In the Weeds of Legalized Pot Recreational cannabis raises pressing questions for California officials, citizens and UCLA faculty experts seeking to devise common-sense policies

By Mary Braswell

When Californians voted in 2016 to bring the cannabis industry out of the shadows, the aim was to create an environment where marijuana was safe, controlled and taxed. This has not been a simple undertaking.

Legalization of recreational pot has raised pressing questions from public health officials, local law enforcement, state regulators, city planners and citizens hungry for common-sense policies — not to mention the growers, retailers and users who drive California’s multibillion-dollar weed industry.

What will the city-by-city patchwork of laws look like? How can marijuana cultivators safely introduce pesticides into a neighborhood? When will communities see the benefits of tax revenues? How will lifting the stigma on pot use affect adolescents?

The need for facts, evidence and clear thinking has never been greater. Fortunately, UCLA Luskin researchers and policy experts are on the case, among them Public Policy lecturer Brad Rowe MPP ’13.

‘A REALLY TRICKY BUSINESS’

Proposition 64, the ballot measure that legalized recreational pot, gave each of California’s 482 cities and 58 counties the authority to license cultivation, manufacturing and sales. So far, most have declined to do so.

The more than 160 cities and unincorporated areas that decided to move forward face a labyrinth of policy questions, said Rowe, who launched his own research firm, Rowe Policy + Media, in 2017. He also serves on the faculty of UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative, teaches a Public Policy class on drugs and crime, and advises municipalities that are venturing into the marijuana fray.

“Cannabis is a really tricky business, and it’s one that is probably going to have more volatility than most of the other licensing areas,” Rowe said.

In many cases, he said, communities have overestimated the financial gains and underestimated the complications.

“Expectations have been set so high for tax revenues. Common claims from city representatives are, ‘We’re going to build libraries and parks and football programs for the kids,’ ” Rowe said. “The truth is that you’ve got to get your system up and running, and realistically expect that that store that you just licensed may only generate tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands in tax revenue for you this year. … It’s hard to pay for your new inspector and the new police officer you just hired, and your financial department has to figure out how to handle the cash.”

Cannabis commerce requires cities to create systems for licensing, taxation, financial compliance and the delicate matter of handling deposits from a largely cash business, Rowe said. They must keep up with evolving regulations from the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control and shifting signals from the federal government, which strictly prohibits pot.

They will have to consider whether growing outdoors will create a nuisance and how to safeguard first responders against new threats. Firefighters arriving at a site that uses pesticides or volatile solvents for terpene extraction “shouldn’t be inhaling that stuff,” Rowe said.

Some of the policy debates veer toward the high end. Sonoma, he said, is considering whether to permit tastings of cannabis products, just as it does for viognier and pinot noir. “So then we’re getting into on-site consumption, event permits, more cannabis cops,” Rowe said.

On the whole, he said, “it can be a big hairy hassle for the cities, and that’s one of the reasons a lot of them have said we’re going to kick the can down the road and see how these other cities do.”

SEEKING JUSTICE, EQUITY AND FACTS

Rowe’s work with the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative focuses on criminal and juvenile justice as drug offenses are reclassified.

“Are we even moving away from the war on drugs? That is the intent but in practice it’s a trickier thing, so we’re looking at equity considerations,” he said.

The health and well-being of young people must be a top policy priority, he argues.

“The one thing I am super concerned about is cannabis use disorder among adolescents,” Rowe said, citing brain research as well as recent studies measuring the toll that compulsive pot consumption takes on test scores and analytical skills.

“We just don’t know enough about the plant,” he said. “We don’t know enough about its addictive properties; we don’t really know what will happen as it becomes de-stigmatized and easily available.”

Legalization has led to new funding for research aimed at answering these questions. Proposition 64 earmarks $10 million a year for public universities to evaluate the impact of the law and make recommendations to the state.

Rowe has visited cities up and down the state as a consultant with MuniServices, which helps local governments manage their affairs. He has hosted forums for potential pot licensees, family and faith-based groups, and other stakeholders and says, “There have been some really heartfelt, interesting conversations. Some are opposed and some just want this to be done with caution.”

Many simply want reliable information, he said.

“There’s a lot of room for reasonable conversation; there’s a lot of room for public policy people to come into this area,” Rowe said. “It’s only going to get bigger. It’s going to be a very big industry.”

Getting a Handle on the Future Transportation experts join with policymakers and entrepreneurs to tackle the impact of disruptive technology on urban mobility

By Will Livesley-O’Neill

Getting around Southern California has never been easy. But the infamously congested region has grown even more complicated with the arrival of new private services — including ridehail companies such as Lyft and Uber and electric scooter operators such as Bird and Lime — looking to disrupt how people travel.

Motorized scooters are often seen at UCLA.

As in any field impacted by technology-fueled disruption, transportation policymakers want to find ways to adapt. And that requires taking stock of what the transportation system is meant to do and, more importantly, whom it is meant to serve.

This was the focus of the 28th annual UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, hosted by the Institute of Transportation Studies (UCLA ITS) and Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, in October. At the university’s retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains, dozens of the nation’s leading experts on transportation and land use policy pondered the symposium’s theme, “From Public Transit to Public Mobility.”

The changing nature of travel means different things for elected officials, planners, academics, advocates and tech leaders. But everyone fundamentally agrees that, as LA Metro chief planning officer and symposium panelist Therese McMillan put it, “there’s a public interest in how private activity happens in a public space.” The modes may change, but the mission of a safe, effective, accessible transportation system remains the same.

John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, set the tone for a discussion of balance between tradition and innovation. Lyft has been actively expanding beyond ridehailing into other forms of mobility, including e-scooters and automated vehicles. The company’s stated goal of providing more options for consumers and reducing the number of people driving

alone benefits the environment — as well as those profiting from the service.

But the way that some tech companies roll out new products — a “move fast and break things” model — often leads to public backlash.

Southern California has been ground zero for arguments about the traffic tie-ups and sidewalk clutter allegedly caused by ridehailing and scooters. Public officials are being forced to make policy on the fly — although some such as Francie Stefan, chief mobility officer in Santa Monica, describe that as an opportunity. Santa Monica recently partnered with Lyft, Uber, Bird and Lime to introduce new regulations on the number of e-vehicles in the city while funding infrastructure improvements.

“[We] made a conscious choice to embrace new technology and work through some of the kinks that are inherent in change,” Stefan says.

Technology also gives cities the chance to innovate and to fulfill some hard-to-implement planning goals. Willa Ng, an associate director at Google’s Sidewalk Labs, presented an example at her panel on “coding  the curb.”

“If we need to do more stuff at the curb, and we need to have those spaces constantly turning over, we can’t have it managed by a static aluminum sign,” Ng explains, outlining how creating a flexible digital management system could allow the same section of curb to be used for parking, ridehail drop-offs, delivery unloading, or as a bike and scooter lane depending on the time of day. New transportation technology can crowd and complicate the use of public space, but it can also help make sure the space is better used to benefit the most people.

For example, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, recently spoke to the University of California for a story and accompanying video about e-scooters titled, “What the battle over scooters gets wrong.”

Urban planners recently adopted a model known as “complete streets” that involves rethinking how shared space is divided between a street and a sidewalk, Loukaitou-Sideris says. This model abandons the assumption that streets are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians.

“The complete street perceives the street as a space where different transportation modes can coexist: not only cars, but also buses, and lanes for trams, bicycles and scooters,” according to Loukaitou-Sideris. “Nobody wants to compromise the safety of anyone by mixing these modes. So that’s where planning and design needs to come in.”

People-centered design — of services, systems and infrastructure — is at center stage in these policy discussions. Technology needs to be a tool to help improve transportation for people, not an end goal in itself.

“A lot of people are really annoyed with private capital coming into the mobility space without understanding people’s travel needs,” says Clarrissa Cabansagan of the Bay Area climate change nonprofit TransForm. But tech disruption will be worthwhile if it provides people with more options to get around besides driving their own car, she says.

Professor Brian Taylor of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning

Urban Planning Professor Brian D. Taylor, director of UCLA ITS, co-authored a groundbreaking 2018 study that found that Southern Californians are buying more cars than ever and turning away from public transit. That’s the exact opposite outcome of what policymakers had sought and shows the need to set new priorities for shared public spaces.

“We have to manage the automobile more intelligently. We can’t just allow people to drive anywhere they want, anytime they want,” Taylor says. “We need to create environments that are more conducive to travel by foot, by bike, by scooter or by public transit.”

New and old mobility services could work hand-in-hand to reduce private car travel. Ideally, technology should improve, not replace or eliminate, traditional transit, according to transportation experts.

“We should really focus on making the core strength of transit something we do incredibly well,” says Houston-based planner and author Christof Spieler, who spoke at the conference. With transit ridership falling across most of the country, new policies need to make riding the bus as easy as hailing a Lyft, he says, noting that public transit can move many more people much more effectively than any ridehail vehicle or scooter.

Bay Area transportation advocate Ratna Amin argues that focusing on riders as people, not cogs in a machine, is key.

“When we think about public transit as a utility, we focus on the bare minimum: We got the service out, it’s clean enough, the doors opened, the bus stop is there and it’s labeled,” Amin says. “We need to actually talk to people and find out what their experience is, and try different possibilities out to see if they improve the experience.”

Seattle is one of just a few American cities to see an increase in transit ridership in recent years. Terry White, the deputy general manager of Seattle’s transit operator, believes one factor has been key to success: an emphasis on making sure service is equitable.

“Transportation is a human right for everyone,” White says. “We’re trying to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to

be mobile.”

That’s ultimately what a better transportation system will mean — mobility for all, regardless of whether they take a bus or ride a scooter. Efficient use of public space lessens the need for gridlocked, polluting private vehicles.

The disruption of old transit methods is still in its early stages, with plenty of blind spots to be navigated. But as Juan Matute, deputy director of UCLA ITS, recently told LA Weekly, it’s important to remember that the disruption from new technology is likely to lessen over time.

“The safety hazards are comparable to those for automobile use,” Matute said of the new innovations, particularly e-scooters. “We’ve had over 100 years to figure out a lot of things.”

A New Wrinkle at UCLA Luskin — Undergrads Within months of official approval, the undergraduate degree in Public Affairs was already educating scores of pre-majors and providing them an avenue for activism

By Mary Braswell

The rising excitement over UCLA Luskin’s new undergraduate program increased by at least a hundredfold as the first prospective Public Affairs majors stepped onto campus this fall.

Just weeks into the fall quarter, more than 100 students had formally opted in and dozens more had reached out to hear about the ambitious program, which combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community.

In a year when young people are leading the charge for gun reform, transgender rights, climate change and more, the new major provides an avenue for activism.

“There will certainly be an infusion of energy that only undergraduates can bring,” said Dean Gary Segura.

Freshman Callie Nance was immediately attracted to the public service ethos at the heart of the major.

“I was undecided and feeling a little anxious about that, so I looked through all the majors on the UCLA website. When I came across Public Affairs, I realized it hit all of my passions,” said Nance, who spent time in high school working to create educational and employment opportunities for young people.

“This major doesn’t just expand knowledge,” she said. “It shows us how to do something with that knowledge, to make an impact.”

That sentiment is reflected in the undergraduate program’s motto: Developing Leaders Engaged in Social Change.

“Our students are developing knowledge and skills in the service of solving society’s most pressing problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others,” said Undergraduate Affairs Chair Meredith Phillips, who is also an associate professor of public policy and sociology.

No other campus in the UC system offers a Public Affairs bachelor’s degree that draws from the three fields UCLA Luskin is known for: public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

This partnership has created an infectious energy that was on display during an undergraduate open house during the first week of school. Phillips led the welcoming committee, along with more than 20 faculty from across the School and Dean Segura, who noted that he too will teach an undergrad course this year, Foundations and Debates in Public Thought.

The event offered a glimpse of the resources available to students pursuing the B.A. in Public Affairs. Freshmen and sophomores freely mingled with professors who teach graduate-level courses and conduct cutting-edge research. And the undergraduate staff, who came together this summer to ensure the major was launched without a hitch, was out in force to answer questions and offer encouragement.

The networking continued the following evening at the Schoolwide Block Party, where the entire UCLA Luskin family — students, faculty, staff and alumni — came out to celebrate the new academic year.

“It was a good chance to talk to some alumni, to see what they are currently doing,” said freshman Navkaran Gurm, whose interests lie in law, politics, economics and public service.

Over the summer, another alumni connection led Gurm to the new major. He had enrolled in a Fresno City College economics class taught by Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, and ended up volunteering for Esparza’s campaign for Fresno City Council.

In the classroom and on the trail, Gurm spent hours talking to Esparza, who urged him to take a look at the Luskin School’s new bachelor’s degree. Gurm was sold. He plans to double-major in Economics and Public Affairs, with an eye toward attending law school.

“What I saw in the Public Affairs major was a way to show us how to make the world a better place, and that was something that really appealed to me,” said Gurm, who is keenly interested in battling disparities that put youth in rural communities, like his hometown, at a disadvantage.

A poll ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections found a remarkable level of civic engagement among young Californians. They talk politics, volunteer and allow political values to guide their purchases, the survey of 16- to 24-year-olds found. A full 80 percent said they considered themselves part of a social movement, according to the poll funded by the California Endowment.

Rising student demand led to creation of the Public Affairs major, which UCLA Luskin faculty unanimously endorsed in 2017. The university’s Academic Senate gave final approval in April 2018, and the first cohort was recruited over the summer.

Ricardo Aguilera switched to the pre-major as soon as it was announced. “For me, it was right on, concentrating on social advocacy within the community and just giving back,” he said.

Aguilera is one of several dozen sophomores who are working closely with the undergraduate staff to complete pre-major requirements in a single year. The School also continues to offer undergraduate minors in Public Affairs, Gerontology and Urban and Regional Studies.

Aguilera, Nance and Gurm have been struck by the personalized attention they receive in the relatively small Public Affairs program. Weekly emails share information about jobs, internships and campuswide events, and keep the cohort connected, they said.

Gurm said he attended informational sessions for other majors where students clamored to get their questions answered. At the Public Affairs workshop, “there were four of us and Brent, and it was as if we were having a one-on-one conversation,” he said, referring to undergraduate advisor Brent Showerman, who explained both the vision and the requirements of the program.

“I really like that whole support system, the feeling that they are guiding us in the right direction,” he said.

The 2018 UCLA Luskin Diversity Fair drew more than 100 prospective students. Photo by Mary Braswell

A Schoolwide Investment in Students of Color UCLA Luskin showcases its strengths at 2018 Diversity Fair

By Mary Braswell

Eliza Franklin-Edmondson came to UCLA Luskin’s annual Diversity Fair to gather information about the School’s programs and priorities. She went home with so much more.

“I’m leaving here so full,” the prospective Urban Planning applicant said. “Being here and seeing the myriad of disciplines that give back to communities that are told that they have no value. … I’m leaving knowing that I have my purpose in life, my calling.”

For the third year, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning invited prospective graduate students from all backgrounds to hear what sets the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs apart: a social justice ethos that is strengthened by a commitment to diversity. Key speakers included the chairs of each department, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

“We are all united at Luskin by wanting to make our society and the world a better place for everyone,” Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams told the audience of about 125 prospective students.

The fair’s moderator, second-year planning student Dora Armenta, said she came to UCLA Luskin because it invests in students of color.

“We choose students that reflect our cities, that are diverse in backgrounds, experience, interests and skills,” Armenta said. “And because of these students, the program gets a little better each year.”

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning is highly ranked and has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, chair Vinit Mukhija said.

“We are the only program that is able to bring together excellence and diversity in urban planning,” he said. “Our program is made richer by that diversity, and it makes teaching in this department exciting for me and my colleagues.”

Public Policy students at UCLA Luskin develop deep analytical skills but also step into the real world, chair JR DeShazo said. They partner with clients to conduct research projects in fields such as health care, education, criminal justice and transportation, among many others, he said.

“In Public Policy, we really focus on understanding the programs and the policies that are supposed to meet the needs and provide the protections and services to our communities,” DeShazo said.

Social Welfare also pairs theory with practice, focusing on society’s most vulnerable populations, Abrams said, adding, “At UCLA, you get a set of interesting opportunities that really represent the breadth and the depth of the profession as a whole.”

Prospective student Laura Elaine Daza came from the Bay Area to attend the fair because “I want to be a decision-maker in my community.” As an immigrant, first-generation student and tenant rights advocate, she said, “I think it’s important to go to a program that reflects the communities that we come from and that provides you with the skills to give back to your community.”

The Dec. 1, 2018, Diversity Fair included financial aid counseling, a workshop for applicants preparing a statement of purpose, and a conversation with alumni who shared why they chose the Luskin School.

“I fell for the rankings,” said Rodrigo Garcia MURP ’15. “And I knew there was a big social justice component at Luskin whereas other schools that I was applying to didn’t have that component.”

“UCLA felt more like home,” said Sofia Espinoza MPP ’18, in contrast to other schools where “they dressed in suits and tried to schmooze you.” Espinoza said she appreciated the personal attention she received from Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity (PPDE), which guided her through the application process.

PPDE was a co-sponsor of the fair, along with the Luskin D3 Initiative, Luskin Leadership Development, Social Welfare Diversity Caucus and Planners of Color for Social Equity.

The alumni panelists spoke of the skills they developed at UCLA Luskin and offered advice for how to maximize the graduate school experience. At the top of the list: Get off campus and out of the Westside.

“If you really want to do community work, then be in the community,” said Sheila Nem MURP ’15. “Get to know the landscape and really build those connections.”

“Be comfortable exploring opportunities that maybe you don’t even think are your interests,” said Diane Terry MSW ’04 Ph.D. ’12, urging the audience to jump into projects and research outside their disciplines. “That skill set, that perspective that you would get just from being out there, is going to be useful in some space at some time in your future career.”

UCLA Luskin offers the best of two worlds, said Hector Palencia MSW ’08, who is a field faculty member in Social Welfare. “The university is constantly alive,” a world-class research institution rich with opportunity, he said, but the Luskin School feels like a close-knit family.

“There are a lot of good programs out there. But how many of their faculty actually know their students well enough, by name, and how comfortable are the students to come back and look at this place like home?”

Isaac Bryan MPP ’18 cautioned the students that their time at the Luskin School would fly by.

“Land your solid GPA, learn your skill sets, but really build yourself a power base of relationships and connections to the city,” Bryan said. “Because here in Los Angeles I firmly believe that if you can solve a problem here and be a part of working on it, you can really take that anywhere. And that is something about UCLA Luskin that is really unique. So get busy.”

View additional photos on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2018

Journalist Jorge Ramos Receives UCLA Medal The longtime Univision news anchor enlightens an appreciative crowd as he delivers Luskin Lecture

By Les Dunseith

In recognition of his journalistic accomplishments and his leadership on social issues, Jorge Ramos, the longtime host of Univision Noticias’ evening news and its Sunday newsmagazine “Al Punto,” has been awarded the UCLA Medal.

Presenting the university’s highest honor to Ramos on Oct. 9 was UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.

“Jorge Ramos is more than a great journalist who happens to read and report the news to a largely Spanish-speaking audience,” Block told a crowd of about 400 people prior to Ramos delivering the latest Luskin Lecture, which is sponsored by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “He is also a fierce advocate for Latino immigrants.”

Ramos studied journalism at UCLA Extension when he first came to the United States from Mexico.

“Journalism and academia really are kindred spirits in that we both are dedicated to honestly searching for and sharing reliable facts,” Block said. “This is why UCLA is so grateful for journalists like Jorge Ramos.”

A pivotal figure for many American Latinos, Ramos has more than 30 years of experience producing informative reporting with an underlying dedication to advancing the interests of marginalized communities.

Students engaging with Jorge Ramos are inspired by his words and warm personality. Read the story. Photo by Les Dunseith

“Regardless of whatever happens [in the midterm elections] this November, there is an incredible demographic revolution happening right now,” Ramos told the crowd at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center. “By 2044, everyone in this country — absolutely everyone — is going to be a minority.”

Ramos said he believes that many conservative voters are afraid that their country is changing so quickly that they won’t be able to recognize it. But in Ramos’ view, “the beauty of this country is its diversity. And the only way to survive is to be tolerant and to respect our differences.”

Tom Oser, interim vice provost of UCLA Continuing Education and Extension, also placed an emphasis on inclusiveness in his remarks. “Mr. Ramos’ story of personal reinvention highlights what Extension does best. We offer open enrollment into academic certificate programs of study that provide access to the riches of UCLA academics — to all adults.”

UCLA played an essential role in his career, Ramos told the crowd.

“This country, and UCLA, and UCLA Extension gave me the opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t give me,” he said. “So my mission now is to make sure that those who come after me have exactly the same opportunities that I had. So UCLA and UCLA Extension, muchísimas gracias.”

Ramos was selected to give a Luskin Lecture at UCLA because the series often “celebrates the inspirational work of individuals like Jorge Ramos whose accomplishments in service to the public interest can serve as models not just to our students but, indeed, to us all,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Mr. Ramos is the living embodiment of journalism in the pursuit of justice, the most trusted man in Latino America, and I am proud to know him.”

Those who attended the event shared Segura’s excitement about the opportunity to spend time in the presence of Ramos.

“Every immigrant remembers the date when they arrived. For me, it was Aug. 8, 1993. And, where we lived near Miami, Jorge was in our living room every single night,” said Dulce Vasquez, a first-year master’s degree student in public policy. “From a very young age, I knew that he was a very trusted source of information and a welcome voice in our household. To this day, I have not found a more trusted and reliable voice in the Latino community.”

After the medal presentation, Ramos made brief remarks, then engaged in a discussion of issues of national interest with Eric Avila, UCLA professor of Chicana and Chicano studies, history and urban planning; and Laura Gómez, UCLA professor of law.

Avila asked whether the rules have changed for journalists in the current political climate. Ramos, who quit his reporting job in Mexico 30 years ago to escape censorship and pursue his livelihood in a country with greater press freedom, replied that journalists have a societal obligation to do more than simply relay facts.

He recounted his well-remembered 2015 confrontation with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. During a news conference at a campaign stop in Iowa, Trump refused to let Ramos ask a question about immigration policy. He stood his ground and refused to be silent, so Trump had security personnel usher Ramos out of the room.

“In journalism school we are taught that we need to be neutral. But after that moment, I realized that neutrality sometimes is not an option,” Ramos said. “Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, used to say that we have to take a stand. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

Ramos’ remarks included an admonition directed toward the many UCLA students who attended the event, telling them to speak out — to disobey.

“When you see racism, disobey. When you see inequality, you have to disobey. When you see injustice, you have to disobey,” Ramos said. “This is not a time to be silent. And I need to hear your voices. We need to hear your voices — because they are strong and they are right.”

Stan Paul of the UCLA Luskin communications staff also contributed to this story.

View a video from the event:

View additional photographs from the Luskin Lecture and a dinner with Ramos that followed on Flickr:

Ramos Luskin Lecture

Students Inspired by an Icon of Journalism and Advocacy Jorge Ramos' personal warmth and rousing words energize his young admirers

By Les Dunseith

As television journalist Jorge Ramos prepared to leave the stage after his visit to UCLA on Oct. 9, dozens of UCLA students swarmed toward him.

They wanted to get closer to Ramos, an icon for many Latinos in the United States. Graciously, he motioned them forward, and soon he was surrounded on all sides by young admirers. Ramos then spent several minutes chatting with them and posing for selfies.

Kimberly Fabian is a sophomore pre-major in the undergraduate major in public affairs that launched this fall at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She was among those grateful for the opportunity to engage directly with Ramos at the event, during which he was presented the UCLA Medal by Chancellor Gene Block.

“He is the face of Univision, and Univision is what everyone watches when you grow up in a Spanish-speaking household,” she said of Ramos, the longtime host of Univision Noticias’ evening news and its Sunday newsmagazine. “Even if you don’t know a lot about him or his politics, he is someone who has just always been there. It is a big deal to see him live when you are so used to seeing him on the screen.”

“Neutrality sometimes is not an option,” Univision’s Jorge Ramos tells a gathering of about 400 people at a lecture hosted by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Read the story. Photo by Les Dunseith

Many other attendees shared Fabian’s sense of familiarity and excitement about Ramos, including Ricardo Aguilera, also a sophomore pre-major in public affairs. He said making time to attend the event was an easy decision.

“Jorge Ramos — he’s a big voice within the political community, within journalism, within advocacy,” he said. “To hear him talk, to hear that inspiration, to see what’s going on? Definitely. I signed up right away.”

UCLA Luskin graduate student Gabriela Solis had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Ramos before the medal ceremony.

“I guess you never really know about people who get that much attention — how they are going to act or treat other people,” Solis said. “But he was so kind, very down-to-earth. … He has a nurturing presence about him that is really great.”

Solis found inspiration in Ramos’ words, particularly his call to action for students to speak up when they witness injustice or intolerance.

“As someone who is nearing graduation, I have had a lot of thoughts about what I need to do after UCLA, how I can be more useful,” she said. “He was very adamant about taking risks, really using my voice, and using my education to push against the powers-that-be right now.”

Solis said she is sometimes hesitant to speak out, worrying about the potential repercussions of being more vocal or tackling issues outside of her comfort zone.

“Hearing him talk gave me a little bit of a push to think that maybe I could explore doing more organizing, or working closer in the community or potentially running for office,” Solis said.

Inspiration was a familiar theme among attendees, as was gratitude for Ramos’ kind manner and willingness to engage with them on a very personal level.

In a hallway afterward, Fabian approached Ramos with her cellphone in hand.

“I asked him, ‘Can you do me a favor and give a shout-out to my dad’s family and to my mom’s family?’ And he was like, sure. ‘I am here with Kimberly and don’t forget to vote,’ ” Fabian said about the message from Ramos she recorded.

“On top of him being this public figure, suddenly it became something special — here he was saying my name. It was surreal,” she recalled with a wide smile.

At one point, Dulce Vasquez, a first-year master’s degree student in public policy, asked Ramos about the political climate in their shared home state of Florida. Vasquez wanted to know whether Ramos thought the Florida vote in November’s midterm elections might be impacted by the U.S. response in 2017 to devastation in Puerto Rico resulting from Hurricane Maria. Many refugees from Puerto Rico have since relocated to Florida.

“I have not seen the fallout from Hurricane Maria being talked about enough a year later, especially on the West Coast,” said Vasquez, who has prior experience campaigning for Democratic candidates in the state. “It happened near Florida, which is near to my heart, and knowing the shifting demographics of Florida, I was very interested in hearing Ramos’ opinion about the impact on his home state.”

Although Ramos said he doubts that the immediate election impact will be significant, he said that he expects the changing demographics of Florida to eventually have an impact on election results in the traditionally conservative state, perhaps as soon as 2020.

“I kind of thought the same thing,” Vasquez said later of Ramos’ response. “People who have left the island are settling into their new home, and it is going to take a lot of organizing over the next two years to get them all registered, but I think there will be a very strong anti-Republican sentiment among Puerto Ricans moving forward. His response was reaffirming and very spot-on.”

The event was presented as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture series at UCLA, and Fabian said the entire evening was memorable for her.

“On top of Jorge Ramos being there, the chancellor was there. And the Luskins were there,” she said afterward. “Hearing these names from a distance, it kind of seems like it’s make-believe. But then when you meet them in person and see that they are actual people who do very real things for us as students — I think it’s beautiful.”

Before the medal ceremony, Solis had the opportunity to meet Chancellor Block and the Luskins, and she also engaged directly in conversation with Ramos.

“I’m a policy fellow at UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and we did a study recently on Latino voter turnout,” she began. “We studied a get-out-the-vote campaign with AltaMed, a health provider that has historically helped with the Latino community. … In the precincts that they targeted, Latino voter turnout went up 137 percent.”

Ever the inquisitive journalist, Ramos jumped in with a question of his own: “What did they do right?”

Solis explained that volunteers from the medical services provider canvassed in the community wearing T-shirts with the AltaMed name. “The community knows that brand,” Solis told Ramos. “They had people in waiting rooms to sign them up to register to vote. This was the kicker — the doctors would get some sort of light or reminder with something like, ‘Voting is coming up,’ when they were seeing their patients.”

Ramos said this is the sort of extra effort that is needed to combat an ongoing problem with Latino voter turnout, which is often far below that of other demographic groups, and was a factor in the 2016 presidential election.

“I think partly people didn’t want to vote for Donald Trump, and I can understand that. But also they didn’t want to vote for the Democrats because, in the previous government, Obama … promised to do something on immigration reform his first year in office in 2009, and he didn’t do it,” Ramos told Solis. “So people were saying, ‘I didn’t want Trump; I don’t want the Democrats — I’m going to stay home.’ That’s a problem.”

Ramos’ willingness to answer their questions forthrightly impressed many of the students. They also appreciated that Ramos made a point to relate to them as young people. More than once, he noted that he was once in a very similar place in his own life.

“There is a part of me that is very proud,” Vasquez said. “I am a first year master’s student at UCLA, and there is something very special about having that UCLA connection to Jorge Ramos, knowing that UCLA was his home when he first arrived in the United States.”

Fabian had a similar reaction. “With him being a former student at UCLA, and me wondering whether I can ever reach a level of relevance in my life, now I believe I can,” she said. “He just seemed like a normal guy, someone who was once a normal student — but if I can have his passion, then I feel like I can be up for the challenge. It is very inspiring. It makes me feel: If he could do it, why can’t I?”

Mary Braswell and Stan Paul of the UCLA Luskin communications staff also contributed to this story.

View additional photographs from the Luskin Lecture and a dinner with Ramos that followed on Flickr:

Ramos Luskin Lecture

Cecilia Estolano named to UC Board of Regents UCLA Luskin alumna and adjunct faculty member will help shape higher education in California for years to come

Cecilia V. Estolano MA UP ’91 has been appointed to the University of California Board of Regents. 

Estolano, who teaches as an adjunct faculty member at UCLA Luskin, is one of four new regents appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 6.

“I am eager to partner with these accomplished new board members,” UC President Janet Napolitano said.  “Serving on the UC Board of Regents offers a powerful opportunity to shape California higher education for years to come and ensure that future students receive the same excellent UC education as did previous generations of Californians.”

Estolano, an expert in sustainable economic development and urban revitalization, is chief executive officer at Estolano LeSar Advisors. She co-founded the firm in 2011 with UCLA alumni Jennifer LeSar UP ’92 and and Katherine Perez-Estolano MA UP ’97.

Estolano’s long list of accomplishments includes serving as chief executive officer at the City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and as a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to her UCLA Luskin master’s degree, Estolano earned a juris doctorate from UC Berkeley and previously served as counsel at Gibson Dunn and Crutcher LLP and as special assistant city attorney in the Los Angeles city attorney’s office.

New appointees to the UC Board of Regents, who must be approved by the California Senate, serve 12-year terms.

Photo by George Foulsham

Read about Estolano, center, LeSar and Perez-Estolano, founders of a Los Angeles-based planning and policy firm.