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Shah Co-Authors Report on Disproportionate COVID-19 Risk Among Latinos Local context is a key factor in the level of risk, the study of Medicaid patients in Contra Costa County finds

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin Professor of Public Policy Manisha Shah co-authored a study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, that showed Latinos had much higher odds of testing positive for COVID-19 than whites.

The USC-UCLA study, conducted in a Northern California regional medical center with a diverse group of adults enrolled in a county Medicaid managed care plan, also indicated a marked racial disparity in odds of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Researchers noted that, while the coronavirus has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities nationwide, in their California study, infection, hospitalization and death were higher for Latinos, but not Black patients, relative to white patients.

The researchers point out that socioeconomic differences may confound racial and ethnic differences in testing and that “the role of sociodemographic, clinical and neighborhood factors in accounting for racial/ethnic differences in COVID-19 outcomes remains unclear.”

The study included data from more than 84,000 adult Medicaid patients at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. The researchers hypothesized that, because all of the patients had Medicaid, “racial/ethnic disparities in testing and outcomes would narrow when controlling for demographics, comorbidities and ZIP code-level characteristics.”

They also expected that these characteristics would be reduced relative to previous studies, given similar insurance coverage, household income and access to health-care providers. Among their conclusions, the researchers highlighted that racial and ethnic disparities depend on local context, citing studies from other states with differing results.

“The substantially higher risk facing Latinos should be a key consideration in California’s strategies to mitigate disease transmission and harm,” they recommend.

“We learned a lot about testing and hospitalization disparities through this study,” Shah said. “We recently implemented a randomized controlled trial with our Contra Costa County partners to better understand vaccine take-up among the vaccine hesitant.”

Shah said that the research team is testing the role of financial incentives, reducing appointment scheduling frictions, and provider messages on COVID-19 vaccine take-up in this diverse Medicaid managed care population.

“We are excited to share the results from this vaccine take-up study very soon,” Shah said.

Additional authors include Mireille Jacobson, associate professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and senior fellow at the USC Schaeffer School for Health Policy and Economics; Tom Chang, associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business; Samir Shah, CEO of Contra Costa Regional Medical Center; and Rajiv Pramanik at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center & Health Centers, Contra Costa Health Service.

ITS, Lewis Center Win Research Awards to Help Shape California’s Future UCLA Luskin-based centers join an ambitious initiative aimed at forging strategies for the state's long-term success

Two centers housed at UCLA Luskin have received research awards from California 100, an ambitious statewide initiative to envision and shape the long-term success of the state.

The Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies will evaluate current facts, origins and future trends in housing and community development, while the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies will look into transportation and urban planning. In total, researchers from four UCLA organizations will spearhead three of the 13 California 100 research areas.

The Lewis Center will summarize California’s housing market and outline a vision for how policy changes could lead to a brighter future for the state’s residents, with a particular focus on increased equity and housing production. Working alongside cityLAB UCLA and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, the Lewis Center team will also create a visualization of this future through creative techniques of diagramming, drawing and rendering to help readers picture the possibilities for California’s communities.

UCLA ITS will delve into transportation policy contradictions: California has invested substantially in public transit, while other public policies encourage driving and work against transit. As the state looks to meet its climate and equity goals, transportation systems — and the land use context surrounding them — will play a key role.

Research for both projects is slated to begin over the summer and be complete by December 2021, and will lead to a set of policy alternatives for the future of California. The policy alternatives will be developed in conjunction with research teams from the other California 100 issue areas.

The California 100 Commission is a multi-generational advisory body that will develop recommendations for the state’s future and test those recommendations across a broad set of policy areas by directly engaging Californians.

“From climate change to aging populations and rapid changes in industry, California will face enormous challenges in the years ahead,” said Kathrick Ramakrishnan, California 100 executive director. “We are fortunate to be able to draw on the deep talent of researchers in California to produce evidence and recommendations that will inform robust public engagement and set the state on a strong, long-term trajectory for success.”

About the California 100 Research Grants

California 100 is a new statewide initiative being incubated at the University of California and Stanford University focused on inspiring a vision and strategy for California’s next century that is innovative, sustainable and equitable. The initiative will harness the talent of a diverse array of leaders through research, policy innovation, advanced technology and stakeholder engagement. As part of its research stream of work, California 100 is sponsoring 13 research projects focused on the following issue areas:

  • Advanced technology and basic research
  • Arts, culture and entertainment
  • Education and workforce, from cradle to career and retirement
  • Economic mobility and inequality
  • Energy, environment and natural resources
  • Federalism and foreign policy
  • Fiscal reform
  • Governance, media and civil society
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing and community development
  • Immigrant integration
  • Public safety and criminal justice reform
  • Transportation and urban planning

High Temperatures Increase Workers’ Injury Risk, Whether They’re Outdoors or Inside The finding reflects another consequence of climate change, according to new study led by R. Jisung Park of UCLA Luskin Public Policy

A UCLA study published today shows that hot weather significantly increases the risk of accidents and injuries on the job, regardless of whether the work takes place in an indoor or outdoor setting.

The report is based on data from California’s workers’ compensation system, the nation’s largest.

“The incidence of heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke definitely go up on hotter days,” said the study’s lead researcher R. Jisung Park, an assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. “But what we found is that ostensibly unrelated incidents — like falling off a ladder or being hit by a moving truck or getting your hand caught in a machine — tend to occur more frequently on hotter days, too.”

By comparing records from more than 11 million California workers’ compensation claims from 2001 to 2018 to high-frequency local weather data, Park and his co-authors isolated the impact of hotter days on the number of injury claims.

The study shows that on days with high temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a 6% to 9% higher risk of injuries than they do on days with high temperatures in the 50s or 60s. When the thermometer tops 100, the risk of injuries increases by 10% to 15%.

Those findings are particularly alarming in the context of climate change, which is expected to produce more high-temperature days each year. The researchers estimate that high temperatures already cause about 15,000 injuries per year in California.

“Heat is sometimes described as a silent killer,” said Nora Pankratz, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. “But if you look into the data and do the statistical analysis, you find that heat has a significant impact on mortality and health outcomes.”

 

It’s not surprising that hot weather would lead to injuries and illness among workers in predominantly outdoor industries such as agriculture, utilities and construction. But the data consistently show that industries in which most people work indoors are affected as well. In manufacturing, for example, days with high temperatures above 95 degrees have an injury risk that is approximately 7% higher than days with high temperatures in the low 60s.

“A lot of manufacturing facilities are not air conditioned,” said Stanford University postdoctoral scholar A. Patrick Behrer, the study’s other co-author. “Because you’re inside, you don’t necessarily think about the temperature as being a major threat.”

The reality is that overheated workers face numerous risks, regardless of where the work occurs.

“Heat affects your physiology,” Park said. “It affects your cognition. It affects your body’s ability to cope. It seems possible that what we’re observing in the data for these workers is that they’re more likely to make mistakes or errors in judgment.”

The researchers found that heat-related workplace injuries are more likely to be suffered by men and lower-income workers. In addition, younger people suffer more heat-related injuries, possibly in part because they’re more likely to hold jobs with greater physical risks on construction sites, in manufacturing plants or at warehouses.

For an office worker at a computer desk, nodding off on a hot summer afternoon is unlikely to cause an injury. “But if you have a huge chainsaw in your hand, you’re not in a great situation,” Park said.

Among the paper’s other conclusions:

  • The number of heat-related injuries actually declined after 2005, when California became the first state to implement mandatory heat illness prevention measures for outdoor workplaces on days when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
  • The financial costs of heat-related injuries may be between $750 million and $1.25 billion per year in California alone, considering health care expenditures, lost wages and productivity, and disability claims.
  • Inequalities in the labor market are exacerbated in part by the fact that low-income communities tend to be situated in hotter parts of the state. People in the state’s lowest household income tier are approximately five times more likely to be affected by heat-related illness or injury on the job than those in the top income tier, the study found.

The study is available now through the Institute of Labor Economics, which disseminates working versions of potentially influential research prior to publication in academic journals. Park previewed the findings  July 15 during testimony at a Congressional hearing organized by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The new study echoes the results of a 2019 study that focused on how extreme temperatures raise injury risk in Texas and in the U.S. mining industry. Park, whose prior research includes a finding that student learning is negatively impacted by warm temperatures, said there has been “an explosion of research just in the last five to 10 years that illustrates, using data, the serious consequences of climate change for health, productivity and economic growth. This likely adds to that urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Pankratz got involved in the study while working at UCLA Luskin as a postdoctoral scholar, having previously researched the impact of heat on businesses while working toward her Ph.D. in the Netherlands. 

Worldwide, she said, there is growing interest in the concept of adaptation — the pragmatic changes that can be made by governments and businesses to cope with the reality of climate change.

“For a long time, the focus has been on mitigation — what can we do to prevent climate change,” she said. “But as it becomes more and more obvious that there is policy inertia on mitigation, it’s important to think about what we can do to adapt and to work as well as possible in a warmer world.”

The study authors, all of whom have backgrounds in economics, realize that the desire to protect workers from heat may be complicated by economic reality. 

Behrer said policymakers could stipulate that workers not be exposed to the heat on days above 100 degrees, for example, without proscribing a specific strategy to be used by individual business owners.

“Then firms have the option either to use air conditioning or come up with some other method of climate control for their facilities,” he said, noting that some might change work hours or shorten the work day during heat waves. “It allows them to decide the most cost-effective way for them to meet the objective of reducing workplace injuries.”

 

UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Receives $3 Million in State Funding Ongoing commitment supports Latino-focused research, especially important as COVID-19 recovery gets underway

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) has received $3 million in ongoing annual state funding to conduct research and develop policy solutions to address inequities that disproportionately impact Latinos and other communities of color.

The state budget signed July 12 included funding for LPPI. The resources will be used to continue the organization’s applied research to help inform future policy efforts and to measure how government actions influence the economic, educational, health and quality-of-life outcomes for the state’s workforce.

“It is clear that California’s story — its future, its economic potential, its role as a national leader — is intertwined with the story of the Latino community,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of LPPI. “We are honored that California has recognized the importance of investing in putting a data-driven lens to shape and implement a 21st century agenda, and we are ready to make sure that research and facts pave a path toward a more just and prosperous future for all Californians.”

The funding was championed by the California Latino Legislative Caucus, with leadership from Sen. Maria Elena Durazo and Assembly members Robert Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez, the chair, vice chair and former chair of the caucus.

“California is the world’s fifth-largest economy, and our innovation and prowess are made possible by the diverse and vibrant communities that demonstrated how essential they are during the pandemic,” Durazo said. “We need to understand how to better include and empower communities who represent California’s future, and there is no better partner to help us understand how to lead with justice and equity than UCLA LPPI.”  

The support for LPPI comes as California prepares for economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, which had disproportionate and devastating public health and economic impacts on the state’s diverse Latino communities. 

“Data tell important stories about what’s working, who is getting left behind, and how our taxpayer investments can be efficient and equitable,” Gonzalez said. “We are proud to partner with UCLA LPPI to make sure we have a data-driven Latino lens on the vision of a vibrant California.”  

LPPI has been on the front lines of driving important policy conversations, particularly as it became clear that the COVID-19 crisis was particularly impacting underserved communities of color. Throughout the pandemic, LPPI research that drove policy outcomes included a report that looked at the racial disparities in what communities were receiving federal aid and on the impacts of the Latino physician shortage amid a public health pandemic. As the vaccination process got underway, LPPI convened more than 70 Latino leaders across the state to urge for better data and equity-driven implementation, which were implemented by the state.

The organization’s research is also focused on highlighting the importance of representation in democratic and civic institutions and processes, and what it means when Californians’ leadership does not represent the totality of communities it serves. For example, a research report highlighted the lack of Latino representation in the California Redistricting Commission, which helped generate action and attention on the selection process. At a national level, research included a report that advocated for the creation of a Latino-focused Smithsonian museum

LPPI was incubated at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA Division of Social Sciences. 

Hecht Named Director of UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies The urban planning professor focuses on the intersections of economies, cultures and land use in Latin America

Geographer Susanna Hecht, professor of urban planning at the Luskin School, has been named director of the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies, effective July 1. A specialist on tropical development in Latin America, especially Amazonia, she also holds joint appointments in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the department of geography at UCLA.

Hecht takes over leadership of the interdisciplinary research center, which serves UCLA faculty and students whose scholarship focuses on Brazil, from José Luiz Passos.

Hecht’s research focuses on the intersections of economies, cultures and land use — and the socio-environmental effects of these processes — an approach now widely known as political ecology, of which she is recognized as a founding thinker. Her work spans climate change, mitigation and the rethinking of longer-term strategies in light of globalization, intense migration and novel climate dynamics.

Her published books include “The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present and Future of Woodland Resurgence” (Chicago, 2014; co-edited with Kathleen D. Morrison and Christine Padoch); “The Scramble for the Amazon and the ‘Lost Paradise of Euclides da Cunha’ ” (Chicago, 2013), which won the American Historical Association’s Best Book in Environmental History Award in 2015; and “Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon” (Chicago, 2011; co-authored with Alexander Cockburn).

In addition to journal articles and book chapters, Hecht has also written monographs published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the National Academy of Sciences, the World Resources Institute and Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (Cali, Colombia).

She has won multiple academic awards, including the American Geographical Society’s David Livingstone Centenary Medal and the Carl Sauer Award, both for distinguished research on Latin America. She is a past member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and holds a professorial appointment at the Graduate Institute for Advanced Development Studies in Geneva.

UCLA International Institute

Narrower Streets in New Developments Could Help Amid Housing Crisis New research by Adam Millard-Ball of UCLA Urban Planning considers the schools, parks and other infrastructure that go unbuilt because Americans prefer wide streets

Those studies often examine how planning and zoning decisions affect traffic noise, whether neighborhood amenities can be reached by foot and other factors that can make a home more or less valuable.

A new paper expands this body of research by considering the housing, schools, parks and other infrastructure that go unbuilt in favor of wide streets.

The U.S. has some of the widest streets in the world. In 20 of the most populous counties, the median residential street plus sidewalks is 50 feet wide, with the dollar value of land used for streets sometimes stretching into six figures, according to the research in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

Wide streets
A narrow street in Shibuya City, Tokyo. Photo by Tim Foster / Unsplash

Wide streets are less common in some other countries. Certain streets in Japan, for example, are much narrower. Developments in Tokyo since 1990 have average street widths of 16 feet, noted Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and author of the new paper.

“One of the best ways to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more housing,” he said. “To the extent that narrower streets allow developers to build more housing, that will address the No. 1 issue with housing right now.”

The median residential street in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is 50 feet wide, according to Millard-Ball’s sample of counties.

The median width of a residential street in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which includes Cambridge, is 40 feet — the narrowest of the group.

The widest streets in the sample are in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. There, the median residential street is nearly 65 feet wide.

The 50-foot standard

For urban planners, a street is called a right of way. The paved section is the roadway.

A right of way includes the roadway as well as sidewalks, if any, along with space for drainage, utility poles and other public infrastructure. It’s the land usually owned by a city or county that the public has the right to use and make its way through by car, bicycle, foot or other mode. Neighbors waving hello across the sidewalk’s edge of their properties are waving across the right of way.

The median 50-foot right of way Millard-Ball documents stems from nearly a century of history in U.S. planning. After the home mortgage system collapsed during the Great Depression, the federal government stepped in and established the Federal Housing Administration in 1934.

The agency’s mortgage insurance and financial assistance for homebuyers represented “the most ambitious suburbanization plan in United States history,” wrote Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph in a 1995 Journal of the American Planning Association article that reviews the historical rise of U.S. suburbs.

To protect the government’s unprecedented investment in home ownership, mostly for white Americans, developers had to have detailed plans approved by the agency. The agency encouraged cul-de-sacs for new developments and favored plans that discouraged through traffic.

“Moreover, the FHA, unlike other planning agencies, was largely run by representatives of real estate and banking, so developers felt that its intervention protected their interests,” Southworth and Ben-Joseph wrote.

If developers wanted to build homes that would benefit from federal financial backing, rights of way had to be at least 50 feet wide, Millard-Ball explained in his new paper, “The Width and Value of Residential Streets.”

Six-figure values

To understand the value of land used for streets, Millard-Ball drew on research from the Federal Housing Finance Agency that estimates the value of quarter-acre lots zoned for single-family homes across the country. The value of the land used for streets can be substantial in places where low population density and high housing costs converge.

Santa Clara County, California, which includes San Jose, has the most valuable streets in the sample at $146,000 per tax parcel. That’s roughly 40% of the median price of an existing single-family home sold in the U.S. in April 2021, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

“One of the best ways to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more housing. To the extent that narrower streets allow developers to build more housing, that will address the No. 1 issue with housing right now.”

— Adam Millard-Ball, UCLA Luskin

New York City, by contrast, has high housing costs but also high density — large apartment buildings are common. Tens of thousands of people live within each square mile. The land beneath streets in Queens, for example, is worth $36,000 per parcel.

At the other end of the value spectrum, streets are worth $7,000 per parcel in Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio. But land values and street widths can vary greatly within counties.

Terra Vista, a small street in a subdivision 25 miles north of San Antonio, is 52 feet wide and has a land value of $43,288 per parcel. All the land under residential streets in Millard-Ball’s 20 counties is worth nearly $1 trillion in total.

Millard-Ball noted that street land value estimates per parcel are likely low for high-cost, dense cities, which often zone for multifamily buildings over single-family homes.

For example, an Italian specialty food store in the Mission District of San Francisco sold its parking lot for $3 million in 2018 — roughly $36 million per acre, by Millard-Ball’s calculation — to make way for a five-story, 18-unit building, according to the news site Mission Local.

Click to explore the value of land used for streets in 20 of the largest U.S. counties.

Most U.S. counties regulate how and where new housing and business developments are built, according to the National Association of Counties, a nonprofit organization that represents U.S. county governments.

Many large cities do the same.

It would be overly costly for cities and counties to change the width of existing streets, particularly with local governments facing budget shortfalls during the pandemic.

Still, the estimates in the new paper can be instructive for planning officials in places like Bexar, one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., as they permit developments to accommodate new and current residents.

“The values are an indication that cities should be making it easier to use streets for something other than roadways and parking,” Millard-Ball said. “A good analogy is that during COVID, one use of streets has been for outdoor dining. It’s recognition that this land is more valuable to the community if we can use it for people to get together and eat in a safer environment outdoors, than as a parking space or travel lane for cars.”

He continued: “The point is that desolate asphalt is doing nobody any good — not the city, not property owners, not anyone. Cities are often keen to widen the right of way with new developments. Say you want to develop a new apartment building. Often, the city will say, ‘Sure, but you have to give up some land so we can add a turn lane, or widen the sidewalk.’ If cities can widen the right of way, why can’t they narrow it in exchange for improvements that will benefit the public?”

Indeed, when a new residential building goes up, cities commonly require developers to widen streets, according to a 2017 paper in the Journal of Transport and Land Use by Michael Manville, another UCLA Luskin urban planner.

In the paper, Manville looked at how the requirement played out in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2012. He found the city’s predictions of increased traffic with the arrival of new buildings were often wrong, and “the standards the law is based on are in some ways unverifiable. Thus the law likely does little to reduce congestion and probably impedes housing development.”

Flexible design

City and county planning standards vary and change, but the federal 50-foot standard still often dominates residential street design. Still, it’s not always true that counties with more land to expand, like those in Texas, have wider streets. Dallas County, for example, specifies that new residential streets in subdivisions be at least 50 feet wide. The median width of residential streets there is exactly 50 feet, Millard-Ball finds.

Surveyor's chain
A surveyor’s chain owned by John Johnson, appointed Surveyor General of Vermont in 1813. Photo by John Johnson Allen / National Museum of American History

Residential streets in Chicago, meanwhile, are typically 66 feet wide, according to city design standards. That roughly matches the length of the typical surveyor’s chain as the city grew throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. The surveyor’s chain was a tool made up of interlocking metal bars that land surveyors used to measure and mark the shapes of streets to be built.

Uniformity in street design made sense as the nation was expanding and infrastructure technologies were less advanced. But the takeaway for Millard-Ball is that maintaining rigidity in street design means fewer amenities and, potentially, less housing.

He wonders, for example, whether more streets could be built with parking cutouts only where there are no private driveways — providing a unique residential landscape alongside opportunities to use more of the built environment for activities other than driving.

“That would make construction drawings more complex,” Millard-Ball said. “The tradeoff is visual interest — and saving a lot of valuable land.”

The prospect of narrower streets raises the question of whether emergency vehicles would be able to pass, though some planners, and at least one report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, suggest smaller emergency vehicles could be an answer.

This article first appeared on The Journalist’s Resource and is republished here with slight revisions for local style under a Creative Commons license.

A New Approach to Preventing Weapons-Related Violence at California Schools Study gauges the prevalence of weapons on campuses and provides a comprehensive look at factors that put schools at risk

By Mary Braswell

At some schools in California, nearly 1 in 5 students say they have either carried a weapon or been injured or threatened with one, according to a new study co-authored by UCLA Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor that examines the presence of weapons in the state’s public middle and high schools and recommends focusing on campus-level conditions that could serve as warning signs for violence.

“Although tragic incidents of shootings in schools are rare and directly affect only a small number of students, tens of thousands of students report bringing weapons to school, and many more see other students in their school carrying weapons,” said Astor, who holds joint appointments at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.

The study, co-authored with Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was published recently in the Journal of School Violence.

Based on surveys of nearly 890,000 California students in grades 7, 9 and 11, the research focuses on all types of weapons — not only guns — and assesses how factors such as the level of crime in a school’s surrounding neighborhood, students’ feelings of belongingness or victimization at school, their relationships with teachers and staff, and their perceptions about whether disciplinary practices are fair can heighten or lower the potential for weapons-carrying and violence.

This holistic or school-wide approach represents a significant departure from previous school-violence studies, which have typically sought to identify risk factors around individual students who might pose a threat, Astor noted.

“A major limitation of current ‘shooter’ studies is that they tend to maintain a narrow focus on individual perpetrators,” the authors write. “Although it is very difficult to detect students who perpetrate school shootings, it is possible to identify schools that have many students who are involved with weapons.”

The number of students who reported seeing weapons on campus is very low at many schools, according to the study, which included a representative sample of students from every county in the state who completed the California Healthy Kids Survey between 2013 and 2015.

However, in 3.3% of schools, more than 15% of students reported carrying a weapon, and in 5.8% of schools, at least 15% of students said they had been injured by a weapon or threatened with one. It is at these schools in particular, Astor and Benbenishty say, that an approach focused on improving campuswide conditions can bear the most fruit.

“It is imperative to develop a monitoring system to identify such schools and channel resources to this vulnerable group of students, educators and parents,” said Astor, who teaches a UCLA undergraduate course on ways to improve school safety. “We must create opportunities to hear their voices and explore local solutions that make their schools safer.”

Fostering a warm, supportive school environment is key to reducing the presence of weapons and creating a truly safe campus, according to the authors, whose previous research has demonstrated that prioritizing a culture of care, funneling more resources to vulnerable schools and elevating the voices of students, teachers and students leads to a drop in the number of weapons at schools.

“Students who trust that teachers support them and have a sense of safety in school may be less inclined to bring weapons to school,” the authors write.

In this new study, Astor and Benbenishty also focus on the unintended negative consequences of past efforts to deter individual shooters by “hardening” schools with metal detectors, security cameras and armed staff, as well as “active shooter” drills and harsh mandatory punishments that research shows often demonstrated bias against students of color.

These measures, they noted, frequently created fortress-like campuses that greatly diminished students’ well-being, heightened the fear of violence on school grounds and sent more of the nation’s children into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Schools,” the authors conclude, “could develop a variety of caring and supportive approaches to reduce weapons-related behaviors … that do not include law enforcement methods and do not increase the school-to-prison pipeline.”

An Immersive Education in Public Affairs Courses on urban trees, safe schools exemplify innovative undergraduate curriculum at UCLA Luskin

By Mary Braswell and Joanie Harmon

Growing up amid the ancient redwoods of Sonoma County, Amy Stanfield developed a deep connection to trees, even greeting her favorites by the names she gave them as a little girl.

“You can stand in the forest and then look up and you just have this very awe-inspiring feeling looking up at these insanely tall, old, historic trees,” Stanfield said. “Redwood trees are really just a symbolic and beautiful part of my life.”

So when the third-year public affairs major spotted a new course on offer in spring quarter — “Trees in the City,” taught by Associate Professor of Urban Planning Kirsten Schwarz — she quickly enrolled.

“I think all the students came to this course with a love of trees,” Schwarz said. “I don’t want them to lose that, but I do want them to think a little bit more critically about the role of trees in the city, and who might benefit from them.”

Trees tell a complex story, touching on water use, climate change, gentrification and even mundane considerations like sap falling on cars.

Schwarz’s course examines urban forestry through an environmental justice lens, weaving together social sciences, natural sciences and fieldwork with the Los Angeles nonprofit TreePeople.

It’s one of several innovative courses that illustrate the UCLA Luskin public affairs major’s emphasis on deep engagement in civic life and rigorous scholarship that draws from many disciplines.

Also new in spring 2021 has been Public Affairs 125, “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools,” taught by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on school safety and student well-being.

Astor, who has a joint appointment with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, said he designed the curriculum with a holistic approach to enhance how universities prepare future educators, social workers, psychologists, administrators and policymakers.

“The new vision proposes that schools won’t just respond to crisis,” Astor said. “It will recognize the current inequities in the system and create school settings that uplift and inspire students — graciously creating a community of educators, peers and families that will elevate the aspirations of each child.”

The course incorporates lessons from more than a year of upheaval endured by schools around the country.

“The dual global pandemics of COVID-19 and our national reckoning with systemic racism after the murder of George Floyd focused a bright light on many blind spots we have as a society when we discuss and research school safety,” Astor said. “The two pandemics highlighted well-documented health, racial and geographic inequities, and started a widespread public conversation about them.”

Students in Public Affairs 125, “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools,” learn to develop strong policy positions and convey them to the public using the power of media.

With her keen interest in education policy, Stephanie Tapia Onate was glad she could take the new course in her final quarter as an undergraduate.

“I like that it focused on improving the school environment. As a former student of the LAUSD public school system, I know that there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Tapia Onate, who will soon graduate with a public affairs bachelor’s degree, then pursue a master of public policy at the Luskin School in the fall.

What sets “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools” apart, she said, is the opportunity to personally engage with a wide variety of experts and to develop the practical skills needed to deliver a policy message to the general public.

Astor’s lineup of guest speakers comes from an impressive array of disciplines, including education, public policy, social welfare, psychology, neuroscience, medicine and law. Scholars from UCLA and across the nation, as well as top officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District, have spoken to the class on topics that included racism, bullying, weapons and drug use, mental health and the unique needs of LGBTQ, homeless or undocumented students.

The course has an expansive view of how to make schools a safe space not just for students but for teachers and staff, Tapia Onata said.

“Teachers do deal with a lot of secondary trauma and sometimes they’re often forgotten in the conversation about mental health resources in schools,” she said. “They are one of the communities at school that we do need to support.”

Students in Astor’s class learn to develop strong policy positions then communicate them to the public through op-eds, TED Talks and TikTok campaigns.

Tapia Onate chose to create a series of one-minute policy videos on TikTok, a platform now used frequently for educational outreach as well as entertainment.

“It’s straight to the point, it can deliver your message really fast, and people are more likely to remember what you say in a short video,” she said.

Immersion in civic life is also central to the “Trees in the City” curriculum. During their quarter-long partnership, students worked with TreePeople to fill the nonprofit agency’s most immediate need — turning a voluminous amount of information about the benefits of trees into messaging tailored to local communities.

One team of students developed a school curriculum on the importance of trees that aligned with Next-Generation Science Standards; they even identified sources of potential funding that TreePeople could pursue.

“Students were really interested in ways that environmental stewardship and curriculum centered around trees could be introduced early on,” Schwarz said.

Amy Stanfield said her team chose to highlight the wisdom of those who “lived on the land the longest and most successfully” — Los Angeles’ Indigenous communities.

Through case studies and an infographic, the team demonstrated how to incorporate time-tested traditions into Westernized systems and provided resources to residents who want to connect with local Indigenous leaders.

“We wanted to center our project on amplifying Indigenous people’s voices in the science world and in this type of urban ecology setting,” Stanfield said.

In a happy coincidence, her work with TreePeople will continue next year as she interns with the nonprofit group for her senior capstone research project.

“Trees in the City” has been a perfect match for Stanfield’s interests, which blend ecology, policy and urban planning, as well as film. She is grateful for the personal attention that Schwarz gives each of the 14 students in the upper-division class, and for the interactive curriculum that has deepened her understanding of urban greenspaces.

“Everyone in my college life can’t hear me say enough about it,” Stanfield said. “I get done with class and say, ‘You guys, my tree class is making me so happy!’ ”

Uplifting Latina Voices Through LPPI, Telemundo Partnership Kassandra Hernández MPP '20 makes relevant research about the impacts of COVID-19 accessible to a Spanish-speaking community

By Zoe Day

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinas went from being one of the fastest-growing groups in the labor force to one that was hit hardest by unemployment, with 2.4 million Latinas out of work in April 2020.

This finding from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) at UCLA Luskin is part of a broad body of research on the pandemic’s impact on Latino populations — research that is now being shared with a wider audience through a partnership with Spanish-language news station Telemundo 52.

LPPI research analyst Kassandra Hernández BA ’17, MPP ’20 sees the collaboration as an opportunity to uplift Latina voices and make relevant research more accessible to Latino populations.

“The reports we produce are nothing if no one reads them,” she explained. “We’re studying the impact [of the pandemic] on Latinas, and we would like to reach the people who are being impacted.”

A Telemundo newscast featuring Hernández focused on Latina participation in the labor market, which had been projected to experience substantial growth until the pandemic forced many Latinas to choose child-care duties over paid work. LPPI Director of Research Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas also appeared in the segment, underscoring that “Latinas are overrepresented in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.”

As a native Spanish speaker, Hernández welcomed the chance to connect with the populations that her research focuses on, in their own language.

“Different media outlets are accessible in different languages, but English doesn’t reach Latinas in the same way,” she said.

Two other Telemundo reports featured LPPI-affiliated scholars who shared their expertise on COVID-19’s impact on Latino populations. In one segment, Melissa Chinchilla, a research scientist who studies the intersection of housing, health and community development, explained how unemployment caused by the pandemic led many to move in with friends and family, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission within households.

“Affordable housing and the capacity to accommodate multigenerational families are issues that will require long-term investment,” Chinchilla said.

In another report, Yohualli Balderas-Medina Anaya, a medical doctor on the faculty of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, discussed the long-term symptoms experienced by some COVID-19 patients even after the infection has passed. Anaya expressed concern that some side effects will continue to affect patients for years.

Telemundo reporter Enrique Chiabra, a UCLA alumnus, presented the three-part series aimed at making information about the COVID-19 pandemic accessible for Spanish-speaking populations. That is a key priority for Hernández, who has worked with LPPI faculty experts including Executive Director Sonja Diaz to interpret research and push it into the public sphere.

“Academic research is often not as accessible to the communities it focuses on,” she said. “I want to analyze inequities and share knowledge; I don’t want to stay in the ivory tower.”

Hernández is a double Bruin who earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and labor and workplace studies. After graduation, she worked with AmeriCorps on food insecurity before going back to school to develop her skills in quantitative analysis.

“As a Latina, I have lived what I find in numbers,” said Hernández, a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She spoke about her own mother’s challenges balancing responsibilities as a domestic worker and the demands of being a parent and caretaker.

“I realized not everyone has those same experiences, but I can use numbers as evidence to validate my own story.”

Hernández said she chose the master of public policy program at UCLA Luskin because of the supportive faculty and the opportunity to engage with real-world issues. The experience “opened up my eyes to what I could do and how to analyze policy,” she said. 

Hernández’s research with LPPI has helped shed light on the gender norms and expectations that often push Latina women aside or confine them to the household. The partnership between LPPI and Telemundo, she said, helped break down stereotypes and recognize that Latinas should not be grouped together as a monolith.

As Hernández’s time with LPPI draws to a close, she is excited to meet the next cohort of fellows to continue advancing research and policy work to support Latinas. In the fall, she will pursue her Ph.D. in economics at UC Berkeley, building on her skills from UCLA Luskin to address inequality through policy research focusing on labor, income inequality, immigration, education, food access and environmental economics.

“Everything is connected,” Hernández said. “Inequality dictates access and quality of life.”

Activating Justice Through a 21st Century Latinx Lens UCLA co-hosts a dialogue featuring leading Latinx voices with the goal of sparking a full transformation of the criminal legal system 

By Kacey Bonner

What would our criminal legal system look like if it was truly designed to reduce harm, advance public safety and end America’s legacy as the world’s leading incarcerator?

That was the question on everyone’s mind as leading Latinx elected officials, advocates, academics and media personalities convened to grapple with the issue of criminal justice — a topic of intense national debate.

Hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, the May 13-14 convening “Advancing Criminal Justice Reform Through a 21st Century Latinx Lens” had several goals: creating greater visibility of Latinos within the justice reform movement; identifying opportunities to build solidarity with other communities most impacted by the criminal legal system; and advancing transformative policy focused on justice rather than punishment.

“For too long, Latinos have been left out of the criminal justice conversation, even though we are the second most negatively impacted group by numbers behind Black people when it comes to our criminal legal systems,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

With conversations led by faculty experts such as UCLA Law Professor Jennifer Chacón, over 1,000 participants tuned in to hear from a multiracial cadre of 40 speakers covering topics including ending youth incarceration, defunding the police, and the intersection of the criminal legal and immigration systems – all through a Latinx lens.

Speakers including journalist Maria Hinojosa and author Julissa Arce led lively discussions about the opportunity to create more truthful and inclusive narratives in the criminal justice space and develop tailored solutions that address the underlying structural and systemic deficiencies that drive people to engage in harmful acts.

“It was so exciting to see this come together with so many brilliant people who were able to bring fresh perspective on the issue, the challenges and opportunities before us and how we can work in solidarity across race and experience to achieve common goals that make our communities safer and healthier,” said LPPI fellow Paula Nazario, one of the lead organizers of the convening. A UCLA graduate, Nazario is now pursuing her master of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

The event’s opening plenary session included Kelly Lytle-Hernández, a professor of history, African American studies and urban planning at UCLA. Lytle-Hernández gave attendees key insight into the impacts of the criminal legal system on Latinos, the structural racism propping up the system of incarceration and how the criminalization of immigrants is working to expand systems of mass incarceration.

Breakout sessions then enabled attendees to think about how they can demand better data that creates a clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities ahead and how Latino-facing organizations — both within and outside the justice reform space — can work together to create broad change.

Throughout the convening, conversation returned to the immense data and knowledge gap that obscures the true impact of the criminal legal system on Latinx individuals, families and communities. If this gap persists, there is a risk of creating solutions that fail to address challenges unique to Latinos who are systems-impacted and perpetuating inequities that exist in our current criminal legal system.

A conversation with Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF, closed the two-day meeting. Cartagena said that, while the U.S. criminal legal system hasn’t changed much in the past five decades, it is on the precipice of big change — change made possible by communities that see an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally transform systems of justice.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that there have been amazing opportunities for organizing people around truth, and for having that truth talk to power,” Cartagena said.

“I think we’re stronger than ever to actually have conversations about dismantling systems, about what it means to invest in our communities in different ways and to think outside of every box at every corner so we can get things done.”

 

Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa moderates the opening plenary session with podcast host David Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, author Julissa Arce, District Court Judge Natalia Cornelio and UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle-Hernández.

Jonathan Jayes-Greene of the Marguerite Casey Foundation moderates a “crimmigration” panel featuring Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente, Abraham Paulos of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, UCLA Professor Jennifer M. Chacón and Greisa Martinez Rosas of United We Dream.