Declines in Accountability Among U.S., Asian Governments Since 2000 Highlighted Berggruen Governance Index assesses the quality of democracy and measures quality of life in 134 nations

By Stan Paul

It started as a conversation about democracy and why some countries enjoy a higher quality of life than others, and it culminated in the release of a groundbreaking analysis of more than 130 governments around the world.

The 2022 Berggruen Governance Index, unveiled June 1 during a gathering at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Grand Salon, found a dramatic drop in the quality of government and quality of democracy in the United States over the past 20 years.

At the same time, several African nations showed measurable improvements in their provision of public goods like education, health care and environmental protection.

The collaborative project of UCLA Luskin and the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute is now available online on the index’s website as a report, plus links that allow researchers to search and sort the data for themselves.

“We had this fundamental concern that governance itself was poorly understood,” said Dawn Nakagawa, executive vice president of the Berggruen Institute, recalling the origins of the index during a “chaotic and concerning time” for democracy in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

The index was compiled by researchers from UCLA Luskin and the Hertie School in Berlin. It draws on data from sources that included the United Nations, statistical offices and research institutes from  2000 through 2019.

“And these have been a really consequential 20 years for democracy,” said Nakagawa, who spoke during the launch event, as did UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.

Leading the day’s discussion was principal investigator Helmut Anheier, UCLA adjunct professor of social welfare and former president of the Hertie School in Germany, along with Markus Lang, a researcher at the Hertie School and the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

Anheier noted that although research and literature on governance have existed for some time, it has focused on various singular aspects of governance or democracy. He and his co-authors took a different, multipronged approach to understanding governance.

“We say governance is finding the balance among three components,” Anheier said.

The researchers scored selected national governments on an array of individual measures, grouping findings into three overarching categories:

  • Quality of democracy, which is based on the effectiveness of checks and balances between branches of government, and officials’ accountability to voters and society.
  • Quality of government, which considers governments’ abilities to generate revenue, function administratively and execute policies.
  • Quality of life, which considers governments’ ability to provide social, economic and environmental public goods.

“Rather than saying there is one number that represents governance performance, we see a lot of insight that had been gained by looking at the tension and relationship among these components, and that is expressed by something we call the governance triangle,” Anheier said.

illustration of a triangle illustrates the three key measurement areas of the report

The rankings evaluate quality of government, quality of democracy and quality of life measures, which the researchers call the “governance triangle.”

“It really does break open the black box of governance, looks inside, and allows us to see these three very important components interact,” Nakagawa said.

A major finding was the dramatic drop in the quality of government and quality of democracy in the United States, which was the only Western power with a declining score in those categories. The U.S. quality of life score improved, but only slightly.

Additional findings:

  • Although the U.S. score for quality of government remains far above the global average, its decline on that measure since 2000 was one of the world’s largest, on par with declines in Haiti, Hong Kong and Hungary.
  • The 10 countries with the greatest improvements in quality of life measures all are in Africa. However, as a whole, Africa still ranks well below other regions in terms of quality of life factors.
  • Quality of democracy scores retreated in several Asian nations, including in Bangladesh, China, India, the Philippines and Thailand. Many nations in the Americas also saw declines in those measures.

The day’s program also included a discussion of democracy, public policy and global challenges featuring UCLA experts. Moderated by Anheier, the panel featured Steve Zipperstein, an attorney and lecturer in global studies at UCLA;  Veronica Herrera, an associate professor of urban planning who studies political development in the Global South; Cesi Cruz, an assistant professor whose research intersects political science and economics; and Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an assistant professor of public policy focusing on subnational conflict, statistics and advanced data analysis.

Closing comments were provided by Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning at UCLA Luskin, and Andrew Apter, a professor of history and anthropology at UCLA.

“One of the most important indicators of successful research is … surprising results,” said Apter, who complimented his longtime colleague Anheier on fulfilling that ideal.

Storper, who also serves as director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, took a comparative view of the results. Democracy in the United States is very different from the federal governments in nations such as France and Germany that fared better in the analysis.

“European governmental setups are really different than what we have here in the United States,” he said. Several European countries have more modern constitutions, he noted, than the older, more rigid U.S. constitution.

“The index is going to allow us … to do more and more of this, I would say, comparative, evolutionary thinking,” Storper said. “Thanks for doing this work and actually bringing it to UCLA.”

UCLA produces and disseminates the index thanks to a $3 million gift from the Berggruen Institute. Researchers plan to publish the next Berggruen Governance Index in 2024. In the meantime, they will present the work at key institutions in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, culminating in an international conference hosted on campus by UCLA Luskin on Oct. 10-11.


View photos from the launch event on Flickr:

Berggruen Governance Index Release


Watch a recording of the launch event on Vimeo:

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

By Les Dunseith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is environmental justice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View photos from the event on Flickr.

Robert Bullard Luskin Lecture

Gary Segura Reappointed to 2nd Term as UCLA Luskin Dean

Gary Segura will be continuing as dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

An announcement to the UCLA campus was issued May 5 by Michael S. Levine, interim executive vice chancellor and provost. Here is the text of that announcement:

Following the customary administrative review, I am pleased to share that Gary Segura has been reappointed for a second term as the dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs. The review committee praised Dean Segura for his leadership skills, his commitment to faculty excellence and diversity, and his pioneering efforts to elevate and expand his school’s academic offerings.

Since his appointment in 2016, Dean Segura has fostered within the Luskin School a deep commitment to academic excellence and to equity, diversity and inclusion that has led to a highly diverse pool of students in the school’s programs and the appointment of renowned scholars in areas such as poverty and inequality, immigration, criminal justice, education policy and more. In 2021, Luskin School faculty members were among the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields. The Luskin School is one of the most diverse schools of its kind in the UC system and amongst public affairs programs throughout the country.

Over the last five years, Dean Segura has helped to cement the Luskin School’s status as a leader in research, teaching and practice across the areas of social welfare, urban planning and public policy. Recognizing growing demand for his school’s programs, in 2018 he led the development of the undergraduate major in public affairs, which provides a multidisciplinary foundation in social science theories, data collection and analysis. Additionally, the school launched a certificate program in data analytics in fall 2021 and added a new dual master’s degree program offered jointly by our Urban Planning Department and the Urban School of Sciences Po in Paris.

Dean Segura also co-founded the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative in 2017 to address inequities and spread awareness of the most critical domestic policy challenges facing Latinos and other communities of color. The initiative received $3 million in ongoing annual state funding for its research, advocacy and mobilization efforts.

We are grateful to have such a dedicated leader as Dean Segura at the helm of the Luskin School. Chancellor Block and I look forward to his continued efforts to strengthen and advance the public affairs disciplines at UCLA and to the impact his work will have on diverse communities near and far.

Please join me in congratulating Dean Segura on his accomplishments over the past five years and in wishing him success throughout his second term.

Sincerely,

Michael S. Levine
Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

Former Governors Wilson, Davis Discuss Housing, Crime and More at Luskin Summit The two leaders, a Republican and a Democrat, express their differing perspectives on 'The State of California'

By Les Dunseith

Former California governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis headlined the closing session of Luskin Summit 2022: Research in Action on April 22, often tackling political issues from starkly different perspectives.

In a session moderated by UCLA Blueprint Editor-in-Chief Jim Newton and titled “The State of California,” the former governors explored topics such as the economy and inflation, housing, environmental issues and rising crime during a discussion that mostly reflected a tone of respectful disagreement.

The governors spoke during a half-day event at the Luskin Conference Center at UCLA to close out this year’s Luskin Summit, which is a series of research-informed, cross-sector explorations of the major issues facing Los Angeles and California. The day’s agenda also included the unveiling of the annual Quality of Life Index led by Zev Yaroslavsky, a well-known former elected official in Los Angeles who, like Newton, is now a faculty member associated with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Yaroslavsky’s session, which was moderated by news anchor Phillip Palmer of ABC7, explained why the rating in his survey of Los Angeles County residents fell to its lowest point in seven years of existence. A majority of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives as reflected in nine categories, including cost of living, education, the environment and public safety. And those topics were also front of mind during the governors’ discussion.

Wilson, a Republican who was California governor from 1991 to 1999, took note of the current $80 billion revenue surplus in California, saying that if current lawmakers can’t solve the state’s shortcomings, it won’t be for lack of funds.

“The state is rolling in money. That’s not the problem,” he said when asked by Newton to speculate on the public’s downbeat mood. “The way it is spent is what’s causing a lot of the dissatisfaction. There are people who are very much concerned about crime because they’ve seen a dramatic shift, a really discernible shift. And they’re concerned about their children’s education, and they should be.”

Davis, a Democrat who was governor of California from 1999 to 2003, took a different tack on Californians’ current mood in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of good news globally, nationally and in California as it relates to people working again, and lower unemployment rates,” he said. “The bad news is that people have been through a very tough time. This has been two-and-a-half years where we’ve been told we can’t do this, we can’t do that. … People don’t like to be told what they can’t do.”

Solving society’s problems will require innovation, Davis said, and California is the right place. The number of U.S. patents that originated in California in recent years, he said, is roughly four times the number originating in the state that comes in second, Texas.

“If you want to invent something, this is the place to do it, in California,” he said. “We invent, we design, we create.”

Davis took note of the setting, a public research university in a state that is widely respected for its institutions of higher education. Mentioning that UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was in attendance, Davis continued, “There is nothing better about California than its 10 UC campuses. Nobody in the country has anything close to this.”

Block provided the introduction for the session, noting that Los Angeles faces substantial challenges relating to public safety, the ongoing pandemic and a shortage of affordable housing.

“These issues are bearing down on people all across the state. We’re not alone,” Block said. “Addressing them is going to require scholars, businesspeople, community leaders to really work together and devise and enact solutions.”

Noting the presence of the two former governors, Block continued. “Wisdom is gained by experience, and we have a vast amount of that here.”

Newton, a former reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times whose books include a recent biography of two-time governor Jerry Brown, asked Wilson and Davis to talk about their approaches to public safety.

Davis acknowledged crime rates are on the rise, although not to “where they were in the ’90s when Pete Wilson and I were a governor.”

One solution, he said, lies in effective law enforcement.

“Police have to be part of the equation,” said Davis, acknowledging past abuses by some officers. “Anyone who saw the video of the George Floyd murder knows it was appalling, not acceptable, and should never happen again. But there are some common-sense reforms that I think most law enforcement agree with.”

He called for a balanced approach. “The police have to behave in a respectful way, treat people with dignity, in a way that commands respect.”

Wilson echoed the sentiment. “It’s called community policing. And it makes great sense, as does treating people respectfully when you stop them as a police officer.”

In his view, however, effective law enforcement is too often undermined by a lenient criminal justice system, especially regarding violent crime.

“I think I was the first governor in the country to sign — what was also subsequently in the same year, an initiative measure — that was called three strikes. And what it did was to focus on recidivism, on the people who were career violent criminals. … It’s not fair to play with people’s lives by letting people out on the street who are known violent criminals.”

Davis countered by pointing to a shortcoming of taking a hard-line approach to crime — overcrowded prisons that tend to perpetuate societal and racial inequities. Incarceration without rehabilitation doesn’t work either.

“Getting people to transition from prison back to productive life requires an extraordinary amount of help,” he said.

Perhaps no public policy issue better represents the divide between the haves and have-nots in California than the housing crisis. At a time when many homeowners are sitting on a fortune in housing equity, millions of people in the state struggle to pay rent. Some end up homeless.

“The California legislature has to get serious about making housing more affordable,” Davis said.

He pointed to legislation pending in Sacramento that would allocate $25 billion to an agency that could help potential homebuyers with a down payment and closing costs. Another effort in the private sector is offering 10% of a home’s down payment in exchange for 25% of the homeowner’s future equity.

“I’m not saying it’s perfect, but that’s on the right track,” Davis said.

Wilson pointed to the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, passed in 1970 and signed by then-governor Ronald Reagan, as a major hurdle to building more affordable housing in the state.

“The best single thing that could happen is for CEQA to be reformed because that has held up the construction of homes,” said Wilson, who decried the long wait that developers often face to clear the environmental protection review process. “It has hugely added to the delay in providing housing. And that has cost a fortune in terms of the ultimate buyer.”

But the legislation still has value, Newton said. “It is protective of the environment. No?”

Davis jumped into the discussion.

“Look, the original idea was: If Caltrans was building a freeway, the public should comment on it, and it should be thoroughly debated before it occurs,” he said.

Today, circumstances have changed, and the focus has turned to building homes for the state’s large population. Environmental reviews and public hearings about land use take time, but there are ways to shorten the process.

“The good news is we are making some progress,” Davis said. “When it comes to the homeless — anything for the building of shelter for the homeless and for all the services attended to in mental health and social services — all those buildings should be exempt [from CEQA].”

Newton also asked the governors to weigh in on another hot button topic, giving some of the state’s budget surplus back to Californians.

“Absolutely. I mean, gas prices are near a record high,” Davis said.

“Well, I think that it’s not bad, but it’s like dipping into [the country’s] petroleum reserve, it’s not the answer,” Wilson said.

Newton pressed forward, seeking to clarify that both former governors think the current governor, Gavin Newsom, should send a portion of the California surplus back to the state’s residents.

“We have a big surplus. It should be used for one-time expenditures like this,” Davis said.

“If it’s a one-time, modest solution, that will help,” Wilson said.

“You do agree,” Newton said, smiling. “I was surprised.”

Soon after, Newton thanked the former elected officials for their years of government service and their willingness to participate in a public discussion of political issues seen from their different vantage points.

“We all will disagree on things,” Newton said to the in-person audience and those watching online. “I think it’s too commonplace these days to assume that disagreement is [just cause] to be enemies. And it’s heartening to have the both of you here to show otherwise.”

Watch a recording of the session:

See additional photos from both April 22 sessions on Flickr:

Luskin Summit 2022 Closing Sessions

Annual Survey of Los Angeles County Residents Finds Lowest Satisfaction Ever Anger over fast-rising costs and worries about crime and the quality of education are among key factors driving down the latest Quality of Life Index

By Les Dunseith

Los Angeles County residents are not happy.

They don’t like paying more for gasoline, fresh eggs or electricity. They’re worried about their family’s health and their children’s education. They don’t like hearing that homelessness and crime are up, and their confidence in public officials to solve such problems is down. And COVID-19? They just want to be done with it. 

Those are some of the key takeaways from the latest Quality of Life Index, or QLI, a project of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs that measures county residents’ satisfaction levels in nine categories. The overall rating fell sharply, from 58 last year to 53 on a scale from 10 to 100, marking the first time it fell below the survey’s 55-point midpoint since the index launched in 2016. That means a majority of respondents are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives.

“For the first time since the inception of this survey, respondents’ ratings dropped in each of the nine categories, and eight of the nine fell to their lowest rating ever,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative, who oversees the index. 

Researchers noted that overall satisfaction had remained relatively stable, between 56 and 59, throughout the survey’s first six years, despite drought, fires and the profound societal changes of the pandemic. But that changed as prices of food, gasoline and public utilities spiked in recent months — a trend that accelerated in the weeks after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in late February.

“What the pandemic couldn’t do over the last two years, inflation and increases in violent and property crime succeeded in doing,” Yaroslavsky said. “It appears that the dam has burst this year.” 

This year’s QLI is based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with 1,400 county residents over 30 days beginning on March 5. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%.

Scores declined in all nine of the survey categories, but the issues that were most responsible for the overall decline were cost of living, education and public safety.

“These three issues contributed heavily to the overall drop in our respondents’ satisfaction,” Yaroslavsky said. “Clearly, they are driving the political debate in this year’s city and county elections.”

Among the other results:

  • The largest decline was the cost-of-living score, which dropped to 39 from 45 last year.
  • The public safety score declined to 56 from 60 last year (and 64 in 2020), shaped largely by growing concerns over property crime and violent crime.
  • The score for transportation and traffic fell to 51, from 56 last year.
  • The score for jobs and the economy dropped to 56, from 60 in 2021.
  • The score for education dropped to 46, a new low, from 48 last year.

Most respondents, 69%, said life has been fundamentally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 28% said that life would return to the way it was before. 

“COVID has taken its toll on our society in profound ways,” Yaroslavsky said. “This finding — that life has been permanently altered — may be the most profound.”

Of survey respondents who are employed, 55% said they always leave home to go to their workplace, 18% always work at home and 25% have a hybrid schedule.

Many respondents said their income declined during the pandemic, with 15% saying it went down a lot and 16% saying it went down a little. Among those whose income declined, 33% said they fell behind on their rent or home mortgage, and 7% said they had to move for financial reasons.

One potentially lasting consequence of the pandemic relates to education. Seventy-one percent of parents of school-age children said they feel their kids have been substantially hurt either academically or socially by having to learn remotely. That figure was only slightly lower than it was in the 2021 survey, even though most students had returned to in-person instruction by the time the 2022 study was conducted. The parents who were most concerned were those who leave home to work (79%) and those with incomes under $60,000 (76%).

chart shows info also found in story

The survey also examined approval ratings for local elected officials. Mayor Eric Garcetti was viewed favorably by 45% of respondents, down from 62% in 2020.  

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva received mixed ratings: 37% very or somewhat favorable and 33% very or somewhat unfavorable, with 30% having no opinion or being unfamiliar with Villanueva. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s perception declined markedly from 2021. He was viewed very or somewhat favorably by 22% of respondents this year, down from 31% in 2021; 44% viewed Gascón very or somewhat unfavorably in the latest survey.

The Quality of Life Index is funded by Meyer and Renee Luskin through the Los Angeles Initiative. The report was released as part of the closing event in this year’s UCLA’s Luskin Summit, held April 22 at the Luskin Conference Center at UCLA. Phillip Palmer of ABC7 in Los Angeles moderated a discussion with Yaroslavsky, followed by a Q&A in which former California governors Gray Davis and Pete Wilson discussed the “State of California” with Jim Newton, editor in chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine.

The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm FM3 Research.

View the full report and other information about this year’s study, plus previous Quality of Life Indexes, on the website of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

Watch a recording of the session on Vimeo.

See additional photos from both April 22 sessions on Flickr:

Luskin Summit 2022 Closing Sessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Les Dunseith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hernandez said voters are eager for leadership and trustworthiness. 

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

Yaroslavsky said candidates also must navigate sometimes unrealistic voter expectations. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stan Paul and Mary Braswell also contributed to this story.

A Platform for Elevating Student Voices As UCLA's student body president, public affairs major Breeze Velazquez embraces the role as an advocate for her peers

By Mary Braswell

During UCLA’s year of remote learning, Breeze Velazquez spent much of her time advocating for other Bruins.

Working one-on-one with students who believed they had been unfairly accused of academic dishonesty was not a role she had ever expected to play.

But it was one step on a surprising journey that led the senior public affairs major to seek and win the office of president of the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council.

“The crazy thing is, I never saw myself ever running for USAC,” Velazquez said. “I was an introvert. I had no social media up until last year.”

But in her public affairs coursework, as well as through internships with organizations like JusticeLA, MALDEF and Unite-LA, Velazquez found her own voice by helping others find theirs.

Her campaign for student body president focused on meeting the unique needs of first-generation, low-income students of color.

“I drew upon my own experiences and the experiences of my peers,” she said. “I grew up with a single mom. I grew up low-income, as well. And you know, I’m the first in my family to attend college.”

Those experiences helped shape a platform based on listening to the concerns of a wide range of students, then helping them connect with the right contacts in the UCLA administration. So far this year, this has included helping undocumented students navigate the university’s financial aid system and advocating for the creation of a special office to provide resources to those accused of academic dishonesty.

During the COVID-19 lockdown last year, UCLA saw an uptick in these cases, with students struggling to defend themselves over Zoom, said Velazquez, who at the time was the student body’s academic affairs commissioner. While providing guidance in these cases was not a formal part of her responsibilities, she decided to step in.

“One of the things I liked most about the role was the work that I got to do one-on-one with students,” she said. “I really fell in love with this project because I really see myself advocating for students in the future.”

Velazquez acknowledged that managing her academic workload, juggling several part-time jobs and serving in student government — which can be a lightning rod for criticism — has been physically and emotionally draining, especially during the pandemic.

She has leaned on friends and a tight-knit family, and has drawn support from the public affairs department she joined as a freshman pre-major.

“I just really found a community within the major. The students are so compassionate,” she said.

“And I look back on some of the professors I had who really supported me. Meredith Phillips, she was amazing,” Velazquez said of the undergraduate program’s founding chair. “I have gone to her for advice time and time again, even right now.”

Her coursework in public affairs, as well as Chicana/o and Central American studies — both intimate, interdisciplinary programs — has also helped bring her life goals into focus. Each department encouraged her to engage in the community and take advantage of course offerings from across campus, including in policy, education and law — fields she is interested in pursuing after graduation.

Until then, she’ll spend her year as student body president working to elevate the voices of students and helping them access UCLA resources.

“As difficult as it has been and as much as I never pictured myself taking on this role, … I know that I care about this and I’m strong enough because I was raised the right way,” she said. “My mom taught me that I’m a strong woman and no one’s going to deter what I need to get done.”

A New Approach to Preventing Weapons-Related Violence at California Schools Study gauges the prevalence of weapons on campuses and provides a comprehensive look at factors that put schools at risk

By Mary Braswell

At some schools in California, nearly 1 in 5 students say they have either carried a weapon or been injured or threatened with one, according to a new study co-authored by UCLA Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor that examines the presence of weapons in the state’s public middle and high schools and recommends focusing on campus-level conditions that could serve as warning signs for violence.

“Although tragic incidents of shootings in schools are rare and directly affect only a small number of students, tens of thousands of students report bringing weapons to school, and many more see other students in their school carrying weapons,” said Astor, who holds joint appointments at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.

The study, co-authored with Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was published recently in the Journal of School Violence.

Based on surveys of nearly 890,000 California students in grades 7, 9 and 11, the research focuses on all types of weapons — not only guns — and assesses how factors such as the level of crime in a school’s surrounding neighborhood, students’ feelings of belongingness or victimization at school, their relationships with teachers and staff, and their perceptions about whether disciplinary practices are fair can heighten or lower the potential for weapons-carrying and violence.

This holistic or school-wide approach represents a significant departure from previous school-violence studies, which have typically sought to identify risk factors around individual students who might pose a threat, Astor noted.

“A major limitation of current ‘shooter’ studies is that they tend to maintain a narrow focus on individual perpetrators,” the authors write. “Although it is very difficult to detect students who perpetrate school shootings, it is possible to identify schools that have many students who are involved with weapons.”

The number of students who reported seeing weapons on campus is very low at many schools, according to the study, which included a representative sample of students from every county in the state who completed the California Healthy Kids Survey between 2013 and 2015.

However, in 3.3% of schools, more than 15% of students reported carrying a weapon, and in 5.8% of schools, at least 15% of students said they had been injured by a weapon or threatened with one. It is at these schools in particular, Astor and Benbenishty say, that an approach focused on improving campuswide conditions can bear the most fruit.

“It is imperative to develop a monitoring system to identify such schools and channel resources to this vulnerable group of students, educators and parents,” said Astor, who teaches a UCLA undergraduate course on ways to improve school safety. “We must create opportunities to hear their voices and explore local solutions that make their schools safer.”

Fostering a warm, supportive school environment is key to reducing the presence of weapons and creating a truly safe campus, according to the authors, whose previous research has demonstrated that prioritizing a culture of care, funneling more resources to vulnerable schools and elevating the voices of students, teachers and students leads to a drop in the number of weapons at schools.

“Students who trust that teachers support them and have a sense of safety in school may be less inclined to bring weapons to school,” the authors write.

In this new study, Astor and Benbenishty also focus on the unintended negative consequences of past efforts to deter individual shooters by “hardening” schools with metal detectors, security cameras and armed staff, as well as “active shooter” drills and harsh mandatory punishments that research shows often demonstrated bias against students of color.

These measures, they noted, frequently created fortress-like campuses that greatly diminished students’ well-being, heightened the fear of violence on school grounds and sent more of the nation’s children into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Schools,” the authors conclude, “could develop a variety of caring and supportive approaches to reduce weapons-related behaviors … that do not include law enforcement methods and do not increase the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Serious Impacts of Coronavirus Felt Broadly Across Los Angeles County UCLA Luskin survey details effect of falling incomes, COVID-19 health issues and pandemic-related restrictions on Angelenos’ quality of life

By Les Dunseith

Residents of Los Angeles County have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, with significant numbers citing the pandemic’s adverse impact on their finances, health and children’s education, according to UCLA’s sixth annual Quality of Life Index.

“A year ago we speculated about how resilient our region would be in the year to follow,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who oversees the index. “We now know that Los Angeles County has demonstrated robust resilience, but a significant toll has been exacted on our residents by the tumultuous events. Many of our residents — especially younger ones — are anxious, angry and steadily losing hope about their future in Los Angeles.”

This year’s Quality of Life Index, or QLI, was based on interviews with 1,434 county residents over a 20-day period beginning on March 3, just as vaccinations were beginning to fuel optimism about a possible return to more normal life. Last year’s survey, conducted in the earliest stages of the pandemic, found high levels of anxiety about the possible impacts of COVID-19. Twelve months later, respondents said many of those fears had come to pass:

  • More than half of those surveyed (54%) reported that they or a close family member or friend had tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • Forty percent said their income went down because of the pandemic, with 22% saying it dropped “a lot” and 18% reporting “some” decline. Roughly 1 in 5 (18%) said they had lost their job at some point during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Three-quarters of parents (76%) with school-age children felt their kids had been “substantially hurt, either academically or socially,” by pandemic-related distance learning and quarantine experiences.

In addition, nearly a fifth (17%) of all respondents reported that their income declined “a lot” in the past year and that they also suffered at least two specific negative impacts, such as a job loss, a wage or salary reduction, a decline in work hours or difficulty paying their rent or mortgage. This group was disproportionately composed of women under age 50, single people, renters, those without college degrees and those with household incomes of less than $60,000.

“These are among the most vulnerable individuals living in our county,” Yaroslavsky said.

The QLI, a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment with major funding provided by Meyer and Renee Luskin, asks a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents each year to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results of this year’s survey were made available April 19 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is taking place virtually.

Mirroring last year’s result, this year’s overall quality-of-life rating held steady at 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100), which is slightly more positive than negative. But researchers noted that marked changes emerged among specific racial and ethnic groups, especially with younger residents.

Younger Angelenos: Sinking optimism, tempered by race

Reflecting a trend seen in recent QLI surveys, the county’s younger population — those between the ages of 18 and 49 — rated their quality of life lower than older residents, and the pandemic seems to have exacerbated that disparity.

“The varied manifestations of COVID-19,” Yaroslavsky said, “fell most heavily on the shoulders of younger county residents.”

In particular, researchers observed a growing belief by younger Angelenos that the cost of living in the region is threatening their ability to make ends meet, get ahead or gain some sort of financial security.Yet even among this demographic, the survey revealed a distinct divergence in views between Latinos and whites, the two largest racial/ethnic groups in the county. While they have faced demonstrably harder challenges in the region, Latino residents overall were more positive about their quality of life than whites — and this was particularly pronounced among younger residents.

“Repeatedly, younger Latinos are more positive about their own conditions and express greater approval and positivity toward the variety of public officials and governmental entities that affect their lives,” said Paul Maslin, a public opinion and polling expert with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research) who has overseen the QLI survey process since 2016. “Among younger white residents in Los Angeles County, a greater sense of frustration and even bitterness is apparent.”

The survey uncovered a number of noteworthy differences in these two groups’ views of the pandemic, public officials and the opportunities available in the region:

  • Younger white residents were evenly split over whether the handling of the pandemic had been fair or unfair to “people like them” (48% vs. 49%), whereas younger Latinos reported that it had been fair to them by a 2-to-1 margin (65% vs. 33%).
  • About two-thirds (68%) of younger whites believe the Los Angeles area is a place where the rich get richer and the average person can’t get ahead, compared with only 55% of younger Latinos.
  • Younger Latinos had more favorable views of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (57%) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (53%) than younger whites, 57% of whom had unfavorable views of Garcetti and 62% unfavorable views of Newsom.
  • Younger white residents rated the response to the pandemic — across all levels of government — much more harshly than younger Latinos. Only about a third of whites approved of the response of federal, state and county governments and local school districts. Latinos’ ratings of approval were at least 20 points higher for every level of government and for local school districts.
  • However, in terms of paying their rent, more younger Latinos (43%) reported falling behind than did young whites (31%).

The 2021 QLI: Resilience and change

While this year’s quality-of-life rating remained at 58 overall, reflecting a remarkable resilience among county residents, several significant shifts within the nine major categories that make up the survey tell a different story.

This was most noticeable in the education category, where the satisfaction rating of respondents with children in public schools dropped from 58 last year to 52 this year, one of the most dramatic one-year declines in any category in the QLI’s history.

Satisfaction ratings for public safety also fell over the past year, from 64 to 60, influenced significantly by a growing concern over violent crime. And respondents’ rating of the quality of their neighborhoods dropped from 71 to 68.

On the other hand, satisfaction with transportation and traffic rose from 53 to 56, which researchers attribute to a significant reduction in commuter traffic caused by pandemic-related workplace shutdowns.

With regard to the workplace, 57% of employed respondents said they currently work from home or split time between home and their place of work. As to the future, 77% said they would prefer a mix of working from home and their workplace when the pandemic ends, with just 16% wanting to “almost always work at home.”

The 2021 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research).  The full reports for 2021 and previous years are posted online by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.