‘Unequal Cities’ Conference Highlights Housing Research The multiday event in Los Angeles launches a global research network supported by the National Science Foundation that will unite scholars concerned with housing justice

By Les Dunseith

UCLA Luskin’s Ananya Roy opened a multiple-day conference convened by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin by stressing a desire to shift people’s thinking beyond the pragmatic concerns of a “housing crisis” to the broader theme of “housing justice” and what that means to society on a global scale.

“Our present historical conjuncture is marked by visible manifestations of the obscene social inequality that is today’s housing crisis, the juxtaposition of the $238-million New York penthouse recently purchased by a hedge fund manager for occasional use, to the tent cities in which the houseless must find durable shelter,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who also serves as director of the Institute.

The setting for those remarks on Jan. 31, 2019, was particularly poignant — just outside, homeless people huddled on a cold and damp evening in tents lining the Skid Row streets surrounding the headquarters of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). Inside, a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 students, scholars, community organizers, housing experts and other stakeholders gathered to hear Roy and other speakers talk about the inadequate supply of affordable housing in California and around the world, and the cultural, political and economic barriers that undermine solutions.

“The fault lines have shifted,” Pete White, executive director and founder of LA CAN, told the audience. “We are now fighting the wholesale financialization of housing.”

The event in downtown Los Angeles and a full day of presentations that followed the next day on the UCLA campus was titled “Housing Justice in Unequal Cities,” and it signified the launch of a global research network of the same name supported by the National Science Foundation. With partners from India, Brazil, South Africa, Spain and across the United States, the network aims to bring together organizations, individuals and ideas around the creation of housing access and housing justice through legal frameworks, cooperative models of land and housing, and community organizing.

Roy said the Institute on Inequality and Democracy views the network as “exemplifying our commitment to address the displacements and dispossessions — what we call the urban color-lines — of our times.”

By partnering with community-based organizations such as LA CAN, “we situate housing justice in the long struggle for freedom on occupied, colonized, stolen land,” Roy told attendees.

The Housing Justice in Unequal Cities Network will bring together research and curriculum collaborations, data working groups, summer institutes, publishing projects and more. Roy said the network will unite movement-based and university-based scholars concerned with housing justice.

The effort also will build upon “an extraordinary proliferation of housing movements, policy experiments and alternative housing models,” Roy said. “This energy crackles all around us here in Los Angeles and it animates the work of the speakers at this conference.”

Over the course of the first evening and the full day of programming that followed, conference participants heard from a variety of speakers from UCLA, across the country and around the world — several of whom traveled from their home countries to be in attendance. The opening night included talks by James DeFilippis of Rutgers University, Maria Kaïka of University of Amsterdam, Erin McElroy of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and Keisha-Khan Y. Perry of Brown University.

Kickoff event attendees also were treated to music, with UCLA Luskin’s urban planning student Caroline Calderon serving as DJ, and listened to a riveting spoken-word performance by poet Taalam Acey.

“A man is judged by what’s in his soul and what is in his heart … not just what is in his pocket,” Acey said.

The second day of the event attracted a crowd of about 250 people and focused primarily on current research related to housing justice. Speakers pointed out that housing equity goes well beyond the extremes of homeownership and homelessness to include the experience of renters as well.

“Renters are powerful contributors and creators of their communities,” noted Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink.

According to Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, “We don’t have a housing crisis, we have a tenants’ rights crisis.”

Additional speakers at the conference included UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy; UCLA Luskin graduate students Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson; Gautam Bhan of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements; Nicholas Blomley of Simon Fraser University; Nik Heynen of University of Georgia; Toussaint Losier of University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Sophie Oldfield of University of Cape Town; Laura Pulido of University of Oregon; Raquel Rolnik of University of São Paulo (via video); Tony Roshan Samara of Urban Habitat; Desiree Fields of University of Sheffield; and former UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty member Gilda Haas of LA Co-op Lab.

Those interested in finding out more and getting involved in the effort are encouraged to sign up to receive housing justice reports and updates about community action and events: join the network.

View additional photos from the conference on Flickr.

Institute on Inequality & Democracy - Housing Justice in #UnequalCities

Briefing Seeks Solutions to Latino Doctor Shortfall UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative’s gathering of medical professionals, policy analysts and advocates looks at underlying causes and why the impact is keenly felt in California

By Gabriela Solis

Although Latinos comprise the largest ethnic group in California, Latino doctors in the state are in short supply, according to recent research from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI).

On Jan. 15, 2019, the UCLA Luskin-based think tank co-hosted a discussion in Oakland that brought together doctors, medical practitioners, academics and advocates to discuss California’s Latino physician shortage.

“California has an alarmingly low rate of Latino doctors. There are 46 Latino doctors for every 100,000 Latino Californians,” said LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz, citing data derived from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. “In contrast, there are 405.7 non-Hispanic white physicians for every 100,000 non-Hispanic white Californians.”

Diaz led the discussion co-hosted by the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) and the Greenlining Institute, which is based in Oakland.

“We graduate about 110 Latino medical doctors every year. If we continue forward, it will take almost five centuries to close the gap,” noted Diaz. That data from the Association of American Medical Colleges is included in the LPPI report, “5 Centuries to Reach Parity: An Analysis of How Long It Will Take to Address California’s Latino Physician Shortage,” which was produced under the guidance of LPPI faculty expert David Hayes Bautista, a distinguished professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

Joining Diaz in debate and discussion were Jeffrey Reynoso, executive director, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California; Arturo Vargas Bustamante, associate professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and public policy at UCLA Luskin; Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and chief executive officer, California Primary Care Association; Berenice Núñez Constant, vice president, government relations, AltaMed Health Services Corporation; and Carmen Estrada, MD candidate at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

The wide-reaching conversation focused on the shortage’s effects on California’s economy, the needs of medical providers and the shortcomings within higher education that contribute to the shortfall.

Medical student Carmen Estrada of UC Davis

Estrada spoke about her personal experience of being one of the limited number of Latinos currently pursuing a medical degree. Estrada’s first-hand experiences traced her personal journey to medical school from a California State University and the lack of outreach that she said created unnecessary challenges in her career choice.

Núñez Constant shared that although her organization, AltaMed, is constantly looking for Latino physicians, “The supply is just not there.” She also highlighted the difficulty of retaining a Latino physician in such a competitive job market.

Vargas Bustamante’s research supported Núñez Constant’s comments on workforce recruitment. Bustamante said he has found a substantial pipeline problem for Latinos in their transition from high school to college and their transition from college to medical school. Based on his interviews with Latino pre-med students, medical school applicants, Latino medical students and recently graduated Latino physicians, Vargas Bustamante said students who may have an interest in the field often feel discouraged by the lack of investment to recruit and retain Latino students. Many then choose another career.

The panel agreed that this complex issue requires a strategic collaboration of California policymakers, medical providers and academia to form solutions.

But, said California State Assemblyman Robert “Rob” Bonta, expressing his support, “I think we have some wonderful opportunities.” Bonta, a Democrat whose California District 18 includes Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro, serves on a number of legislative committees, including the Health Committee. “Your timing couldn’t be better in terms of uplifting and raising the issue. This is something I’d be proud to work on, and I think it needs to be worked on.”

To learn about California’s Latino physician shortage, visit latino.ucla.edu/health.

View additional photos on Flickr.

Latino Physician Briefing

UCLA Report Provides Strategies for Making Covered California More Affordable Public Policy's Wes Yin helps develop policy options to keep insurance costs down

By Mary Braswell

With California taking steps to revamp its health care system, research by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is guiding the conversation.

The report, published Feb. 1, details strategies to improve the affordability of Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. It was co-authored by economist Wes Yin, associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

Affordability is “the top challenge for individuals who are insured as well as those who remain uninsured,” according to the report (PDF), which lays out a wide array of proposals to meet that challenge, including:

  • capping out-of-pocket premiums for all eligible Californians;
  • offering expanded cost-sharing benefits, which would lower deductibles and the cost of office visits; and
  • creating a California-only penalty for those who opt out of coverage, to replace the penalty that was phased out by the federal government.

“This will help push the conversation forward, now with policy options that we know will improve affordability and market stability,” said Yin, who wrote the report with economist Nicholas Tilipman of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Covered California’s policy and research division.

Commissioned under a state law, the report was presented to the governor’s office and state Legislature. It was developed amid a shifting landscape for health care in California.

On Jan. 30, Covered California reported mixed figures for 2019 enrollment. Although the number of Californians held steady from 2018 to 2019, the number of new enrollees dropped by 23.7 percent. In addition, on the first day of his term, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his own far-reaching health care plan, calling for increased premium subsidies and Medicaid coverage for undocumented youths up to age 26, among other reforms.

“Our analysis gives policymakers a sense for how different approaches benefit Californians and at what cost,” Yin said. “So this report bolsters the governor’s effort to improve health care access.”

The dialogue, he said, will include a debate over the state’s funding priorities.

“From a wider lens, it’s helpful to think about how we can best spend that next public dollar,” Yin said. “It could be health care, it could be pre-K programs, it could be public education or parental leave benefits. These are all important. And there is a strong argument for improving the affordability of health care coverage and reducing cost-sharing burdens. Coverage improves health — especially mental health — it improves chronic disease management and it drastically reduces the risk of catastrophic spending and debt incurred by consumers.”

The report includes proposals to address the divisive issue of penalties for Californians who choose not to buy health insurance. Covered California attributes the decline in new enrollments to removal of the federal individual mandate penalty beginning this year. A statewide penalty would create a fresh incentive to opt in.

“The penalty appears to be quite impactful,” Yin said. “What we’re seeing in Covered California the past year shows that, and our modeling also shows that. Zeroing out the penalty has directly caused premiums to increase and enrollment to drop. Including a penalty while making plans more affordable can be both an effective and fair way of expanding coverage and lowering premiums.”

The report also notes that premium costs can vary widely for consumers based on their age and geographic location. “For consumers nearing retirement age living in high-cost regions, premium costs can exceed 30 percent of income for the most common benefit package,” it said.

To make health insurance more affordable for those consumers, California could use subsidies to cap all premium payments at 15 percent of annual income. Currently, subsidies are offered only to people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $103,000 for a family of four. Consumers who earn just over the 400 percent threshold would not qualify for federal premium subsidies, Yin said. A 15 percent cap would also eliminate this so-called tax-credit cliff.

The report’s policy options are based on a model developed by Yin and Tilipman that shows the potential effects that various policy proposals would have on health care enrollment, consumer health spending and public spending.

As elected officials and consumers debate competing visions of health care reform — from repealing the federal Affordable Care Act to moving to a state-run single-payer system — Yin said the proposals are aimed at expanding coverage and increasing affordability as much as possible.

“Let’s find ways to build on the successes of the Affordable Care Act and make it work better,” Yin said. “These are models for improvement.”

Kevin de León Joins UCLA Luskin Former state legislative leader who bolstered California’s role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy will teach public policy courses and provide insight on issues of special importance to Latinos

President pro Tempore Emeritus of the California State Senate Kevin de León has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs as a distinguished policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst.

“Kevin de León has led the way for more than a decade on issues as important as environmental protection and climate, immigration, education, and so much more. Our students and researchers will both benefit greatly from his insights and vision,” Dean Gary M. Segura said in announcing the appointment.

De León began his new role at UCLA Luskin on Jan. 22, 2019, and will teach his first courses at UCLA in the spring quarter that begins in April. His courses will focus on topics of interest to the School’s graduate students studying public policy and to undergraduates in UCLA Luskin’s new major in public affairs.

As the first Latino in more than a century elected to the position of president pro tem of the California Senate, de León championed California’s global leadership role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy. He also focused his attention on rebuilding the state’s infrastructure; improving public education; ensuring workplace and health care equity for women, immigrants and low-wage workers; and enhancing public safety.

In Sacramento, de León also led the creation of a first-of-its-kind retirement savings program for low-income workers. He pushed for a requirement that a quarter of all carbon cap-and-trade revenue — now totaling over $8 billion — be spent in disadvantaged communities. As Senate leader, he shepherded legislation that set California on the path to a 100 percent clean energy future — the largest economy in the world to do so — thereby creating the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation.

His role at UCLA Luskin will include an advisory position with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), which is a multifaceted laboratory designed to support Latinos around domestic policy challenges. Research and policy briefs from LPPI tackle major legislative issues that directly impact Californians, particularly communities of color.

In December 2017, de León served as keynote speaker for the launch of LPPI, saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world.” De León also spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”

Last year, de León launched a historic challenge to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He prevailed in a tough primary battle, earned the overwhelming endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party, and secured more than 5 million votes.

He has an extensive record on women’s rights, gun-violence prevention and workers’ rights. De León has also worked to create solutions to address the state’s transportation, housing and infrastructure goals.

Another aspect of de León’s appointment at UCLA Luskin will be a collaboration with the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) to design implementation strategies for signature laws that he shepherded during his time in the State Capitol, including legislation to ensure that disadvantaged communities have access to clean transportation options.

Other collaborations with LCI will advance efforts to move the state to 100 percent zero-carbon energy and provide support for policies designed to ensure that California continues to lead the country with its climate policies. De León will help craft community-based solutions that advance these statewide goals.

De León attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and he graduated from Pitzer College.

Activists-in-Residence Bring Pedagogy and Methodologies of Social Change to UCLA The 2019 activists are a co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, an archivist at the Southern California Library, and a UCLA Luskin alumna who is a storyteller, politico and campaign strategist

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

The 2019 UCLA Activists-in-Residence were introduced Jan. 16 to about 100 students, faculty, staff and community supporters who did not let a steady rain deter them from welcoming activists Micah White, Yusef Omowale and UCLA Luskin alumna Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07.

During their residency at UCLA, each of the three activists will pursue a project designed to advance their commitments to social justice. They will also engage with UCLA faculty and students to share their methodologies for social change.

The Activist-in-Residence Program was launched in 2016 by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to advance core research themes concerned with “building power to expose and tackle various forms of dispossession in unequal cities,” said Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “We have insisted on turning the public university inside out.”

Micah White, Ph.D., is an author, public speaker and lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries. His first book, “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution,” was published in 2016.

“This kind of opportunity for the critical pedagogy of activism is as rare as it is needed,” White said prior to the reception. “Activism and the ways we protest must change if it is to regain its effectiveness. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to bring the rigorous thinking of academia to bear against the deep strategic and theoretical challenges facing practicing activists.”

White’s time at UCLA is focused on whether activism can be taught — and how to do it. He and Roy are exploring that issue by co-teaching a course on housing justice activism and protest as part of an effort known as Activist Graduate School.

During her opening remarks, Roy said, “Micah has brought to UCLA Luskin his latest project, Activist Graduate School, which I see as an urgently necessary effort to build pedagogy an infrastructure in these troubled times.”

As archivist at the Southern California Library, Yusef Omowale has been a participant in collective memory work to document the impacts of policing, incarceration, displacement and poverty. He has been involved in political education workshops, campaign support, and the offering of spaces for healing and material support to ease the day-to-day sufferings of individuals in need.

Founded over 50 years ago, the Southern California Library holds extensive collections related to the history of community resistance.

“I am thankful to receive this Activist-in-Residence position for the respite and resources it offers,” Omowale said. “Coming from a struggling nonprofit, having access to all the university affords is no small thing.”

Even so, Omowale said his acceptance of the fellowship carries with it a measure of trepidation.

“The university, consorting as it is with racial capitalism and its progeny, neoliberalism, is not a safe place for most of us,” he explained.

Working in South Central Los Angeles, Omowale is regularly confronted “with dominant imaginings of the violence that we must have to contend with in our work. And certainly, we encounter the violence of poverty, environmental toxins, policing and the interpersonal kind. From this reality, the university is meant to represent a safe haven — a north star.”

Yet, he said, the geography of the university is bounded and sustained in part by the “violence it enacts on communities like the one I work in.”

He continued: “Whether intended or not, this residency has a discursive role in legitimizing the university, erasing its violence, through appropriation of ‘activism.’ I cannot ignore this function, nor my participation in it.”

On the other hand, “there are so many people laboring in the university that I love, and I am thankful for the opportunity to join them in their collective projects for freedom. I will take the advice of Harney and Moten that ‘in the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can,’” Omowale said, referring to the book, “The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,” by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.

During his residency, Omowale will extend his work on building an archival practice that can document displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) selected Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as its 2019 UCLA Activist-in-Residence because of her “creative use of storytelling, art, social media and digital technology to advance Asian American social justice movements that is path-breaking and fits perfectly with our center’s digital initiatives ” said AASC Director Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. She further noted that while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin, Ahmed was part of a student-led initiative to bring critical race theory into public policy.

Ahmed is co-host of a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim” and an avid essayist. She was honored as alumna of the year by UCLA Luskin Public Policy in 2017.

Ahmed said that “digital tools have become one of the most democratizing ways to access movement knowledge, history and analysis to inspire this community forward.”

She continued, “As a community, we have to tell our own counter-narratives and contemporary histories that keep getting sidelined — and what better way to do that than a digital storytelling project rooted at UCLA?”

Ahmed will explore the intersection of digital storytelling with the building of political movements by developing an audio advice column for new Asian American activists.

Her fellowship is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy fellowship program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.

View more photos from the reception on Flickr:

2019 Activists-in-Residence Reception

Micah White, founder of the Activist Graduate School, launches the course on housing justice and activism at UCLA Luskin.

At the Intersection of Activism, Housing and Politics UCLA’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy hosts new course for graduate students across campus interested in battling housing injustice

By George Foulsham and Mary Braswell

A critical shortage of places to live — especially safe, affordable housing — has afflicted neighborhoods across California, the nation and the world. As politicians and civic leaders debate zoning laws and developer incentives, one principle is too often ignored: housing justice.

To fill this gap, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has entered into a first-time collaboration with the Activist Graduate School (AGS) to offer a new class called “Housing Justice Activism and Protest: Past, Present, and Future,” which weaves together history, theory and strategy in a curriculum designed to forge equitable solutions to the housing crisis.

Housing injustice takes many forms, and each week the course will delve into a different facet: Mobilizing renters threatened by unfair evictions. Cracking down on predatory financing. Viewing public housing in a global context. Understanding tensions among tenants, landowners and law enforcement.

Open to all UCLA graduate students, the winter-quarter course quickly filled to capacity. Class sessions are being recorded to eventually be made available for online study worldwide through AGS, a learning community designed to meet the needs of activists.

“Activist Graduate School is part of our ongoing efforts at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy to develop strong alliances between university-based research and movement-based advocacy and activism,” said Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA and director of the Institute, which is hosting the course.

“We call this ‘teach, organize, resist,’ and the idea is to train graduate students at UCLA to make change in unequal cities as well as to share this training and pedagogy with activists and young professionals nationwide,” said Roy, who is co-teaching the course with Micah White, founder of AGS, co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement and one of UCLA’s 2019 Activists-in-Residence.

“We try to teach how to think like a critical activist — focusing on theory of change, strategy, history — without presuming to teach what will be effective or what will spark a social movement,” White said.

“One of the pedagogical principles of AGS is that activism cannot be taught in a prescriptive manner,” he added. “This is because any tactic that was useful in the past is likely to be ineffective in the future, and social movements nearly always come as a surprise; therefore, it is nearly impossible to predict which campaigns will take off.”

During the first class of the quarter, grassroots organizing and renter revolts took center stage. René Christian Moya, an activist with the L.A. Tenants Union and other advocacy groups, shared tactics learned in the trenches of the housing justice fight — including rent strikes and the public shaming of landlords, developers and politicians.

“The law is not on the side of tenants,” Moya said. “We have to be very, very clear and honest with tenants when we’re dealing with them that ultimately it is not the law that’s going to save them, and it’s damn well sure not going to be their elected officials. It’s going to be through their own power.”

The roots of housing injustice in the United States run deep, added speaker Marques Vestal, a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s History department.

“Think of all the ways that tenants are maligned or completely disregarded in everyday culture,” Vestal said. “One of our most dangerous problems … is that most of society thinks landlordism is a natural hierarchy of land.”

Students in the class represented graduate programs from across campus: Geography, History, Law, Public Health, Chinese Studies and all three Luskin School programs — Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Public Policy. By the end of the course, each student will have developed a campaign tackling some area of housing injustice.

Dian Tri Irawaty, who came to UCLA after spending years as a tenant activist in Jakarta, Indonesia, was immediately drawn to the curriculum.

“I want to empower myself with academic tools while doing activism at the same time,” said Irawaty, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in urban geography and member of a graduate student working group at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

She hopes the course will enrich her research into housing and evictions in the global South and ultimately plans to bring her new skills and scholarship back to Jakarta to foster change.

“History, theory and strategy are really important if we want to win the fight for housing,” Irawaty said.

The course was designed in collaboration with Institute graduate student researchers Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.

“This continues the tradition of student-organized courses here at UCLA where we come together and create a curriculum that we feel is urgently needed but otherwise missing,” Roy said.

Graziani, who is also co-director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles, said the course will spur graduate students “to not only think like activists, but to think of ways that their scholarship can take up activists’ mandates for justice-oriented research.”

At the inaugural class, tenant organizer Moya issued a challenge to the gathered students. “You’re not here just to hear me lecture about this. You’re not here to hear any of us just tell you what we already know — that we’re suffering a horrible housing crisis that impacts all of our communities,” he said. “We need every single one of you here to jump into this movement.”

Support for the course is provided by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Urban Planning and Social Welfare from the Luskin School. Other UCLA supporters are the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Institute of American Cultures and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

Cristina Barrera contributed to this report.

Follow the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin on Twitter @challengeineq to learn more about AGS featured speakers and for updates about the UCLA Activist-in-Residence Program.

View more photos from the Housing Justice Activism and Protest course on Flickr.

Housing Justice Activism and Protest

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

By Mary Braswell

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

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

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

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

‘A REALLY TRICKY BUSINESS’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEEKING JUSTICE, EQUITY AND FACTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many simply want reliable information, he said.

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

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

By Will Livesley-O’Neill

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

Motorized scooters are often seen at UCLA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Brian Taylor of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

be mobile.”

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

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

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

Expert Panel Dissects Latino Role in Midterm Elections Chair of Democratic National Committee is among participants in a voting analysis event co-hosted by a policy research group based at UCLA Luskin

By Les Dunseith

As the days passed after the Nov. 6, 2018, elections and vote tallies across the United States were finalized, it became increasingly clear that voters had turned out in record numbers for a midterm election cycle. It also became evident that Latino voters played a pivotal role in many races.

Tom Perez, the first Latino to serve as chair of the Democratic National Committee, told an audience of about 175 people that gathered Nov. 14 at the Japanese American National Museum for a panel discussion of the midterm elections that his party’s get-out-the-vote effort targeted many populations that have been historically hard to motivate in large numbers, including Latinos.

“The number of folks who turned out this year who were first-time voters was a remarkable phenomenon.”
— Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee


“The number of folks who turned out this year who were first-time voters was a remarkable phenomenon,” Perez said during the event co-hosted by UCLA Luskin-based Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) and the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program.

Perez was joined by three other experts on the U.S. Latino electorate during a wide-ranging discussion about the outcome of key 2018 races and what it means for the future of Congress and the 2020 presidential election.

Although turnout was higher than in most midterm elections, the proportion of eligible Latino voters who cast ballots was not as high as it could be. Even so, Perez is focusing on carrying the increased voter engagement of 2018 into future elections.

“I mean, you look at turnout and I think it was up 174 percent in 2018,” he said. “Can we do more? Absolutely. There’s no doubt that there are votes that are left on the table.”

The panel discussion coincided with the release of a new report by LPPI that analyzed 2018 midterm results in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and Texas — states with large Latino populations.

“It’s not about this election. It’s not about the next election. It’s about constantly being present in the Latino community and organizing to get people involved.”
— Matt Barreto, faculty co-director of LPPI 


The report found a significant increase in Latino ballots cast, said panelist Matt Barreto, faculty co-director of LPPI and professor of political science and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA.

“We can observe that here in California about 40 percent of majority Latino precincts in Southern California had over a 70 percent increase. For non-Latino precincts, it was only 20 percent, so it was twice as high in the Latino community,” Barreto noted about the difference in voter turnout in 2018 as compared to 2014.

On the Republican side, Daniel Garza, president of the Libre Initiative, said campaign strategists for the GOP missed opportunities to connect with the Latino electorate on many issues by continuing to focus on the divisive rhetoric that has marked much of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Donald Trump never shaped my values or my conservative views. I am pro-life. I believe in a limited government. Less regulation,” Garza continued. “But [Republicans] weren’t connecting on those issues as well as they should.”

Even though the midterm results generally favored his party, Perez said it is unwise to view any demographic group as a monolithic entity that will always vote a particular way.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that civil rights is about inclusion. It’s about making sure everyone has a seat at the table,” Perez said. “Demographics are never definitive. You need to show up. You need to build relationships. You need to listen. You need to be responsive. And the reason we were successful is that we responded when we heard from folks, ‘I want a better life for my kids.’”

The panelists also talked about voter suppression and how policymakers could make it easier for citizens to cast their ballots. A key point of discussion was the fact that national campaign strategies often focus on likely voters at the expense of people who vote less often, which includes many Latinos.

Barreto noted that a Latino voter tracking poll asked respondents whether they had been contacted by a campaign. Initially, the rate of contact among Latinos was 40 percent. By Election Day, 53 percent of Latinos in the battleground congressional districts said that they had been contacted — a higher rate for Latinos than for whites in those districts.

Even though 53 percent is historically high, “what’s frustrating is that there are still millions of people who didn’t receive any contact at all,” Barreto said.

Also on the panel was Democrat Tatiana Matta, whose bid to unseat GOP incumbent Kevin McCarthy in U.S. House District 32 was unsuccessful. She spoke about some of the challenges she faced to reach potential supporters in her district in the Central Valley of California.

“A lot of [my] connections were made as a Latino, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity. But we have to work for it.” — Tatiana Matta, on the challenge to reach supporters in her bid for a congressional seat


“My district is very rural. So to get from one home to another home, you have to get in your car,” Matta explained. “So you have to physically take volunteers or canvassers to those communities and push those resources out. If not, you’re not going to reach them.”

To reach Latino voters in many areas, candidates must be comfortable speaking Spanish.

“A lot of [my] connections were made as a Latino, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity,” she said. “But we have to work for it.”

Garza expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s hard to get ahold of people,” he said. In Nevada, for example, Garza said that when his organization’s campaign workers made calls or canvassed, people were often unavailable. “So it’s hard work, too. It’s not because of indifference.”

Barreto interjected. “I think it’s entirely because of indifference,” he said bluntly. “When campaigns look at the voter file and someone doesn’t have a vote history, they just put them in another bucket. They don’t say, ‘How hard are you to contact?’ They just don’t contact them. So we have to change that cycle.”

Barreto told the crowd, which included many people who had participated in Latino voter registration and outreach efforts, that the 2018 midterm elections are just one step in a long process.

“It’s not about this election. It’s not about the next election,” Barreto said of the long-term political importance of the growing Latino population in America. “It’s about constantly being present in the Latino community and organizing to get people involved. And at some point that will pay off for whichever side wants to take advantage of our voters.”

Learn more about the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative.

More information about the Aspen Institute and its Latinos and Society Program is available on social media via @AspenLatinos.

View video of the event on YouTube:

Browse additional photos on Flickr:

LPPI 2018 midterm elections panel

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

By Les Dunseith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a video from the event:

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

Ramos Luskin Lecture