falling off a ladder or being hit by a moving truck or getting your hand caught in a machine — tend to occur more frequently on hotter days, too.”

By comparing records from more than 11 million California workers’ compensation claims from 2001 to 2018 to high-frequency local weather data, Park and his co-authors isolated the impact of hotter days on the number of injury claims.

The study shows that on days with high temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a 6% to 9% higher risk of injuries than they do on days with high temperatures in the 50s or 60s. When the thermometer tops 100, the risk of injuries increases by 10% to 15%.

Those findings are particularly alarming in the context of climate change, which is expected to produce more high-temperature days each year. The researchers estimate that high temperatures already cause about 15,000 injuries per year in California.

“Heat is sometimes described as a silent killer,” said Nora Pankratz, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. “But if you look into the data and do the statistical analysis, you find that heat has a significant impact on mortality and health outcomes.”

 

It’s not surprising that hot weather would lead to injuries and illness among workers in predominantly outdoor industries such as agriculture, utilities and construction. But the data consistently show that industries in which most people work indoors are affected as well. In manufacturing, for example, days with high temperatures above 95 degrees have an injury risk that is approximately 7% higher than days with high temperatures in the low 60s.

“A lot of manufacturing facilities are not air conditioned,” said Stanford University postdoctoral scholar A. Patrick Behrer, the study’s other co-author. “Because you’re inside, you don’t necessarily think about the temperature as being a major threat.”

The reality is that overheated workers face numerous risks, regardless of where the work occurs.

“Heat affects your physiology,” Park said. “It affects your cognition. It affects your body’s ability to cope. It seems possible that what we’re observing in the data for these workers is that they’re more likely to make mistakes or errors in judgment.”

The researchers found that heat-related workplace injuries are more likely to be suffered by men and lower-income workers. In addition, younger people suffer more heat-related injuries, possibly in part because they’re more likely to hold jobs with greater physical risks on construction sites, in manufacturing plants or at warehouses.

For an office worker at a computer desk, nodding off on a hot summer afternoon is unlikely to cause an injury. “But if you have a huge chainsaw in your hand, you’re not in a great situation,” Park said.

Among the paper’s other conclusions:

  • The number of heat-related injuries actually declined after 2005, when California became the first state to implement mandatory heat illness prevention measures for outdoor workplaces on days when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
  • The financial costs of heat-related injuries may be between $750 million and $1.25 billion per year in California alone, considering health care expenditures, lost wages and productivity, and disability claims.
  • Inequalities in the labor market are exacerbated in part by the fact that low-income communities tend to be situated in hotter parts of the state. People in the state’s lowest household income tier are approximately five times more likely to be affected by heat-related illness or injury on the job than those in the top income tier, the study found.

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, where Park is associate director of economic research, provided funding for the study. It is available now through the Institute of Labor Economics, which disseminates working versions of potentially influential research prior to publication in academic journals. Park previewed the findings  July 15 during testimony at a Congressional hearing organized by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The new study echoes the results of a 2019 study that focused on how extreme temperatures raise injury risk in Texas and in the U.S. mining industry. Park, whose prior research includes a finding that student learning is negatively impacted by warm temperatures, said there has been “an explosion of research just in the last five to 10 years that illustrates, using data, the serious consequences of climate change for health, productivity and economic growth. This likely adds to that urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Pankratz got involved in the study while working at UCLA Luskin as a postdoctoral scholar, having previously researched the impact of heat on businesses while working toward her Ph.D. in the Netherlands. 

Worldwide, she said, there is growing interest in the concept of adaptation — the pragmatic changes that can be made by governments and businesses to cope with the reality of climate change.

“For a long time, the focus has been on mitigation — what can we do to prevent climate change,” she said. “But as it becomes more and more obvious that there is policy inertia on mitigation, it’s important to think about what we can do to adapt and to work as well as possible in a warmer world.”

The study authors, all of whom have backgrounds in economics, realize that the desire to protect workers from heat may be complicated by economic reality. 

Behrer said policymakers could stipulate that workers not be exposed to the heat on days above 100 degrees, for example, without proscribing a specific strategy to be used by individual business owners.

“Then firms have the option either to use air conditioning or come up with some other method of climate control for their facilities,” he said, noting that some might change work hours or shorten the work day during heat waves. “It allows them to decide the most cost-effective way for them to meet the objective of reducing workplace injuries.”

 

Decarbonizing California Transportation by 2045 Report to state outlines policy pathways to meet the zero-carbon time crunch

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. In order to achieve the state’s goals of carbon neutrality by 2045 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, decarbonizing this sector is essential. But such a transition is unlikely to occur rapidly without key policy intervention, according to a new study that included research from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

A team of transportation and policy experts from the University of California released a report April 21 to the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) outlining policy options to significantly reduce transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions. Those policy options, when combined, could lead to a zero-carbon transportation system by 2045, while also improving equity, health and the economy. A second study, led by UC Santa Barbara, identifying strategies to reduce in-state petroleum production in parallel with reductions in demand, was released simultaneously.

The state funded the two studies through the 2019 Budget Act. The studies are designed to identify paths to slash transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions while also managing a strategic, responsible decline in transportation-related fossil fuel supply.

The University of California demand study was conducted by researchers from the UC Institute of Transportation Studies, a network with branches at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and UCLA. The UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy coordinated the report’s policy management, and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change led the study’s equity and environmental justice research.

Bringing about a zero-carbon transportation future will be challenging but not impossible, the report states. Doing so requires urgent actions and a long-term perspective. Importantly, a major upfront investment in clean transportation through incentives and new charging and hydrogen infrastructure will soon pay off in net economic savings to the California economy, with net savings in the next decade growing to tens of billions of dollars per year by 2045.

The report recommends flexible policy approaches that can be adjusted over time as technologies evolve and more knowledge is gained.

“This report is the first to comprehensively evaluate a path to a carbon neutral transportation system for California by 2045,” said Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. “We find that such pathways are possible but will rely on extensive changes to existing policies as well as introduction of some new policies. The study also prioritizes equity, health and workforce impacts of the transition to zero-carbon transportation.”

Researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation led the study’s workforce analysis. Achieving carbon neutrality in California’s transportation sector could create over 7.3 million job-years of employment over the next 25 years, according to the researchers. These jobs would result from “greening” many existing occupations and creating new occupations.

“This presents the state with a golden opportunity to create not only new, high-quality jobs, but also ensure that many existing industries and occupations transition to better practices,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and professor of public policy.

KEY POLICY STRATEGIES

 Zero emission vehicles: Many of the report’s policy options are centered on a rapid transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which is expected to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air pollution as the state’s electric grid is also decarbonized.

Light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for 70% and 20% of the state’s transportation emissions, respectively. The report suggests a combination of enhanced mandates, incentives, and public charging and hydrogen infrastructure investments to speed the adoption of ZEVs. For medium and heavy-duty vehicles, key policy priorities include increasing the availability of charging stations for long-haul freights, electricity pricing reform to make depot charging more affordable, and priority lanes and curb access for zero-emission trucks, among other possibilities.

Vehicle miles traveled: Even with widespread ZEV use, reducing overall vehicle miles traveled is necessary to reduce traffic congestion and emissions from vehicle manufacturing, and to enhance quality-of-life and land-use benefits related to traffic. The report suggests policies that encourage active, shared and micromobility transportation, telecommuting, and land-use changes that reduce people’s reliance on automobiles and enhance community connectivity.

Fuels: About 86% of transportation fuel is petroleum. Shifting toward low-carbon clean energy requires major investments in electricity and hydrogen. Low-carbon liquid fuels compatible with internal combustion engines will be needed to reduce emissions while the transition to ZEVs progresses, as well as in some specialized applications, like aviation. California can support the needed investments in clean fuels with mandated blending levels, new incentives and credits to stimulate investment in very low-carbon liquid fuels for aviation, shipping and legacy combustion engine vehicles.

Getting to zero: Some residual emissions remain in every scenario examined. The report states that at least 4 million to 5 million metric tons per year of negative emissions capacity (equal to 2.5% of current transportation emissions) is needed by 2045 to counteract those residual emissions. These could come from carbon capture and sequestration projects that pull carbon from the air to store it underground, as well as so-called sequestration by natural or working lands.

BENEFITS

In addition to direct economic benefits beginning around 2030, the transportation decarbonization policies could also lead to health, equity and environmental justice, and workforce and labor benefits.

Health: Transportation is a major cause of local air pollution and contributes to climate change. Particulate matter harms lungs and hearts, while nitrogen oxide compounds contribute to ozone pollution and other health impacts. The report found that cleaner heavy-duty vehicles would significantly reduce pollution in many of the state’s most vulnerable communities. The health benefits of reducing local pollution will grow with the deployment of clean transportation technologies and could translate to more than $25 billion in savings in 2045.

Equity and environmental justice: Transportation in California carries a legacy of inequity and damage to disadvantaged communities. These communities often lack quality public transportation or viable transportation choices. Highways have been built with little consideration for displacement, and many communities of color have been divided by freeways, perpetuating historic segregation policies like redlining. The report identifies options that prioritize equity in transportation investments and policies.

For example:

  • Continue to support electric vehicle incentives targeted to lower-income buyers and underserved communities, including used vehicles.
  • Prioritize deploying electric heavy-duty vehicles in disadvantaged communities and magnet facilities such as commercial warehouses in those communities.
  • Support transit and zero-emission services and charging stations in disadvantaged communities. This can help reduce vehicle miles traveled and increase accessibility while avoiding displacement.
  • Avoid siting non-renewable fuel production facilities in disadvantaged communities, engage communities disproportionately affected by transportation sector emissions in decision-making concerning the siting of new infrastructure and investments associated with achieving carbon neutrality, and continue to carefully monitor and control local pollutants.

“We must confront the legacy of the lack of public and private investment where Black, indigenous and people of color live and work,” said Bernadette Austin, acting director of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. “This report identifies ways to strategically invest in sustainable infrastructure while intentionally avoiding disruptive and damaging infrastructure in our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”

Workforce: The transition to a carbon-neutral transportation system will disrupt jobs in some sectors while creating new jobs in others, like clean vehicle manufacturing and electric and hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The report suggests that California prioritize the needs of impacted workers. In addition, wherever ZEV-related industry expansion creates quality jobs, state policy should focus on creating broadly accessible career pathways.

Economy: The transition to ZEVs is expected to generate savings for consumers and the economy well before 2045. Within the next decade, the cost of owning and operating ZEVs is projected to drop below that of a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle. That is because battery, fuel cell and hydrogen costs will continue to decline; electricity costs will be much less than petroleum fuel costs; and maintenance costs of ZEVs will be less. These savings can be invested elsewhere by households and businesses.

For further information about this report, contact Samuel Chiu or Kat Kerlin at UC Davis.

Report Sets Path Toward Clean Drinking Water for all Californians Study co-authored by UCLA Luskin researchers finds hundreds of public water systems are out of compliance

By Michelle Einstein

California was the first U.S. state to legally recognize access to safe, clean and affordable water as a human right. But substantial parts of the state lack access to drinking water that meets those criteria.

A new study (PDF) published by the California State Water Board and supported by UCLA research identifies a risk for failure among a significant portion of the state’s small and medium-sized public water systems. The report is the first comprehensive analysis of how clean water is provided in California, and it estimates how much it would actually cost to deliver safe water to every resident.

The research was a collaboration between the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, the water board’s Needs Analysis Unit, Corona Environmental Consulting, Sacramento State University’s Office of Water Programs, the Pacific Institute and the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center.

Of the 2,779 public water systems evaluated in the study, nearly half are at some risk of failing to provide an adequate supply of safe drinking water. To measure the health of water systems, the researchers assessed each water system using 19 indicators for water quality, accessibility, affordability and operational capacity.

Based on those assessments, each system received an overall rating indicating how likely it would be to fail — from “not at risk” at the top end of the scale, to “potentially at risk” and “at risk” for the systems with the lowest scores. The researchers found 25% of water systems to be “at risk,” while an additional 23% are “potentially at risk.”

The study also identified locations where groundwater quality is out of compliance with the state’s safe water drinking standards. About one-third of domestic wells and one-half of state small water systems were found to be at a high risk for containing contaminants like nitrate and arsenic.

“Illuminating the extent of at-risk water systems is an important step,” said Gregory Pierce, the study’s principal investigator and an associate director at the Luskin Center for Innovation. “By more fully understanding the issues, we can move to more resilient and accessible water sources.”

The study noted that water quality and infrastructure issues vary substantially across the state. For instance, Kings County, in central California, has the highest proportion of at-risk public water systems (75%), while San Francisco County and Modoc County in the northern part of the state have zero at-risk systems.

The research incorporated a comprehensive evaluation of thousands of water systems and hundreds of thousands of wells, as well as input from water managers, environmental nonprofits and advocacy groups.

Among the other findings:

Holistic solutions can help.

  • In the short term, bottled water and home filtration systems can be used to help communities that need clean drinking water immediately. The researchers estimate that those short-term interventions would cost between $500 million and $1.6 billion over the next five to nine years.
  • Long-term solutions include enhancing water treatment; consolidating small, underperforming water systems; and providing experts to advise communities on how to improve those systems. The study estimates a wide range of total costs for those solutions, depending on which actions local systems adopt, but the midpoint estimate is about $5.7 billion.

More funding will be needed.

  • The Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, which was established in 2019 to help bring adequate drinking water to disadvantaged communities, already provides critical financial support. But for all California communities to have reliably safe drinking water, more financial resources are likely needed.
  • Additional funding could come from a variety of sources, including the state legislature, the governor’s office and federal agencies.

The analysis suggests prioritizing funding for water systems that are currently most at risk and that are located in underserved communities. It also sets the stage for a deeper investigation of how the state can ensure safe, clean and affordable water for all — an especially salient issue as Congress is considering a federal infrastructure bill that would, in part, address the systems that deliver drinking water throughout the U.S.

“I’m optimistic that as a nation, we’re talking about upgrading our pipes and cleaning up our contaminated drinking water,” said Peter Roquemore, a co-author of the study and a researcher at the Luskin Center for Innovation. “Infrastructure might not always be glamorous, but the impacts of fixing our water systems would be huge.”

Local Demand Is Helping California Surpass Renewable Energy Targets UCLA study shows 30% of residents now can choose cleaner power from community choice aggregators

By Michelle Einstein

In California, local demand for renewable energy is helping the state exceed its clean energy goals, according to a new UCLA study.

Research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation shows the growing impact of community choice aggregators, or CCAs, on energy procurement and illustrates the effects cleaner energy providers are having on the state’s power supply.

Community choice aggregators buy clean energy on behalf of their residents and businesses, offering an alternative to investor-owned utilities and enabling localities to take control of their energy procurement. The CCA serving much of the Los Angeles region is Clean Power Alliance, which provides energy to customers in 31 cities and counties, including Alhambra, Culver City, Downey and Santa Monica.

“Community choice in energy has largely fallen under the radar, but it is rapidly reshaping the energy sector in California,” said Kelly Trumbull, a researcher at the Center for Innovation and lead author of the report (PDF).

According to the report, the use of community choice energy has grown quickly in the state. More than 30% of California households and businesses — more than 10 million customers — now have the option to choose a CCA as their electricity provider, up from less than 1% in 2010.

The vast majority of these energy providers offer more energy that derives from renewable sources. In all, the energy delivered by CCAs comes from renewable sources by an average of 25 percentage points more than energy from investor-owned utilities in the same regions. CCAs purchased twice as much renewable energy as required by the state from 2011 to 2019, researchers found.

That has helped the state achieve a cumulatively larger reduction in greenhouse gas emissions each year. The clean energy goals, established by the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, stipulate that 100% of the state’s energy be carbon-free by 2045. An interim target was set at 25% renewable energy until 2019. According to the report, a weighted average of 50% of the CCAs’ energy came from renewable sources that year.

The trend toward cleaner energy providers has also benefited residents by providing cheaper electricity: 73% of communities that offer community choice do so at a lower default rate than their investor-owned counterparts, the study found. And the CCAs often provide additional environmental and economic benefits, including financial assistance programs for low-income residents and incentives for electric transportation.

The authors write that the community choice aggregator model could be replicated in a variety of communities across the nation.

“We found that in California, CCAs successfully serve a wide variety of communities with ranging sizes, median incomes and political affiliations,” Trumbull said. “This suggests that CCAs could be implemented throughout the country.”

Nine states currently allow for a community choice approach, and interest is growing. Among the study’s takeaways from the California model:

  •  CCAs are most effective in communities where the demand for carbon-free energy exceeds what is currently provided.
  •  Partnerships among multiple cities and counties give CCAs an economy-of-scale advantage by keeping operating costs low.
  •  State policy and regulation play a critical role in the success of the community choice approach, starting with the fact that California needed to enact legislation to allow for CCAs to exist.

The research, which was supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, adds to the Luskin Center for Innovation’s large body of research on community choice electricity and renewable energy.

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

By Les Dunseith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In late April, the final event of Luskin Summit 2021 will be unveiling of the 6th annual Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment and Meyer and Renee Luskin under the direction of Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. The survey asks county residents to rate their quality of life in a range of categories and to answer questions about important issues. Last year’s survey happened to coincide with the early stages of the pandemic.  

Watch a recording of the keynote session:

EPA Used Dubious Methodology to Justify Weakening the Clean Water Act Agency wrongly assumed that states will step in to protect waterways when over half of U.S. wetlands and 35% of streams in the West lose federal protection, researchers say

The Trump administration’s decision to remove federal Clean Water Act protections from millions of acres of wetlands and millions of miles of streams is based on dubious methodology and flawed logic, according to a new report by environmental economists from leading research institutions across the United States.

“The EPA’s decision to make major changes to the rules protecting the nation’s waterways relies on economic analysis that may underestimate the benefits of streams and wetlands, especially as they affect waters downstream,” said David Keiser of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a co-author of the report. “The EPA also failed to adhere to its own guidelines. The new rule includes many contradictions that are inconsistent with the best available science.”

The study is titled “Report on the Repeal of the Clean Water Rule and Its Replacement With the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to Define Waters of the United States.” It was prepared by the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, which is partially funded by the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA and co-chaired by JR DeShazo, a professor of public policy, urban planning, and civil and environmental engineering at UCLA.

Last January, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers removed the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which clarified which bodies of water fell under federal protection from pollution under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Earlier this year, the agencies replaced that rule with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removes isolated wetlands, and ephemeral and intermittent streams from federal pollution protection.

The rule change makes it much easier for developers, agricultural operations, oil and gas companies, and mining companies to dredge, fill, divert, and dump pollution into ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands. Ripple effects could include worsening water pollution; loss of habitat for birds, fish and other species; diminished recreational waterways; more frequent algal blooms; and increased flood damage to communities as wetlands disappear, according to the report.

A 2017 staff analysis by the EPA and the Army Corps found that the new rule would leave over half of U.S. wetlands and 18% of U.S. streams unprotected, including 35% of streams in the arid West.

While developing the rule, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers considered water quality as only a “local public good.” This ignores extensive scientific research that shows that even ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands are connected to larger watersheds, so what happens upstream affects waterways downstream, increasing the risk of flooding, diminishing water quality and causing other problems that don’t stop at state borders. The report finds that this artificially narrow view skewed benefit-cost analyses in a way that favored removal of regulations.

The agencies also relied on some questionable assumptions. For example, EPA projections of nationwide benefits assumed that every state — including arid places like Nevada or Arizona and wetland-rich states like Florida — has the same baseline number of wetland acres.

The agencies based the benefit-cost analyses on the assumption that leaving streams and wetlands unprotected won’t cause any harm to water quality in many states, the report says, because those states will rush in to protect waterways as needed.

“Experience shows that’s just not credible,” said Sheila Olmstead of the University of Texas at Austin, a report co-author. “We have a real-world apples-to-apples comparison to look at: When the Supreme Court removed federal protection from many U.S. wetlands by overturning the Migratory Bird Rule in 2001, only a few states moved to expand their own jurisdiction over some of the affected waters over the next 20 years. Given this prior behavior, EPA’s prediction that dozens of states will move to protect wetlands and streams this time around seems highly unlikely. In addition, assuming that many states will enact new legislation that doesn’t currently exist violates EPA’s own Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analysis.”

Environmental federalism — the idea that states do a better job at environmental regulation than the national government — can work in some situations, but it is not supported in this case, the report says. In addition to Keiser and Olmstead, co-authors include Kevin Boyle, Virginia Tech; Victor Flatt, University of Houston; Bonnie Keeler, University of Minnesota; Daniel Phaneuf, University of Wisconsin; Joseph S. Shapiro, University of California, Berkeley; and Jay Shimshack, University of Virginia.

President-elect Joe Biden has said his administration will review the Trump administration’s decision to remove Clean Water Act protection from wetlands and intermittent streams. But reversing that decision could be messy: At least a dozen court cases have been filed so far, and defining the protected waters of the United States has been the subject of debate for decades.

In the meantime, businesses are not waiting to take advantage of the weaker rules. For example, Twin Pines Minerals says it no longer needs a federal permit and so will start work on a controversial titanium dioxide mine near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, which is home to the largest National Wildlife Refuge east of the Mississippi.

“The Biden Administration will attempt to respond to a number of EPA rule rollbacks undertaken by the Trump administration. This report points to how a Biden administration can correct structural weaknesses in this rule as well as other important EPA policies,” said DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center of Innovation.

The External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee was established after the EPA dissolved its own internal Environmental Economics Advisory Committee in 2018. That committee had contributed to policy analysis for 25 years as part of the EPA’s science advisory board system, and the new group is continuing this work from outside the agency.

Report Shows Major Effects of COVID-19 on Asian American Labor Force Increasing difference in unemployment, jobless rates between Asians and whites among the findings

By Melany De La Cruz-Viesca

A UCLA report released today reveals the disparate economic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on Asian Americans and points to a need to expand financial relief for all workers in order to stave off the worst effects of the crisis and ensure a strong recovery.

While anecdotal evidence suggests that Asian American businesses, particularly those in big-city ethnic enclaves, experienced the impact of COVID-19 earlier and more deeply than others as a result of xenophobia and racial discrimination, there has been little empirical data to show the overall effect on Asian Americans in the labor market.

The new analysis, by researchers from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Ong & Associates, used employment and labor data for California and New York to better understand the nature, pattern and magnitude of the COVID-19 economic disruption to Asian Americans between March and May 2020.

The report found an increased difference in unemployment and joblessness between Asian Americans and whites during this period, compared with the period before the pandemic, when the rates were nearly identical. By May 2020, the researchers found, the unemployment rate for Asians was 15% and the jobless rate was 21%, compared with 12% and 16% for whites.

In addition, while Asian Americans made up 16% of the California labor force in February 2020, they filed 19% of initial unemployment claims over the two-and-a-half months of the shutdown. In New York state, they accounted for 9% of the labor force but filed 14% of claims by mid-April.

The pandemic has had a profound effect on disadvantaged Asian Americans, the researchers note. Among those in the labor force with a high school education or less, 83% filed unemployment claims in California, compared with 37% for the rest of the California labor force with the same level of education.

According to the report, many of these economic effects of COVID-19 are due to the fact that Asian Americans are heavily concentrated in a small number of states and frequently work in industries that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and shelter-in-place mandates.

Nearly 1 in 4 employed Asian Americans work in the categories of hospitality and leisure, retail, and other services, the last of which includes businesses like repair shops and personal services such as hair-cutting and laundries. The unemployment rate for Asian Americans in the hospitality and leisure sector in April was 39%, compared with 36% for non-Hispanic whites. In the other services sector, the rate was 40% for Asians and 19% for whites, according to the report.

In terms of business closures during the pandemic, the authors estimate that 233,000 Asian American small businesses closed from February to April, representing a decline of 28% over the two-month period. The 1.79 million non-Hispanic white small businesses that closed over the same period represented a decline of 17%.

“An important question to consider for the future is whether these disparities will continue as the economy reopens and be exacerbated by the apparent increase in anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S.,” said Paul Ong, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

A number of policy recommendations outlined in the report would provide much-needed economic relief to marginalized and low-income Asian Americans, in particular those in the service sector. They include:

  • Enact federal policy to extend unemployment benefits and small business assistance, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance program from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
  • Enact additional state policies that provide benefits to marginalized populations least likely to receive unemployment benefits through the CARES Act.
  • Enact additional policies to assist small businesses, including the so-called resiliency funds established by some local governments.
  • Increase efforts to ensure marginalized populations take advantage of governmental, private and philanthropic resources to help people weather the financial hardships of COVID-19.
  • Enact federal and state polices and fund programs to equip economically displaced people with job skills that are marketable during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

“We need to invest in all workers to ensure a robust recovery,” the researchers write.

The Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) conducts basic and applied research on the socioeconomic formation and internal dynamics of neighborhoods, and how these collective spatial units are positioned and embedded within regions. The center is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Established in 1969, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center has been at the forefront of producing and disseminating knowledge of the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through research, archival and film documentation, publications and civic engagement.

Ong & Associates is an economic and policy analysis consulting firm founded by Paul Ong that specializes in public interest issues; the firm provided services pro bono for the study.