Alternative Utility Providers Offer Options for Energy Customers New report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation assesses the options available to Santa Monica and other cities in Los Angeles County

By Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10

Los Angeles County is set to launch its own electricity provider in 2018, giving customers another option besides longtime power company Southern California Edison. Called Los Angeles Community Choice Energy, the county’s venture is part of a wave across California of new community choice aggregators.

Community choice aggregators (CCAs) enable cities or counties to make decisions about what kinds of energy resources and local clean energy programs in which to invest, such as local renewable energy. Since 2010, California communities have established nine CCAs, with over a dozen municipalities actively exploring forming a CCA and many others considering joining one. Multiple CCA models have arisen out of this rapid growth. Now cities such as Santa Monica have multiple CCA options.

A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analyzed three CCA options to inform Santa Monica’s decision whether to form or join a CCA.

“This study commissioned by the City of Santa Monica is garnering wide attention from cities across the region that are faced with a similar set of options, because it is an important decision,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The decision could affect electricity rates for local customers, the amount of renewable energy procured and how much money could be available for local energy programs, among other consequences.

The study assessed the strengths and potential challenges of Santa Monica’s three CCA options:

  • Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE), a large, soon-to-launch CCA with member cities across Los Angeles County. This regional option may dilute influence for Santa Monica, in terms of its direct vote on the governing board. However, it could also provide Santa Monica with the greatest economies of scale, which would well position the city to meet its ambitious renewable energy and other environmental goals while avoiding long-term risks.
  • South Bay Clean Power (SBCP), a CCA designed for a group of cities in the South Bay and Westside subregion. SBCP is more a set of recommendations than an operationally ready option at this time. SBCP’s business plan includes innovative, sophisticated strategies for a next generation CCA, which others outside of SBCP could adopt. With no other currently committed members, Santa Monica would likely have to take the lead in its development and it would likely benefit from fewer economies of scale than LACCE.
  • A single-city CCA through the services of California Choice Energy Authority (CCEA), which pools services for multiple single-city CCAs. The business model for CCEA allows for member cities to have a significant amount of autonomy to pursue and meet renewable energy and other goals. However, it would also involve an initial financial and staff commitment.

Relying in part on UCLA’s research findings, the Santa Monica City Council recently voted unanimously to join LACCE as the first step in a two-step approval process.

The associated Santa Monica staff report states, “The UCLA study helped to inform staff’s recommendations. … LACCE is operationally ready and could provide the City with a variety of economies of scale and a stronger voice for the legislative and regulatory discussions that lay ahead.” By collaborating with other cities through this new regional energy partnership, Santa Monica hopes to be a powerful voice pushing for clean energy strategies that advance the City’s progressive environmental goals, according to the report.

Community Choice Is Transforming the California Energy Industry Report by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation researchers finds that Community Choice Aggregators provide a competitive alternative for electricity consumers

By George Foulsham

J.R. DeShazo

After decades of dominance by electricity monopolies, California is experiencing the emergence of community choice aggregators, a new type of utility that provides cities and counties the opportunity to choose what kinds of energy to purchase for their needs.

Community choice aggregation allows cities and counties in California (and other states that have enacted it) to group individual customers’ purchasing power within a defined jurisdiction to buy energy. In California, community choice aggregators are legally defined by state law as electric service providers.

These aggregators, or CCAs, have introduced competition into historically protected, investor-owned utility territories. In doing so, they have given eligible California customers a choice of retail energy providers. Since 2010, California communities have established eight CCAs. More than a dozen additional communities are making strides toward switching to CCAs.

“California is headed toward transformation with this rapid development of community choice aggregation programs,” said J.R. DeShazo, principal investigator for a new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Our report highlights the benefits of CCAs while identifying unresolved policy questions that must be addressed by state regulators.”

According to the report, CCAs in California generally offer a larger share of renewable energy — up to 25 percent more — compared to the investor-owned utility in the same area. “We estimate that these efforts resulted in a total reduction of approximately 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016 — the equivalent of $7.5 million in reductions at the 2016 carbon price of $12.73 per metric ton on the statewide carbon market,” DeShazo said.

CCAs offer greener energy at a competitive price, according to Julien Gattaciecca, Luskin Center researcher and lead author of the study.

“CCAs have recently entered the energy market, allowing them to benefit from a long decline of falling wholesale renewable energy costs,” Gattaciecca said. “Some CCAs also offer larger incentives than their local investor-owned utility to households and businesses that self-generate energy through rooftop solar programs, and some have made the commitment to source energy from local renewable facilities, and directly own local solar facilities.”

DeShazo, who is a professor of public policy at the Luskin School, added: “Community choice aggregation is currently the best policy tool available to cities and counties who want to tailor energy procurement to their community’s preferences. The stakes are high. Regulators are grappling with important policy decisions that could affect the future of the energy market as well as the pocketbooks of Californians.”

With investor-owned utilities facing increasing competition, the study concludes that more choices can only benefit consumers, with the right regulations in place.

“Currently, an important part of the load in California is looking at CCAs,” Gattaciecca said. “The three major investor-owned utilities could see between 50 and 80 percent of their load departing for CCAs or direct access providers by 2025 or 2030.”

The eight operational California CCAs are Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy, CleanPower San Francisco, Peninsula Clean Energy in San Mateo County, Apple Valley Choice Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Redwood Coast Energy Authority. Other CCAs expected to launch this year are East Bay Community Energy in Alameda County, Los Angeles Community Choice Energy and Valley Clean Energy Alliance in Yolo County and Davis.

Getting Transportation Forecasts Right — as Often as Possible In 10th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, Professor Joseph Schofer of Northwestern University says systematic learning from experience is vital when predicting the outcome of major infrastructure projects

By Les Dunseith

In the realm of transportation planning, significant time, effort and money go into the process of forecasting, but the gap between predicted outcomes and reality remains a persistent problem for many projects.

“Forecasts don’t always get it right,” said Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean of faculty affairs at Northwestern University. Schofer spoke on the topic of forecasting the future during the 10th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on April 4, 2017.

The Wachs Distinguished Lecture features prominent and innovative scholars and policy makers who draw on many years of research and thinking in the field of transportation. Created by the students in honor of Emeriti Professor Wachs, the lecture rotates between UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively.

This year’s lecture invitee, Joe Schofer, provided a wide-ranging view about forecasting – a prominent feature of transportation planning. In Schofer’s talk titled “When Forecasting Fails: Making Infrastructure Decisions in an Uncertain World,” he explained that learning to accept the inherent limitations of the forecasting process is a necessary first step in helping planners improve their predictions of cost, utilization, performance and impact.

“Don’t expect that the gap between predicted outcomes and reality is going to get really small,” Schofer told a crowd of more than 50 scholars, planning professionals and transportation decision-makers who came to hear him. “The world is changing at a faster and faster pace. And those big sources of uncertainty — sources of risk — often are outside the transportation system.”

Schofer’s lecture focused less on the shortcomings of forecasting than on “improving decisions by systematic learning from experience,” as Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and professor of urban planning, described the topic during his introduction of Schofer.

Schofer acknowledged the significance of the occasion during his opening remarks, taking a moment to recognize the presence in the audience of his “dear friend and colleague of a lot of years. This is not just another lecture. It’s me giving the Martin Wachs lecture,” said Schofer, who also cited Wachs’ “immeasurable impact on ideas in transportation, transportation planning, transportation policy and transportation finance.”

On Limitiations

In his lecture, Schofer focused on “what we can do in a situation where we don’t always get it right.”

For starters, he said, planners need to understand that they can never know everything there is to know about the dynamics of human behavior. It’s also important to keep in mind the rapid pace of change in today’s world.

“Changes that are going on right now literally make it impossible to forecast what the future is going to be like,” Schofer said. He pointed to examples such as the proliferation of cellphones, which enhance the speed of communication but negatively impact the capacity to do telephone-based polling research.

Schofer also pointed to other factors that limit forecast accuracy. “Data aren’t complete. There might be better models that we can use. Perhaps those models are not even available to us yet,” he said.

Although transportation experts are making strides and “using better and better data all the time, it’s not a calculus problem; we will not get infinitely close to zero error,” Schofer said.

He also noted that it’s common for forecasts to be impacted by unforeseen factors. For instance, major infrastructure projects often experience cost overruns and construction delays when previously unknown grave sites of historical or cultural significance are found during excavation.

On Being Grounded

Dealing with uncertainty may be avoided if planners make an effort to ground their projects firmly in the reality of previous experience. When forecasting a new project, planners must “ground that by finding out what someone else has experienced,” Schofer said.

The idea of looking at case studies and data related to past events is an essential element of evidence-based decision making, he said.

Some projects face the added complication of being based on visionary thinking — the “visionary ideas of interesting people,” he said. “It’s very difficult in a forecasting situation to go against that because you are dealing with somebody who has a firmly held vision, who is really committed to a particular idea.”

The goals of a visionary leader may outweigh an expert’s forecasts in the decision-making process, Schofer noted. The upside, he said, is that a diligent and resourceful planner can seize the opportunity in these situations to approach that visionary leader directly.

“You may be able to get his or her attention, which may be an opportunity to talk about a more realistic forecast,” Schofer said.

In most circumstances, however, it’s data that drives forecasting, and Schofer said he has seen some promising signs in getting access to better and more useful information.

Among the notable efforts he cited was a federal effort to mine existing administrative data, not to collect new information, to make better-informed decisions during evaluation of social programs.

In the medical field, he noted an effort known as the Cochrane Collaboration that is a loose confederation of people in medical research around the world who have an agreement to produce evidence-based information and to advocate for sharing of that information.

“A bunch of people around the world who have agreed to share data, agreed to work together, are bringing together data from a variety of studies to amplify the impact of that data,” Schofer said.

It’s a model that could easily translate to transportation planning, he said, an “opportunity to look at cases, to bring cases together, and to codify that.”

Schofer envisions a sharing of information among scholars, doctoral researchers, professionals and, perhaps, even journalists, in which information about the success or failure of infrastructure projects would be gathered into a database that could be accessed by “every one of us who wants to ask the question, “How well is this going to work in my town?’”

The shared data would be available for forecasters to evaluate, either analytically or qualitatively, and decide if there’s something useful from which they can learn.

For this type of case-based reasoning, it’s important to have a large dataset from which to draw conclusions. It’s also important for the cases to be kept up-to-date.

“The cases that we studied two years ago or 10 years ago, those are dead,” Schofer said. “We have to look at what’s happening right now.”

On Being Flexible

Given the limitations they face, Schofer said, it’s also important for transportation forecasters to be flexible in their thinking. In his lecture, he called this strategic incrementalism.

Think of it as hedging against uncertainty, he said, “getting ready for something different to happen that you didn’t expect to happen, and maybe putting some dollars against it, so that you are ready for it. So you can preserve future flexibility.”

In practical terms, this might mean erecting a building at a certain height but with the foundation and structure to allow it to become taller should the need for additional space later arise. It could mean building a bridge with one roadway but adequate architectural support to add a second deck later.

It means taking a long view when building major infrastructure projects, then monitoring, collecting data and watching closely to see how the new project actually gets used. If a project has design flexibility in the beginning, any future expansions can proceed at greater speed and at lower cost.

“We have to convey the notion of flexibility and adaptability and real options with the public and decision-makers,” Schofer said. “What you need to say is: “Let’s be a little looser about this, a little more flexible, to get what you really need.’”

Making better decisions in an uncertain world, Schofer said, involves collecting, analyzing and sharing as much data as planners can. Better information leads to better forecasting.

“In the end,” Schofer said, “it’s all about learning.”

 

Save Every Drop While We Still Can International water expert Brian Richter joins California government officials for a panel at UCLA Luskin that stresses urgent need to conserve in an increasingly drought-plagued world

By Aaron Julian

“Every Californian should think about water the same way they think about electricity — you just don’t waste it.”

This sentiment expressed by Debbie Franco of the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is typical of the conservation advice offered by a panel of water experts during a Feb. 22, 2017, presentation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Spearheading the discussion was Brian Richter, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Chasing Water.” Richter outlined the historical relationship between humanity and water. He also explained his ideas to formulate a “water market” that would monetarily encourage responsible water usage on the personal, industrial and governmental levels.

“Disruption needs to happen more on the governmental level,” said Richter about the best approach to lessen overuse and foster more cooperation between city, local and state governments regarding an ongoing world water crisis. An example of intergovernmental partnerships is San Diego’s annual $60-million investment to encourage smarter water use by farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District in return for access to a third of the city’s water supply.

The Luskin Center for Innovation’s Greg Pierce led a question and answer session with the panelists regarding water conservation policy. Photo by Les Dunseith

Water is especially important for California governments and residents in light of the historic drought affecting the region. During a question and answer session led by the Luskin Center for Innovation’s Greg Pierce MA U.P. ’11 UP PhD ’15, panelists discussed how to keep momentum toward sustainable water systems despite recent downpours estimated at about 19 total inches of rain — equal to about 27 billion gallons of water.

Franco argued that the solution to the water issue needs to go beyond collaborative government — it has to become a way of life.

“One of the key elements that we are missing in California are folks that understand water,” she said. “We need people to feel like they are water managers in their own home. That’s an important first step toward a thriving and active participation in local government.”

She said such participation helps propel effective action at all levels. Richter added that “77 percent of all Americans have absolutely no idea where their water comes from.”

He noted a core argument of his book, that in order to have a fully active and informed citizenry, the science and policy communities need to fully understand water themselves.

Panelist Liz Crosson from the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office told the large crowd that attended the session that Los Angeles has instituted a Save the Drop campaign in partnership with the mayor’s fund, working to reach a 20 percent reduction from the 103 gallon per day of water usage per capita in the city. Even if successful, that mark is well short of Australia’s average of 50 gallons per day as noted by Richter in his book and lecture.

The city’s plan involves combating water illiteracy in combination with incentives and restrictions on water use. The city has also updated its rate structure to be more compatible with different socioeconomic brackets.

Still, Crosson warned, “Here in L.A., just because it is raining does not mean our water supply is in much better shape. We are trying to change that, but that’s a long time coming. This is now about a Californian way of life.”

Panelist Angela George of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works said she believes the most effective methodology would be a campaign to instill in children the techniques and habits of water conservation. “It is important to get into our schools and educate where our water comes from — a local perspective.”

Amid a crowd that included UCLA Luskin students and faculty as well as interested members of the community, passions sometimes ran high, with some questioning whether current efforts and ideas are sufficient to truly improve water conservation.

Panelists noted the importance of individuals working closely with local government in order to push for reforms they want to see.

“You have to find out how to mobilize the political wherewithal,” Franco said. “Show up and know what’s going on, and keep telling what you want.”

The lecture and panel discussion were put together by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation in partnership with Island Press as part of a speaker series known as Luskin Innovators.

Angelenos On Track to Meet 2017 Water Conservation Goals New study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation reinforces importance of turf removal

Two years after Mayor Eric Garcetti signed Executive Directive 5 (ED 5), putting in place strong, emergency drought response measures for the City of Los Angeles, water customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) remain ahead of schedule in meeting citywide water conservation goals.

Water use by LADWP customers remains down approximately 20 percent from 2014 levels, meeting the goal for 2017 as set forth in ED 5 and the LA’s Sustainable City pLAn ahead of schedule. LADWP water officials attribute much of the success to Angelenos’ continued actions to reduce outdoor watering and replace water-thirsty turf with drought tolerant landscapes. Approximately 50 percent of residential water use in Los Angeles is attributed to uses outdoors and LADWP’s turf replacement rebate program has resulted in 37 million square feet of turf being removed in the City of Los Angeles, saving 1.6 billion gallons of water each year.  That’s enough water to supply 15,000 LA households each year. LADWP currently provides participating customers a rebate of $1.75 per square foot to rip out turf and replace it with California friendly landscaping. The rebate level has been maintained by LADWP even after the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) eliminated its additional $2.00 per square foot rebate in 2015.

A new study by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation shows that $1.75 per square foot is a reasonable amount that pays off for both residential households who utilize the rebate and LADWP ratepayers.

The Luskin Center’s report, Turf Replacement Program Impacts on Households and Ratepayers: An Analysis for the City of Los Angeles, answers two questions: Under what conditions does participation in the turf replacement program provide financial benefits to households? And is the turf replacement program a reasonably cost effective investment for utilities and ratepayers?

In order to assess the economics of lawn replacement from the household perspective the report measures the impact of different rebate levels, turf replacement costs, climate zones (determined by different evapotranspiration rates across the city), and future expected water pricing on household financial benefits. The report calculates the payback periods for ratepayers based on varying levels of household participation in the turf replacement program and different levels of rebates. Rebates offered at $1.75 result in a payback period for typical households and ratepayers of approximately 10 years, comparable to other investments like solar.

“Angelenos are the water heroes of California — we’ve pulled up 37 million square feet of thirsty turf, more than two-thirds of the state’s target, and reduced our water use 20 percent,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We have made amazing progress in the two years since I signed an executive directive to respond to our drought, and the study released Monday shows that our incentives are working. But we can always do more, and I’m proud of our Department of Water and Power for making sensible, effective improvements to our turf rebate program.”

“Turf replacement programs, when well designed, are an essential conservation tool for communities to become more drought and climate resilient,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

To further the benefits of its turf rebate program, LADWP recently updated the program guidelines. The amended terms and conditions will continue to promote the installation of native and California Friendly low water-use plants while ensuring each project incorporates sustainable design elements that benefit the customer and help contribute to the City’s future water conservation goals.

Changes to the turf rebate program include:

No longer providing rebates for the installation of synthetic turf;

Increasing California Friendly plant coverage required from 40% to 50%;

Limiting the amount of rock, gravel, or decomposed granite to 25% of the total project;

Incorporating rainfall capture techniques in project designs;

No longer permitting the use of synthetic or chemically treated mulch;

And recommending the use of biodegradable (natural/organic) weed barriers (instead of synthetic weed barriers).

“These turf rebate guideline changes allow LADWP to push an already positive sustainability program for our environment to an even higher, healthier standard,” LADWP General Manager David Wright said.

The program changes will assist LADWP customers in better capturing, conserving, and reusing water to prevent runoff on their property and reduce water demand. In addition to these water-saving benefits, by requiring program participants to minimize the use of materials such as gravel, pavers, decomposed granite, and synthetic turf – materials that often create a “heat island” effect on properties by absorbing the sun’s heat – LADWP aims to lower surface and temperatures on properties. This added benefit may assist customers in limiting energy use by reducing the need for air conditioning.

To learn more about LADWP’s turf rebate and other water conservation programs, please visit myLADWP.com.

A Guide to Turn the L.A. River Green UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation creates a toolkit to help communities navigate paths to improving the river’s greenbelt

By George Foulsham

If you’re looking for an example of what communities can do to take advantage of the land that adjoins the Los Angeles River, look no further than Marsh Park — 3.9 acres of greenway in the Elysian Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, not far from downtown.

The park features trees, green infrastructure, play and fitness equipment, a walking path, picnic tables and an open-air pavilion, all built around a large industrial building that houses a company that takes modular shipping containers and turns them into residences for the homeless.

The park also serves as a gateway to the L.A. River and is one of the case studies used by researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation in preparing a new Los Angeles River Greenway Guide. The guide is now available online.

“The L.A. River Greenway Guide consists of 14 case studies that highlight different parks, pathways, access points and bridges that have been constructed along the river,” J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, said. “What we have tried to do is to identify successful examples of improvements in the river greenway and then identify the challenges and the obstacles that those improvements faced so that other communities can learn from their successes, challenges and, sometimes, their failures.”

Marsh Park is one of the 14 case studies used by Luskin researchers to create the L.A. River Greenway Guide. Photo by Andrew Pasillas

The guide highlights four types of projects: bridges across the river, pathways along the river, community access points that connect communities to the river, and parks next to the river. It looks at the history of various efforts, identifies the challenges faced in each of those projects and spells out how those obstacles were overcome, leading to successful riverside gateways.

One example of useful information provided by the guide is a section on overcoming the hurdles associated with ownership and governance issues, with hints on how to deal with easement, maintenance and permit questions.

The guide will be unveiled at a free event, “A Night at the L.A. River,” on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Frog Spot, 2825 Benedict St., in Los Angeles. It is co-sponsored by the Luskin Center for Innovation and the Friends of the Los Angeles River. The event will include a panel discussion on the “L.A. River Greenway Through Public-Private Partnership,” featuring Michael Affeldt of the L.A. mayor’s office.

The L.A. River, which starts in the Simi Hills and meanders 51 miles to the Port of Long Beach, has been called one of Los Angeles’ most ill-used natural treasures but also a neglected eyesore that looks more like a deserted freeway than a river.

In recent decades, concerted efforts have sought to revitalize and repurpose the river and its adjoining greenbelt. Graduate student researchers and scholars at the Luskin Center, part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, are working with stakeholders, communities and organizations in an attempt to create a new future for the river and its environs.

The Luskin students, guided by DeShazo, deputy director Colleen Callahan and project manager Kelsey Jessup, produced the toolkit after receiving feedback at a workshop hosted by the Luskin Center earlier this year. Participants included staff, advocates and leaders from the communities, as well as nonprofits, government agencies, elected officials, policymakers, business and business associations, and academics, researchers and students.

The Luskin students have met with representatives from the communities that border the L.A. River, seeking their input and concerns. The new guide reflects the Luskin team’s research and recommendations.

“We think about the L.A. River greenway as an opportunity to enhance a 51-mile stretch adjacent to the L.A. River,” said Andrew Pasillas, a Luskin researcher who graduated in June with a master’s degree in urban planning. “In choosing a range of focus for the guide, we first held a lower L.A. River workshop which over 100 community residents and organizations attended. We heard from them what would be most beneficial in their efforts to develop projects, talking about these specific development processes and where they stumbled in the past.”

According to DeShazo, the researchers studied examples of successful projects — often near the northern part of the river — and “we thought about how those opportunities could be realized in the lower parts of the river where there are fewer river amenities and the greenway is more incomplete.”

The guide, Jessup said, is also a nod to what has already been accomplished.

“The Luskin Center’s Greenway Guide aims to do two important things,” Jessup said. “The first is to document the incredible work that has already happened along the river. Organizations have been implementing projects along all 51 miles and there is no real way for anyone to learn about all the projects, the details and the incredible work that has happened.

“Our second goal,” she added, “is to provide a resource for community members, government agencies and anyone who wants to do a project — to better understand the challenges that come with doing a project along the river and to come up with solutions to overcome those challenges.”

The researchers studied the history of the river — why it was ignored for so many years and what helped transform the region’s approach from what had been nothing more than a flood-control mechanism.

“Revitalizing the river has been challenging because there has been a long history of isolating it from the public,” Pasillas said. “Stretching back to the early 1930s and ’40s, there was a series of devastating floods that led to the thought process that we have to place concrete on the river itself to protect people.”

“There’s been a disconnect between the people of Los Angeles and the river,” Jessup said. “A lot of people don’t even know there is a river, and if they do, they think it’s this concrete channel that is in the way and dividing communities.

“But there’s been a shift over the past few decades and a lot of communities are seeing the river as a resource and an opportunity, especially along the greenway, for health, transportation, environmental and economic benefits,” she added. “The Luskin Center started this guide because we saw an opportunity to complement some of the other efforts that are being made to help connect the community to the river.”

According to the researchers, the guide is an example of how the Luskin Center can help communities in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California overcome obstacles.

“We hope that this guide can serve to empower communities by bringing forth the voices of river-adjacent communities that have never been heard before,” Jessup said. “The idea of a complete river greenway is the equitable distribution of different project types for different communities and residents to enjoy.”

UCLA and the Luskin Center chose to take on the guide because of the university’s expertise in urban planning.

“We bring together skills — whether it be ecology, park design or financing expertise — needed to help bring these projects to fruition,” DeShazo said. “We are very committed to engaging with Los Angeles and the communities that make up Los Angeles and working with them to make sure their vision of their section of the greenway is realized.”

The L.A. River Greenway Guide was made possible by donations from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the Bohnett Foundation and the California Endowment.

Bicycle paths are just one of the many recreational opportunities along the L.A. River. Photo by Andrew Pasillas

Bicycle paths are just one of the many recreational opportunities along the L.A. River. Photo by Andrew Pasillas

Gentrification and Displacement in Southern California UCLA urban planners release online mapping tool to help analyze impact of developments near Los Angeles area transit projects. The goal? ‘Progress that is fair and just’

By Stan Paul

A team of researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has created an interactive mapping tool to help community leaders better understand the effects of new light-rail and subway projects and related developments — especially on low-income communities.

Researchers view the project as a resource to help communities and policymakers identify the pressures associated with development and figure out how to take more effective action to ensure that new construction isn’t always accompanied by current residents being priced out of their neighborhoods.

The Southern California portion of the joint UCLA-UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project on gentrification and displacement in urban communities is available online.

“There has been a strong interest in neighborhoods around subway stations and light-rail stops,” said Paul Ong, director of UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and a professor of Urban Planning. “These locations have the potential for extensive private investments because transit gives people an alternative to using cars. This is particularly attractive to today’s young professionals.”

However, according to Ong, the downside to this “upscaling” is that changing the character of a neighborhood with additional transportation options can lead to lower-income disadvantaged households being pushed out.

“Sometimes, landlords aggressively — and perhaps illegally — force them out,” said Ong, who is also a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “Higher rents make it difficult for low-income households to move into the neighborhood, so we see a net decline in their numbers. They are replaced by those who can afford the higher housing cost — people referred to as ‘gentrifiers.’”

Ong said that most of those who can afford higher housing costs do not purposefully want to displace people living in poorer households, “but, nonetheless, gentrifiers are a part of the larger socioeconomic process.” The goal of the Urban Displacement Project, according to the researchers, is not to stop neighborhood change because many people can benefit from these developments. “The challenge,” Ong said, “is ensuring that progress is fair and just.”

The UCLA team, funded in part by the California Air Resources Board, created a database for the Los Angeles County region that included information on demographics, socio-economic and housing characteristics in neighborhoods that are near transit projects and those that are not.

Key findings by UCLA researchers for L.A. County include:

  • Areas around transit stations are changing and many of the changes are in the direction of neighborhood upscaling and gentrification.
  • Examining changes relative to areas not near light-rail or subway projects from 2000 to 2013, neighborhoods near those forms of transit are more associated with increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and greater increases in the cost of rents. Conversely, neighborhoods near rail development are associated with greater losses in disadvantaged populations, including individuals with less than a high school diploma and lower-income households.
  • The impacts vary across locations, but the biggest impacts seem to be around the downtown areas where transit-oriented developments interact with other interventions aiming to physically revitalize those neighborhoods.

Users of the mapping tool can examine neighborhood-level data on racial/ethnic composition, which areas have seen upscaling, gentrification, population density, percentage of people living in poverty, median household income and level of education. More specific data is also available, including the number of households with a Section 8 housing voucher and low-income housing tax credits.

“Our goal is that local and state governments will use the information to guide decisions regarding public investments that are just; community groups will use the information to help tell their stories of preserving the best parts of their neighborhood; and engaged citizens will become more aware of critical issues facing society,” Ong said.

As part of the study, the Bay Area team analyzed nine case studies and the UCLA team looked at six more in L.A. County to capture geographic diversity and to examine different stages of the gentrification and displacement process.

“Also, we want to focus in more detail on the phenomenon of commercial gentrification, which leads to the closing down of mom-and-pop stores and ethnic small businesses in some neighborhoods,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, principal investigator on the Los Angeles team. Most of the existing studies focus only on residential gentrification said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate dean of the Luskin School.

For example, the UCLA team looked at studies based on the “live experiences of real communities” such as six disadvantaged neighborhoods located near Los Angeles Metro Rail stations. The also examined the impacts on Asian-American businesses near transit-oriented developments, as well as the impact of new outlets such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks on ethnic small businesses in L.A.’s Chinatown.

Loukaitou-Sideris said the researchers discovered one important difference between the strategies used by Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

“We found that Bay Area municipalities have in their books many more anti-displacement policies than municipalities in L.A. County,” she said. “However, we do not know yet how effective these policies have been in limiting displacement.”

Many Happy Returns from Cap-and-Trade New Luskin Center study shows low-income California households are benefiting under the landmark climate program

By George Foulsham

Low-income Californians feel the pinch when gasoline, electricity and natural gas prices increase. And it’s logical to think that the state’s Cap-and-Trade program might add to those expenses. But this program is generating billions of dollars to provide an array of benefits to Californians, especially those living in disadvantaged communities.

Now, a first-of-its-kind study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has found that Cap-and-Trade has produced another very positive result. The study, “Protecting the Most Vulnerable: A Financial Analysis of Cap-and-Trade’s Impact on Households in Disadvantaged Communities across California,” revealed that the state has very effectively put in place measures to mitigate any disproportionate impact that might fall on low-income households.

According to the researchers, protective measures implemented by the state could more than offset Cap-and-Trade compliance costs that are passed on to electricity, natural gas and gasoline consumers.

“As consumers of these three industries, we asked what are the Cap-and-Trade compliance costs for these industries,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and principal investigator on the project. “What is the cost pass-through from the regulated industries to consumers and what are the strategies to reduce those cost pass-throughs from Cap-and-Trade? And, finally, what is the net financial impact?”

Low-income households inevitably are going to bear a stronger burden from regulation because they pay a higher percentage of their income to electricity and natural gas bills as well as to gasoline. But, according to the study, the state has effectively put in place measures to protect low-income Californians as we transition to a cleaner, lower-carbon economy.

“We actually see that, once you factor in those direct and indirect measures, low-income Californians receive a small but still measureable potential benefit,” said Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center and co-author of the report. “We found that electric utility customers could actually gain $200-250 during our study period, which is the length of the Cap-and-Trade program, through 2020.”

The study also found that low-income households could receive an estimated positive impact of between $44 and $83 as natural gas utility customers.

“And for gasoline customers we are predicting a bigger net benefit,” Callahan said. “We estimate that our representative households could receive a cumulated, indirect benefit of approximately $350 to $700 by 2020.”

“I think it’s been a success because of the way they are implementing various price increase mitigation strategies for consumers, and low-income households especially, along with the Cap-and-Trade program,” Julien Gattaciecca, lead author of the study and a Luskin Center researcher, said. “It is very well made and very well thought-out, and gives the rest of the world a leading path to follow.”

Cap-and-Trade was created in 2012 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It requires that the biggest producers of greenhouse gas — including electricity utilities, natural gas utilities and fuel distributors — purchase carbon allowances. The costs of these carbon allowances create price signals that communicate to consumers the amount of GHG emissions associated with electricity, natural gas, and gasoline consumption. “They have to pay to pollute, or they have an incentive to reduce their emissions,” Callahan said.

“It’s a complicated program, but it’s an important one,” she added. “It’s affecting the lives of us Californians. And it’s generating billions — with a B — of dollars and will continue to do so.”

The state’s portion of the Cap-and-Trade proceeds are deposited in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which are used to make climate investments that further the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32, Núñez and Pavley). Those climate investments provide tangible benefits — energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades for homes, clean vehicle incentives, tree planting and more — in communities across Californians.

Another portion of the Cap-and-Trade proceeds are being directly returned to the millions of Californians who are residential customers of an investor-owned utility, such as Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison. Customers of those utilities respectively received $50 to $60 in climate credits on their electricity bills in 2015.

The Luskin report assessed how the provision of climate credits directed to households would mitigate Cap-and-Trade related costs. The study also assessed two other types of strategies that indirectly mitigate these costs. As such, Gattaciecca factored in low-income rate assistance programs, which although unrelated to the Cap-and-Trade Program, can reduce households’ budgetary burden associated with electricity and natural gas consumption.

Gattaciecca also factored in state and industry predicted trends for electricity, natural gas, and gasoline consumption, which are affected by climate investments and other efficiency, fuel switching, and vehicle-miles reducing programs and policies that help households lower their use of energy and fuels. Because these policies and programs can help lower energy and gasoline bills, they indirectly lower any Cap-and-Trade compliance cost passed on to customers.

The Luskin report utilized a case study approach. The state developed a tool, called the CalEnviroScreen, to identify disadvantaged communities that have elevated environmental health and socioeconomic risks, including poverty and pollution. Using CalEnviroScreen, the Luskin researchers chose four California communities for their study.

Gattaciecca also examined American Consumer Survey data and other databases to learn about common characteristics of households within those four case study communities. He then constructed hypothetical but representative profiles of households in each of the case study communities.

“We looked at four households in California,” Gattaciecca said. “We didn’t do that randomly. We took one in Oakland, one in Traver in Tulare County, one in Los Angeles and one in San Bernardino to collectively have a diverse set of case study communities. All four present different patterns when it comes to transportation, racial composition, housing types, family structure, climate and more. That’s the beauty of the report. We cover four very different locations. It’s not just policy and crunching numbers. There’s a human story here.”

“Real households benefits from climate investments deposited into the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund,” Callahan said. Senate Bill 535 (De León) requires that a minimum of 25 percent of the monies in this fund go to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities in California, and a minimum of 10 percent go to projects located in these communities. “I went to Washington, D.C., last year and presented at a national environmental justice conference. This is seen as one of the most significant environmental justice victories of the past decade.”

The results of their study left Callahan and the other researchers impressed.

“The California Air Resources Board is the lead agency on the Cap-and-Trade program and has a lead role in implementing climate investments,” Callahan said. “They’ve done a very thoughtful, thorough job. There’s more that can be done, but we commend them.”

A full copy of the Luskin Center report can be found here.

Carbon Upcycling: Turning CO2 into a New, Sustainable CO2NCRETE Interdisciplinary research team at UCLA discovers a game-changing technology to capture and repurpose carbon dioxide

By George Foulsham

Imagine a world with little or no concrete. Would that even be possible? After all, concrete is everywhere — on our roads, our driveways, in our homes, bridges and buildings. For the past 200 years, it’s been the very foundation of much of our planet.

But the production of cement, which when mixed with water forms the binding agent in concrete, is also one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, about 5 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from concrete.

An even larger source of CO2 emissions is flue gas emitted from smokestacks at power plants around the world. Carbon emissions from those plants are the largest source of harmful global greenhouse gas in the world.

A team of interdisciplinary researchers at UCLA has been working on a unique solution that may help eliminate these sources of greenhouse gases. Their plan would be to create a closed-loop process: capturing carbon from power plant smokestacks and using it to create a new building material — CO2NCRETE — that would be fabricated using 3D printers. That’s “upcycling.”

“What this technology does is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance — carbon dioxide that’s emitted from smokestacks — and turn it into something valuable,” said J.R. DeShazo, professor of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

“I decided to get involved in this project because it could be a game-changer for climate policy,” DeShazo said. “This technology tackles global climate change, which is one of the biggest challenges that society faces now and will face over the next century.”

DeShazo has provided the public policy and economic guidance for this research. The scientific contributions have been led by Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Richard Kaner, distinguished professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Materials Science and Engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Bioengineering; and Matthieu Bauchy, assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

This isn’t the first attempt to capture carbon emissions from power plants. It’s been done before, but the challenge has been what to do with the CO2 once it’s captured.

“We hope to not only capture more gas,” DeShazo said, “but we’re going to take that gas and, instead of storing it, which is the current approach, we’re going to try to use it to create a new kind of building material that will replace cement.”

“The approach we are trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource — a resource you can reutilize,” Sant said. “While cement production results in carbon dioxide, just as the production of coal or the production of natural gas does, if we can reutilize CO2 to make a building material which would be a new kind of cement, that’s an opportunity.”

The researchers are excited about the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas in the U.S., especially in regions where coal-fired power plants are abundant. “But even more so is the promise to reduce the emissions in China and India,” DeShazo said. “China is currently the largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, and India will soon be No. 2, surpassing us.”

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J.R. DeShazo, left, and Gaurav Sant. Photo by Roberto Gudino

Thus far, the new construction material has been produced only at a lab scale, using 3D printers to shape it into tiny cones. “We have proof of concept that we can do this,” DeShazo said. “But we need to begin the process of increasing the volume of material and then think about how to pilot it commercially. It’s one thing to prove these technologies in the laboratory. It’s another to take them out into the field and see how they work under real-world conditions.”

“We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material,” Sant said. “The big challenge we foresee with this is we’re not just trying to develop a building material. We’re trying to develop a process solution, an integrated technology which goes right from CO2 to a finished product.

“3D printing has been done for some time in the biomedical world,” Sant said, “but when you do it in a biomedical setting, you’re interested in resolution. You’re interested in precision. In construction, all of these things are important but not at the same scale. There is a scale challenge, because rather than print something that’s 5 centimeters long, we want to be able to print a beam that’s 5 meters long. The size scalability is a really important part.”

Another challenge is convincing stakeholders that a cosmic shift like the researchers are proposing is beneficial — not just for the planet, but for them, too.

“This technology could change the economic incentives associated with these power plants in their operations and turn the smokestack flue gas into a resource countries can use, to build up their cities, extend their road systems,” DeShazo said. “It takes what was a problem and turns it into a benefit in products and services that are going to be very much needed and valued in places like India and China.”

DeShazo cited the interdisciplinary team of researchers as a reason for the success of the project. “What UCLA offers is a brilliant set of engineers, material scientists and economists who have been working on pieces of this problem for 10, 20, 30 years,” he said. “And we’re able to bring that team together to focus on each stage.”

According to Sant, UCLA is the perfect place to tackle sustainability challenges.

“As one of the leading universities in the world, we see ourselves as having a blue-sky approach,” Sant said. “We see ourselves wanting to develop technologies that might be considered fanciful at one point but become reality very quickly. So we see ourselves looking at a blue sky and saying, well then, let’s come up with ideas which will change the world.”

Cooperation May be the Key to Survival for Airbnb in the Sharing Economy UCLA professors project the future of Airbnb based off lessons from past startups.

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The short-term home rental company Airbnb seemed to have come out the clear blue sky, but this “disruptor” in the rental business may disappear just as fast into thin air unless it is perceived as a cooperator and “partner,” according to an opinion piece by Paavo Monkkonen, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and research fellow at the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.

Using as an example one of the original peer-to-peer disrupters of the music industry — Napster — Monkkonen and co-author and UCLA Urban Planning alum Nathan S. Holmes explain that Napster failed where iTunes, led by Apple’s Steve Jobs, found success because of a cooperative business model that worked with the music industry.

Monkkonen and Holmes, point out that the multibillion dollar (and growing) company based in San Francisco already is threatened by resistance and hostility from local governments, which the authors say has the potential to turn Airbnb into “the Napster of the short-term rental market.”

Click here to read the full opinion.