‘Democracy Is on the Defensive’ Global affairs experts gather to analyze the sobering findings of the 2024 Berggruen Governance Index

Experts on global affairs came together this month at UCLA to analyze the findings of the newly released 2024 Berggruen Governance Index (BGI), which examines the relationship between the quality of democracy, the quality of governance and the quality of life in 145 countries.

This year’s index concluded that an overwhelming majority of the world’s people live in countries that lost ground on measurable benchmarks of democratic accountability from 2010-2021. Yet many of these countries have maintained or even improved delivery of public goods, including employment, health care and education.

This illuminates the fallacy that democracy alone will improve governance performance, according to the index’s authors, an international team of researchers from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute think tank and the Hertie School in Berlin.

The principal investigator is Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of public policy and social welfare at UCLA Luskin and a former president of the Hertie School.

In an interview prior to the report’s release, Anheier commented on the index’s score for democratic accountability, averaged across 145 countries. The dip from 67 to 65 on a 100-point scale from 2010 to 2021 nearly erased an average gain of 3 points from 2000 to 2010.

“We will probably have a longish period ahead of us where democracy is on the defensive,” Anheier said, noting that countries including Russia, the United Arab Emirates and China are positioning themselves to be an alternative to democratic norms.

“What is the problem here? If they are successful in providing a quality of life that over time may approach what we have in the West, we are going to be even more on the defensive than we are now. That is what emerges in the data very clearly,” Anheier said.

While flagging performance by democratic governments could lead to calls for a more authoritarian approach, “very few people in established democracies will say, well, I just want to get rid of democracy,” said Nils Gilman, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Berggruen Institute. “What they want is for democracy to function better.”

The 2024 BGI was unveiled at a May 15 event at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. Anheier and BGI project manager and data scientist Joseph Saraceno presented the findings, then enlisted a panel of experts to offer insights and field audience questions.

The panel included Jody Heymann, director of the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center; Georgia Kernell of UCLA’s political science and communications faculty; Brian Levy of Johns Hopkins University and UCLA Luskin; Alexandra Lieben, deputy director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations; and Michael Storper, director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin.

The Democracy News Alliance contributed to this report.

Read more about the 2024 Berggruen Governance Index.

Watch interviews about the BGI and view additional photos from the conference.

 

Berggruen Governance Index 2024

UCLA to Lead New Center of Excellence for Heat Resilient Communities The Luskin Center for Innovation, in collaboration with 50 partners, receives a first-of-its-kind federal grant to help guard against climate danger

By Mara Elana Burstein

We’re not prepared for rising temperatures. Heat poses a growing and inequitable threat to the health, economies and security of communities everywhere, yet heat governance remains underdeveloped, especially in comparison to other climate hazards.

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) wants to change that. Under the leadership of its associate director, V. Kelly Turner, LCI has been awarded a $2.25 million grant to establish a Center of Excellence for Heat Resilient Communities. Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), the Center of Excellence will engage and support communities in determining the best strategies for local heat mitigation and management.

“Some communities have begun to plan for heat, but most lack the capacity or resources to engage in comprehensive planning,” said Turner, who leads LCI’s heat equity research and along with colleagues has long called for a coordinated national approach to heat resilience. “With this grant, we can help the federal government establish a robust, actionable and durable plan to support those efforts.”  

Turner’s co-leads for this project are Sara Meerow at Arizona State University and Ladd Keith at the University of Arizona. With more than 50 other partners committed, the grant will enable the creation of an international network of heat scholars and practitioners. One outcome will be a framework to identify and evaluate policies, protocols and lessons for heat resilience that can be applied in the U.S. and internationally. 

Thirty communities and tribal entities will be selected for direct technical assistance and comprehensive educational support during the three-year grant period. By centering equity in its approach, the Center for Excellence will systematically work with and fund historically excluded communities and help meet the Biden Administration’s goals under Justice40. This will broaden the impact and benefits of engagement, heat data and information, and other approaches, like benefit-cost analysis, to inform effective and equitable planning for heat resilience. 

The ultimate goal is to protect public health and well-being from acute and chronic heat dangers through equity-centered, data-informed, whole-of-government approaches to mitigate and manage heat in diverse communities and heat-exposure settings.

Funding for the Center of Excellence for Heat Resilient Communities is provided through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. This is one of two new National Integrated Heat Health Information System centers of excellence. The complementary Center for Collaborative Heat Monitoring, to be led by the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C., will assist community-serving organizations in conducting local climate and health studies.

“The impacts of extreme heat caused by climate change are an increasing threat to our health, ecosystems and economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Thanks to President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda, this investment will support new NIHHIS Centers of Excellence to help protect historically excluded communities from the dangers of extreme heat, boost climate resilience and increase awareness on best practices to tackle the climate crisis.”

To learn more about how LCI research informs heat equity solutions to improve human well-being and quality of life where we live, work, learn and play, see LCI’s heat equity webpage.

Building Up Communities of Color Three Black real estate professionals committed to investing in low-income neighborhoods share their successes and struggles

By Mary Braswell

Former Los Angeles Laker Devean George’s second career as a builder of safe and affordable housing for communities in need was inspired, in part, by his conversations with children.

In his 11-year NBA run, including three championship seasons in L.A., George used his platform to connect with young people across the country — “to really open up kids’ minds to dreaming and thinking there’s another world outside their four walls.”

But the encounters often came with a reality check, George told a UCLA Luskin Lecture audience on May 9.

“I’m thinking to myself, I’m going to talk to kids and say, ‘Hey, eat your vegetables and you’ll grow like me and get good grades,’” he said. “And they don’t really know where their next meal is coming from or where they’re staying.

“They’re staying at Grandma’s house tonight or with their mom’s boyfriend tomorrow, or they’re somewhere else so they’re missing school.”

The stark need for safe, stable housing options across the country led him to create the George Group North development company and Building Blocks nonprofit in his hometown of Minneapolis. His first housing venture there includes a gathering space for youth, with homework help and food provided by the local school district.

At the Luskin Lecture at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, George came together with two other Black real estate professionals to share the struggles and successes of building up neighborhoods of color.

Malcolm Johnson launched Langdon Park Capital in Los Angeles in 2021, with a focus on preserving and upgrading existing properties to house low- and middle-income families. He, too, transitioned into the real estate industry after a stint in professional sports, as a wide receiver for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Malika Billingslea is a senior development advisor to NEOO Partners, a commercial real estate firm based in St. Paul, Minnesota, that works to elevate Black voices in the industry. “This rings true every time I think about affordable housing: If you don’t ask me, it’s not for me,” Billingslea said.

The lecture was part of a larger conversation about housing development and social justice taking place at UCLA Luskin, which is launching a new master’s degree in real estate development in fall 2025.

Housing scholar Michael Lens moderated the dialogue, making this foundational observation: “If we’re going to have a conversation about Black people building housing in Black communities, we need to start by talking about why so few Black people are working in development, really in any capacity.”

Nearly 111,000 of the 112,000 real estate development companies in the United States are white-owned, and only 2% of their chief executive positions are held by Black men — “and surely the number is even lower for Black women,” said Lens, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy.

“That’s why it matters for us to be in the room — and not just in the room but making decisions,” said Johnson, who is a UCLA supporter through the Ziman Center for Real Estate.

He did point out that racial awareness can be a significant business asset when competing for capital.

“That is the reason that we’re able to make smart investment decisions in the Crenshaw District, Highland Park, Leimert Park, Prince George’s County, Maryland, the East Bay. We actually have on our investment committee people with cultural competency in those submarkets,” he said. “So it’s not just diversity for the sake of diversity. That’s what investors will respond to.”

Johnson’s company is named after the recreation center that served as the heart of the diverse Washington, D.C., neighborhood where he grew up. Now, each of the buildings he has refurbished bears the Langdon Park name.

“There’s something powerful about owning in your community … but the economics mean that there are far more renters by necessity today, and that’s who we serve,” Johnson said. “So our idea of ownership is how can you take pride in the building? … We provide amenities that meet their needs, just like you would have if you owned a single-family house.”

The panel offered up a wish list of policy changes that could remove barriers to housing justice.

Federal tax credits are supposed to encourage the development of low-income housing, Billingslea said, but “anybody that knows anything about tax code knows it’s ridiculously complex for no apparent reason.”

Intentionally or not, the system of bidding on projects often excludes small minority businesses, George said. The panelists called on lead developers to show diligence, flexibility and creativity to bring diverse talent into the fold.

Johnson said rent control ordinances can have the unintended consequence of curbing cash flow that can be reinvested in a building’s safety upgrades, renovations and tenant amenities, which then make the surrounding community more secure.

“Who’s ever been to a housing project and said, ‘This place looks like it has a lot of hope just because the rents are really low?’” he said. “That doesn’t work. A bunch of poor people with a low tax base means poor-performing schools, it means potholes that don’t get fixed, police that don’t show up.”

George underscored the impact of embedding social supports into housing ventures, a hallmark of his first model housing project in north Minneapolis, which opened in 2016. Professional athletes from around the country have asked George if he could help replicate the project in their own hometowns. And that’s why he now has housing projects in cities like New Orleans.

“Other football players and basketball players that I know were saying, ‘Hey, why don’t we get past the transactional things we’re doing for our communities, the turkey drives and the toy giveaways that are here today and gone tomorrow,’” George said. “What are we going to do for our community that can last? What can we do for our community that can be uplifting, bring more resources and provide jobs?”

Attended by government, nonprofit and philanthropic representatives, as well as students and members of the public, the lecture was co-sponsored by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, the UCLA Bunche Center for African American Studies and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.

Watch a video of the event and view more photos.


Housing for Black People by Black People

 

L.A. Mayor Focuses on the Need for Housing Solutions During UCLA Luskin Summit Karen Bass visits campus to join discussions on the value of research about issues like homelessness, climate resilience, governance and equity in transportation

By Les Dunseith

On April 17, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass was the featured speaker as scholars, civic leaders and the philanthropic community came together to discuss policy issues during the sixth annual UCLA Luskin Summit.

What was on her mind? Housing.

Bass, who declared homelessness a state of emergency immediately upon taking office as mayor in December 2022, told the more than 300 people in attendance at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center that her office is now turning more attention to longer-term solutions after initially emphasizing urgency in getting unhoused people off the streets.

“It is not reasonable for somebody [needing shelter] to be able to stay around while we get housing built,” she said of the challenge to provide shelter for people in need amid an ongoing affordable housing crisis.

The mayor’s remarks were delivered during a discussion with Jacqueline Waggoner MA UP ’96, the current chair of the Luskin School’s Board of Advisors. Waggoner, who is the president of the Solutions Division for Enterprise Community Partners, said she was heartened by the mayor’s intense focus on homelessness, given the magnitude of the problem in Los Angeles.

Bass, a former congresswoman who now chairs the Homelessness Task Force for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that meeting with mayors around the country presents an opportunity to learn from others, and for other cities in the United States to benefit from what is being done in Southern California. She had announced a new housing initiative based on a program in Atlanta two days before speaking at the Luskin Summit.

“I feel good in terms of what we can do and how we should move forward,” said Bass, who then emphasized, “the biggest question is scale.”

two men in ties sit on stage as one speaks

During an on-stage interview by ABC7’s Josh Haskell, left, the results of the ninth Quality of Life Index were unveiled by UCLA’s Zev Yaroslavsky. Photo by Stan Paul

Concerns over housing affordability was also a key takeaway from the ninth annual Quality of Life Index, which was publicly unveiled in the opening session of the 2024 Luskin Summit. The project at UCLA Luskin is directed by former Los Angeles public official Zev Yaroslavsky, now an adjunct faculty member at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Concerns over the high cost of living pushed the satisfaction of Los Angeles County residents back to its lowest-ever level, according to the annual survey, which received coverage as breaking news by media outlets that included the Los Angeles Times, area radio stations and the local affiliates of all four major U.S. broadcast TV networks.

More than half of respondents, or 59%, cited housing as the most important factor in their rating. During a Q&A moderated by reporter Josh Haskell of ABC7 in Los Angeles, Yaroslavsky pointed out that renters are feeling especially pessimistic about their futures.

“In our survey, we found that 75% of renters do not think they will ever be able to afford to buy a home in a place they’d like to live in Los Angeles County. Think about that — more and more people in our region see the American dream of homeownership slipping away,” Yaroslavsky said.

Yaroslavsky’s remarks were followed by six breakout sessions that examined timely policy issues from the perspective of scholarly research originating at the Luskin School and its affiliated research centers.

Summit attendees heard about studies and policy proposals in climate resilience, governance and equity in transportation. Panels made up of UCLA Luskin scholars and experts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors took on pressing issues affecting Los Angeles and beyond:

  • What strategies can governments adopt now to help communities withstand rising temperatures?
  • How is the Southland voter pool changing in this election year, and how can Los Angeles better provide representation for its 3.8 million people
  • How are government agencies and nonprofits meeting the transportation needs of the region’s most disadvantaged people?

Much of the conversation was guided by research conducted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, the Institute of Transportation Studies, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Latino Policy and Politics Institute.

The session with the mayor was the final session of this year’s Luskin Summit. For about an hour, Bass answered questions and engaged in conversation with Waggoner, a native Angeleno with a longtime connection to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

Since Bass took office, Waggoner said she has noticed visible change in the homeless population. In the past, she would see people leave the streets, only to return soon after.

“I haven’t seen those same people in a year, and what I would say to you is that you are on the path to permanent solutions,” Waggoner said to Bass.

“But I’m never satisfied,” replied Bass, a former social worker. She understands that people experiencing homelessness need not just roofs over their heads, but social services.

“I come at it with a bias because my background is in health care, and I just think we need to do much, much more,” Bass said.

She noted that mental health is something that people often talk about in connection to the unhoused population, but treatment for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer are also important and deserve attention.

“I feel that health needs to be at the center,” Bass said.

Waggoner said that with homelessness spreading “in every neighborhood, people want to do something about it.”

Noting UCLA Luskin’s public-private partnerships with organizations like Hilton Foundation, a Summit sponsor, Waggoner asked Bass about the role of businesses and other groups in helping to get people into permanent housing.

“We are a state of unbelievable wealth. We have many, many, many billionaires that live in the city, tons of multi-millionaires who do phenomenal charitable work,” Bass responded. “I feel good that we’ve been able to align the public sector. But now we need the private sector, we need private money … to expedite the building” of more affordable housing.

Relying on public money can be a slow process because of regulations, construction approvals and the need to juggle multiple funding streams.

“A private developer comes in and can get the development going,” Bass explained. “So, we are hoping that we can do a capital campaign. Everybody knows capital campaigns — buildings get built.”

During her discussion with Waggoner and the 25-minute audience Q&A that followed, Bass also talked about the city’s LA4LA plan to partner with private donors and business to purchase existing properties, including major hotels, to develop its system of long-term interim and permanent housing.

Noting the scale of the problem and an audience consisting of scholars, philanthropic leaders and community organizations, Waggoner pointed out that many people will need to play a part for Bass to realize her vision of a housing solution in Los Angeles.

“Everyone needs to have skin in this game,” Bass said.

The annual event is organized by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs under the guidance of its Board of Advisors, and naming benefactors Meyer and Renee Luskin were among those in attendance. The event was supported by gifts from 12 local charitable organizations and businesses, many of which have been sponsors since the first Luskin Summit in 2019. This year’s theme was “Transformative Action.”

Mary Braswell and Stan Paul also contributed to this story. 

See additional photos on Flickr:

UCLA Luskin Summit 2024

Watch a recording of the mayor’s discussion with Waggoner and the audience Q&A on our Vimeo channel:

 

 

L.A. County Residents’ Satisfaction With Quality of Life Matches Lowest in Year 9 of Survey High cost of housing is the most important factor impacting the annual Quality of Life Index, particularly among renters

By Les Dunseith

Concerns over the high cost of living pushed the satisfaction of Los Angeles County residents back to its lowest-ever level, with renters feeling especially pessimistic about their futures, according to an annual UCLA survey.

The Quality of Life Index, or QLI, is a project of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs  that measures county residents’ satisfaction in nine categories. The overall rating fell two points from last year to 53 on a scale from 10 to 100, marking the second time in three years it came in below the survey’s 55 midpoint since the index launched in 2016. That means a majority of respondents are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives.

fever chart shows rating change over time

The cost-of-living rating dropped from 41 to 38, the lowest satisfaction score ever observed for any category in the survey. Although all major demographic subgroups rated the cost of living negatively, the lowest scores came from women, 36 (33 from those 50–64 years old) and Latinas, 36 — as well as renters, 35.

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the study at UCLA, said renters, who make up nearly half of survey respondents, are being disproportionately affected by the economic and inflationary pressures facing the region. More than half, or 59%, cited housing as the most important factor in their rating.

“Housing costs have gone up,” Yaroslavsky said. “And incomes have not gone up anywhere near commensurate with what’s happened to housing.”

While 61% of homeowners feel optimistic about their economic future in Los Angeles County, 51% of renters report being pessimistic. Only 23% of renters think they will be able to buy a home where they would want to live at some point in the future.

pie chart shows only one in four renters expect to buy a home eventually

 

This year’s survey also produced striking results on the issue of homelessness.

“We discovered very little optimism about whether the current programs and efforts to eradicate homelessness will work,” Yaroslavsky said.

More than half, or 60%, of respondents said homelessness in their area has gotten worse over the past year, with only 10% saying it has gotten better. Just 20% are more hopeful than they were last year that the homelessness situation in Los Angeles County will improve.

Respondents were also asked whether they worried about becoming homeless themselves, with the highest levels of anxiety expressed by people living in households earning less than $60,000 annually at 44%, renters 37% and African Americans 33%.

“Despite the best efforts of state and local officials, the public is more negative and less hopeful about solving homelessness,” Yaroslavsky said.

In an election year, do such findings signal possible voter upheaval?

“It feeds an overall sense that things aren’t working well,” said Yaroslavsky, a former elected official. He framed this year’s results in the context of nearly a decade’s worth of research showing positive results for neighborhood quality and racial/ethnic relations, but low marks in categories commonly associated with decisions by public officials.

“A main theme over the last nine years is that Angelenos love the neighborhoods where they live. We appreciate diversity and get along with others better than some people think. And the quality of life for most of us is pretty good,” he said. “But at some fundamental level, people think our governmental institutions are letting them down.”

The QLI showed minor changes from the previous year in most categories, although satisfaction with education fell three points to 48, the second-lowest score behind cost of living. While transportation/traffic jumped eight points in importance from 2023, it remained among the three lowest categories in quality-of-life importance.

Among Angelenos who are employed, 55% are working full time at a workplace away from their home. Of those, 59% of Latinos, 64% of African Americans, 63% of men over age 50 and 63% of Latino men always work away from home.

The last year has seen a modest decline in most ratings for elected officials.

  • Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna is viewed favorably by 34% and unfavorably by 26%. Last year was 37% favorable and 21% unfavorable.
  • Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is viewed favorably by 42% and unfavorably by 32%, a drop from 46% favorable and 23% unfavorable in last year’s QLI.
  • Respondents had a slightly favorable view of the city councils in their cities: 37% favorable and 32% unfavorable. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is viewed more negatively: 27% favorable and 35% unfavorable.

Regarding the environment, 25% of respondents said climate change had a major impact on their quality of life in the last year; 38% saw a minor impact. The 2024 QLI also asked about the availability of air conditioning: 75% of Angelenos have it in their homes but with substantial variation by region, income and race/ethnicity.

  • Some of the differences likely relate to climate patterns: 48% of residents in the ocean-cooled South Bay communities have air conditioning compared to 92% in the hotter San Fernando Valley.
  • Residents most lacking in air conditioning, 40%, are at the lowest end of the income scale (under $30,000 per year), compared to just 11% for those making over $150,000 per year. And 30% of renters do not have air conditioning.

This year’s QLI is based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with 1,686 county residents from Feb. 22 to March 14. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

Funding for the Quality of Life Index is provided by Meyer and Renee Luskin through the Los Angeles Initiative. The full report is being published April 17 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit.

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

text with report name and a map of Los Angeles County

 

The Power of Lived Experiences Three alumni share the personal stories that impact their policy efforts on homelessness — ‘the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis of our lifetime’ 

By Les Dunseith

Lourdes Castro Ramírez entered college as one of nine children from a tight-knit working-class family that had migrated from Mexico when she was 4. She had no idea how that background would guide her career as a policymaker focusing on housing affordability. 

“As a first-generation college graduate, I did not intend to get into this field,” Castro Ramírez recalled March 7 during a Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series event that included State Sen. Caroline Menjivar MSW ’18 and Assemblymember Isaac Bryan MPP ’18. “In fact, I didn’t even know that this field existed.”

Now Castro Ramírez is the point person for Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass on housing and homelessness, working on an issue that has reached crisis proportions after too little national policy attention for decades.

“I do feel that there is hope. We are now finally seeing housing policy in action, getting the attention that it requires,” the 1996 UCLA urban planning master’s graduate told faculty, students, alumni and others at the Luskin Conference Center.

“Homelessness is the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis of our lifetime,” Bryan said. “We’re at a crisis position even though [California has] more billionaires than anywhere in the world. But that is the Los Angeles that we have created. 

“And it didn’t just happen. I don’t want to believe it was on purpose because it would be too painful to believe that somebody wanted tens of thousands of poor and disproportionately Black people sleeping on our streets,” he said. “I don’t want to believe that it was intentional. But neglect isn’t an excuse to not make it right.”

Bryan represents a district near the 405 and 10 freeways mostly to the east and south of UCLA that includes some of the L.A.’s wealthiest neighborhoods — and some of its poorest. He talked about the irony of needing to raise money by speaking to rich donors in the mansions of Beverly Hills and then returning to his rented apartment in a modest-but-affordable neighborhood just a few miles away. 

He has experienced housing precarity first-hand, including during his UCLA education. 

“I remember walking across the stage on graduation day. I was very proud. I was very excited,” Bryan recalled. “And there was a faculty member in the audience who knew that I couldn’t pay my rent that month. And she wrote the personal check to make sure that I could stay afloat till I found a job.”

Bryan was able to get his UCLA degree in part because he received a grant from the David Bohnett Foundation, which seeks to improve society through social activism and since 2007 has been providing awards that include a position in the L.A. Mayor’s Office for three selected fellows. Longtime adjunct instructor and UCLA Luskin Board of Advisors member Michael Fleming is the founding director of the Bohnett Foundation. He served as the moderator for a Q&A with Castro Ramírez, Bryan and Menjivar, who like Bryan is a former Bohnett fellow and a master’s degree recipient from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. All three talked about income disparity and how their personal experiences relate to affordable housing issues in California.  

Menjivar said her large family of Salvadoran immigrants struggled to make ends meet while living in one- or two-bedroom apartments in low- to middle-income communities like Tarzana. Her mother worked as a house cleaner. 

“I would commute to school and sometimes get a ride from my mom,” Menjivar recalled. “She would drop me off — her firstborn, first-generation student at UCLA, the No. 1 public university in the world — and then she would go down the street to clean a mansion.”

That perspective is never far from her mind.

“Now, I represent 1 million people in the state legislature, looking to bring more affordable housing,” said Menjivar, whose district includes Burbank and many working-class neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley. “So, when [policymakers] talk about eviction protections and housing affordability, I don’t just speak on it. I’ve lived through that.”

Their lived experiences affect the decisions that Menjivar and Bryan are making and the issues they choose to advance as elected officials in Sacramento. Both have been involved in efforts tied to their backgrounds in public policy and social services. (Menjivar noted that, like herself, Mayor Bass was educated as a social worker.) 

In prepared remarks that preceded the panel discussion, Castro Ramírez spoke about her fondness for UCLA and why she was happy to accept the speaking invitation.

“Just walking into this space and seeing UCLA in the background, and seeing so many people I know here, just makes me really proud of my parents, where I come from and this university that invested in me,” she told an audience that included current colleagues on the Luskin School’s Board of Advisors.

It was a UCLA professor who first encouraged her to look into affordable housing as a potential career path, she said, and that led to roles as a practitioner and policymaker at the municipal level in Ventura and San Antonio, at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration, and later in Sacramento as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. 

“And now I’m back in L.A., back to my hometown … and working on the issues that are really important and critical to our city, to our state, and to our country as chief of housing and homelessness solutions,” she said.

Castro Ramírez spoke about harmonizing federal, state and local government efforts, a process that the mayor’s office characterizes as “locking arms” to address the housing crisis.

The overall number of people falling into homelessness continues to outpace the number who are being housed, but this is not because individual efforts have been unsuccessful. 

“In fact, there are incredible nonprofit organizations, housing authorities, housing groups who are doing amazing work,” she said, noting that a supportive housing approval process that used to take six months now takes an average of 43 days. Almost 14,000 affordable units have been approved for Los Angeles. 

“This is what the intersection of policy and programming implementation looks like, being able to move with a sense of urgency, being able to implement the idea that having a place to call home is fundamental,” Castro Ramírez said. 

Public service can be frustrating work, charged with philosophical disagreement and subject to constant second-guessing often motivated by political opportunism. Fleming asked the panel what makes the aggravation worthwhile. 

“I want to make my community, my city, my state, my country better. And that is an awesome privilege that I try to never take for granted,” said Bryan, noting that his chief of staff is another Class of 2018 UCLA Luskin graduate, Caleb Rabinowitz. “And when we walk out of the Capitol, we can kind of ask ourselves, ‘Is the state better this week because we were here?’” 

Menjivar said she is motivated by her family history. 

“My mom came to this country for a better future for her kids not knowing that the future for our family tree would lead from house cleaner to state senator in one generation,” she said.

But there have been hurdles along the way, and that’s also a motivation.

“I was born with what I call the Triple L — a lady, a Latina and a lesbian. So you can imagine I have a handful of stories around discrimination, around facing barriers and overcoming them, and I know that others helped in getting me to the point that I am now.” 

Her lived experiences are vital to her success.

“I think about every barrier that I went through to get to this point, every ‘No’ that I got, even when I was running for office. And for every “No’ that I was given, I’m here now to ensure that other people like me don’t get those ‘Nos’ anymore.”

Castro Ramírez said she is grateful to have gone “to an amazing university and to step into a role that I never thought that I was prepared to step into.”  Glancing at her fellow alumni, she continued, “And I’ve been able to see the power of our collective ability to make change and to make a difference.”

She paused for a moment, then spoke again, softly. 

“I guess the last thing — and the reason I’m hesitating is because, you know, this is a very personal reason for me — I am the mother of three children. I had a son; he was 11 years old when he passed away due to cancer. He was really an incredible, talented individual who craved … leaving his mark in this world. And that didn’t happen.

“And I feel like every day that I wake up, every day that I show up to work, show up to address the work that needs doing, I feel like I’m showing up for him.”

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs hosts the Luskin Lecture Series to enhance public discourse on topics relevant to the betterment of society. This presentation was also part of an ongoing series of events in the 2023-24 academic year to commemorate 25 years since the first graduating class from UCLA Luskin Public Policy was sent into the world equipped to make changes for the better.

View photos of the event. 

Luskin Lawmakers

UCLA Downtown Springs to Life With Community-Focused Projects Programs connected to UCLA Luskin are among 31 selected for the site in the heart of Los Angeles

With the purchase of the historic Trust Building in downtown Los Angeles last June, UCLA signaled its commitment to strengthening its engagement with the city’s diverse communities and creating positive change for the people of Southern California.

Over the next few months, the 11-story UCLA Downtown property in the Historic Core will begin to come to life as a collaborative hub where Bruins partner with local community members and organizations on a range of academic, research, arts-related and outreach initiatives, many of them focused on social justice and advocacy on behalf of underserved and vulnerable populations.

Among the 31 newly selected occupants of UCLA Downtown are programs addressing climate change and environmental justice, education for incarcerated individuals, labor and employment, housing and homelessness, immigration, public health, voting rights, LGBTQ issues, criminal justice reform and the history of Los Angeles, along with a robust slate of community-focused arts and cultural projects.

UCLA Downtown programs connected to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs include the Voting Rights Project at the Latino Policy and Politics Institute, scheduled to begin operating in the new space by June. Joining the site at a later date will be the Los Angeles Education Research Institute; Downtown Luskin, led by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and the Research Justice Hub, led by the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. UCLA Luskin faculty are also involved with several UCLA Downtown programs led by other campus units.

A 12-member committee selected the inaugural programs from among about 50 proposals based on their potential to foster community engagement — one of the key pillars of UCLA’s Strategic Plan — to promote collaboration across UCLA schools, departments and units, and to make a significant difference in the lives of both Bruins and Angelenos. A request for proposals for additional programs will be issued this fall.

Read the full story.

Read about the 31 UCLA Downtown programs selected to date.

 

School Travels to State Capital for Research Briefing and Alumni Gathering Back-to-back events in Sacramento provide networking opportunities and showcase scholarly works

In mid-February, a contingent of more than 30 people from UCLA Luskin made the trip to northern California in an effort to connect with alumni, government officials and policy experts involved in state government.

The two-day gathering in Sacramento was envisioned as the first of what will become an annual feature of the Luskin’s School’s outreach efforts, pairing an alumni get-together in the state capital with a research-focused briefing for elected officials and their staffs.

The UCLA Luskin Briefing at UC Center Sacramento took place during the time when new bills were being finalized for the next legislative session, and the hope is that the research of UCLA Luskin and its various research centers can put current and future legislative leaders in a better position to make data-informed decisions.

“It was very well attended by elected and appointed officials,” noted Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who made the effort a priority for this academic year and actively participated in the planning process. “The elected officials I talked to afterward were very appreciative for the event and told me that they hope to see more such events from our School.”

Two briefing sessions were held. A session on water management highlighted research by Adjunct Associate Professor Gregory Pierce MURP ’11 PhD UP ’15, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. A session on affordable housing was led by Associate Professor Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

The briefing and the Alumni Regional Reception, which took place the evening before, brought together faculty, staff or alumni from all four departments — Public Policy, Social Welfare, Urban Planning and the Undergraduate Program — as well as members of the Luskin School’s Board of Advisors.

A group of about 20 current Master of Public Policy students also made the trip, getting an opportunity to connect directly with alumni whose footsteps they may hope to follow, including Assemblyman Isaac Bryan MPP ’18, a member of the affordable housing panel.

Find out more about the briefing and view the bios of the 12 people who participated as speakers or panelists.

View photos from the alumni reception

Sacramento Alumni Regional Reception 2024

View photos from the research briefing

Sacramento Briefing 2024

 

Resisting the ‘New McCarthyism’ on College Campuses and Beyond In a UCLA lecture, historian Barbara Ransby warns of a 'war over ideas, over facts, over how we see and understand the world'

By Mary Braswell

As a leading scholar of the social and political struggles that have shaped the American experience, Barbara Ransby could easily identify the troubling signs around her.

A climate of fear, intimidation and guilt by association is on the rise today, hallmarks of what she called a new McCarthyism — not just in the halls of power but on college campuses that have historically prided themselves on freedom of expression.

“There is a war right on our campuses, a war over ideas, over facts, over how we see and understand the world, over what we can publish and what we can teach, over how we can protest and whether we can protest,” Ransby told a UCLA audience on Feb. 8.

“Our campuses are central battlegrounds and, overall, on the spectrum of liberalism to authoritarianism, we unfortunately see a steady and frightening move toward authoritarianism.”

But Ransby also pointed to important work being done on campuses around the country, “sites of resistance that inspire me and make me optimistic and hopeful in this moment.”

Ransby, an award-winning historian, author and activist, has a long record of building bridges between scholars and grassroots organizers in their common fight for equal rights and opportunities.

She is a founding member of Scholars for Social Justice, was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and directs the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where she is a distinguished professor of African American studies, gender and women’s studies, and history.

Ransby spoke to a capacity crowd in the Grand Salon at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall as part of the Luskin Lecture Series and the 2nd Annual Distinguished Lecture in Ideas and Organizing presented by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D).

The event was preceded by a reception and exhibit of photos from Aetna Street in Van Nuys, an encampment where people sheltered in tents and vehicles until the site was cleared by Los Angeles city officials last August. Aetna Street residents, local activists and UCLA scholars are part of a research collective formed to study the struggle for justice for the unhoused, and the photos on display offered glimpses of the community’s experiments in living and public grieving.

During the lecture and panel discussion, several UCLA scholars whose work centers on social justice shared the stage with Ransby: UCLA Luskin professors Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, interim dean of the Luskin School, and Ananya Roy, director of II&D; Robin D.G. Kelley, distinguished professor of history; Sherene H. Razack, distinguished professor of gender studies; and David C. Turner III, assistant professor of Black life and racial justice at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.

The dialogue touched on causes for alarm on many fronts: This November’s high-stakes U.S. presidential election. Repressive police tactics. The Israel-Gaza war, with its terrible humanitarian toll and fallout for free speech on college campuses.

Ransby issued a call to action, again turning to the lessons of history. During the anti-war and Black freedom movements of the 1960s, she said, campuses were “epicenters of struggle and resistance. Out of this struggle, real victories were won, even though fraught and fragile.”

Today’s scholar-activists, faculty and students alike, all have a stake in the struggle and must resist efforts to silence dissent, she said. For inspiration, she pointed to several thriving university programs that are on the front lines of the fight for racial and gender equity, police reform, climate justice and housing for all.

“These programs, courses and content areas matter, not just because students have a greater breadth of knowledge, which is true and good,” Ransby said. “But these ideas and theories are also tools for liberation and freedom making. …

“As problematic and complicated and contradictory as they are, as much harm as they do, colleges and universities are places where we build trenches, where we carve out oases, where we create spaces to think, collaborate, inspire, and ask critical and courageous questions about freedom and justice.”

 

Watch the lecture and panel discussion on Vimeo.


View photos of Barbara Ransby’s visit and the Aetna Street photo exhibit on Flickr.

Barbara Ransby Luskin Lecture

UCLA Hosts Its Largest Activist-in-Residence Cohort Five advocates for social change will be on campus through May to ‘turn the university inside out’

By Les Dunseith

The UCLA Activist-in-Residence program welcomed five more changemakers — the largest cohort in the program’s seven-year history — to campus with a reception Jan. 24 at DeCafe in Perloff Hall.

The UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which has selected at least one activist since 2017, is hosting community organizer Ron Collins II and revolutionary writer Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia during this academic year. 

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, also a longtime participant in the program, is hosting writer and social justice educator Shengxiao “Sole” Yu

In its second year with the Activist-in-Residence program, cityLAB-UCLA is hosting Robert A. Clarke, a designer and educator practicing at the intersection of culture, identity and architecture. 

A new addition to the program for 2024 is the UCLA Center for the Study of Women|Barbra Streisand Center, which is hosting Narges Zagub B.A. Anthropology ’20, a movement worker and facilitator.

Opening remarks for the reception were provided by UCLA Luskin Professor Ananya Roy, who created the residency program soon after arriving at UCLA as the director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

She conceptualized the program as a sabbatical for participants, allowing them time and space to reflect, envision new projects, and connect with UCLA faculty, students and staff. 

“More than ever, I am reminded, in these difficult times, that the residency is our effort to turn the university inside out,” Roy told the crowd. “At the Institute, we organize knowledge within, against and beyond the university. The Activist-in-Residence program brings to the university the movement scholars and public intellectuals who are teachers and guides for this praxis.”

Roy and other representatives of the four UCLA sponsors then introduced the individual activists, each of whom spoke briefly about their previous experiences and their plans for the next few months. 

The first activist to speak this year was Gray-Garcia, who is a formerly unhoused and incarcerated poverty scholar who prefers to keep their face covered in public. Their rousing remarks were presented in the form of spoken word poetry.

The next activist to speak was Collins, a native of South Los Angeles who is has experience as a social justice strategist and movement builder. Collins’ work advances racial and social justice with a particular focus on Black, LGBTQ and environmental justice issues.

Yu is the creator of Nectar, an online space where she provides political education and healing justice workshops. She spoke of her efforts to combat misinformation and disinformation, particularly when it targets the Chinese-speaking community such as. harmful narratives attacking affirmative action and Black-on-Asian crime tropes during the COVID pandemic.

In his work with cityLAB-UCLA, Clarke said he aims to further efforts to canonize Black aesthetics, helping to authenticate it as a lens through which to practice architecture. Clarke is co-founder of a design practice that explores ways to unearth new aesthetics specific to African American culture, experience and identity.

Narges is a UCLA alumna who gained experience in student and community organizing as part of her undergraduate activities. Their background as a Muslim, queer person from an immigrant family from Libya has helped shape their understanding of community. 

Find out more about this year’s activists and their plans.

View photos from the reception on Flickr.

Activists-in-Residence 2024