The Luskin School of Public Affairs presented its newest endowed chair to Professor Manisha Shah on Nov. 9 with the chair’s namesake, former Dean Frank Gilliam, and its benefactors, Meyer and Renee Luskin, in attendance.
The Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. Chair in Social Justice, which was created by the Luskins as part of their naming gift to the Luskin School in 2011, will provide financial support for Shah’s research throughout a five-year term as holder of the chair. She is a professor of public policy who joined the UCLA Luskin faculty in 2013.
Gilliam’s long tenure at UCLA as a professor and then dean ended in 2015 when he became the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He said it is an honor to have his name attached to an award focusing on social justice.
“I am extremely humbled and honored that the Luskins have created an endowed professorship in my name,” Gilliam told an audience of about 75 invited guests who assembled on the festively redecorated third-floor rooftop of the Public Affairs Building.
The social justice focus of the endowment was particularly meaningful for Gilliam. “These are issues I’ve spent my entire professional and personal life working on and I continue to do so today,” he said.
As the holder of the endowed chair, Shah said she plans to further her attempts to understand the barriers that prevent women and girls around the world from living their best lives, an issue that led her to found the Global Lab for Research in Action at UCLA in 2019.
“What do we do at the lab? Through a gender lens, we focus on hard-to-reach populations, understudied populations, and we look at groups like adolescents and sex workers and low-income women. We study critical issues related to child health and intimate partner violence and sexual health,” Shah said during her remarks. “Ultimately, the idea is that we’d like to shift public conversation and eventually shift some of the social norms.”
Gilliam, who first hired Shah to join the faculty at UCLA, expressed pride and excitement that she had been chosen as the inaugural holder of the chair in his name.
“She is a remarkable person, a remarkable intellect,” Gilliam said. “Her work is so important. It spans disciplines like economics and public policy and really social welfare, quite frankly. She focuses on the most understudied topics and the most overlooked populations. … This is big stuff.”
Current Dean Gary Segura noted the pivotal role that Gilliam played in bringing social justice to the forefront during his time as dean, shaping the sometimes-disparate disciplines within the Luskin School into a unifying vision.
“Frank Gilliam, perhaps more than any single other leader in the School’s history, shaped the social justice mission and identity of the Luskin School of Public Affairs,” Segura said.
In his remarks, Meyer Luskin said his observations of Gilliam’s leadership and priorities helped lead him toward making the $50 million naming gift to the Luskin School a decade earlier.
“I saw dedication, courage, morality and ethics, empathy, much resourcefulness, strength and kindness, intelligence, hard-working, visionary, loyalty, a great sense of humor, and a man most devotedly committed to justice and equality,” he said.
Segura thanked the Luskins for their foresight and generosity in endowing the new chair, plus three other previously awarded chairs benefitting professors at UCLA Luskin.
Gilliam said their selflessness is well-represented among people associated with the professions of social work, public affairs and urban planning that are taught at the Luskin School.
“The people who work in your area often go unnoticed. They don’t do it for the fame, they don’t do it for the fortune,” he said. “This is hard work, it’s complicated work. It’s real work … on the ground, dealing with real-world policy problems that affect the society.”
Gilliam surveyed the crowd of family, friends and former colleagues who had gathered to celebrate Shah and recognize an endowment that will forever carry his name. Ultimately, said the former professor, dean and current chancellor, it’s about passion for the cause, the mission, embodied for Gilliam in the words spoken by Meyer Luskin when they first met:
“My goal in life is to make the world a better place.”
One week after his inauguration, President Joe Biden ordered federal agencies to direct 40% of the government’s investments in climate and clean infrastructure to benefit people in disadvantaged communities. According to his executive order, the Justice40 Initiative is intended to “address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.”
Implementing the directive will not be simple, but a new report by scholars from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, advised by environmental justice leaders, provides a framework that federal officials could use to maximize Justice40’s impact.
“One initiative alone can’t erase systemic racial and environmental injustices, but setting a strong, equity-centered framework for Justice40 is a first step in the right direction,” said Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center and a co-author of the report.
The report analyzes state-level programs seeking to address environmental justice through investments in clean energy and climate change action — already underway in some cases, and in planning stages in others — and identifies shortcomings, ongoing challenges and successes that could help inform the implementation of Biden’s plan.
The authors set forth three primary areas of emphasis for the initiative:
Resources. Focus investments on the people who need it most. Provide funding to under-resourced communities for physical infrastructure projects, like clean water systems, as well as technical support to help local officials and community organizations apply for and manage funds they might receive through Justice40. The authors also recommend that the initiative’s 40% funding goal should be considered the minimum percentage of investments in disadvantaged communities, and that the figure should represent direct investments — rather than counting trickle-down benefits — for those communities.
Empowerment. The initiative should pursue a ground-up approach by enabling those who live in under-resourced communities to help set policy and determine what local investments are made.
Accountability. The initiative must include guardrails to ensure that all government agencies and contractors involved further the goals of environmental, racial, economic and health justice. The scholars write that Justice40 could be a catalyst for the federal government to help institutionalize equity including by pushing back on entrenched practices and rules that uphold inequities in government.
The authors list five types of disparities that Justice40 should seek to address: pollution burdens, climate risk, communities’ limited ability to apply for and manage federal funding, effects on labor and jobs, and environmental policy costs. They also identify numerous states that have plans or have already begun taking action to address those concerns, which disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income households:
New York is planning to address those communities’ elevated exposure to pollution and its related effects on their health.
Virginia is planning to address the uneven effects of storms, rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
California is investing in helping local officials and community groups apply for funding for under-resourced communities.
Illinois and Maryland are planning to help provide job training for workers transitioning into clean energy jobs and financial support for those whose careers are being affected by the loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
The state of Washington is allocating funds to increase access to clean technology and lowering utility costs for low-income households.
The report explains that initiatives like those demonstrate that residents, workers and businesses can benefit from clean energy and climate investments across a range of sectors — including agriculture, health, housing, energy, transportation and water infrastructure.
“A theme across the states we studied is a history of grassroots strategy and organizing by communities of color,” said Silvia González, a co-author of the report and the director of research at the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “In states such as California, New York and Illinois, those communities have helped shape investment plans and programs to be more equitable.”
The researchers specifically examine California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that has directed billions of dollars to disadvantaged communities.
The research was funded in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund and the Hewlett Foundation. The report’s other authors are Daniel Coffee, a UCLA associate project manager, and J.R. DeShazo, the former director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and current dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. The study’s advisers included leaders of GreenLatinos, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and other nonprofits.
The Lewis Center will summarize California’s housing market and outline a vision for how policy changes could lead to a brighter future for the state’s residents, with a particular focus on increased equity and housing production. Working alongside cityLAB UCLA and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, the Lewis Center team will also create a visualization of this future through creative techniques of diagramming, drawing and rendering to help readers picture the possibilities for California’s communities.
UCLA ITS will delve into transportation policy contradictions: California has invested substantially in public transit, while other public policies encourage driving and work against transit. As the state looks to meet its climate and equity goals, transportation systems — and the land use context surrounding them — will play a key role.
Research for both projects is slated to begin over the summer and be complete by December 2021, and will lead to a set of policy alternatives for the future of California. The policy alternatives will be developed in conjunction with research teams from the other California 100 issue areas.
The California 100 Commission is a multi-generational advisory body that will develop recommendations for the state’s future and test those recommendations across a broad set of policy areas by directly engaging Californians.
“From climate change to aging populations and rapid changes in industry, California will face enormous challenges in the years ahead,” said Kathrick Ramakrishnan, California 100 executive director. “We are fortunate to be able to draw on the deep talent of researchers in California to produce evidence and recommendations that will inform robust public engagement and set the state on a strong, long-term trajectory for success.”
About the California 100 Research Grants
California 100 is a new statewide initiative being incubated at the University of California and Stanford University focused on inspiring a vision and strategy for California’s next century that is innovative, sustainable and equitable. The initiative will harness the talent of a diverse array of leaders through research, policy innovation, advanced technology and stakeholder engagement. As part of its research stream of work, California 100 is sponsoring 13 research projects focused on the following issue areas:
Advanced technology and basic research
Arts, culture and entertainment
Education and workforce, from cradle to career and retirement
A UCLA study published todayshows that hot weather significantly increases the risk of accidents and injuries on the job, regardless of whether the work takes place in an indoor or outdoor setting.
The report is based on data from California’s workers’ compensation system, the nation’s largest.
“The incidence of heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke definitely go up on hotter days,” said the study’s lead researcherR. Jisung Park, an assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. “But what we found is that ostensibly unrelated incidents — like falling off a ladder or being hit by a moving truck or getting your hand caught in a machine — tend to occur more frequently on hotter days, too.”
By comparing records from more than 11 million California workers’ compensation claims from 2001 to 2018 to high-frequency local weather data, Park and his co-authors isolated the impact of hotter days on the number of injury claims.
The study shows that on days with high temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a 6% to 9% higher risk of injuries than they do on days with high temperatures in the 50s or 60s. When the thermometer tops 100, the risk of injuries increases by 10% to 15%.
Those findings are particularly alarming in the context of climate change, which is expected to produce more high-temperature days each year. The researchers estimate that high temperatures already cause about 15,000 injuries per year in California.
“Heat is sometimes described as a silent killer,” said Nora Pankratz, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. “But if you look into the data and do the statistical analysis, you find that heat has a significant impact on mortality and health outcomes.”
It’s not surprising that hot weather would lead to injuries and illness among workers in predominantly outdoor industries such as agriculture, utilities and construction. But the data consistently show that industries in which most people work indoors are affected as well. In manufacturing, for example, days with high temperatures above 95 degrees have an injury risk that is approximately 7% higher than days with high temperatures in the low 60s.
“A lot of manufacturing facilities are not air conditioned,” said Stanford University postdoctoral scholar A. Patrick Behrer, the study’s other co-author. “Because you’re inside, you don’t necessarily think about the temperature as being a major threat.”
The reality is that overheated workers face numerous risks, regardless of where the work occurs.
“Heat affects your physiology,” Park said. “It affects your cognition. It affects your body’s ability to cope. It seems possible that what we’re observing in the data for these workers is that they’re more likely to make mistakes or errors in judgment.”
The researchers found that heat-related workplace injuries are more likely to be suffered by men and lower-income workers. In addition, younger people suffer more heat-related injuries, possibly in part because they’re more likely to hold jobs with greater physical risks on construction sites, in manufacturing plants or at warehouses.
For an office worker at a computer desk, nodding off on a hot summer afternoon is unlikely to cause an injury. “But if you have a huge chainsaw in your hand, you’re not in a great situation,” Park said.
Among the paper’s other conclusions:
The number of heat-related injuries actually declined after 2005, when California became the first state to implement mandatory heat illness prevention measures for outdoor workplaces on days when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
The financial costs of heat-related injuries may be between $750 million and $1.25 billion per year in California alone, considering health care expenditures, lost wages and productivity, and disability claims.
Inequalities in the labor market are exacerbated in part by the fact that low-income communities tend to be situated in hotter parts of the state. People in the state’s lowest household income tier are approximately five times more likely to be affected by heat-related illness or injury on the job than those in the top income tier, the study found.
The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, where Park is associate director of economic research, provided funding for the study. It is available now through the Institute of Labor Economics, which disseminates working versions of potentially influential research prior to publication in academic journals. Park previewed the findings July 15 during testimony at a Congressional hearing organized by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
The new study echoes the results ofa 2019 study that focused on how extreme temperatures raise injury risk in Texas and in the U.S. mining industry. Park, whoseprior research includes a finding that student learning is negatively impacted by warm temperatures, said there has been “an explosion of research just in the last five to 10 years that illustrates, using data, the serious consequences of climate change for health, productivity and economic growth. This likely adds to that urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.”
Pankratz got involved in the study while working at UCLA Luskin as a postdoctoral scholar, having previously researched the impact of heat on businesses while working toward her Ph.D. in the Netherlands.
Worldwide, she said, there is growing interest in the concept of adaptation — the pragmatic changes that can be made by governments and businesses to cope with the reality of climate change.
“For a long time, the focus has been on mitigation — what can we do to prevent climate change,” she said. “But as it becomes more and more obvious that there is policy inertia on mitigation, it’s important to think about what we can do to adapt and to work as well as possible in a warmer world.”
The study authors, all of whom have backgrounds in economics, realize that the desire to protect workers from heat may be complicated by economic reality.
Behrer said policymakers could stipulate that workers not be exposed to the heat on days above 100 degrees, for example, without proscribing a specific strategy to be used by individual business owners.
“Then firms have the option either to use air conditioning or come up with some other method of climate control for their facilities,” he said, noting that some might change work hours or shorten the work day during heat waves. “It allows them to decide the most cost-effective way for them to meet the objective of reducing workplace injuries.”
Geographer Susanna Hecht, professor of urban planning at the Luskin School, has been named director of the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies, effective July 1. A specialist on tropical development in Latin America, especially Amazonia, she also holds joint appointments in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the department of geography at UCLA.
Hecht takes over leadership of the interdisciplinary research center, which serves UCLA faculty and students whose scholarship focuses on Brazil, from José Luiz Passos.
Hecht’s research focuses on the intersections of economies, cultures and land use — and the socio-environmental effects of these processes — an approach now widely known as political ecology, of which she is recognized as a founding thinker. Her work spans climate change, mitigation and the rethinking of longer-term strategies in light of globalization, intense migration and novel climate dynamics.
Her published books include “The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present and Future of Woodland Resurgence” (Chicago, 2014; co-edited with Kathleen D. Morrison and Christine Padoch); “The Scramble for the Amazon and the ‘Lost Paradise of Euclides da Cunha’ ” (Chicago, 2013), which won the American Historical Association’s Best Book in Environmental History Award in 2015; and “Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon” (Chicago, 2011; co-authored with Alexander Cockburn).
In addition to journal articles and book chapters, Hecht has also written monographs published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the National Academy of Sciences, the World Resources Institute and Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (Cali, Colombia).
She has won multiple academic awards, including the American Geographical Society’s David Livingstone Centenary Medal and the Carl Sauer Award, both for distinguished research on Latin America. She is a past member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and holds a professorial appointment at the Graduate Institute for Advanced Development Studies in Geneva.
With cities and suburbs across the United States facing well-documented affordable housing shortages, researchers for years have studied how government planning standards affect housing costs.
Those studies often examine how planning and zoning decisions affect traffic noise, whether neighborhood amenities can be reached by foot and other factors that can make a home more or less valuable.
A new paper expands this body of research by considering the housing, schools, parks and other infrastructure that go unbuilt in favor of wide streets.
The U.S. has some of the widest streets in the world. In 20 of the most populous counties, the median residential street plus sidewalks is 50 feet wide, with the dollar value of land used for streets sometimes stretching into six figures, according to the research in the Journal of the American Planning Association.
Wide streets are less common in some other countries. Certain streets in Japan, for example, are much narrower. Developments in Tokyo since 1990 have average street widths of 16 feet, noted Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and author of the new paper.
“One of the best ways to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more housing,” he said. “To the extent that narrower streets allow developers to build more housing, that will address the No. 1 issue with housing right now.”
The median residential street in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is 50 feet wide, according to Millard-Ball’s sample of counties.
The median width of a residential street in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which includes Cambridge, is 40 feet — the narrowest of the group.
The widest streets in the sample are in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. There, the median residential street is nearly 65 feet wide.
The 50-foot standard
For urban planners, a street is called a right of way. The paved section is the roadway.
A right of way includes the roadway as well as sidewalks, if any, along with space for drainage, utility poles and other public infrastructure. It’s the land usually owned by a city or county that the public has the right to use and make its way through by car, bicycle, foot or other mode. Neighbors waving hello across the sidewalk’s edge of their properties are waving across the right of way.
The median 50-foot right of way Millard-Ball documents stems from nearly a century of history in U.S. planning. After the home mortgage system collapsed during the Great Depression, the federal government stepped in and established the Federal Housing Administration in 1934.
The agency’s mortgage insurance and financial assistance for homebuyers represented “the most ambitious suburbanization plan in United States history,” wrote Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph in a 1995 Journal of the American Planning Association article that reviews the historical rise of U.S. suburbs.
To protect the government’s unprecedented investment in home ownership, mostly for white Americans, developers had to have detailed plans approved by the agency. The agency encouraged cul-de-sacs for new developments and favored plans that discouraged through traffic.
“Moreover, the FHA, unlike other planning agencies, was largely run by representatives of real estate and banking, so developers felt that its intervention protected their interests,” Southworth and Ben-Joseph wrote.
If developers wanted to build homes that would benefit from federal financial backing, rights of way had to be at least 50 feet wide, Millard-Ball explained in his new paper, “The Width and Value of Residential Streets.”
To understand the value of land used for streets, Millard-Ball drew on research from the Federal Housing Finance Agency that estimates the value of quarter-acre lots zoned for single-family homes across the country. The value of the land used for streets can be substantial in places where low population density and high housing costs converge.
Santa Clara County, California, which includes San Jose, has the most valuable streets in the sample at $146,000 per tax parcel. That’s roughly 40% of the median price of an existing single-family home sold in the U.S. in April 2021, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.
“One of the best ways to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more housing. To the extent that narrower streets allow developers to build more housing, that will address the No. 1 issue with housing right now.”
— Adam Millard-Ball, UCLA Luskin
New York City, by contrast, has high housing costs but also high density — large apartment buildings are common. Tens of thousands of people live within each square mile. The land beneath streets in Queens, for example, is worth $36,000 per parcel.
At the other end of the value spectrum, streets are worth $7,000 per parcel in Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio. But land values and street widths can vary greatly within counties.
Terra Vista, a small street in a subdivision 25 miles north of San Antonio, is 52 feet wide and has a land value of $43,288 per parcel. All the land under residential streets in Millard-Ball’s 20 counties is worth nearly $1 trillion in total.
Millard-Ball noted that street land value estimates per parcel are likely low for high-cost, dense cities, which often zone for multifamily buildings over single-family homes.
For example, an Italian specialty food store in the Mission District of San Francisco sold its parking lot for $3 million in 2018 — roughly $36 million per acre, by Millard-Ball’s calculation — to make way for a five-story, 18-unit building, according to the news site Mission Local.
It would be overly costly for cities and counties to change the width of existing streets, particularly with local governments facing budget shortfalls during the pandemic.
Still, the estimates in the new paper can be instructive for planning officials in places like Bexar, one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., as they permit developments to accommodate new and current residents.
“The values are an indication that cities should be making it easier to use streets for something other than roadways and parking,” Millard-Ball said. “A good analogy is that during COVID, one use of streets has been for outdoor dining. It’s recognition that this land is more valuable to the community if we can use it for people to get together and eat in a safer environment outdoors, than as a parking space or travel lane for cars.”
He continued: “The point is that desolate asphalt is doing nobody any good — not the city, not property owners, not anyone. Cities are often keen to widen the right of way with new developments. Say you want to develop a new apartment building. Often, the city will say, ‘Sure, but you have to give up some land so we can add a turn lane, or widen the sidewalk.’ If cities can widen the right of way, why can’t they narrow it in exchange for improvements that will benefit the public?”
Indeed, when a new residential building goes up, cities commonly require developers to widen streets, according to a 2017 paper in the Journal of Transport and Land Use by Michael Manville, another UCLA Luskin urban planner.
In the paper, Manville looked at how the requirement played out in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2012. He found the city’s predictions of increased traffic with the arrival of new buildings were often wrong, and “the standards the law is based on are in some ways unverifiable. Thus the law likely does little to reduce congestion and probably impedes housing development.”
City and county planning standards vary and change, but the federal 50-foot standard still often dominates residential street design. Still, it’s not always true that counties with more land to expand, like those in Texas, have wider streets. Dallas County, for example, specifies that new residential streets in subdivisions be at least 50 feet wide. The median width of residential streets there is exactly 50 feet, Millard-Ball finds.
Uniformity in street design made sense as the nation was expanding and infrastructure technologies were less advanced. But the takeaway for Millard-Ball is that maintaining rigidity in street design means fewer amenities and, potentially, less housing.
He wonders, for example, whether more streets could be built with parking cutouts only where there are no private driveways — providing a unique residential landscape alongside opportunities to use more of the built environment for activities other than driving.
“That would make construction drawings more complex,” Millard-Ball said. “The tradeoff is visual interest — and saving a lot of valuable land.”
The prospect of narrower streets raises the question of whether emergency vehicles would be able to pass, though some planners, and at least one report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, suggest smaller emergency vehicles could be an answer.
Growing up amid the ancient redwoods of Sonoma County, Amy Stanfield developed a deep connection to trees, even greeting her favorites by the names she gave them as a little girl.
“You can stand in the forest and then look up and you just have this very awe-inspiring feeling looking up at these insanely tall, old, historic trees,” Stanfield said. “Redwood trees are really just a symbolic and beautiful part of my life.”
So when the third-year public affairs major spotted a new course on offer in spring quarter — “Trees in the City,” taught by Associate Professor of Urban Planning Kirsten Schwarz — she quickly enrolled.
“I think all the students came to this course with a love of trees,” Schwarz said. “I don’t want them to lose that, but I do want them to think a little bit more critically about the role of trees in the city, and who might benefit from them.”
Trees tell a complex story, touching on water use, climate change, gentrification and even mundane considerations like sap falling on cars.
Schwarz’s course examines urban forestry through an environmental justice lens, weaving together social sciences, natural sciences and fieldwork with the Los Angeles nonprofit TreePeople.
It’s one of several innovative courses that illustrate the UCLA Luskin public affairs major’s emphasis on deep engagement in civic life and rigorous scholarship that draws from many disciplines.
Also new in spring 2021 has been Public Affairs 125, “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools,” taught by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on school safety and student well-being.
Astor, who has a joint appointment with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, said he designed the curriculum with a holistic approach to enhance how universities prepare future educators, social workers, psychologists, administrators and policymakers.
“The new vision proposes that schools won’t just respond to crisis,” Astor said. “It will recognize the current inequities in the system and create school settings that uplift and inspire students — graciously creating a community of educators, peers and families that will elevate the aspirations of each child.”
The course incorporates lessons from more than a year of upheaval endured by schools around the country.
“The dual global pandemics of COVID-19 and our national reckoning with systemic racism after the murder of George Floyd focused a bright light on many blind spots we have as a society when we discuss and research school safety,” Astor said. “The two pandemics highlighted well-documented health, racial and geographic inequities, and started a widespread public conversation about them.”
Students in Public Affairs 125, “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools,” learn to develop strong policy positions and convey them to the public using the power of media.
With her keen interest in education policy, Stephanie Tapia Onate was glad she could take the new course in her final quarter as an undergraduate.
“I like that it focused on improving the school environment. As a former student of the LAUSD public school system, I know that there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Tapia Onate, who will soon graduate with a public affairs bachelor’s degree, then pursue a master of public policy at the Luskin School in the fall.
What sets “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools” apart, she said, is the opportunity to personally engage with a wide variety of experts and to develop the practical skills needed to deliver a policy message to the general public.
Astor’s lineup of guest speakers comes from an impressive array of disciplines, including education, public policy, social welfare, psychology, neuroscience, medicine and law. Scholars from UCLA and across the nation, as well as top officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District, have spoken to the class on topics that included racism, bullying, weapons and drug use, mental health and the unique needs of LGBTQ, homeless or undocumented students.
The course has an expansive view of how to make schools a safe space not just for students but for teachers and staff, Tapia Onata said.
“Teachers do deal with a lot of secondary trauma and sometimes they’re often forgotten in the conversation about mental health resources in schools,” she said. “They are one of the communities at school that we do need to support.”
Students in Astor’s class learn to develop strong policy positions then communicate them to the public through op-eds, TED Talks and TikTok campaigns.
Tapia Onate chose to create a series of one-minute policy videos on TikTok, a platform now used frequently for educational outreach as well as entertainment.
“It’s straight to the point, it can deliver your message really fast, and people are more likely to remember what you say in a short video,” she said.
Immersion in civic life is also central to the “Trees in the City” curriculum. During their quarter-long partnership, students worked with TreePeople to fill the nonprofit agency’s most immediate need — turning a voluminous amount of information about the benefits of trees into messaging tailored to local communities.
One team of students developed a school curriculum on the importance of trees that aligned with Next-Generation Science Standards; they even identified sources of potential funding that TreePeople could pursue.
“Students were really interested in ways that environmental stewardship and curriculum centered around trees could be introduced early on,” Schwarz said.
Amy Stanfield said her team chose to highlight the wisdom of those who “lived on the land the longest and most successfully” — Los Angeles’ Indigenous communities.
Through case studies and an infographic, the team demonstrated how to incorporate time-tested traditions into Westernized systems and provided resources to residents who want to connect with local Indigenous leaders.
“We wanted to center our project on amplifying Indigenous people’s voices in the science world and in this type of urban ecology setting,” Stanfield said.
In a happy coincidence, her work with TreePeople will continue next year as she interns with the nonprofit group for her senior capstone research project.
“Trees in the City” has been a perfect match for Stanfield’s interests, which blend ecology, policy and urban planning, as well as film. She is grateful for the personal attention that Schwarz gives each of the 14 students in the upper-division class, and for the interactive curriculum that has deepened her understanding of urban greenspaces.
“Everyone in my college life can’t hear me say enough about it,” Stanfield said. “I get done with class and say, ‘You guys, my tree class is making me so happy!’ ”
Disparities in unpaid bills predate COVID-19 but have deepened since the pandemic’s outbreak. Using data from a November 2020 California State Water Resources Control Board survey, the researchers found one-quarter to one-third of all Los Angeles households faced financial difficulties paying for their utilities.
“We didn’t expect the magnitude to be this big,” said Silvia R. González, co-author of the study and a senior researcher at the Luskin Center for Innovation. “For many families, this means choosing between keeping their lights on or skipping meals or medical treatment.”
The debt burden is unevenly distributed across Los Angeles — 64% of the population in severely affected neighborhoods are Latino. Black communities also face disproportionate debt, and racial disparities persist even after accounting for socioeconomic characteristics. Further, the study found that lower-income neighborhoods, residents with limited English proficiency and renters face unequal debt burdens.
Early on in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended water and energy utility shut-offs, which has provided continued utility access for households in California. But accumulating debt has not been forgiven, and this crisis will need to be resolved once the suspension is lifted.
Researchers said they hope to guide policymakers and utility operators in formulating targeted debt-relief programs, and calls for financial support from COVID-19-related aid to ensure that vulnerable Angelenos will still have access to water and energy after the pandemic.
“We need an equitable relief plan,” González said. “These communities are already historically underserved areas and they’ve been left behind more broadly during the pandemic. These debts will be impossible for many families to repay.”
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. In order to achieve the state’s goals of carbon neutrality by 2045 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, decarbonizing this sector is essential. But such a transition is unlikely to occur rapidly without key policy intervention, according to a new study that included research from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
A team of transportation and policy experts from the University of California released a report April 21 to the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) outlining policy options to significantly reduce transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions. Those policy options, when combined, could lead to a zero-carbon transportation system by 2045, while also improving equity, health and the economy. A second study, led by UC Santa Barbara, identifying strategies to reduce in-state petroleum production in parallel with reductions in demand, was released simultaneously.
The state funded the two studies through the 2019 Budget Act. The studies are designed to identify paths to slash transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions while also managing a strategic, responsible decline in transportation-related fossil fuel supply.
Bringing about a zero-carbon transportation future will be challenging but not impossible, the report states. Doing so requires urgent actions and a long-term perspective. Importantly, a major upfront investment in clean transportation through incentives and new charging and hydrogen infrastructure will soon pay off in net economic savings to the California economy, with net savings in the next decade growing to tens of billions of dollars per year by 2045.
The report recommends flexible policy approaches that can be adjusted over time as technologies evolve and more knowledge is gained.
“This report is the first to comprehensively evaluate a path to a carbon neutral transportation system for California by 2045,” said Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. “We find that such pathways are possible but will rely on extensive changes to existing policies as well as introduction of some new policies. The study also prioritizes equity, health and workforce impacts of the transition to zero-carbon transportation.”
Researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation led the study’s workforce analysis. Achieving carbon neutrality in California’s transportation sector could create over 7.3 million job-years of employment over the next 25 years, according to the researchers. These jobs would result from “greening” many existing occupations and creating new occupations.
“This presents the state with a golden opportunity to create not only new, high-quality jobs, but also ensure that many existing industries and occupations transition to better practices,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and professor of public policy.
KEY POLICY STRATEGIES
Zero emission vehicles: Many of the report’s policy options are centered on a rapid transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which is expected to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air pollution as the state’s electric grid is also decarbonized.
Light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for 70% and 20% of the state’s transportation emissions, respectively. The report suggests a combination of enhanced mandates, incentives, and public charging and hydrogen infrastructure investments to speed the adoption of ZEVs. For medium and heavy-duty vehicles, key policy priorities include increasing the availability of charging stations for long-haul freights, electricity pricing reform to make depot charging more affordable, and priority lanes and curb access for zero-emission trucks, among other possibilities.
Vehicle miles traveled: Even with widespread ZEV use, reducing overall vehicle miles traveled is necessary to reduce traffic congestion and emissions from vehicle manufacturing, and to enhance quality-of-life and land-use benefits related to traffic. The report suggests policies that encourage active, shared and micromobility transportation, telecommuting, and land-use changes that reduce people’s reliance on automobiles and enhance community connectivity.
Fuels: About 86% of transportation fuel is petroleum. Shifting toward low-carbon clean energy requires major investments in electricity and hydrogen. Low-carbon liquid fuels compatible with internal combustion engines will be needed to reduce emissions while the transition to ZEVs progresses, as well as in some specialized applications, like aviation. California can support the needed investments in clean fuels with mandated blending levels, new incentives and credits to stimulate investment in very low-carbon liquid fuels for aviation, shipping and legacy combustion engine vehicles.
Getting to zero: Some residual emissions remain in every scenario examined. The report states that at least 4 million to 5 million metric tons per year of negative emissions capacity (equal to 2.5% of current transportation emissions) is needed by 2045 to counteract those residual emissions. These could come from carbon capture and sequestration projects that pull carbon from the air to store it underground, as well as so-called sequestration by natural or working lands.
In addition to direct economic benefits beginning around 2030, the transportation decarbonization policies could also lead to health, equity and environmental justice, and workforce and labor benefits.
Health: Transportation is a major cause of local air pollution and contributes to climate change. Particulate matter harms lungs and hearts, while nitrogen oxide compounds contribute to ozone pollution and other health impacts. The report found that cleaner heavy-duty vehicles would significantly reduce pollution in many of the state’s most vulnerable communities. The health benefits of reducing local pollution will grow with the deployment of clean transportation technologies and could translate to more than $25 billion in savings in 2045.
Equity and environmental justice: Transportation in California carries a legacy of inequity and damage to disadvantaged communities. These communities often lack quality public transportation or viable transportation choices. Highways have been built with little consideration for displacement, and many communities of color have been divided by freeways, perpetuating historic segregation policies like redlining. The report identifies options that prioritize equity in transportation investments and policies.
Continue to support electric vehicle incentives targeted to lower-income buyers and underserved communities, including used vehicles.
Prioritize deploying electric heavy-duty vehicles in disadvantaged communities and magnet facilities such as commercial warehouses in those communities.
Support transit and zero-emission services and charging stations in disadvantaged communities. This can help reduce vehicle miles traveled and increase accessibility while avoiding displacement.
Avoid siting non-renewable fuel production facilities in disadvantaged communities, engage communities disproportionately affected by transportation sector emissions in decision-making concerning the siting of new infrastructure and investments associated with achieving carbon neutrality, and continue to carefully monitor and control local pollutants.
“We must confront the legacy of the lack of public and private investment where Black, indigenous and people of color live and work,” said Bernadette Austin, acting director of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. “This report identifies ways to strategically invest in sustainable infrastructure while intentionally avoiding disruptive and damaging infrastructure in our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”
Workforce: The transition to a carbon-neutral transportation system will disrupt jobs in some sectors while creating new jobs in others, like clean vehicle manufacturing and electric and hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The report suggests that California prioritize the needs of impacted workers. In addition, wherever ZEV-related industry expansion creates quality jobs, state policy should focus on creating broadly accessible career pathways.
Economy: The transition to ZEVs is expected to generate savings for consumers and the economy well before 2045. Within the next decade, the cost of owning and operating ZEVs is projected to drop below that of a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle. That is because battery, fuel cell and hydrogen costs will continue to decline; electricity costs will be much less than petroleum fuel costs; and maintenance costs of ZEVs will be less. These savings can be invested elsewhere by households and businesses.
For further information about this report, contact Samuel Chiu or Kat Kerlin at UC Davis.
A group of UCLA engineers has become the first university team to win the grand prize in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE global competition. By mitigating the carbon footprint of concrete, the team’s invention could eventually be a major step in the global battle against climate change.
The UCLA CarbonBuilt team, led by Gaurav Sant, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, won $7.5 million in the competition’s track for technologies related to coal-fired power generation.
The winning technology is a first-of-its-kind, eco-friendly approach for taking carbon dioxide emissions directly from power plants and other industrial facilities — emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere — and infusing them into a new type of concrete invented by the team. As it hardens and gains strength, the specially formulated concrete permanently absorbs and traps the greenhouse gas.
Through extensive research at UCLA and testing at the Integrated Test Center, a facility outside of Gillette, Wyoming, the researchers demonstrated that their process reduced the carbon footprint of concrete by more than 50% while producing concrete that was just as strong and durable as the traditional material.
Each CarbonBuilt concrete block stores about three-quarters of a pound of carbon dioxide — a significant amount considering an estimated 1 trillion concrete blocks will be produced annually by the year 2027.
Sant joined the UCLA faculty in 2010. He and a group of staff scientists, postdoctoral scholars and doctoral students began the research that led to the award in 2014. A team from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, led by Director JR DeShazo, supported the venture with public policy and economic guidance.
“Congratulations to the UCLA team and especially Gaurav for this significant achievement,” DeShazo said.
Gaurav Sant, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who leads the UCLA team, holds samples of the concrete produced using the eco-friendly technology.
“As a third-generation civil engineer, I have been fascinated with the role that construction has played in solving societal challenges,” he said. “To have spent the past decade developing a solution to mitigate the carbon footprint of concrete with a phenomenal team, and to have won the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE doing something I’m passionate about, is an ultimate dream come true.”
Sponsored by NRG Energy and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition was launched in September 2015 to find ways to beneficially use carbon dioxide emissions. The nonprofit XPRIZE Foundation challenged a global community of problem-solvers to develop technologies for turning carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas power plant emissions into valuable products. A Canadian team called CarbonCure won the competition’s other track, for natural gas-based power generation.
UCLA’s entry was one of 47 submissions from 38 teams in seven countries. CarbonBuilt, formerly known as CO2Concrete, was named one of the 10 finalists in October 2017.
Sant said the original inspiration for the winning technology came from an unlikely source: seashells.
“Seashells are made of calcium carbonate, which is nature’s original cementation agent,” he said. “We were really motivated by the idea of how seashells were held together. And that’s how we really set about to turn carbon dioxide into concrete.”
Challenged by experts in academia and industry who said it couldn’t be done, Sant and his team spent the next seven years on a mission to prove them wrong.
First, the UCLA researchers developed a new formula for cement, which is the binding agent in concrete. They used hydrated lime, or portlandite, which can absorb carbon dioxide quickly, to replace traditional calcium silicate cement, known as ordinary portland cement. Then, the team created a method in which carbon dioxide taken directly from flue gas is quickly absorbed by portlandite as the concrete hardens.
In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide into the concrete, CarbonBuilt’s Reversa process reduces the amount of ordinary portland cement needed to produce concrete by between 60% and 90%. The process also occurs at ordinary temperatures and pressures. As a result, CarbonBuilt concrete has a much smaller carbon footprint than conventional concrete. That could go a long way toward reducing the world’s greenhouse gas output, since the production of traditional cement used in concrete is the cause of nearly 9% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Another compelling advantage of the new technology is that it is cost-effective. Unlike other carbon-mitigation technologies that require an expensive setup to capture the carbon dioxide emissions or purify them, the CarbonBuilt process allows for carbon dioxide in power and industrial plants’ flue gas to be utilized directly and converted at its source without those extra steps.
“It’s a transformative, eureka moment for UCLA and for science and engineering,” said Jayathi Murthy, the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Dean of UCLA Engineering. “Through sheer tenacity and determination, Gaurav and his team were able to turn a research project into an innovative technology that can solve a real societal problem and drive positive change in the world.”
To advance to the finals, the UCLA researchers demonstrated that their technology could consume 135 kilograms (about 297 pounds) of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. In 2017, the team had to meet certain technical requirements, subject to verification by an independent firm. Those results were then evaluated by a panel of expert judges from academia and industry who assessed the amount of carbon dioxide that was converted into CarbonBuilt concrete, as well as the engineering, environmental and economic value of the construction material.
Originally scheduled for February 2020, the competition’s final round was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the UCLA team deployed to the Integrated Test Center to demonstrate its system on an industrial scale. The demonstration ran for four months and produced nearly 150 metric tons (more than 330,000 pounds) of CarbonBuilt concrete blocks. Some of the concrete blocks were donated to the Eastern Shoshone tribe for housing projects on the Wind River Reservation in Fort Washakie, Wyoming.
The funds from the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE award will support innovative carbon-mitigation research and technology development at UCLA Engineering. CarbonBuilt, which is a private company founded by Sant, has secured rights related to the project’s patent portfolio owned by UCLA to commercialize the technology.
Prior to winning the grand prize, the team has raised $10 million toward the development of the CarbonBuilt technology. In addition to a $500,000 award from the XPRIZE Foundation in 2018 for reaching the finals, Sant secured a $1.8 million grant in 2019 from the Department of Energy. (Additional testing to complete the DOE grant recently concluded at the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama.) And the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation contributed $1.5 million in 2017.
Many UCLA faculty members have contributed to the team’s success, including Center for Innovation Director DeShazo, a professor of public policy and of civil and environmental engineering; Dante Simonetti, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of bioengineering; Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of materials science and engineering; and Mathieu Bauchy, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Additional team members include current and former UCLA Engineering project scientists Dale Prentice, Gabriel Falzone, Iman Mehdipour and Bu Wang; Hyukmin Kweon, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar; Zhenhua Wei, a former doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering; Camly Tran, executive director of the Institute for Carbon Management; and seasoned industry advisers including Edward Muller, Stephen Raab and CarbonBuilt CEO Rahul Shendure.
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