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.

New Report Calls for More Consistent Policies for Mobile App Transportation and Taxi Services

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WASHINGTON – Innovative transportation services such as car sharing, bike sharing, and transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft are changing mobility for millions of people, yet regulation of these services often varies greatly across geographic areas and industry segments.  Policymakers and regulators should formulate consistent policies that encourage competition among new and traditional transportation services — such as taxis and limousines — in order to improve mobility, safety, and sustainability, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

California was the first state to establish statewide regulations for transportation network companies and as such UC researchers played a large role in the report. The report was authored by a diverse group of academics and practitioners, including Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. Taylor served as chair of the committee. Other notable members of the committee include Michael Manville, Cornell University and Jennifer Dill, Portland State University, both of whom are alumni of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The availability of on-demand transportation services through smartphone apps is increasing shared mobility. The growth in these services follows and amplifies a recent rebound in taxi and public transit use. As of June 2015, Uber provided more than 1 million rides daily worldwide, while Lyft operated in 60 U.S. cities with more than 100,000 drivers.

The rapidly expanding services provided by TNCs, however, raise policy and regulatory challenges with regard to passenger and driver security, public safety, insurance requirements, employment and labor issues, and accessibility and equity. Current regulation of taxis and other for-hire transportation varies considerably across and within jurisdictions, even when the services offered are similar. Most large cities with sizeable street-hail markets extensively regulate taxis, while smaller cities where dispatch service is the norm tend to have lighter regulation. This pattern raises public policy concerns when taxi regulation is more stringent than that of TNCs. Leveling the regulatory playing field requires a reassessment of existing regulations governing taxi, limousine, and TNC services to determine the minimum necessary to ensure quality service and allow effective competition.

“Smartphone applications and GPS data are making feasible transportation services that have never before been realized on a large scale, and these services have the potential to increase mobility while reducing congestion and emissions from surface transportation if regulated wisely to encourage concurrent ride sharing,” said Taylor, who is also a professor of urban planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. “A key hurdle for policymakers at all levels of government is to both promote and facilitate innovations that meet the public’s mobility needs while achieving greater policy consistency among these new services and between them and traditional taxi and limousine services.”

To address public safety concerns, regulations currently focus on background checks of drivers, vehicle inspections, and minimum standards for vehicle liability insurance. Procedures for driver background checks are based on common practice but their efficacy has not been rigorously evaluated; likewise, the safety benefits of viewing shared driver ratings and operator and vehicle images on mobile apps have not yet been well-documented. Therefore, regulators at the state and federal levels should evaluate these safety requirements for their effectiveness and cost, the report says.

Regulated taxis offer critical transportation for people with disabilities in many areas, and although TNCs have introduced pilot programs to provide such services, they do not currently provide wheelchair-accessible services on an extensive or reliable basis, the report says.  About 10 percent of the U.S. population has a physical limitation; 3.6 million people use a wheelchair and another 11.6 million use a cane, crutches, or a walker. A decline in taxi fleets due to the continued rapid rise in TNCs could decrease the availability of for-hire vehicles for a substantial number of these travelers unless the quantity of TNC services for those with disabilities expands.

Further, most shared mobility services require users to have a credit card on file with the provider and arrange the trip using a smartphone. However, roughly 8 percent of U.S. households lack bank accounts that allow them to have credit cards, and 50 percent of adults earning less than $30,000 and 73 percent of adults over age 65 do not own smartphones. The committee concluded that local officials should ensure that the mobility needs of low-income, older and disabled riders are met as these new services expand and evolve.

In addition, policymakers and regulators should examine the pros and cons of alternative employment classifications of both TNC and taxi drivers. While new mobility services offer expanded opportunities for flexible, part-time employment for students or those seeking transitional income between careers, TNC drivers and most taxi drivers are classified by their companies as independent contractors, which limits their access to benefits tied to employment. This lack of benefits raises policy issues concerning employer-provided health care, workers’ compensation for injuries, and vacation and sick leave for those for whom such work is their sole source of income.

Policymakers and regulators should also consider whether traditional for-hire and shared mobility services are best monitored and regulated at the state, regional, or local level on the basis of market and service characteristics and regulatory capabilities. In addition, transportation planning bodies should develop methods for incorporating shared mobility into transportation planning initiatives and promote collaboration between public- and private-sector transportation providers.

Other UC researchers contributing to the report were Susan Shaheen of UC Berkeley and Daniel Sperling of UC Davis. Sperling is chair of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), which initiated and funded the study.

The study was sponsored by the TRB, a program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit www.nationalacademies.org.

 

POV: The Problem with Los Angeles’ economy The topics of professor Michael Storper's new book on urban economies discussed on KCRW.

Why do some public organizations deny it? Don’t shoot the messenger, please. 

I was recently on the radio show “Which Way LA?,” with a panel discussion devoted to our book on San Francisco and Los Angeles.

http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/which-way-la/is-la-or-san-francisco-leading-the-way-to-the-future

One of the panelists was Mr. Hasan Ikhrata, who is the Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments.  This is what is known as a “council of governments” under California state law, and a “metropolitan planning organization” under federal law.  Basically, it’s a place where the governments of a region come together to analyze the region’s past and future and consider ways forward, to improve the lives of people in the region.  That’s the goal they state on their website.   Organizations such as SCAG are important, because they produce ideas for the many scattered governments in the region and try to get everybody on the same page to understand and solve problems.

Mr. Ikhrata’s position in our radio debate was surprising, as it was in the interview our team conducted with him during the research for our book.  I would characterize it as “deny everything.”   What I mean by this is that he did not even admit that Southern California has a problem.  But if slipping from 4th place to 25th place among metropolitan regions in the USA is not a problem, then I’d like to know why.

Listening to the interview, Mr. Ikhrata did the following:  first, even though he knows perfectly well (and I stated it clearly before he spoke) that our book compares the whole five-county Southern California region to the whole 10-county Bay Area, he tried to change the subject, speaking about the city of San Francisco and emphasizing its smallness.  This is an elementary error that nobody in his position could possibly commit without it being a deliberate attempt to divert attention.

He attempted to make four other points, which range from vague to clearly inaccurate. First, he noted that So Cal has received a lot of immigrants, as if this is the reason for its economic decline.  But he knows that both So Cal and the Bay Area had the same proportion of immigrants in 1970 (11% each) and the same now (respectively 38% and 39%).  It’s true that the origins of the immigrants are somewhat different, but it’s simply not true to characterize LA as more an immigrant gateway than the Bay Area.

We also clearly show in our book that LA’s slippage is not primarily because it received more of its immigrants from poorer origins than the Bay Area. Instead, it’s that the quality of opportunities (and wages) offered to immigrants in the Bay Area have gotten progressively better over time than in LA, whether for educated or less-educated immigrants and from any origin group.  So don’t blame immigrants, Mr. Ikhrata, blame the failure of LA’s economy to capture the industries that give people high-quality opportunities.

His second claim was that LA’s economy is “diverse.”  As someone working in economic matters, he knows that this term means nothing when applied to a regional economy.  It could be applied to the people of a region, in which case the two populations are indeed “diverse,” by which we mean composed of people from many different cultures and birthplaces.   It could mean what economists call, more accurately, “diversified,” meaning having many different industries and not specializing in much of anything.  This is exactly what we document for LA, and show that it’s a main reason for LA’s slippage down the ranks of regions.  All the world’s wealthy great city-regions are strongly specialized, such as New York in finance or SF in high technology.  LA used to be strongly specialized and is no longer, and this is one main reason why it has become relatively poorer.  So Mr. Ikhrata’s assertion that LA’s economic diversity is a positive thing is exactly wrong.

This is linked to a third assertion he made, which is that because the Bay Area is so specialized in such high-wage activities as information technology or biotech (how terrible is that?) that it will one day collapse, as a one-horse town vulnerable to shocks.  But we show in our book that Silicon Valley is now in its 7th incarnation and that the Bay Area continues to develop wave after wave of new technology and entrepreneurship, the way LA used to do in the middle of the 20th century.   In any case, where is Mr. Ikhrata’s evidence?  There is a long scholarly paper trail on specialized cities that shows that they are not, on average, more vulnerable to decline than highly diversified ones.  It’s the wrong question in fact.  The issue is whether a city-region stays dynamic, innovative and entrepreneurial in whatever it’s activity happens to be, whether it’s highly concentrated in a few sectors or spread over many.  He cited absolutely no evidence for his assertion about impending Bay Area doom, because there isn’t any evidence to cite.

Finally, he repeated that Southern California creates more “high tech” jobs than the Bay Area! I especially liked this brazen, unsupported claim.  But it’s not true.  Not only does the Bay Area create jobs that are “higher high tech” than LA (higher up the technology skills chain and paid much, much more than in LA), but it creates more of them in an absolute sense, even though its economy is only half the size of LA’s.

One doesn’t expect perfect accuracy in every public debate.  Economic development is a complicated matter.  But in our book we chased down every clue we could find and all of our conclusions are amply documented with the best available evidence.  Mr. Ikhrata is in a position of public responsibility.  Why would he deny that the Southern California region has a serious problem and not then turn his organization into a forum for trying to help the region get out of this predicament?  Isn’t that what his organization says it is there to do, with the taxpayers’ money?

One reason he might be denying that the problem exists is that SCAG’s track record is a miserable one.  In our book, we carefully analyzed thirty years of SCAG reports for how their authors viewed the present and future of the Southern California regional economy.  They got it wrong about 95% of the time, hardly ever mentioning the new economy of IT and new forms of entrepreneurship.  They looked backward to the old days of manufacturing.  They advocated strengthening low-wage industries such as logistics.  This was actually before Mr. Ikhrata took up his job at SCAG, so we can’t hold him responsible for the errors of his predecessors. All the more reason for him not to be defensive, but instead to turn his organization around to be realistic, admit the problem, and get to work helping the governments of Southern California to change their vision and move forward into the 21st century.  The well-being of millions of people depends on it.

Luskin Center Deputy Director Briefs U.S. EPA Leadership and National Conference Participants on Advancing Climate Justice Luskin Center representative at EPA Conference

One of the most significant events in the arena of climate justice took place when California’s Senate Bill 535 (SB 535) was signed into law, stated Charles Lee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and one of the nation’s most prominent leaders on environmental justice.  SB 535 mandates that at least 25% of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund investments go to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities.

Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center, was one of four SB 535 leaders from California invited by Lee to meet with senior EPA staff and also speak on a panel at the National Environmental Justice Conference on March 12 and 13th in Washington D.C. In addition to Callahan, the other panelists were the “father of SB 535” Shankar Prasad of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA, and formerly with the Coalition for Clean Air); Mari Rose Taruc, organizing director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and coordinator of SB 535 Coalition; and Arsenio Mataka, assistant secretary of environmental justice and tribal affairs, CalEPA.

The panelists shared the “backstory” of the efforts to conceive, pass and now implement SB 535.  They provided first hand perspectives on lessons regarding their successes and challenges—past and present, as well as implications for other parts of the nation.

Callahan emphasized that SB 535 and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) represent a tremendous opportunity to advance climate justice. She also noted the challenge in implementing such a major and unprecedented initiative. Pulling from the UCLA report on SB535 entitled, “Investment Justice through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund,” she provided key recommendations for implementing the GGRF to ensure the investments maximize environmental, economic and public health benefits for communities across California most in need. The recommended evaluation and performance management approach draws from an earilier report “Pathways to Environmental Justice: Advancing a Framework for Evaluation” created by the UCLA Luskin Center in collaboration with EPA and EJ leaders from across the nation.