UCLA Public Policy Community Celebrates Exceptional Alumni and Students Reception highlights the 'incredible, influential, important, world-transforming things our alumni are doing'

The UCLA Luskin Public Policy community came together this spring to connect and reconnect with one another and honor selected students and alumni for their outstanding achievements.

The April 20 reception at the UCLA Faculty Club gave Master of Public Policy students, graduates, faculty and staff the opportunity to network face-to-face for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his welcoming remarks, interim chair and Professor Mark Peterson said that hearing updates about the work of former students leaves him “simply dazzled — not just by the numbers, but by the incredible, influential, important, world-transforming things our alumni are doing.”

During the pandemic, individuals honored as UCLA Luskin Public Policy Alumni of the Year were announced virtually. This year’s reception put a long-awaited public spotlight on award recipients from the past four years:

Regina Wallace-Jones MPP ’99 is Alumna of the Year for 2023. With a background in engineering and policy, Wallace-Jones ascended to several prominent Silicon Valley positions, culminating in her selection this year as CEO and president of ActBlue, the tech nonprofit that facilitates online donations to progressive organizations and candidates. She has also served in public office as a city councilwoman, vice mayor and mayor in East Palo Alto.

Sandeep Prasanna MPP/JD ’15 is Alumnus of the Year for 2022. After serving in staff positions in the U.S. Congress and Department of Justice, Prasanna recently completed work as investigative counsel on the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Working to preserve democracy is quite a good gig for an MPP alum,” Peterson remarked. Prasanna is now a senior advisor with the law firm Miller & Chevalier Chartered.

Isaac Bryan MPP ’18 is Alumnus of the Year for 2021. Bryan turned his record of effective advocacy and community leadership in Los Angeles into a successful bid for the California Assembly in 2021. Since taking office, he has authored over 24 bills and co-authored over 300 bills and resolutions. Bryan’s chief of staff is former classmate Caleb Rabinowitz MPP ’18.

Max Gomberg MPP ’07 is Alumnus of the Year for 2020. Gomberg was selected for his work mapping out strategies for climate change mitigation for the California State Water Resources Control Board. He has since resigned the post, publicly accusing the state of being unwilling to adopt transformational policies. Gomberg now works as an independent consultant on water policy. “Max took a bold step when he resigned from his position in protest,” Peterson said. “Sometimes standing out means really standing up.”

Bryan accepted his award in person. Addressing current students and recent graduates at the reception, he said, “The dreams you have about how you can make a difference in the world, the things that you want to do for the community, for society, for your family, for whatever drove you to a program like this, instead of an MBA or something else — you can make that difference and you can make it as quickly as you need to.

“Just stay focused, stay hungry and build the kind of relationships like the ones in this room, to do good work together.”

Also honored at the reception were students who received the Alumni Leadership and Service Fellowships, made possible by donations from MPP alumni. The awards recognize public service, resilience and leadership at UCLA and in the community. The 2022-23 recipients are Lana Zimmerman and Donald Zelaya, and the 2023-24 recipients are Samuel Newman and Sydney Smanpongse.

Peterson reminded those at the reception of the many paths students can take to make an impact after graduation.

“Just take in that range of alumni careers: federal, state and local government. Legislative and executive branches. Appointed and elective offices. Nonprofit organizations on the front edge of the tech revolution. All making a difference,” he said. “That’s what is on your horizons, current MPP students!”

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Public Policy reception on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin Public Policy Alumni Reception

Robert Fairlie Appointed Chair of Public Policy at UCLA Luskin Distinguished scholar has nearly three decades of teaching and research in the University of California system

By Stan Paul

Robert Fairlie, longtime professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz and a distinguished senior scholar, has been recruited to serve as the next chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

Fairlie, a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), is a “prominent and prolific scholar who brings with him a strong portfolio of research interests, a record of policy-relevant and impactful research findings, and an overall commitment to social justice,” said Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris in announcing his appointment.

“Robert Fairlie is one of the most productive and most cited economists in the world,” said Mark A. Peterson, a past chair and current interim chair. “He personifies the ideal public policy faculty member, generating robust evidence on major issues of the day using sophisticated and innovative research and communicating directly with policymakers to inform their decision-making.” Peterson is a professor of public policy, political science and law.

Fairlie’s research has been published in leading economic and policy-related journals. Topics include public policy, entrepreneurship, education, information technology, labor economics, developing countries and immigration, typically with close attention to the implications for racial, ethnic and gender inequality.

He has strong ties to the state, arriving in California at age 2 and growing up in San Jose. He attended Stanford University, earning a bachelor’s in economics. He previously held visiting academic positions at Stanford and UC Berkeley. He also serves on the Faculty Council of the UC Sacramento Center.

Outside California, he has held visiting appointments at Yale and Australian National University. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

A new book on entrepreneurial job creation and survival — seven years in the making — will soon be published with MIT Press. Fairlie and his co-authors at the U.S. Census Bureau created a new dataset to track the universe of startups in the country — the Comprehensive Startup Panel, or CSP.

“We find that startups, on average, create fewer jobs and have lower survival rates than previously documented,” Fairlie said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also has determined the direction of some of his research, which has had substantial academic and policy influence.

“At the start of the pandemic I realized that, from all the work that I had done in the past, I was in a good position to compile and analyze data on the first impacts of COVID-19 on racial and gender inequality in business ownership, unemployment and work effort,” he said.

As the pandemic progressed, Fairlie said he also became interested in the $800 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), examining whether PPP funds were distributed proportionately to communities of color and finding delays in equitable distribution.

Fairlie said he recently has been routinely contacted by both the U.S. President’s Office and Vice President’s Office for an update on his research findings amid the pandemic’s continued impact on racial inequality in entrepreneurship.

“My latest research that goes through December 2022 shows promising improvement in the number of Black, Latinx and Asian business owners,” he said. “For all three groups, business owner levels are higher now than where they were at before the pandemic started. In contrast, the number of white business owners is down from pre-pandemic levels.”

Fairlie’s award-winning research and efforts to inform policymakers in California have also garnered recognition. He has provided testimony before the California State Legislature on several occasions. A joint resolution from the State Assembly and State Senate commended his “innumerable achievements and meritorious service to the State of California and beyond.”

On the national stage, Fairlie has testified before the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Department of the Treasury. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation, National Academies and Russell Sage Foundation, as well as numerous government agencies and foundations. Most recently, his work was cited in the 2023 edition of the “Economic Report of the President.”

Fairlie is regularly interviewed by print and online media about economic, education, small business, inequality and policy issues.

Fairlie’s scholarly work will continue when he takes his new post this summer.

“Luskin is an amazing place with so much timely and important research going on. I look forward to contributing to those efforts as part of the team,” he said. “I am also looking forward to working at one of best and most exciting universities in the world.”

Shining a Light on Hidden Corners of Environmental Injustice Catherine Coleman Flowers fights for the health and dignity of rural communities where water and sanitation systems are failing

By Mary Braswell

Catherine Coleman Flowers calls it “America’s dirty secret” — the lack of decent sanitation systems in many rural communities where residents must live alongside their own sewage.

It’s a public health calamity that takes the highest toll on poor people of color, and Flowers has made it her life’s calling to shed light on these appalling conditions found in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

Her work, which began in Lowndes County, Alabama, where she grew up, has now become a national movement with echoes around the world, vaulting her into the top tiers of environmental advocacy and U.S. policymaking. Flowers shared the triumphs and frustrations of her journey, and the work yet to be done, with a UCLA audience as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series on April 27.

“Catherine has found that the problems of inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure reach across rural America, including California, and these problems … are tied deeply to systems of racial and class oppression,” said Megan Mullin, professor of public policy and faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, as she introduced Flowers to a packed room at the university’s Kerckhoff Hall.

In addition to founding the nonprofit Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Flowers has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award and serves as vice chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. A week before her Luskin Lecture, she introduced President Joe Biden as he signed an executive order making environmental equity a priority of federal agencies.

Flowers works with policymakers, researchers and advocates around the country, earning her a spot on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2023. But she told the UCLA audience, “I’m better being out in the community because that’s where my strength is, to help people tell their stories when they wouldn’t be listened to otherwise. …

“Who wants to talk about sewage coming back into your home? Most people won’t do that,” she said. “But now we have to because we don’t have a choice.”

‘Is it possible that there could be diseases in the United States that American doctors are not trained to look for? Because we have not even acknowledged that we have a problem of sanitation in this country.’

Flowers told of impoverished rural communities where residents are by law responsible for disposing of their sewage. Some people own septic tanks that have fallen into disrepair, pushing waste back into sinks and bathtubs. Others simply cannot afford the systems and instead pipe their sewage underground or onto nearby land.

At times, those with substandard waste systems are hit with fines or imprisonment in a system that reveals the interplay of economic, health and criminal justice inequities.

The sanitation emergency has been made more acute by climate change, with its flooded coasts and rising water tables, Flowers said. And the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted public health risks that threaten rural and urban areas alike.

“One of the things that COVID has taught us is that we have to deal with these issues or the next disease is not going to come from China and a wet market, it’s going to come from somebody’s wet backyard that has sewage on the ground,” she said.

Flowers told of a rash she developed after being bitten by mosquitos near a pool of untreated sewage. Her doctor and a dermatologist could find no cause and offer no relief, so she contacted an infectious disease expert.

“Is it possible that there could be diseases in the United States that American doctors are not trained to look for?” she asked him. “Because we have not even acknowledged that we have a problem of sanitation in this country.”

The experience led Flowers to partner with researchers on a peer-reviewed study of the health of Lowndes County residents. It revealed that a third of those tested had been infected by hookworm, an intestinal parasite associated with poor sanitation and thought to have been eradicated in the U.S. decades earlier. The findings were covered by media around the world, and the United Nations special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights came to Alabama to investigate.

“The people of Lowndes County, by speaking up and telling the truth, have given a lot of other people permission to talk about these problems as well,” Flowers said.

Her Luskin Lecture was followed by a dialogue with Mullin and Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board, who shared both his professional expertise and lived experience as a native of the rural Eastern Coachella Valley.

The panel spoke about the key role of research and data in shaping equitable policies, and the new technologies that could lead to solutions in places where water and sanitation infrastructure is failing.

Esquivel described the state’s decision to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars in water bill debt that built up during the pandemic in low-income households. The stakes were too high to ignore, he said.

“That lack of access to sanitation and drinking water could actually create a system where you could lose your house, you could lose your kids if your water is shut off,” Esquivel said. “There are huge consequences for those at the bottom of the system.”

Flowers said her organization is speaking with NASA engineers to determine whether technologies used to create waste management systems in space could inspire new innovations on the ground.

“We decided that we’re not going to just wait on someone to change policy. We’re going to reengineer the septic tank. And we’re looking to collaborate,” she told the UCLA audience.

“We need your ideas. Because this is not just an Alabama problem. It’s a California problem too.”

View photos from the lecture on Flickr.

 

Coleman Flowers Luskin Lecture

Gerry Laviña, Paying It Forward and Passing the Torch ‘You cannot do this work alone,’ says longtime field education faculty leader as he prepares to retire after four decades at UCLA

By Stan Paul

For Gerry Laviña, the 75th anniversary of UCLA Social Welfare is something to celebrate, but it’s also a bittersweet moment — the Luskin School’s longtime field education director is retiring at the end of the academic year.

“I was here for the 50th anniversary, which was really significant, and now I’m going to end at the 75th. I’ve seen lots of changes, lots of positive changes in our program,” said Laviña, who has worked at the Luskin School for more than three decades.

His 40-plus-year affiliation with UCLA, which began as an undergraduate student, is a story of personal connection as well as collective achievement — a group effort, he said, that extends far beyond the School and into the community.

“I can happily — and realistically — say there’s been a lot of positive changes in our program due to the hard work of a lot of us who’ve been committed to making it a better place,” he said.

Making Connections

Before Laviña was a master’s student in social welfare in 1986, he was already reaching out to faculty and making connections with the School.

“I made it a point because I was in these large [undergraduate] classes and I wanted to get to know faculty as much as I could. … I just wanted to know why they chose social work. And it was interesting to me. I never imagined it would lead to a position here.”

UCLA Social Welfare instructors and field education faculty became mentors and colleagues to Laviña, continuing after he got his MSW in 1988 and went to work in the community. Among these, Laviña noted, were faculty alumni Joe Nunn and Wanda Ballenger, as well as field education faculty members Jane Kurohara and lecturer Rebecca Refuerzo.

“Rosina Becerra, who became my mentor right before I became director of field education, was a really great mentor to me later in my career,” he said.  “We can always use mentors at any point in our career.”

During his time as a social worker at the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Culver City, Ballenger was the field liaison.  “She would say, ‘I’m coming by to say hi,’” Laviña explained, and they stayed connected that way during the time when he was a secondary field instructor for some of the UCLA students at Didi Hirsch.

‘My “life lessons,” I called them — my truths — [are] the importance of mentorship, of finding, establishing and maintaining relationships.’

In 1993, Laviña was hired into the field education faculty himself by UCLA Social Welfare. It was a great match.

Nunn also was a longtime director of field education, and he has fond memories of his association with Laviña. When email came into popular use decades ago, Nunn said it was Laviña who sent him his very first email.

“I was fortunate to work with some really good people in the field, and some of them have gone on to do other things,” he said. “It’s been good to see Gerry as the director.”

Now it’s his former student, mentee and colleague who is retiring and passing the torch to someone else, as Nunn did to Laviña.

“You know you’re getting older when the person you hired is retiring,” joked the professor emeritus of Social Welfare. “Gerry was one of the best hires I made while I was there.”

Laviña’s roles and recognitions have included being faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Diversity, Disparities and Difference Initiative (D3) and garnering accolades and awards over his career. This year, he is being honored as UCLA Luskin Social Welfare’s Alumnus of the Year. But, for Laviña, the payoff has always had a forward trajectory.

Paying It Forward

Laviña said Didi Hirsh has long served as a vital training center for social workers and interns.

“Because of that, I got to work with interns from UCLA and other schools and disciplines, and I was constantly asked to present and supervise and teach at Didi Hirsch,” he said.

When Refuerzo was still teaching at UCLA, she would ask Laviña to lecture in her classes. Despite not being keen on public speaking at first, Laviña quickly discovered that he enjoyed mentoring students and that they found value in what he had to say.

“It’s always been the students — what our parents taught us about always giving back — and what my mentors had really given me and pushed me to do,” he said. “Even when I felt I wasn’t ready, they pushed me into other roles. And I honored them by paying it forward in the work I do with students.”

Paying it forward remains a significant part of his teaching and mentoring.

“One of the things I did at orientations this year for first- and second-year students is I gave them — my ‘life lessons,’ I called them — my truths,”  Laviña said. “The importance of mentorship, of finding, establishing and maintaining relationships.”

Forging connections is a big part of what social workers do, he said, and he’s always tried to connect students with jobs and internships. “That’s one thing that I feel I’ve done and been pretty successful at for 30 years — one of the things I hope is remembered,” he said.

UCLA students are smart and capable, and this has led to strong relationships building up over time with participating agencies.

“They are committed to taking our students and to working with us, whether the student is excelling or whether the student is having difficulties,” Laviña said. “One of the things that I learned as an MSW student from the first year and throughout my career … you cannot do this work alone.”

Luskin School Reaches Top 10 Among Public Affairs Schools Nationwide Subcategory rankings include seventh in urban policy and ninth in social policy

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin has achieved Top 10 recognition among public affairs graduate schools in the nation based on newly released U.S. News & World Report ratings.

The School is in good company, sharing the spot with prestigious programs including Princeton, NYU, Georgetown and the University of Texas, Austin.

“I am very proud of our School’s rapid and continuing rise in the rankings, reaching now the Top 10 Public Affairs Schools in the U.S.,” said Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. “The recent rankings represent only one indication of the excellence that characterizes the Luskin School and its faculty, staff and students.”

In congratulating the School, Gary Segura, who served as dean from 2017 until the end of 2022, said that it is particularly gratifying that the academic community is taking notice.

“The improvement in our rankings is a reflection of the efforts of faculty and staff across the School and the unique constellation of expertise here at UCLA Luskin,” Segura said.

Mark Peterson, interim chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, also pointed out that the achievement is particularly notable for the Luskin School, which is significantly younger — and smaller — than the schools that ranked higher and thus have larger faculties and longer histories from which to develop reputations.

“With our national standing, one might say that we are the proverbial little engine that could,” Peterson said.

Among public institutions, UCLA Luskin was among the top eight nationwide, second among public colleges and universities in California, and third among all public affairs programs in the state. UCLA Luskin Urban Planning is ranked No. 1 in North America by Planetizen, a planning and development network based in Los Angeles that is the only entity that ranks urban planning programs.

The School — with graduate departments in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, and a Public Affairs undergraduate program — also received high marks from U.S. News & World Report for subcategories that include urban policy (No. 7), social policy (No. 9), environmental policy and management (No. 14) and public policy analysis (No. 14).

The latest rankings of public affairs programs, released in May 2023, are based on peer assessment survey results from fall 2022 and early 2023, according to U.S. News & World Report, which surveyed deans, directors and department chairs representing 269 master’s programs in public affairs and administration.

The lists of all the schools, all the individuals surveyed and all the names of the specialty areas evaluated were provided to the news organization by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, known as NASPAA, and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

See the full list of the 2023 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools.

New Roadmap for 1st Comprehensive Assessment of U.S. Drinking Water Quality UCLA Luskin researchers and Rural Community Assistance Partnership Incorporated plan to implement the recommendations over five years

By Mara Elana Burstein

Today, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Rural Community Assistance Partnership Incorporated released a comprehensive roadmap for what the first national assessment of drinking water quality compliance can and should look like in the next decade.

The nation’s roughly 50,000 regulated community water systems face aging infrastructure and underinvestment that cause challenges in providing safe drinking water — but no one has assessed the full extent of the problem. Current national data on water quality can be underreported, inconsistent and difficult to extract for analysis.

The new report outlines how to identify the specific problems systems face, the solutions and which communities should receive priority investments. The four phases of a full compliance assessment are detailed in the report as follows:

  1. Develop a transparent, accessible and consistent set of national drinking water quality data to help agencies identify which water systems are regularly out of compliance.
  2. Evaluate feasible solutions and select the best options.
  3. Estimate the upfront and ongoing costs.
  4. Improve access to no-cost technical assistance to help disadvantaged communities receive funding.

Despite the availability of new government funding, these steps will be challenging to achieve, as each one is complicated and multifaceted.

“Our recommendations, while layered and complex, are feasible to incorporate over the next decade with a continued commitment to and funding for community water systems across the country,” said Gregory Pierce, co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.

This report builds on the first comprehensive analysis from the Luskin Center for Innovation on what is needed to provide safe drinking water throughout California. It identifies where water systems are out of compliance, proposes solutions and estimates how much it would cost to implement those solutions.

“The work to advance the human right to water is too important to limit to just one state. Countless communities do not have access to safe, affordable drinking water. We need a nationwide assessment,” said Pierce, who also directs the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab at UCLA.

States and the federal government are making unprecedented investments in water infrastructure and environmental justice, particularly after the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021. Now there is a historic opportunity to make water infrastructure improvements and work toward ensuring safe drinking water for all.

View the full report, made possible by financial support from the Water Foundation

Learn more about the latest water research by the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab

 

‘We’re Beginning the Work of Rewriting the Next Chapter of Los Angeles History’ Top officials join scholars and advocates to tackle the region's most pressing problems at the fifth annual UCLA Luskin Summit

By Mary Braswell

A search for solutions to Southern California’s most urgent problems brought top researchers together with government and civic leaders at the fifth annual UCLA Luskin Summit.

Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian gave the keynote address at the April 19 gathering, attended by more than 200 scholars, students and community members seeking to learn more about how the region is responding to homelessness, climate change, racial disparities, voting rights violations and more.

Krekorian spoke about the state of governance at L.A. City Hall, acknowledging that citizens’ faith has been shaken by corruption cases, politicized redistricting and the release of a racist recording that led to high-profile resignations. But he added that the upheaval has opened the door to a period of change.

“The kind of city hall that the people of Los Angeles deserve [is] a city hall that’s more ethical, more transparent, more trustworthy, more urgent, more collaborative and hopefully much more effective,” Krekorian said.

He laid out a roadmap that includes a top-to-bottom charter review that could add more seats on the City Council, change who decides land-use issues to reduce incentives for corruption, and take the power of setting district boundaries away from elected officials.

“Together, we’re turning the page on a very dark time and we’re beginning the work of rewriting the next chapter of Los Angeles history,” Krekorian said.

Zev Yaroslavsky, who oversees the annual UCLA Quality of Life Index, reports on this year’s findings. Photo by Les Dunseith

The Luskin Summit, held in person at the UCLA Faculty Club after three years of remote and hybrid convenings, continued its tradition of spotlighting the UCLA Quality of Life Index (QLI), a wide-ranging survey of Los Angeles County residents.

This year’s QLI revealed deep dissatisfaction with many aspects of life in L.A., a sign of the region’s slow emergence from the dual shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring inflation, said Zev Yaroslavsky, who oversees the survey as director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

In conversation with ABC7 News reporter Josh Haskell, the emcee of this year’s Luskin Summit, Yaroslavsky said the high cost of housing continues to sow anxiety, with 28% of respondents saying they worry about losing their home and becoming homeless as a result.

“Now, let me put this in more stark terms than just percentages,” Yaroslavsky said. “The county’s population is a little over 10 million people, so 28% means that there are 2.8 million people in this county who are going to bed every night worried about whether they’re going to lose their home. Think about it that way. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of stress.”

The region’s housing emergency also took center stage at a plenary session that illustrated a hallmark of the Luskin Summit: the participation of key elected and appointed officials in a position to turn social science research into policies for change.

Lourdes Castro Ramírez, secretary of California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, moderated the dialogue with L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, L.A. City Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson and the city’s chief of housing and homelessness solutions, Mercedes Márquez.

The conversation emphasized a new push to coordinate efforts by a multitude of agencies to relieve California’s housing emergency.

“A challenge of this magnitude requires all levels of government to work together, and that’s exactly what we have been doing over the last two years, working very closely with our federal partners, working very closely across the state agency and department, and working in a unified and coordinated manner with local cities, counties, continuums of care and folks on the ground that are doing this work every single day,” said Castro Ramírez, a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumna who oversees 11 state departments and boards.

With the end of pandemic-era eviction moratoriums, Horvath said her office is working with cities to implement new protections for both renters and mom-and-pop landlords, with the aim of keeping residents in their homes.

“We have no time to waste,” she said. “We’re not going to wait until every detail is perfect. People are dying on our streets and we have to do something.”

The panelists credited newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass for jumpstarting efforts to shelter the homeless, including the appointment of Márquez to cut the red tape that has delayed the construction and acquisition of desperately needed housing.

“We have identified 360 projects that are 100% affordable. That’s over 8,000 units that are now on a fast track,” Márquez said, adding that her team is also reviewing government-owned land including Metropolitan Transit Authority car lots that could be converted to residential development.

Harris-Dawson, whose district includes South Los Angeles, said housing strategies must be guided by a sense of equity to prevent poverty from becoming concentrated in pockets of the city.

“The commitment has to be both to build and build fast, but also to build where it’s difficult to build,” he said. That includes parts of the city where the prevailing attitude is “ ‘send all the poor people over there, build housing over there and build it as dense as you need to, but keep them over there’ — as if poverty is a communicable disease and living near it damages your quality of life somehow.”

The Summit also featured a series of breakout sessions where scholars, officials and advocates zeroed in on critical issues. They included representatives from UCLA Luskin research centers, including the Luskin Center for Innovation and its Human Rights to Water Solutions Lab, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies  and the UCLA Voting Rights Project. The sessions explored:

  • vehicular homelessness, the unique circumstances of those who must shelter in their cars;
  • persistent disparities based on race and ethnicity in the mortgage industry;
  • how to build popular support and political momentum for investments in climate infrastructure;
  • whether California’s plan to transition to zero-emission vehicles is sufficient to meet climate goals;
  • the uncertain future of voting rights pending decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court;
  • and the activation of far-reaching programs to bolster the region’s water supply.

Following the Summit, several participants gathered for a lunch presentation on equity and clean energy that included UCLA experts and representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the lead sponsor of this year’s Luskin Summit. Other sponsors include Bank of America, the Weingart Foundation, David Bohnett Foundation, California Community Foundation and California Wellness Foundation. The media partner is ABC7.

View photos from the 2023 UCLA Luskin Summit on Flickr.

Luskin Summit 2023

In Memoriam: Margaret I. FitzSimmons, Former UCLA Urban Planning Scholar She was a respected UC geographer and professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz who focused on water and the environment in California

By Stan Paul

Margaret I. FitzSimmons, former UCLA Urban Planning faculty member and professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz, died April 3, 2023, in Santa Cruz surrounded by family and friends. She was 76.

FitzSimmons was an award-winning scholar known to colleagues and students at UCLA and UCSC for her outstanding research, teaching and mentorship.

In 1980, she was appointed assistant professor in urban planning at a time when the program was part of UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. At UCLA, she was a leader in founding the Environmental Analysis and Policy (EAP) concentration within the urban planning graduate degree program.

FitzSimmons joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz in 1994, retiring in 2015 from the Environmental Studies Department of UC Santa Cruz’s Rachel Carson College.

She was born in Berkeley in 1947, the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth (Sauer) FitzSimmons. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford University in 1969, then turned to geography for her graduate work. She completed a master’s degree at California State University Northridge in 1975 and a Ph.D. at UCLA in 1983.

Her connection to geography at the University of California goes back to the field’s early days in the golden state. Carl Sauer, her grandfather, was an eminent scholar and longtime head of UC Berkeley’s geography department from 1923 to 1954 — the “Sauer years,” according to UC Berkeley Geography, and it later became known as the “Berkeley School.” He is described in the institution’s history as one of “the century’s most important geographers.”

FitzSimmons would go on to make her own name in the field.

As a doctoral student, she examined the interaction of nature, labor and capital in the agricultural industrialization of California’s Salinas Valley, as well as the region’s political ecologies and environmental history.  She was later recognized by the American Association of Geographers (AAG) for the best paper based on a dissertation. Her work also received attention in prestigious publications such as the journal Economic Geography.

Her 1989 article, “The Matter of Nature,” published in the journal Antipode, has been widely cited.

Collaboration with colleagues also was a hallmark of FitzSimmons’ work and career.

Former UCLA Urban Planning colleague Robert Gottlieb, professor of urban and environmental policy, emeritus, at Occidental College, co-wrote with FitzSimmons “Thirst for Growth: Water Agencies as Hidden Government in California,” which was published in 1991.

In writing the book, FitzSimmons and Gottlieb focused on issues of public accountability and water policy innovation, specifically in California. The authors created case studies based on their research of a number of water agencies throughout Southern California.

Their book received enthusiastic praise. One reviewer described the publication as “a luminescent addition to the rapidly growing literature on the history of water policy and management.” The Journal of the American Planning Association credited the book in a review with making “an excellent case for recognizing the role of local water agencies as de facto land use planners due to the social nature of their water policy choices.”

Gottlieb said, “It was a wonderful time we had together working, both the book and the articles we wrote together and in the work we did in helping establish the environmental program.” Despite being “quite different, in terms of background and training,” he said, “we just ended up being wonderfully complementary to each other.”

Gottlieb, who came from a journalism background, said, “I always considered Margaret to be kind of a pure academic in the sense of she was so alive with ideas. And so connected to people she was engaging with, whether they were fellow faculty, staff or students.”

Gottlieb also noted her work with students. “One of the quite wonderful things about Margaret was her role as mentor and nurturer and connector — the interaction she had with students.”

He recalled when FitzSimmons’ former Ph.D. students organized a gathering and dinner at the 2016 AAG annual conference as a tribute to their mentor.

“That gathering was just a wonderful example of what people had to say that really stuck in my mind, of what a wonderful way to honor Margaret.”

When UCLA Urban Planning alumna Laura Pulido Ph.D. ’91 was contemplating where to do her doctoral studies, FitzSimmons was suggested to her as an ideal advisor. Pulido said that although she wanted to stay in geography — and was hesitant at first to apply to UCLA Urban Planning — once she met FitzSimmons, she knew it was the right decision.

“Going to UCLA and studying with Margaret was a transformative experience for me. She was a great source of knowledge, wisdom, generosity and love — I am deeply thankful for Margaret’s role in my life,” said Pulido, now professor of indigenous, race and ethnic studies and geography at the University of Oregon.

Pulido added that at that time there were no geographers working in Chicana/o/x studies and very few planners.

“Margaret and I shared deep interests in the environment, agriculture and Mexican labor. Most importantly, she offered me a supportive environment to develop my research in Chicana/o/x studies, race and social movements,” Pulido said.

Her work and rapport with students — and dedicated support of them — did not go unnoticed at UCLA.

In 1991, FitzSimmons received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award, in part for her work in developing the Environmental Analysis and Policy concentration, where she “exceeded all expectations,” according to the award citation.

“Margaret had an important role in infusing planning with an environmental sensibility, which had largely been lost from the ’50s to the ’80s when planning became enchanted with suburbs and freeways,” said UCLA Urban Planning colleague Susanna Hecht. “She pointed to a future in which environmental concerns would have to move more centrally into the profession, as it was moving dramatically into American and global politics.”

Hecht said FitzSimmons’ work aligned with her own interest in large-scale politics and transformation.

“Her concerns were often in advance of the times, but harkened to a more holistic type of understanding,” Hecht said. “She rejected the kind of reductionism that later became popular in policy in planning, and insisted always on the broader view.”

After FitzSimmons joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz, she remained engaged in questions of sustainability in agricultural production, as well as in the complexity of California’s ecological systems, Hecht said. “This is a complex legacy, but one in which she played a vital, if perhaps unrecognized, role.”

For former UCLA colleague Dolores Hayden, professor of architecture, urbanism and American studies emerita at Yale, FitzSimmons’ work extends far beyond UCLA and the UC system. “She will be missed by her colleagues and students in the United States and around the world.”

No formal memorial services have yet been announced. More information is available via the family obituary and tribute wall online.

Advocate for Ending Poverty Named UCLA Luskin Commencement Speaker Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, first elected at age 26, now champions reforms to battle income inequality

Michael D. Tubbs, who made history in 2016 when he was elected the first Black mayor of Stockton, California, at age 26, then used the platform to plant the seeds of a nationwide campaign to end poverty, has been named 2023 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Tubbs is a champion of social and economic reforms that have earned him a reputation as a rising star in progressive politics. On Friday, June 16, he will deliver two Commencement addresses: At 9 a.m., he will speak to students graduating with master’s and doctoral degrees in public policy, social welfare and urban planning at UCLA’s Royce Hall. At 3 p.m., he will address students earning the bachelor’s in public affairs on the Kerckhoff Hall patio.

“Michael Tubbs has shown us all that a clear vision and strong resolve can uplift the lives of people across our state and nation,” said UCLA Luskin Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. “His leadership, innovative spirit and ability to turn bold concepts into real action are exceptional, and as a School committed to improving the human condition at all levels, we look forward to hearing his inspiring message.” 

Tubbs is widely known for his work advocating for a guaranteed basic income to provide stability to American households. As mayor, he created a pilot program providing direct, recurring cash payments to Stockton residents and founded the nonprofit Mayors for a Guaranteed Income to support similar efforts across the country. He also raised more than $20 million to launch the Stockton Scholars, a universal scholarship and mentorship program for the city’s students.

Under Tubbs’ leadership, Stockton was recognized as one of California’s most fiscally healthy cities; saw a 40% drop in homicides in 2018 and 2019; and led the state in the decline of officer-involved shootings in 2019. The National Civic League named Stockton an “All-America City” in 2017 and 2018.

After he left office in 2021, Tubbs joined the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom as special advisor for economic mobility and opportunity. Last year, he founded End Poverty in California, a nonprofit devoted to breaking the cycle of income inequality.

Tubbs’ 2021 autobiography, “The Deeper The Roots: A Memoir of Hope and Home,” relates how hardship in his early years shaped his vision for leadership and policies that are responsive to those who are struggling. Tubbs writes about his father’s incarceration, the strong women who raised him, his scholarship to attend Stanford University, the opportunity to intern in the Obama White House, and his calling to return to his hometown to improve the quality of life. 

Tubbs served as a high school educator and city council member before running for mayor. His experiences advocating for reform in the city’s top job are chronicled in the 2020 HBO documentary “Stockton on My Mind.”

Tubbs is a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. He was named to Fortune magazine’s 40 under 40 list and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 All-Star Alumni, as well as The Nation’s Progressive Honor Roll, which recognized him as the “Most Valuable Mayor” of 2018. He earned the 2019 New Frontier Award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and the 2021 Civic Leadership Award from The King Center.

Learn more about UCLA Luskin’s 2023 Commencement.

L.A. County Residents Express Second-Lowest Satisfaction Ever With Quality of Life Despite overall uptick in eighth annual index, dissatisfaction remains high due to inflation, homelessness and the COVID-19 pandemic

By Les Dunseith

Los Angeles County residents are feeling more upbeat today than a year ago — but not by much.

Inflation remains a primary concern as people worry about losing their homes or feeding their families. Many residents said their quality of life had been affected by a homeless encampment. And they believe the pandemic’s impacts on L.A. life will be long-lasting.

Those are just a few of the key takeaways from the latest Quality of Life Index, or QLI, a project of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs that measures county residents’ satisfaction levels in nine categories. The overall rating rose two points to 55, but it was still the second-lowest rating in the eight years of the project. The highest rating of 59 was recorded in 2016 and 2017.

“Last year’s record negativity appears to have bottomed out and made a slight upward turn,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative, who oversees the index. “But inflation has taken a toll, especially among lower- and middle-income residents.”

In fact, 94% of respondents said they were affected by inflation and the increase in costs of basic needs. And 71% said it had a major impact. Rising housing costs were an issue for 82% of respondents, and 58% said it’s a major concern.

More than a quarter, or 28%, of respondents worried about losing their home and becoming homeless, while 25% were afraid their families will go hungry because they can’t afford the cost of food. Nearly half of people in households earning less than $60,000 were concerned about becoming homeless.

Almost three-quarters of residents, 73%, said their quality of life had been impacted in the last year by a homeless encampment. A major impact was reported by 43% of respondents, with San Fernando Valley and Westside residents at 50% and San Gabriel Valley residents at 28%.

Most respondents, 75%, said life has been fundamentally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 23% expect life to return to the way it was before.

Of survey respondents who are employed, 49% said they always work away from home, 36% divide their work between home and a workplace, and 14% always work from home. Lower-income residents were far more likely to always work away from home, 61%, than higher-income households, 39%. Hybrid schedules were more common for higher-income workers, 41%, compared to 29% for lower-income households.

Many respondents said their income changed during the pandemic, with 27% saying it went down and 30% saying it went up. More than a third, or 35%, of those with a household income below $60,000 said it declined. Nearly half, or 45%, of respondents with a household income over $120,000, said it rose.

“The income disparities that have defined the Southern California economy for several decades have been exacerbated by COVID, as the rich seem to be getting richer while the poor are getting poorer,” Yaroslavsky said. “County residents whose incomes have not rebounded have less money than they used to, and what they have doesn’t buy what it did before. They’re getting hurt coming and going.”

This year’s QLI was based on interviews conducted with 1,429 county residents over 30 days beginning on Feb. 24. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%.

Ratings were up slightly in all nine categories except health care, which remained the same as 2022 at 66.

Among the other results:

  • Cost of living, which is always the lowest rated, increased to 41 from 39. White respondents gave it a 37, among the lowest in any category in the survey’s history.
  • Also scoring below the survey’s midpoint of 55 were education, 48, and transportation and traffic, 53.
  • Public safety, jobs and the economy, and the environment came in at 58.
  • Race and ethnic relations, 67, and their neighborhood, 68, were the top-rated categories.

The survey also examined approval ratings for local elected officials. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass had the highest favorability, with 46% of all respondents viewing her favorably and 23% unfavorably. City of L.A. respondents were even more positive, with 51% favorable and 17% unfavorable.

Sheriff Robert Luna was rated 37% favorable and 21% unfavorable. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore received a 31% favorable and 22% unfavorable rating.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer was viewed favorably by 34% and unfavorably by 20%, with respondents ages 65 and older giving her a 47% favorable rating. Meanwhile, ratings for District Attorney George Gascón improved somewhat from last year but were still negative — 27% of county residents view him favorably, compared to 40% who view him unfavorably. Last year, the result was 22% favorable, 44% unfavorable.

The Quality of Life Index is funded by the Los Angeles Initiative and Meyer and Renee Luskin. The full report will be released on April 19 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is being held in the Faculty Center at UCLA. In addition to a presentation by Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian will deliver a keynote address. A series of breakout discussions on issues of public concern will precede a closing session on the local homelessness emergency featuring state, county and city officials. The full agenda for Luskin Summit 2023 is available online.

The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm FM3 Research.

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

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