A Final Test for Policy Analysis Projects UCLA Luskin public policy master’s degree culminates in a public forum in which students present Applied Policy Projects on issues of regional, global importance

By Stan Paul

By necessity, the Master of Public Policy (MPP) students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs quickly begin learning skills and tools to complete the program and prepare for problem-solving careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The students, working in groups, must clear one final hurdle to graduate: the Applied Policy Project presentation.  Each group has 20 minutes to impress faculty and peers by showcasing what they have learned during two rigorous years of study.

Each year, a diverse group of clients “hire” the students, usually in teams of two or more, to tackle real-world problems and offer actionable recommendations and feasible solutions.

“I think one of the exciting aspects of the APP is the variety of topics covered,” said Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy and faculty coordinator of the program. “Because our students have a diverse set of interests and because we encourage them to identify their own clients, the result is an interesting variety of APP projects.”

Among this year’s clients were the Southern California Association of Governments, Covered California, Peterson Institute for International Economics and a member of the California State Assembly. Internal clients included a research center within the Luskin School, a professional program elsewhere on campus and the University of California’s Office of the President.

“The first-year curriculum of the MPP program is tool-driven,” Shah said. “What I mean by that is we try to give students a diverse set of tools — both quantitative and qualitative — that will help guide them through the APP process and ultimately go out into the real world and conduct policy analysis on issues close to their hearts.”

Shah said she was fortunate to advise a diverse set of APP groups this year. One group of students found that behavioral tools such as reciprocity and commitment devices should be implemented in schools to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in an attempt to combat obesity. Another group helped improve the service delivery model of an organization in L.A. that tries to get at-risk youth into better employment opportunities. And another group proposed interventions and policies aimed at reducing displacement and gentrification in South L.A.

In all, 18 presentations were made. Luskin faculty watched and then asked questions that tested the students’ depth and breadth of knowledge and the thoroughness of their projects.

The range of projects is broad, including:

  • Local and regional issues such as investments in electric vehicle charging stations in Los Angeles and a rent stabilization ordinance to prevent displacement of low-income minority communities in South Los Angeles.
  • Statewide issues such as bail reform, insuring Californians, health care, access to water and juvenile justice.
  • National and global issues like mitigating the negative impacts of trade on employment in the U.S. auto industry and improving local-level governance amid decentralization reforms in the Ukraine.

A closer look at some of this year’s APPs follows.

Gender Issues in Engineering

Applying qualitative and quantitative methods to their study for the UC’s Office of the President, Traci Kawaguchi, Yuhan Sun and Eri Suzuki focused on the need for connections in their analysis of system-wide retention by gender in engineering at the undergraduate level. They initially determined that the retention rate of female engineering students was significantly lower than for male engineering classmates across the UC system.

Their faculty adviser, Professor of Public Policy John Villasenor, also holds an appointment in electrical engineering at UCLA. He helped connect them with UCLA engineering students, which led to interviews with aspiring female engineers.

Women and men had similar levels of academic performance in the first year, but the qualitative interview uncovered that “affinity groups play a key role in affirming engineering identity and belonging in the field,” according to the UCLA Luskin students’ written summary.

“I think the big thing that came up was just the idea of fitting in,” Kawaguchi said. “When you go into a classroom that is 80 percent male … it may make you feel that you don’t necessarily belong.”

Team members analyzed policy options based on anticipated effectiveness, cost feasibility and institutional feasibility, and they recommended support for female students based on a sense of community and belonging. Adoption of residential living communities and formal peer mentoring programs for female undergraduate students in engineering were also recommended.

 A Program to Help Plug-In Commuters

Another APP team focused on plug-in vehicles with a limited range on all-electric power that switch to gasoline-based power after batteries are exhausted. Specifically, the group studied how workplace charging stations in Los Angeles could increase the number of miles that vehicles travel without burning gasoline.

MPP students James Di Filippo, Mahito Moriyama, Toru Terai, Kelly Trumbull and Jiahui Zhang completed their project, “Prioritizing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Investments in Los Angeles County,” for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Their model combined commuting data from SCAG’s transportation demand study with plug-in electric vehicle registration data, information on vehicle all-electric range, and point data on existing charging infrastructure locations.

The students found that nearly 6,000 plug-in hybrid commuters could benefit from workplace charging but currently do not have access. Full support of those commuters’ vehicles would yield about 76,000 additional miles driven on electric power each day.

The potential increase is concentrated in just a few zones. Di Filippo said that the group used a tool from the Environmental Protection Agency to identify zones that fall within disadvantaged communities that might require additional support, which were more than a third of all zones identified as having potential for investment across Los Angeles County. SCAG should direct additional funding toward those disadvantaged communities to ensure that the benefits are distributed equitably, the students said.

Di Filippo said that the APP process was challenging but rewarding. “I credit my teammates for pulling together quickly, conceptualizing and delivering a strong report that offers actionable information for SCAG’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure siting decisions in only eight weeks,” he said. “My team was fortunate to have the support of faculty and peers who were invaluable in shaping our thinking on key aspects of the report.”

Healthy Food for Children

Sarah White and teammates Sydney Ganon, Hiroto Iwaoka and Jonathan McIlroy examined behavioral economics for tools in nutrition education curricula. Their goal was to promote long-term healthy food choices and habits in third and fourth grade students in light of a growing recognition of negative health outcomes of childhood obesity.

“While the field of behavioral economics is still fairly new, we read a lot of the existing literature and had reason to believe that really low-cost interventions could potentially have large impacts on getting people to make better choices for themselves,” White said.

One challenge that behavioral economics has “rarely, if at all, studied within the realm of children’s nutrition.” That made evaluating different policy options more difficult. “We had to evaluate each policy option on our own,” White said.

The group’s recommendations bundled three potential behavioral tools that are cost-effective. Giving attractive names such as “power peas” to fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria would frame foods in a way that is appealing to children. Giving students something as simple as a sticker and thanking them for choosing the healthy option would promote reciprocity. Having students set goals for eating better would make them more likely to stay committed.

Ayappa Biddanda

Rocking his Comeback

For one student, Ayappa Biddanda, the final APP presentation was a long time in the making. In the early 2000s he left UCLA Luskin to pursue an opportunity that turned into a career in the music industry. He came back this year to do his final presentation — and thus finish his master’s degree.

Biddanda’s project evaluated the impact of an educational enrichment program called Rock the Classroom that paired local musicians with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Biddanda’s solo presentation on the final night of the APP program literally rocked the classroom with musical sound bites and his enthusiastic, informative and professionally presented argument that, in education, “art matters.”

A Fond Farewell

Wrapping up two decades of APP presentations, Mark Peterson, chair of the department, thanked the students for their efforts. “I really want you all to applaud yourselves,” he said. “The hard work that went into all of the presentations was obvious to us all, and we really just admire the time you put into all of this and the work that you did to put these presentations on a scale of professionalism that we like to see.”

The 2017 APPs ended on a bittersweet note, with Peterson acknowledging the retirement of a key player. Maciek Kolodziejczak is a longtime UCLA staff member who joined the public policy program when it was founded more than 20 years ago and has long coordinated the APP presentations.

“Sadly, this is the last time that this part of the APP program will be orchestrated, moderated and run by Maciek,” Peterson said.


From the UCLA Luskin Flickr feed:

2017 Applied Policy Project presentations

Can L.A. Fix its Broken Planning System? UCLA Luskin urban planners discuss the challenges — and possible solutions — to L.A.’s development woes

By Les Dunseith

“In Los Angeles, we do have a rather broken planning system,” Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning, said during an interview after the defeat of a controversial ballot initiative, Measure S, that had sought to clamp down on Los Angeles development.

Lens and other UCLA Luskin faculty members with expertise in housing density, land use and the related issues of home affordability and transportation say Measure S reflected long-simmering dissatisfaction with how vital decisions about growth, density and housing affordability are made. And they hope increased public awareness will lead to positive change in the state’s planning process.

“L.A. has a very low-density zoning law,” explained Michael Manville MA ’03 PhD ’09, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. “Its general plan is set up for the city as it was 40 years ago. The zoning never caught up with the fact that L.A. became much more urban.

“Now, as a result, in many parts of the city, to build any kind of housing that we actually need — multifamily housing — it’s illegal.”

That means that a zoning exception must be granted for large housing projects, which leads to often-protracted negotiations between developers and members of the L.A. City Council.

“There is a feeling — that is often true — that developers can get something built if they give enough money to the right council member in the right circumstance,” Lens said. “Then the developers build something big where the community never expected something big to go.”

The current process often frustrates citizens, but the benefits to select policymakers and large real estate developers get in the way of reform efforts, Manville noted.

“Developers who can afford to play the game like it,” Manville said, noting that although they must wait as long as a year to start building on land that is sitting unused during negotiations, the developers end up with the “right to build extra units in a very hot property market. And that probably means more profit.”

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Paavo Monkkonen MPP ’05 recently analyzed California’s ongoing housing crisis in a policy brief, or white paper, that provides a detailed look at why people are deeply troubled by the current process as outlined in California’s General Plan and various community plans that govern housing density decisions.

“One of the main things I learned in writing the white paper is that nobody likes new development near them,” Monkkonen said.

The result is a Catch-22 that squeezes the general public from both directions, leaving the average L.A. resident with a choice between paying high rent or seeking a risky loan to buy a home they really can’t afford.

‘A City Can Only Sprawl So Far’

A look at the population and housing numbers for Los Angeles clearly illustrates the problem, said UCLA Luskin’s Joan Ling MA UP ‘82, a longtime lecturer in urban planning who has deep experience in real estate analysis and affordable housing. She cited a study by Greg Morrow PhD ’13. “In 1960, there were 2 million people living in the City of Los Angeles, and the zoning capacity was set for 10 million people. In 2010, the city’s population was 4 million people, but the zoning capacity had been reduced to 4.3 million. So, in fact, we had enough zoning capacity for only 200,000 to 300,000 in additional growth.”

It’s a bad situation that is projected to get even worse. By 2040, Los Angeles is projected to grow by another 800,000 people.

“So where are these people going to go?” Ling asked. “That’s the real problem.”

California has enticing natural features. But most areas are unsuitable for human occupation, or the land is already used by industry or agriculture.

“A city can only sprawl so far,” Ling explained, noting that traffic in Southern California has become a daily nightmare for many people.

The NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome is an ever-present issue in California, Monkkonen said. When a new, higher-density project is proposed almost anywhere, neighborhoods rise up to block it. “So this is what happens when we have built horizontally to the fringes of the metropolitan area as much as commute times will allow — we get traffic jams and a lack of affordable housing,” he explained.

California’s flawed system of zoning effectively blocks housing affordability, according to several faculty members in the Department of Urban Planning. For example, Monkkonen noted that condos are much cheaper to build and thus much more affordable than single-family homes, but condos “are illegal in 75 percent of L.A. Effectively, using the power of the state, we have prevented the majority of the people in the U.S. and the majority of the people in L.A. from ever buying a home.”

The state’s love of automobiles and its idyllic notion of cul-de-sac suburbs — the California Dream itself — is part of the problem.

“People come here with a certain picture of Los Angeles,” Lens noted. “A place with yards. A place where you have the freedom to get in your car and go where you need to go.”

‘A Horrible Place to Walk or Bike’

It’s a belief system that also contributes to a popular “American idea that when you talk about density, you talk about high-rise buildings,” Manville said. “Not too many people understand that Paris is twice as dense as New York City, and Paris has no high-rise buildings. It’s just that it’s consistently four to six stories.”

Manville thinks that Los Angeles could get a lot denser, and yet remain livable, just by turning many single-story neighborhoods into two-story neighborhoods, especially along major boulevards.

“L.A. has pulled off this amazing trick, where you have a city in which large portions are relatively flat, where the weather is always nice, and it’s a horrible place to walk or bike,” Manville said.

Certainly, a denser neighborhood is going to end up with more congestion, Manville acknowledged. “But the thing that people forget is that most of their driving probably isn’t in their neighborhood. If [new housing] is not built in their neighborhood, then it’s going to be built somewhere. And they’re probably still going to encounter those cars somewhere else.”

If the density is done well, then people experience more opportunities not to be in their cars. “If the density isn’t done well, then you can get the worst of all worlds,” he said.

A denser neighborhood, if it’s designed carefully, becomes a more pleasant place to walk and live. Manville points to London, which embraced the idea that to manage its congestion, it needed to charge people to drive.

“If you actually do something that makes congestion better — which is what charging does and nothing else does — then you can knock down a lot of the concerns about more density. And a lot more good things can flow from that,” Manville said.

The congestion toll in London has added housing and allowed transportation authorities to “take back a lot of the space that had previously been allocated to cars,” Manville said. “There are just so many more sidewalks and bicycle lanes and lanes dedicated to buses that make the transit go much faster.”

Monkkonen points to Vancouver, Canada, as another potential model for Los Angeles. “It’s a place where single-family home neighborhoods have had the density increased without changing how it looks. In Vancouver, they have a basement unit, a ground-level unit and a second-floor unit. They look like single-family homes, but there are actually three households there.”

The only way to handle a constantly growing population, Monkkonen argued, is to set aside our neighborhood-based ideals and look at the region as a whole.

Like her colleagues, Ling sees the need to increase housing density in Los Angeles, but it is “equally important to require that this density be coupled with inclusionary zoning.
A proportion of this extra density must be built as affordable housing.”

In downtown Los Angeles, a boom in construction has brought gleaming new high-rises along with a handful of medium-density projects. Most people think downtown is better now, Ling said, but it’s not a model that works throughout the city.

A Tipping Point for California?

Where, then, should the new housing be built?

“That’s the question,” Ling said. “Where are we going to put it? If this planning was rational, we would put them where the density is most-suited, where people most want to live. But, in reality, issues like this are very much decided on the local level, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, district-by-district.”

In Monkkonen’s view, the best chance to solve California’s housing crisis lies at the state level. In his white paper, he says the state should take action by enforcing and enhancing existing laws, developing ways to make planning decisions at a metropolitan, not neighborhood, scale.

“As long as cities decide within their boundaries where to put the housing, it will work,” Monkkonen said of the idea. “The state would just say, ‘You must have housing,’ and enforce the rules if cities do not comply.”

The state has had rules on the books for 40 years to promote the creation of new housing, but they are rarely enforced. Perhaps California has reached a tipping point that would make state action more feasible?

“Oregon gets a lot of attention in planning scholarship,” Manville said. “They do have a very strong statewide land use program, where the state plays a very active role.”

California could do it too, even in places where resistance would be strong.

These ideas — stronger statewide leadership, looser zoning laws, smarter growth, improved transit, denser housing — are viewed by the UCLA Luskin faculty members as essential changes. Despite the disenchantment that spawned Measure S and similar outcries over growth, they remain generally upbeat about the region’s prospects for a more livable future.

In 20 years, Ling said, “I hope we would live comfortably and closely together, in a city were we don’t need to drive anymore because there will be autonomous cars that move us from our house to the transit station. I’d like L.A. to look like many of the arrondissements in central Paris, filled with six-story buildings in a walkable neighborhood.

“That’s what I would like to see. And we have to believe that it’s possible,” she said, pausing a moment to consider what may happen if the advice of planners like her continues to go unheard. “Otherwise, it could be very bad.”

Proud to be Part of the Luskin Community International students share their experiences, dreams and awareness of anxiety in an uncertain world

By George Foulsham

Eri Suzuki, a Public Policy master’s student from Japan; JianChao Lai, a Social Welfare PhD student from China; and Jorge Loor, an Urban Planning master’s student from Ecuador — described the challenges faced by international students and their families in a world filled with anxiety.

What led you as an international scholar to choose California and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs?

Suzuki: I worked at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan. The Japanese government has a program that provides for government officials who have several years of work experience to study abroad. I was in charge of the Japanese National University division and my job was mainly to interpret the law of Japanese National Universities. And through working at the Higher Education Bureau in Japan I realized that there are so many problems in Japanese higher education policy, like tuition, scholarships, finance and budget at universities, especially since the Japanese economy is shrinking right now. So I started getting interested in studying in the U.S. because there are so many world-famous universities here. And I thought maybe as being a grad student I can learn hints or key factors that can be applied to Japanese universities. So I decided to apply to this program through the Japanese government.

Lai: I did my undergrad in social work in China. Social work is a newly developed major — we did not have it 30 years ago. It is fairly new and it’s not complete. So I went to America to study social work. I went to Wisconsin for my MSW. I love to come to large cities like New York and L.A., a more vibrant city feel, and also because of the reputation of UCLA. And I did some stalking online for professors and I found my adviser, Todd Franke. He really matches with my interests, and he is such a great mentor. So I decided to come here, and it’s been a great decision so far.

Loor: I was at a grad school fair when I was at the University of Texas — this was back in 2008 or 2009 — and this school (Luskin) was there. I was toying with this idea to go into urban studies at Texas. My degree is in civil engineering and I wanted something else so I added on history. While I was fulfilling the major I got into an urban studies class and I liked it. I always wanted to come back to L.A. and since I knew this school existed and this program existed, and I knew I wanted to come back to L.A., so I only applied to UCLA. I didn’t apply anywhere else because I know there is a certain prestige to the name. This was just a really good program.

There’s been a lot of talk about travel bans being instituted by our new president. Has that impacted your life in any way? What kinds of things are you hearing from family, friends and other international students about this issue?

Suzuki: As a government official at Japan’s Ministry of Education, I am really concerned about the ban’s effect in the near future on the interaction between Japanese and American students or researchers, or the number of Japanese people who want to study abroad here. They may decide not to come here because they realize maybe that the ban will affect getting a visa to come here.

Lai: The travel ban hasn’t impacted me or my family that much, but the new president’s attitude and actions toward women — cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and Violence Against Women Act, and science education and the EPA — some of my friends are directly influenced by those actions. As a female and a student researcher, that concerns me a lot — together with the travel ban. The globalization process is inevitable, and only through cooperation between countries can we make win-win situations. These actions may only cause hatred and discrimination, but can’t bring the good side of humankind.

Loor: Just tangentially because my mom went to Jordan a few weeks ago for a vacation with her sister. I was just worried about it, though there was no real problem. It is a bummer that you have to think about this. The ICE (Immigrant and Customs Enforcement) crackdowns are a big deal here in L.A. I haven’t been directly affected by it, but still I am just hyper aware because of the nature of what I am studying and the nature of the social consciousness of the cohort as a whole.

How has Luskin prepared you to deal with the challenges you may face upon graduation?

Suzuki: I have to return to the ministry of education so I have to continue working. I still am interested in higher education policy. So I really want to work in the higher education policy division but also at the same time my ministry is in charge of sports policy. In 2020 the Olympics Games are coming to Japan and we have the sports agency in the education ministry. So I want to help the city of Tokyo host the Olympic games in 2020. One thing that I learned here is a lot of quantitative analysis skill that I never learned in Japan. It was a really great opportunity for me to learn that skill. I really want to emphasize the importance of data when making education policies once I return to Japan.

Lai: I’m thinking about being a professor or researcher. I used to focus on the clinical side, but then I thought that is really limited, doing just therapy and counseling. I hope one day, using my research, I can actually advocate for those people who have been ignored in research or in services.

I think the resources that Luskin has provided are great: mentorship, the classes, the connections with other schools and other researchers that are related to my interests. That also helped prepare for my research and just doing independent work. And my social skills. And the supportive platform is really important. I felt really welcome here.

Loor: I will more than likely have to go into the private sector. I’ve taken Joan Ling’s three housing courses. For me, at least with my background in engineering, I’m well-suited to go into real estate development, hopefully with some affordable housing development component. Luskin really prepares you a lot. I was looking at jobs earlier this week, and I realized that I am qualified for real estate financial analyst, and I’d never thought about doing this for a career.

America in the Balance A Senior Fellows talk at UCLA Luskin by two political veterans reminds students that legislative success in America depends on compromise, not on who can yell the loudest  

By Les Dunseith

Today, national politics is dominated by rancor, name-calling and partisanship. The pressure to pick a side and take up the battle against enemies on the political left or right can seem particularly intense for the students who study public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As former GOP gubernatorial candidate William “Bill” Simon reminded attendees during a Senior Fellows Lecture Series discussion on June 8, 2017, actually getting things done in politics requires compromise and consensus.

“I feel very strongly that there is a role for sensibility. There is a role for courtesy,” Simon told a group of UCLA Luskin students and faculty members. “You have to have courtesy for people who don’t agree with you.”

The value of being open-minded was particularly apt given that the spirited discussion took place on the UCLA campus and also included political strategist Dan Schnur, who is a faculty member at cross-town rival USC.

“It’s really easy to point to the most irrational and repulsive voices on the other side and use them as an excuse not to engage with someone who doesn’t agree with you,” Schnur said of the current political climate. “I remind people that someone who disagrees with me 80 percent of the time isn’t my enemy. She’s someone I can work with 20 percent of the time. And think of what we can accomplish in that 20 percent.”

A wide-ranging Q&A session included discussions about volunteerism, student activism and speculation about the 2018 California governor’s race. The speakers addressed international issues like climate change. But the session was dominated by talk of the turmoil in Washington, D.C.

The gathering was organized by VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development, in part because of a request from students — some of them from other countries.

“College campuses like UCLA can be liberal-leaning, so it was great to see students come forward, asking for speakers who could talk about the current presidential administration from a more conservative and independent-thinking viewpoint,” Powe said. “We need to create more spaces like this for meaningful dialogue.”

Schnur is registered as a “no party preference” voter nowadays, but his resumé includes stints working as a communications director for Republican Sen. John McCain and a former GOP governor of California, Pete Wilson. Simon is a businessman and philanthropist who has co-taught a class at USC with Schnur and also serves as a visiting professor at UCLA in law and economics. He described himself during the UCLA gathering as an “unapologetic conservative Republican.”

Simon told the students that America is currently at an important intersection in history in which political consensus has eroded. He reminded them of another highly charged time of partisan politics.

“You had a conservative Republican like Ronald Reagan in the ’80s who could still get something done with a liberal Democrat like Tip O’Neill,” he said of the former president and House speaker, who ended up finding enough common ground to produce landmark reforms of welfare, taxes and Social Security. “And I think that has now been lost.”

The current political discord may turn out to be a historical aberration, Schnur said, pointing out that it’s a worthwhile reminder of what makes America unique. By happenstance, the UCLA session occurred on the same day as opening testimony by former FBI Director James Comey about whether President Donald Trump had acted improperly in seeking to derail an investigation of possible ties to Russia among Trump allies.

“A country’s chief executive is being questioned for what the head of our domestic law enforcement agency called ‘deeply disturbing behavior,’ and there is a constitutional process in place for another branch or branches of government to check that behavior should it become necessary,” Schnur said. “Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whether you are a no party preference or a Green or a Libertarian or a vegetarian, you ought to be able to take some real comfort, if not some real pride, in the idea … that there is a process and a system in place to address these potential excesses in a completely appropriate and legal and constitutional manner.”

Both Schnur and Simon said the country’s political divide certainly is being exacerbated by the actions and behavior of Trump.

“This is as much hatred as I have ever seen for a person in the political arena. And I think that’s too bad,” said Simon, who noted that he personally dislikes the president and questions his tactics despite agreeing with certain actions, including his choice of Neil Gorsuch to join the U.S. Supreme Court.

“But 62 million people voted for Trump. So obviously there is something going on,” Simon said.

He said many people who voted for Trump did so because they felt like their views had been overlooked.

“They didn’t trust anybody that got elected, Republican or Democrat. It was just a way of protesting the establishment,” Simon suggested. “It wasn’t so much that Trump resonated with them politically. Trump resonated with them emotionally. Because he was angry.”

Schnur said he also is no fan of Trump. He thinks the current political gridlock in Washington likely will be transitory and noted that the 2016 election result is already motivating party leaders to rethink policy positions and election strategy. Perhaps the end result will be a more thoughtful, reflective American electorate.

“Politics doesn’t lead society. Politics reflects society,” he said.

Schnur pulled out his cellphone and spoke about the wonderful sense of freedom and empowerment it provides to him, noting the near-constant flow of information and access to entertainment, ideas and opinions.

Then he pointed to the ear buds.

“As soon as I put these plugs in my ears to listen to my favorite music, I immediately lose any interest in what you are listening to,” Schnur said, motioning toward Simon as he continued the metaphor. “If I have one set of cable stations, and he has another. If I have one set of podcasts and websites, and he has another … we are not just disagreeing on the issues of the day. We are experiencing two entirely different versions of reality.”

Turning back to the gathering of students and faculty, and hinting at their desire to weather the current political storm and pursue careers that improve American policy, Schnur continued.

“What can we do? We can take the plugs out of our ears.”

Paper on Nature of Cities Earns Accolades UCLA Luskin scholars Michael Storper and Allen Scott are recognized for their agenda-setting critical assessment of current urban theory

By Stan Paul

The majority of the world’s people live in cities, and numerous theoretical approaches from diverse fields have suggested frameworks for thinking about urbanization and the complexity of the urban form.

Now, two UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs scholars are being recognized for seeking to frame those approaches as a common language, or foundational concept, for the study of urbanization, an effort that has further enlivened and deepened an ongoing debate. It has also sparked a bit of controversy.

Michael Storper of the Department of Urban Planning and his longtime colleague and collaborator Allen J. Scott have been selected by the journal Urban Studies as recipients of the Best Article award for 2016’s “Current Debates in Urban Theory: A Critical Assessment.”

The journal’s website explains that the Urban Studies Best Article designation is awarded by the editors and authors to the most innovative and agenda-setting article published in a given year. Mark Stephens is editor of the international journal, which was established in 1964 and is published by SAGE. The winning article was selected in a process that narrowed a field of 20 initial candidates to five before the final selection was made.

Storper is a distinguished professor of regional and international development at UCLA Luskin, and Scott is a distinguished professor emeritus of public policy and geography. Their article proposed an analytical framework for urban studies while strongly critiquing three existing and influential perspectives: postcolonial urban theory, assemblage theory and planetary urbanism.

Storper, who also holds academic appointments at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) in Paris and the London School of Economics, noted that this was the second paper on this subject in collaboration with Scott. In the earlier paper, the two UCLA professors had argued for a different approach, generating vigorous debate that led proponents of competing theories to offer their own critiques in response.

The newest paper addresses those critiques and offers further explanation by Storper and Scott. In the journal article, they wrote: “We claim that there are fundamental common genetic factors underlying urban patterns, and a robust set of conceptual categories within which urbanisation processes and urban experiences can be analysed, wherever they may occur in the world.”

Storper and Scott considered high levels of diversity and disagreement over the last century, writing “we asked if a coherent, stable theory of the city could be constructed.” Such a theory would need to accomplish all of the following: “account for the genesis of cities in general, capture the essence of cities as concrete social phenomena, and make it possible to shed light on the observable empirical cities over time and space.”

The authors identify and put forth five basic variables, or forces, that shape what they refer to as the “urban land nexus” at different times and places. These include:

  • the overall level and mode of economic development;
  • prevailing resource allocation rules;
  • forms of social stratification;
  • cultural norms and traditions;
  • and relations of political authority and power.

In refuting other theoretical formulations of what defines urban, Storper and Scott further conclude: “Not only does our analysis provide us with the tools for distinguishing between the general and the particular in urban outcomes, but also for separating out that which is distinctively and inherently urban from the rest of social reality.

“We must distinguish between phenomena that occur in cities but are not generated by urbanization processes as such, and phenomena that are legitimately elements of cities in the sense that they play an active role in defining the shape and logic of urban outcomes.”

The full article and lists of other finalists and previous winners are available online, as is a video explanation by Storper.

Policy vs. Political Reality Former Michigan Congressman Bob Carr shares his insights with UCLA Luskin students, faculty and fellows during a week as a Regents Lecturer

By Zev Hurwitz and Stan Paul

Public policy students at UCLA frequently study the goings-on in Congress as a matter of historical fact, but the learning really comes to life when a Capitol Hill veteran makes his way to the Public Affairs Building in person.

That’s exactly what happened when M. Robert “Bob” Carr, a former longtime congressman from Michigan, spent several days at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, lecturing and meeting with Public Policy students. Carr, a former Luskin Senior Fellow, visited Luskin May 15-19, 2017, as a Regents Lecturer — part of the University of California’s Regents Professors and Lecturers Program.

During a busy week at UCLA Luskin, Carr spoke to public policy graduate students over lunch, participated in a Senior Fellows conversation, lectured to intimate groups of students and faculty, spoke to students in a first-year public policy course, and held a series of one-on-one office meetings with Luskin students.

Carr served 18 years in Congress between 1975 and 1995 in a district that includes Michigan’s capital, Lansing. He currently serves as adjunct professor of ethics and congress at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.

Public Policy Department Chair and Professor Mark Peterson introduced Carr during a May 17 lecture, noting that the former congressman was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat in an otherwise heavily Republican district in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

“As we know, Congress goes on to experience all kinds of periods of time, including the current one,” Peterson said. “Few people have more insight on that than Bob Carr.”

Wednesday’s talk was titled “Congress: A Political Institution, Not a Policy Shop” and focused on the nuances of policy pursuits in a highly politically charged governmental body.

“In most languages, ‘policy’ and ‘politics’ are the same word,” Carr said. “I’ve wondered out loud how this affects our thinking about these areas. We tend to categorize — that’s how we communicate. In English, ‘politics’ and ‘policy’ are related, but have two very different meanings.”

Carr discussed how different branches of the government interact with policy, noting that the rules of the House of Representatives tend to mandate a focus on procedure over policy-formation.

“If I have all the right arguments, I’ve got the best policy prescription, I’ve done critical thinking, and everyone agrees with me — but I don’t know the rule book — I’m not going to win,” he said. “Procedure will win every time over policy and politics.”

In the Senate, however, policy and procedure are secondary to the political environment.

“Senators are very important people. If you don’t know that, just ask them,” he joked.

Because the Senate places less emphasis on rules, every Senator has the ability to hold up legislation. “Every Senator, regardless of where they’re from or their party, is essentially equal, and they cling to that equality,” he said.

Because both chambers of Congress vary on their priorities and operations, policymaking is strained when the two chambers need to work together to pass bills, that arise from differing priorities. The executive branch, by contrast, lays out a policy agenda but is powerless to act unilaterally to introduce new laws.

A more productive form of government, he said, is one where the executive branch is not operating in a manner inherently at odds with the legislature.

“It’s relatively efficient,” he said of parliamentary democracies such as in the United Kingdom. “Parliamentary systems are designed to make things happen.”

Carr’s talk to UCLA Luskin Senior Fellows, “Can This Divided Congress Govern?” was moderated by Bill Parent, lecturer in the Department of Public Policy.

Carr provided a bit of U.S. history, discussing the political environment of the late 1700s. Carr said that at that time the framers of the Constitution did not want another Parliament, which he said was making life in the colonies “miserable,” citing the passage of the Stamp Act as one example.

In addition to making laws, budgets and playing a key role in the balance of power, “what’s the job of Congress?” Carr asked the audience. “Congress is about politics. Congress is about the struggle, not the policy,” he said.

“Can you have democracy in America if you don’t have democracy in the House?” he asked. “No, you can’t. And we don’t have democracy in the House today.”

Asked what a run for Congress in a state like Michigan would look like in today’s environment, Carr said it would not consist of a single message. Considering the makeup of the state, “It just wouldn’t work. You have to make a connection, find out what their story is. The message has to speak to the people’s story.”

When asked what things he would like to see change, Carr listed:

  • Gerrymandering, especially in an age of computers and big data. “Members of Congress are selecting their constituency and not the other way around,” he said.
  • Campaign finance, which he said is a corrupted system, citing super PACS and the “terrorism of money.”
  • And getting rid of the filibuster and a “return to a majoritarian body,” Carr said. “I know people on my side of the aisle go nuts about that, but long-term we have to transact with the American people.”

 

Social Workers Come Together for ‘This Incredible Conference’ At student-organized event, professionals and scholars gather at UCLA Luskin to hear experts discuss issues of vital importance to the Latina/o community

By Les Dunseith

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and the second floor hallway of the Public Affairs Building at UCLA is abuzz with activity as professional social workers join UCLA Luskin students and faculty for a daylong series of lectures and workshops designed to help them do the best work possible for Latina/o populations in Southern California.

“People come from all over for this conference,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare, as attendees began to file into a large classroom to begin the 15th annual Social Services in the Latina/o Community Conference on May 13, 2017. “They look forward to it.”

One group, from Ventura County, even arrived two hours early. By the time Dean Gary Segura delivered his keynote address shortly after 9 a.m., a total of about 100 people were on hand. Other participants would continue to arrive as workshops proceeded throughout the day. The student-organized conference has become so successful, in fact, that advance registration had to be capped at 220 this year.

A 1988 graduate of UCLA Luskin’s MSW program, Laviña noted during his opening remarks that such popularity wasn’t always the case. When it began a decade-and-a-half ago, the conference “was struggling, struggling, struggling,” he said. “But now it’s this incredible conference — all for free — because of the hard work that the students have done.”

Christina Hernandez, a second-year Master of Social Welfare student and one of the three co-chairs of the Latina/o Caucus, said the conference is the culmination of a yearlong process that starts with the writing of grant applications soon after the academic year begins. This year, a total of about $7,000 in grant funding was obtained.

The six-member board of the Latino Caucus includes two first-year MSW students whose participation is designed to help them be better prepared to lead the caucus and its annual conference next year. It’s a tradition that Hernandez said benefited her personally, as it did her co-chairs and fellow MSW students, Sandra Cervantes and Corina López.

“In my first year, I saw the time commitment that was required for the conference,” Hernandez explained. “So going into this year, I knew that I had to give it my all in order to make it a successful conference.”

As the date drew nearer, the students worked with Laviña and their other faculty advisers, Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08, to issue a call for proposals from potential speakers on various topics. The number of applicants exceeded the time and space available, which led to a culling process.

“We select proposals that seem most appropriate,” said Hernandez, who also noted that the organizers seek a balanced program of workshops, in part because many professionals earn continuing education credit for licensing purposes by attending. For instance, “two really good candidates” proposed workshops on law-related topics, but only one of them made this year’s agenda.

That session, “Trauma-Informed Immigration Law for Social Workers,” was one of nine workshops that took place during the day, which included a lunch break that featured a performance by Aztec dancers. A sample of other workshop topics included “Critical Race Theory in Social Work Practice: Going Beyond Competency” and “Queer Latinx: Policy & Critical Discourse.”

Although workshop topics were highly varied, one theme that got a lot of attention was the symbolic and practical impact of Trump administration policies on the vital work being done by the social workers who interact on a daily basis with members of the Latino community.

The rhetoric from Washington has left many social welfare students and professionals — not to mention their clients in disadvantaged and immigrant communities — feeling fearful and angry.

In his keynote talk, Segura detailed examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout history, noting that Latinos have often felt like unwelcome outsiders because of America’s prevailing Euro-centric culture and view of history.

“It is a reflection of our lives as being principally valued for our labor rather than our personhood,” Segura said, “persistently marginalized for our phenotype rather than any actual transgressions, and conceived of in the eyes of those who hold power as a community that is less than equal.

“At the Luskin School of Public Affairs, we like to say we create change agents,” Segura said during his talk. “I sure hope so. Because we so badly need change. Fight like our lives depend on it. They just might.”

Serna and Laviña offered similar thoughts during their own remarks.

“This act of being of service is an act of resistance to injustice and oppression,” Serna told the crowd. “We are sending a message of hope and solidarity to the communities we serve, while raising a fist to those that desire to restrict us and remove funding to deter us from our purpose.”

Laviña, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion, talked about the importance of taking the high road, especially amid political and policy uncertainty.

“In this time of anger and standing up, I think we need to rely not just on ‘othering’ people. Because we have all been the ‘other,’” he said. “So I hope that today you leave with tools and knowledge and, most importantly, an increased sense of community. Because we cannot do this work alone.”

Progress and Equity: It Takes a Village During a panel discussion on policymaking in the Trump era, local leaders advocate for targeted community action rather than relying solely on mass protests  

By Aaron Julian

Determination and the call to purposeful action were primary themes at UCLA Luskin during “Equitable Policymaking Under a Trump Administration,” which featured local leaders whose work presses for the rights of minority and underrepresented groups in the greater Los Angeles community and beyond.

“The work we are doing now is more important than ever before. If there is a bright light [of the Trump election], it is that a lot of people have been mobilized to do something,” said panelist Fred Ali, president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation.

Furthering Ali’s point, Romel Pascual, executive director of CicLAvia, shared the message imparted to his staff the day after the election of President Trump. “Our work is so much more important than ever before. Because what we do is we bring people together,” he said.

Sonja Diaz MPP ’10, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was the moderator of the May 11, 2017, event and discussion. The Equitable Policy Symposium was hosted by Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity, co-chaired by Emma K. Watson and Jessica Noel, second-year students in the Master of Public Policy program.

Diaz directed the conversation with questions about how to ensure that the rights of minority communities are protected and how each panelist’s work has changed in the wake of the presidential election. A sense of community, paired with organized mass mobilization, was the panelists’ unanimous response.

Funmilola Fagbamila, activist-in-residence for the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and arts and culture director for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, pressed that the work of an activist has not changed, instead it has become more amplified. Fagbamila also noted that the same protesting and organizational techniques employed by Black Lives Matter were being used nationwide in resistance to the election’s outcome.

“Be willing to have conversations with folks in your own communities who don’t get it,” emphasized Fagbamila. “We need numbers, and in order to get numbers … we have to be willing to be in communication with each other.”

Immigration reform was a pillar of Trump’s presidential campaign, and Los Angeles has been a battleground site in the wake of executive actions by the president.

Jordan Cunnings of the Public Counsel’s Immigrant’s Rights Project discusses the communal effort and work of countless activists since the election. Photo by Les Dunseith

Jordan Cunnings, an Equal Justice Works fellow for the Public Counsel’s Immigrant’s Rights Project, gave her perspective on the local reaction, including spontaneous protests. “Everyone came… It was very powerful to see everyone coalesce,” Cunnings said about protests at LAX that followed the first of the Trump administration’s immigration bans. The communal effort and work of countless activists has made a difference, she said.

The LGBTQ community has also been impacted, said Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She has led the Los Angeles LGBT Center through an era of “unprecedented growth,” which has significantly increased the center’s ability to serve the Los Angeles community.

Jean noted an evolving strategy since the election. “Marching is great, gathering is great… but that is not enough,” she said. While resisting legislation and initiatives proposed by the Trump administration, the center has also been active in allying with groups such as labor to push for positive change.

Panelists said positive change can have different meanings, ranging from effective reform to making communities safer to spreading awareness of socioeconomic disparities between ethnic and social groups in areas such as imprisonment and poverty.

“Resources should go into places that influence people into coming together and not just straight to putting a cop on the street,” Pascual insisted. More policing does not necessarily build community or safety, he said.

Torie Osborn, principal deputy for policy and strategy for Supervisor Sheila Kuehl of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, noted that the Affordable Care Act had added coverage for the mentally ill and people with drug addictions. A repeal of the ACA, and the aid that came with it, would negatively impact many people with the greatest need, she said, including the homeless and those recently released from prisons.

“We have got to look at the unlikely allies who we do not think will be under our tent,” Pascual said about the need to be resourceful. “The takeaway I have gotten from my experiences is to build a big tent.”

During a Q&A that followed the panel discussion, topics included weighing the relationship between safer communities and gentrification, and the current state of the two-party political system in the United States.

Making a Local Impact Luskin Senior Fellow Mitchell Katz talks about boosting health care at the local level — even when the feds won’t pitch in

By Zev Hurwitz

Mitchell Katz, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow, knows of several projects that would demonstrate the potential for effectiveness of local government.

“When people talk about public policy, typically people think about Washington [D.C.] or they think about state government,” said Katz, MD, director of the Los Angeles County Health Agency during a talk May 9, 2017, at the UCLA Faculty Center. “I have to say I’ve never been interested in working in either because I like seeing problems directly and figuring out how to solve them. What I want you to think about is, ‘What are the opportunities to do interesting things at a local level that perhaps you could never do at a federal level?’”

More than 50 attendees also heard from Director of the Los Angeles Initiative and former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who moderated a Q&A that followed Katz’s discussion of experiences that employ creativity to improve public health.

For example, when HIV/AIDS was spreading in San Francisco more than two decades ago, Katz helped create a needle exchange program that drastically lowered the number of new infections. In order to bypass state laws prohibiting taxpayer-funded needle exchanges, Katz and his colleagues needed to be creative in finding a legal loophole.

“We came up with the idea that we would declare an emergency,” he said. “The idea was that this was the leading cause of death among men … and here was something that was a transmissible agent. It seemed to me that this cause of death was a public health emergency.”

Katz likened the response to AIDS during the epidemic to an earthquake, during which normal county bureaucratic channels would be bypassed in providing emergency services.

“You were on the County Board of Supervisors for many years,” he said to Yaroslavsky. “If there’s a huge earthquake, you don’t want Zev and his colleagues to follow the process of getting request for proposals and figuring out who’s going to clean up your street — you want everybody to waive all the rules.”

Because rules for emergencies are time-sensitive, keeping the needle exchange program alive meant renewing the emergency order every two weeks for the next nine years.

“This gives you some sense about how absurd it was,” he said of navigating the bureaucracy.

Needle exchanges finally became legal in 2011, yet today no federal funding can be used to pay for such programs.

Katz also spoke about his work banning tobacco sales in pharmacies, improving public housing for homeless and chronically ill patients, advancing teleretinal screenings and remote doctor’s appointments to reduce waiting time for specialist appointments.

During the Q&A, he and Yaroslavsky engaged in a conversation about the future of health in Los Angeles and the country.

Yaroslavsky had high praise for Katz. “One of the best decisions the Board [of Supervisors] made in my day was getting Mitch Katz to come to Los Angeles even though he was from San Francisco,” he said.

Associate Dean and Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris opened the event, which was co-sponsored by the Fielding School of Public Health, and she introduced Katz. She also discussed the Luskin Senior Fellows program, which pairs leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with graduate students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for mentorship and engagement on field-specific issues.

VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at Luskin, oversees the program, which is now in its 20th year. She noted that the fellowship program’s speaker series allows the Luskin community to hear directly from community leaders.

“The Senior Fellows Speaker Series was created to provide a public square in which these prominent community and policy leaders can discuss their roles in public service and provide insights to their efforts to solve pressing public and social policy challenges,” she said.

 

The Lost Shtetl In a new book, Professor Emeritus Jack Rothman chronicles his journey to find the forgotten village in Ukraine where his family had lived for generations

By Zev Hurwitz

With the advent of the internet and Google Maps, searching for virtually any town in the world is just a few clicks away. But for Luskin School of Public Affairs Professor Emeritus Jack Rothman, planning a visit to his father’s birthplace, Butsnevits, was a little more challenging. The biggest issue: No map seems to acknowledge the existence of such a place.

In a new self-published book, “Searching for Butsnevits: A Shtetl Tale,” Rothman sets off to find the titular shtetl, a word for a small Jewish village, of which his father would speak fondly about.

After writing some 25 other books with more traditionally academic prose, Rothman’s latest publication takes on a much more personal feel. Described in the introduction as “part autobiography, part social history, and part detective story,” Rothman pieces together clues to the shtetl life of his family in early 20th century Ukraine.

He describes the book as an encounter with the past, with the history of his family and the region, and what has happened since to the people and the place. No Jews are left in the village anymore. They were decimated by the Nazi destruction machine during WW II. Women work the fields now, and men do maintenance and repairs. Most youth leave for work in the cities. And the old Jewish cemetery has no defining walls left and almost all the stones are gone.

“I wanted to tell the story of my trip and what I experienced, and have the reader accompany me on the journey,” Rothman said. “I wanted the reader to learn what I learned when I learned it.”

His interest piqued growing up with a family that referred to Butsnevits as “der haim” (“the home”). As a researcher at UCLA, Rothman plowed through the records at the UCLA Jewish Library and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, neither providing any hint to the location of Butsnevits.

The book tells how Rothman, in 1995, tacks on a side trip to Ukraine while in Europe for a speaking engagement in Poland. After changing planes in the bustling airport of Frankfurt, Rothman finds himself further and further removed from modern luxury as he teams up with a local tour guide and driver and sets off to Letichev, which a family member had told him was in the general vicinity of Butsnevits. The rural journey continues only through clues such as a beautiful nearby lake and an old mill, and interviews with locals. Rothman writes about staying in Kiev in a hotel with “cardboard simulations of towels” and navigating towns without running water.

In addition to recounting the journey through rural Ukraine, Rothman also sets the journey and the shtetl in question in the context of the Russian Revolution. As made famous by the film “Fiddler on the Roof,” Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe were threatened by attacks called pogroms from anti-Jewish nationals.

Rothman says he typically tries to avoid focus on the tragic nature of large parts of Jewish history.

“I didn’t start off with a strong intention to deal with anti-Semitism,” Rothman said. “The thing I didn’t like about my Jewish education was dwelling on all of the tragedies that took place. I sort of longed for a Jewish history that was a little brighter.”

In writing “Searching for Butsnevits,” Rothman found it impossible not to contextualize the shtetl’s history and decline without taking into account the history of Eastern Europe. There were the Khmelnytsky massacres of 1648, the Czar Alexander III repressive May Laws of 1882, and the Nazi invasion starting in 1939. The chaotic civil war in the region following the Russian Revolution was also an important element of the oppression of Jews.

“The anti-Semitism hit me in the face,” he said of learning the backstory for Butsnevits. “I had to give it a good deal of play.”

Rothman said that he didn’t face any sort of anti-Semitic interactions during his trip and noted that every interaction with locals — save for a xenophobic innkeeper — was very pleasant. The people in the village were honored to have a visitor from America, whose family had lived among them, and gave him the utmost courtesy, he said.

In the second part of the book, Rothman includes a harrowing firsthand depiction of a violent pogrom attack on the shtetl as witnessed by his older cousin, Sally, who lived in Butsnevits as a child. Rothman had relied heavily on Sally’s description of the shtetl prior to his trip in 1995 and included her firsthand account, recorded in 1973, of an attack on the village and her family’s home.

“I thought of Sally’s narrative as simply being documentation of what many, many people experienced. This is an on-the-ground story of the antipathy and violence experienced by Jews and how it caused this family to pick up and leave this place that they had been in for generations.”

Sally, who was 8 when she and her family fled Butsnevits for the United States, was Rothman’s sole source of information about Butsnevits when he was planning his Ukraine trip. Rothman says that his search for the shtetl and learning about shtetl life has given him new admiration for the family that pioneered life in the United States.

“When they came to the United States, they were what people called ‘greenhorns,’” he said. “They spoke only Yiddish and had no education. It was painful for them to learn how to navigate institutions like hospitals and schools.

“They came from a tiny and isolated rural village and crossed a wide ocean into the frenzy and complexity of tumultuous New York City. I don’t know how they did it — surviving and raising families that even the Rotary Club would admire,” Rothman said. “After visiting the postage-stamp-sized Butnevits, in my mind, they skyrocketed from ‘greenhorn’ immigrants to heroes.”

Rothman is a former social welfare professor at UCLA Luskin, where he focused his research on community organizing for social change. (“I was a community organizer before President Obama,” he said with a laugh.) He previously taught at the University of Michigan and has held emeritus status at UCLA since retiring shortly after his visit to Ukraine.

“Searching for Butsnevits: A Shtetl Tale” is available for purchase from Amazon.