A Smart Way to Make a SMART Park New toolkit produced by the Luskin Center for Innovation provides a guide for making parks more user-friendly and sustainable

By George Foulsham

The burgeoning world of smart technology includes everything from phones and televisions to thermostats and voice-activated home assistants. Now, thanks to the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, you can add neighborhood parks to the “smart” category.

The Luskin Center has just released “SMART Parks: A Toolkit” to highlight how technology can enhance the efficiency of — and more comfortable access to — public spaces.

What makes a park smart?

“A smart park uses technology to achieve equitable access, enhanced health, safety, resilience, water and energy efficiency, and effective opera­tions and maintenance,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate dean at UCLA Luskin, who led a small team of researchers and UCLA students on the SMART Parks project.

The toolkit, which is intended for park managers, designers, landscape architects, advocates and anyone who wishes to learn how technology can be incorporated into parks, is a compilation of technologies that cities and counties can use to make parks smarter.

The 275-page guide is organized by pertinent chapters — activity spaces, digital landscapes, hardscapes, lighting, irrigation, softscapes, stormwater management and urban furniture.

The kit includes a wide range of technologies that can be utilized in parks to provide benefits:

  • Interactive play sets that increase park accessibility for children with physical and mental disabilities by providing language, game and noise settings that can be adjusted by park management to meet community needs.
  • Path pavement materials that are more comfortable for older adults, making them feel welcome in parks and encouraging them to walk, thus improving their health.
  • Energy-generating exercise equipment that charges cellphones while providing users with free access to physical activity.
  • Irrigation controllers that conserve water by optimizing watering patterns in each park area depending on microclimate and soil type.
  • Soils that improve groundwater infiltration and remove pollutants from stormwater runoff, thus improving local water quality.
  • Self-healing concrete that reduces maintenance and replacement needs by preventing and healing cracks in park infrastructure, thus reducing park management costs.

The toolkit also includes guidance on how to navigate the challenges associated with the park management process, such as staff training and cost constraints, and pro­vides an overview of potential funding strategies to help create SMART Parks.

“The toolkit’s aim is to address concerns about park underutilization, high maintenance costs, and water and energy waste by rethinking the neighborhood park so that it becomes ‘smart.’ Parks represent assets for cities, but in an era of limited municipal resources and concerns about energy and water usage, they have also been viewed as liabilities,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.

The researchers emphasize that the toolkit is a starting point for park managers, landscape professionals, local government, nonprof­its and interested community members to gain information on technological innova­tions and their potential benefits for parks.

More research is needed, they add, to ensure that the technologies and their benefits are appropriate for specific parks.

A downloadable copy of the SMART Parks toolkit is now online.

Luskin Forum Online: Who We Are Essays highlight people who make UCLA Luskin a vibrant, thought-provoking and entertaining place to be

[ From the Luskin Forum Online ]

Dean Gary Segura is fond of saying that the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is about human well-being.

“We study ways to make individuals, families, communities and polities function better, for the improvement and quality of lives of all those affected,” Segura told the Class of 2017 at Commencement last June.

Those students, now Luskin alumni, spent 2016-17 working on a variety of projects related to urgent human needs, such as:

  • greenhouse gas reduction
  • interventions with at-risk youth
  • prison population reduction
  • homelessness
  • HIV prevention
  • meningitis epidemic control
  • regulation of new and intrusive technologies
  • safe school environments
  • quality mental health services
  • river restoration
  • access to home ownership
  • responsive governance in the developing world

“I’m reminded every day of how lucky I am and how special it is to be a part of the Luskin School of Public Affairs,” Segura told proud parents and family members at the graduation ceremony.

This issue of Luskin Forum is dedicated to just that: taking pride in how this school makes a difference, and why it’s important to remember the myriad accomplishments of our students, faculty, staff
and alumni.

Our UCLA Luskin mission statement says it perfectly: “At the convergence of the fields of social work, urban planning, and policymaking, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs identifies and develops emerging areas of research and teaching, cultivating leaders and change agents who advance solutions to society’s most pressing problems.”

In the words of Dean Segura: “Do good in the world. Make change.”

— GEORGE FOULSHAM

We Are Connecting

Like their planning and policy peers at UCLA Luskin, the School’s Master of Social Welfare students are connecting with the community throughout their two-year professional program. First-year MSW students have the opportunity to engage in high-impact internships and placements that begin even before fall classes start.

New Luskin MSW students bring with them a wide range of experience in the community and at social work-related agencies, where they have served as students, employees and volunteers. From the get-go, they immerse themselves in the work of organizations that assist and provide programs for the homeless, the elderly, disabled adults, children with emotional and learning disabilities, and foster youth.

The wide array of student placements includes a downtown women’s shelter, a psychiatric care facility, school and community groups, and other sites that provide services such as law advocacy or assistance with transitional housing, according to Michelle Talley MSW ’98, field education faculty member.

First-year MSW students are placed at various field sites throughout Los Angeles County and in surrounding counties, Talley said. Placements are based on previous experience, prior knowledge of the role of a social worker and other factors.

Their extensive field work also involves community outreach and advocacy. They participate in staff meetings and offer consultation. They engage in research activities and participate in development programs that include training on professional responsibility and reporting mandates.

Both years of the MSW program integrate the School, alumni and the community as integral parts of the educational process for this professional practice-oriented degree, assuring that graduates become high-impact practitioners.

“The goal is to place students at sites that will create opportunities to enhance their growth as a professional social worker,” Talley said.

— STAN PAUL

We Are Protectors

From the streets of Los Angeles to innovative research on social media, UCLA Luskin faculty members like Ian Holloway are gathering data to inform programs and policies that improve the health and well-being of vulnerable communities.

In addition to his position as assistant professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, Holloway is director of the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center. There are approximately 5,000 new HIV cases in California each year. Holloway’s ongoing work focuses on HIV prevention and treatment among sexual and gender minority people. “Young gay and bisexual men, especially those from racial and ethnic minority communities, are disproportionately impacted by HIV, and HIV-related comorbidities,” Holloway said.

In 2016-17, Holloway and a group of Luskin students and recent graduates canvassed more than 500 gay and bisexual men to gauge their awareness of a yearlong outbreak of meningitis in Southern California. Holloway and his research group found that less than a third of those interviewed were vaccinated against meningitis despite extensive outreach efforts by the California Department of Public Health.

Holloway’s findings suggested that better vaccination uptake surveillance, tailored education and more sites for immunization throughout Southern California are needed in order to bolster efforts to track meningitis and encourage vaccination among gay and bisexual men.

Other research conducted by Holloway and student assistants includes the LINX LA project, which uses a mobile phone app to encourage treatment engagement among HIV-positive African American young gay and bisexual men through access to legal and social service resources in Los Angeles.

Next up? Using a new and innovative approach, Holloway and a group of tech-savvy UCLA researchers will use data-mining of social networking sites to learn more about drug use and sexual risk behavior. The project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to use social networking data to inform intervention development. “This would include ‘just-in-time’ technology-delivered interventions aimed at preventing negative health outcomes and promoting healthy behaviors,” Holloway explained.

— STAN PAUL

We Are Innovating

Whether it be guiding equitable revitalization of the L.A. River, helping Californians cut down on their electricity use, or advancing a new way to repurpose carbon dioxide into a greener form of concrete, the Luskin Center for Innovation is a trailblazer among UCLA’s many sustainability leaders.

And that’s just for starters.

Since its inception in 2009, the Luskin Center’s research has influenced local, state and national policy. This includes a new rooftop solar program for Los Angeles, the redesign of California’s clean vehicle rebate program, and current efforts to develop a drinking water low-income assistance program in California. Other research informs the state’s world-renowned actions to combat climate change while maximizing local employment, air quality and health benefits.

A think tank housed within the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the center is organized around initiatives that translate world-class research into real-world policy solutions. Current initiatives include advanced transportation, clean energy, climate action, digital technologies, sustainable water and urban greening — all linked by the theme of informing effective and equitable policies.

The center brings together faculty and staff from a variety of academic disciplines across campus to conduct research in partnership with civic leaders who use the knowledge to inform policy and organizational innovations. Civic leaders include policymakers, nonprofit organizations, and business associations. Students at UCLA Luskin have the opportunity to work with the Luskin Center to gain hands-on research experience and work closely with these decision-makers.

Meyer Luskin, the visionary and benefactor behind the Luskin Center, says, “Sustaining the environment is the greatest inheritance one can leave to children, and the most enduring gift to the community and nation.”

— KELSEY JESSUP

We Are Inspiring

Each year, UCLA Luskin students are embedded in internships and research projects offered through all three departments. That’s a given. Not as well known is how the school also creates partnerships that benefit students and the communities in which they work.

Take, for example, the Watts Leadership Institute (WLI). The brainchild of Social Welfare adjunct professor Jorja Leap MSW ’80 and her research partner, Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, the WLI is engaged in a 10-year mission to bring about positive change in a community hungry for leadership coaching.

Leap and Lompa are working with the first cohort of community members, providing guidance on everything from learning how to establish successful nonprofits to applying those skills in their community garden. After several years of training and coaching, the cohort will provide guidance for future leaders in Watts.

At the same time, Leap is using the project as a way to provide community-based educational experiences for Luskin’s Social Welfare students.

“This kind of a public-private partnership, along with the research attached to it — and the building of the Watts community — really represent the best of how all of these different factors can come together,” said Leap, who has been working in Watts since conducting research there when she was a Social Welfare graduate student in the 1970s. “It represents part of UCLA’s continuing and growing commitment to communities like Watts that need our involvement, our engagement, our organizing, our research.”

The WLI has received funding from the California Wellness Foundation and from GRoW @ Annenberg, a philanthropic initiative led by Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, as well as office space and in-kind support from Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino.

“What Watts Leadership did was to help us come together, to put our resources together, and be an example for the rest of the nonprofit and leadership community in Watts,” cohort member Pahola Ybarra said. “It’s been an amazing effort to help us grow, and to help us get out of our own way. It encourages us to reach for as much as we can and do as much as we can in the community.”

— GEORGE FOULSHAM

We Are Woke

On Nov. 9, 2016, after many felt their world spin out of control, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin decided to create a space for students, faculty and staff to critically analyze the forms of exclusion, including white nationalism, so pervasive throughout the election that had just ended.

Post-election, the Institute, whose tagline is “Organizing knowledge to challenge inequality,” expanded its mission to challenge state-sponsored violence against targeted bodies and communities by immediately issuing a call for Jan. 18, 2017: Teach.Organize.Resist.

The campaign, known as #J18, included universities and colleges across the nation and internationally that organized nearly 100 courses, performances, sit-ins, and lectures to demonstrate that places of teaching and learning would not bear silent witness to oppression and hate. After a day of programming at UCLA, #J18 ended with “From the Frontlines of Justice,” a multi-performance event held in Ackerman Grand Ballroom. Highlights are online at teachorganizeresist.luskin.ucla.edu

Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography and the director of the Institute, remarked: “I encourage students to think of their role as scholars and to consider the power of research and knowledge.”

To strengthen the link between scholarship and collective action even further, the Institute launched its first Activist-in-Residence program in 2017. In the words of the inaugural fellow, Funmilola Fagbamila, arts and culture director of Black Lives Matter LA and adjunct professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA, the definition of “woke” doesn’t end at knowledge. “To achieve the ‘woke’ label, you must be willing to analyze the conditions in your community. Lastly, you must act.”

Through academic research, and in alliance with social justice movements, the Institute creates scholarship, art and collective action to tackle divides and dispossessions in global Los Angeles and in cities around the world.

“We do so to insist on the academic freedom to examine regimes of power and structures of intolerance,” Roy explained. “We do so to forge imaginations of abolitionism, civil disobedience and human freedom. We do so, as James Baldwin reminded us, to shake the dungeon and leave behind our chains.”

— CRISTINA BARRERA

We Are Global

The impact of the Luskin School resonates far beyond the borders of Los Angeles and California. It’s a brand with international flavor. It’s not unusual to find Luskin students and faculty in Mexico, Uganda, India or Japan.

Luskin’s popular Global Public Affairs program offers students the chance to obtain intellectual and professional preparation to become future experts within the realm of international public affairs.

Each year GPA students travel around the globe, immersing themselves in the culture — and problems — of their host countries, and blogging about it for the GPA website. In the past year, students have lived in Mexico City; Paris; Kampala, Uganda; Bonn, Germany; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Tokyo, among other locales.

The GPA program is led by two members of the Urban Planning faculty. Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international urban planning, is the director of GPA. He’s also a professor of economic sociology at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics. Stephen Commins UP PhD ’88, a lecturer in Urban Planning, is a former senior development specialist at the World Bank and director of policy and planning at World Vision International. UCLA Luskin’s international influence also includes:

  • Urban Planning faculty like Paavo Monkkonen MPP ’05, whose students made multiple visits to Tijuana, Mexico, where they provided guidance to city and government officials about the best ways to deal with a housing crisis.
  • Policy professors like Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy, who has traveled around the world — to India, Mexico, Tanzania and Indonesia — to conduct research into microeconomics, health and development.
  • Faculty leaders like Donald Shoup and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris who are among the many UCLA Luskin faculty in great demand as speakers at conferences around the world.
  • Our international students — who add a global perspective to the student body and to Luskin educational efforts.

“A focus on problems that cross borders and involve international interdependence, also identifies where international forces affect domestic policies,” Commins said. “Students can learn from comparing experiences of different countries in how they face planning, policy and social welfare challenges and apply the experiences to their own studies and professional practice.”

— GEORGE FOULSHAM

We Are Problem Solvers

Graduate students at UCLA Luskin don’t wait to step beyond the classroom to address California’s pressing challenges. Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students spend their time on campus deeply immersed in local, state, national and global issues. At the Luskin School, it’s part of the program.

Luskin students log countless hours learning lessons from leading-edge faculty and researchers. Here they seek solutions related to ongoing problems like housing, transportation or sustainability. They look into topics of vital importance to Southern California like electric recharging stations, barriers to bicycling in and around the city, or accessibility to water and food.

“At Luskin, we give students a diverse set of tools (both quantitative and qualitative) that will help guide them through the APP process and ultimately to go out into the real world and conduct policy analysis on issues close to their hearts,” said Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy and faculty coordinator for the Applied Policy Project program completed by MPP graduates.

Recent work has connected students with county and city offices such as the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Regional agencies such as the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) frequently serve as clients. Recent APP projects included healthy food choices for elementary school students and employment opportunities for youths. Students also tackle educational issues right here at UCLA or work with the University of California’s Office of the President.

Many student projects benefit local and regional clients and the communities they serve, but they also reach out to communities far way. A recent planning capstone evaluated the short-term rental market in a Northern California city, for example. And a recent policy project analyzed governance at
the local level in the Ukraine.

— STAN PAUL

We Are Trailblazing

There’s no better place to study how people get around than Southern California — and for the past 25 years, UCLA has been home to one of the country’s preeminent transportation research centers.

The UCLA Institute for Transportation Studies (ITS) at UCLA Luskin combines cutting-edge research with meaningful, influential civic engagement to lead to policy results in California and beyond. From the impacts of traffic congestion to fairness around rideshare hailing to the civic consequences of paying for parking, ITS scholars produce work that ties directly to current transportation planning practices and policymaking at the local, state and national levels. ITS is noted for connecting transportation and equity, and for emphasizing the effect of transportation decisions on people’s lives.

“We take our policy mandate seriously,” said Brian Taylor UP PhD ’90, director of ITS and professor of urban planning.

Through close partnership with dozens of outside organizations that include government agencies, private transportation companies, nonprofit foundations and advocacy groups, ITS faculty, staff and students translate the latest knowledge on transportation into proposed real-world policies around movement and growth. ITS’ biannual digital magazine is widely read throughout the transportation community, highlighting important new research in a clear, constructive manner for practitioners.

Luskin students working at ITS collaborate closely with faculty members, receive generous scholarship funding for their own trailblazing projects, and have garnered an inordinate number of prestigious grants and awards over the years. Regular interactive events and publications showcase student findings to the academic community and the public at UCLA and around the country.

The next quarter-century will bring significant changes to how we travel, with daunting societal impacts. As it has since 1992, ITS research and policy action will help guide the way toward solutions.

— WILL LIVESLEY-O’NEILL

We Are Family

Attend any gathering at UCLA Luskin and you may feel like you stumbled into someone’s family reunion.

There will be a toddler or two, chasing a balloon or dancing as a faculty, staff or student parent hovers nearby. You’ll notice plenty of happy young faces — graduate students tend to be in their 20s — but look closer, and you’ll see older folks too. Mid-career professionals returning to add a degree. Staff and faculty, some grayed and others not. Perhaps alumni who earned degrees during the days of typewriters or even pencil and paper, not smartphones.

But family is more than differences in age. It’s continuity. Legacy. Progress over time, as one generation blazes a trail and then passes the torch of knowledge along to another to mark its own, slightly different path. It’s every professor who imparts a tidbit of knowledge only to be surprised, and humbled, when a protégé nurtures that information into something new and wonderful and impactful.

A lifetime of learning walks the Public Affairs Building each day — legends who become mentors, colleagues, even friends. Marty Wachs. Joan Ling. Mark Peterson. Michael Dukakis. Ananya Roy. Gerry Laviña. And so many more. People who have done everything in their careers that students could ever dream of doing themselves and yet still seem to care most about what their students learn now that will improve the world tomorrow.

Family provides inspiration. At Luskin, it’s instructors who know how to say, “You can do better,” in a way that makes students understand that, yes, they really can.

Families help those who need it. It’s every person on the Donor Honor Roll whose name is there not because their wealth exceeds their needs but because money is a way to honor someone who once expanded their worldview. Or lifted their spirits. Or answered a question late one night as a deadline loomed.

After 40 years at UCLA Luskin, Donald Shoup knows all about the Luskin family. In 2017, he won another big award, honoring his contributions as an educator. He put it in perspective: “If we have any influence — if there is going to be anything to remember after we are gone — I think it will be the successful careers of our students who will be changing the world for the better.”

— LES DUNSEITH

Alternative Utility Providers Offer Options for Energy Customers New report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation assesses the options available to Santa Monica and other cities in Los Angeles County

By Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10

Los Angeles County is set to launch its own electricity provider in 2018, giving customers another option besides longtime power company Southern California Edison. Called Los Angeles Community Choice Energy, the county’s venture is part of a wave across California of new community choice aggregators.

Community choice aggregators (CCAs) enable cities or counties to make decisions about what kinds of energy resources and local clean energy programs in which to invest, such as local renewable energy. Since 2010, California communities have established nine CCAs, with over a dozen municipalities actively exploring forming a CCA and many others considering joining one. Multiple CCA models have arisen out of this rapid growth. Now cities such as Santa Monica have multiple CCA options.

A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analyzed three CCA options to inform Santa Monica’s decision whether to form or join a CCA.

“This study commissioned by the City of Santa Monica is garnering wide attention from cities across the region that are faced with a similar set of options, because it is an important decision,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The decision could affect electricity rates for local customers, the amount of renewable energy procured and how much money could be available for local energy programs, among other consequences.

The study assessed the strengths and potential challenges of Santa Monica’s three CCA options:

  • Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE), a large, soon-to-launch CCA with member cities across Los Angeles County. This regional option may dilute influence for Santa Monica, in terms of its direct vote on the governing board. However, it could also provide Santa Monica with the greatest economies of scale, which would well position the city to meet its ambitious renewable energy and other environmental goals while avoiding long-term risks.
  • South Bay Clean Power (SBCP), a CCA designed for a group of cities in the South Bay and Westside subregion. SBCP is more a set of recommendations than an operationally ready option at this time. SBCP’s business plan includes innovative, sophisticated strategies for a next generation CCA, which others outside of SBCP could adopt. With no other currently committed members, Santa Monica would likely have to take the lead in its development and it would likely benefit from fewer economies of scale than LACCE.
  • A single-city CCA through the services of California Choice Energy Authority (CCEA), which pools services for multiple single-city CCAs. The business model for CCEA allows for member cities to have a significant amount of autonomy to pursue and meet renewable energy and other goals. However, it would also involve an initial financial and staff commitment.

Relying in part on UCLA’s research findings, the Santa Monica City Council recently voted unanimously to join LACCE as the first step in a two-step approval process.

The associated Santa Monica staff report states, “The UCLA study helped to inform staff’s recommendations. … LACCE is operationally ready and could provide the City with a variety of economies of scale and a stronger voice for the legislative and regulatory discussions that lay ahead.” By collaborating with other cities through this new regional energy partnership, Santa Monica hopes to be a powerful voice pushing for clean energy strategies that advance the City’s progressive environmental goals, according to the report.

A New Tool to Help Plan for Expected Growth in Electric Vehicles Luskin Center’s Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Atlas informs investments, policies and plans to meet consumer demand

More than 82,000 electric vehicles were registered in Southern California between 2011 and 2015. The number of new plug-in electric vehicles registered there during 2015 increased a whopping 992 percent from 2011.

Now, a report produced by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation forecasts continued exponential growth in the electric vehicle market, with more than 700,000 plug-in electric vehicles expected to hit Southern California roads by the end of 2025.

This forecast assumes that over time more residents of apartments and other multi-unit dwellings will be able to charge at home. The report, the Southern California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness Atlas, can help make that happen, according to J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.

“We wanted to provide a tool that decision-makers can use to accommodate forecasted consumer demand for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure,” DeShazo said. For example, the atlas provides planners with critical spatial information for meeting charging demand in multi-unit residences and other places. It can also help utilities identify where utility upgrades may be needed to accommodate additional electricity loads.

The atlas documents the concentration of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in a given neighborhood, visualizes how that concentration varies over the course of a day, and projects PEV growth over the next 10 years for each of the 15 sub-regional councils of government within Southern California.

With support from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and the California Energy Commission, the 2017 atlas is an update to the first Southern California PEV Readiness Plan and Atlas created by the Luskin Center for Innovation in 2013. Recognizing that the plug-in electric vehicle market has changed considerably in the last five years, the updated atlas helps decision-makers plan for future changes.

“Like the region’s first PEV plan and atlas, the 2017 update can help open people’s eyes to the promises and challenges posed by electric charging stations,” said Marco Anderson, a senior regional planner with SCAG. As a liaison to cities in the region, he has seen how many cities used the first atlas to find local partners for charging station sites.

The new maps include the following spatial information:

  • the locations and sizes of workplaces, multiunit residences and retail establishments that could potentially host PEV charging
  • the locations of existing charging infrastructure, including the number of charging units/cords and level of service
  • and the locations of publicly accessible parking facilities to fill in gaps in PEV charging, particularly in older urban cores.

 

Unlocking Millions of Dollars in State Incentives for Solar Power New research by GRID Alternatives and UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation quantifies the opportunities and potential benefits of solar power on affordable housing units in L.A. County

By Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10

Karina Guzman is both property manager and resident of a low-income housing complex for working families in Southern California. Even with the job and relatively affordable rent, Guzman worries about paying her electricity bills. But relief is coming from what she found to be a surprising source: solar panels recently installed on 17 of the 27 buildings in her complex.

The solar panel system will offset the cost of powering lights and other needs in common areas as well as help residents lower their electricity bills. “I can’t wait for the solar panel to help me pay a credit card bill, and maybe even save for a vacation,” Guzman said.

Low-income households typically spend higher percentages of their incomes on energy costs and thus stand to benefit most from utility bill savings due to solar power generated on their homes. Yet, while Los Angeles County is a national leader in the adoption of residential solar, the homes of low-income households account for less than 1 percent of residential solar capacity across the county, according to new research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the nonprofit organization GRID Alternatives. This may change.

The study found that cities in Los Angeles County could soon unlock millions of dollars annually in state incentives for residential solar on affordable housing.

Starting in 2018, California will offer a solar rebate program targeted at putting solar panels on the roofs of affordable housing developments. With an annual budget of up to $100 million, the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program “could make a big difference toward reversing the current inequity in the distribution of residential solar systems,” said Michael Kadish, executive director of GRID Alternatives Los Angeles, which makes renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities.

The program, along with smaller existing state solar rebate programs such as the Low-Income Weatherization Program available for large multifamily residences located in disadvantaged communities across the state, will encourage the installation of solar systems that help affordable housing residents’ reduce their utility bills.

But there is a catch.

Residents of affordable housing and other multifamily dwellings can only take advantage of state solar incentive programs if their utility offers a virtual net metering policy allowing residents to receive credits from the system. Virtual net metering is a common billing mechanism that allows multiple parties to share the financial benefits of a single solar power system.

Southern California Edison offers virtual net metering, but that’s not the case with municipally owned utilities in cities such as Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale and others in the county. Without virtual net metering, there is no real mechanism for residents of multifamily dwellings, including affordable housing, to access the financial benefits of solar.

Now is a good time for the City of Los Angeles ― which we identified as having the largest share of rooftop solar potential (62 megawatts) and rebate-eligible rooftop solar potential in the region ― to consider removing the policy barrier that is currently preventing myriad residents of multifamily dwellings from realizing the benefits of residential solar,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and chair of UCLA Public Policy.

Researchers calculated the potential of 115 MW of rooftop solar power throughout Los Angeles County on the more than 1,100 affordable housing properties that would qualify for a solar rebate. Researchers quantified the potential benefits if this physical capacity for solar on affordable housing was realized in Los Angeles County:

  • $11.6 million annually in utility bill savings for affordable housing residents
  • $4.9 million annually in savings for affordable housing property owners
  • $220.6 million in funding from state programs to spur local economic development
  • 1,800 job years (one year of full-time work or the equivalent) created
  • More than 3,800 job training opportunities and nearly 31,000 job training hours that can be strategically targeted to encourage an equitable clean energy workforce

The report includes recommendations for designing a virtual net metering tariff in Los Angeles to help maximize these types of benefits. Findings also highlight the opportunity to target solar workforce development benefits to residents of affordable housing who are more likely to live in communities with higher unemployment rates than the county at large.

The report can be found online.

 

Water Justice for Mobile Home Residents UCLA Luskin School study highlights substandard water service and quality in California’s mobile home parks

By Stan Paul

Gregory Pierce

Although California officially recognizes the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for all citizens, the Human Right to Water law passed in 2012 has no teeth, according to Urban Planning researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In a new study, co-authors Gregory Pierce MA UP ’11 PhD ’15 and Silvia González MURP ’13 looked at drinking water access and quality in mobile home parks, a significant but often overlooked segment of the California population.

“Right now, I don’t think state and local policymakers are focusing nearly enough attention on this issue,” said Pierce, an adjunct assistant professor of urban planning and a senior researcher on water and transportation initiatives at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

The study, published this month in the journal Environmental Justice, is titled “Public Drinking Water System Coverage and its Discontents: The Prevalence and Severity of Water Access Problems in California’s Mobile Home Parks.” Co-author González, who has collaborated with Pierce on a number of drinking water-related studies, is a doctoral student in urban planning and assistant director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin.

Although some existing research broadly suggests that water service and quality in the state’s mobile home parks is substandard, Pierce and González said that a lack of literature and targeted studies on the subject spurred their research, which is based on a range of quantitative and qualitative sources, including more than 1,300 news reports related to mobile home water access.

Silvia Gonzalez

The study concluded that mobile home parks are:

  • likely to incur more health-related violations than other systems
  • four times more likely to experience a significant service shutoff (more than 24 hours)
  • 40 percent more likely to rely on groundwater, a known risk for reliability and quality

In their report, the authors said they were surprised to find that available data on water system reliability suggests that mobile home parks in California are as likely as the general population to be served by community water systems. The authors pointed out that mobile home parks are more likely to have small water systems, a characteristic well-documented to diminish access.

“This demonstrates that any deficiencies in water service in parks are indeed problems for which the public sector maintains oversight and authority to rectify,” the researchers said in the study.

Pierce and González also found that evidence on affordability was less conclusive, but it suggested that the cost of drinking water could pose an “outsized” burden on some mobile home park residents who, because of reliability and quality, may purchase bottled water, which is more expensive than alternative water sources.

Pierce, who presented the study findings at the 2017 Water and Health Conference held Oct. 16-20 at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said that he hopes progress will be made in the coming years, “but the trend is not promising at this point.”

“The key message I tried to convey is that access issues faced by mobile home park water systems reflect inequities both in the governance of drinking water systems more generally and in landlord-tenant relations in mobile home parks,” Pierce said. “A lot of the issues faced by tenants are caused by landlord neglect.”

González pointed out that, specifically in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most unaffordable housing markets, residents also experience the pressures of gentrification and displacement.

“As manufactured housing becomes an increasingly important affordable housing option, policymakers need to ensure these residents aren’t being put at a disproportionate health risk, and address accessibility and affordability issues when they are,” González said.

The article is available online.

New Sources, Innovative Applications of Big Data Explored at Conference UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation researchers demonstrate how digital technology is transforming humans into sensors that generate behavioral data on an unprecedented scale

By Stan Paul

If your 2016 Thanksgiving dinner was shorter than usual, the turkey on your dining table may not have been to blame.

Who you had dinner with and their political affiliations following last year’s divisive election may have shortened the holiday get-together by about 25 minutes — or up to an hour depending on how many campaign/political messages saturated your market area. It’s all in the data.

“It’s not that conservatives and [liberals] don’t like eating Thanksgiving dinner with each other;  they don’t like eating Thanksgiving dinner together after an incredibly polarizing period,” said Keith Chen, associate professor of economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Chen was among a group of scholars and data researchers who presented recent findings on Aug. 25, 2017, at a daylong conference about computational social science and digital technology hosted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

Information gleaned from social media and from cellphone tracking data can reveal and confirm political polarization and other topics, such as poverty or protest, said researchers who gathered at the “The Future of Humans as Sensors” conference held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The event brought together social scientists and data researchers to look for “ways to either extend what we can do with existing data sets or explore new sources of ‘big data,’” said Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin and the leader of the program.

Steinert-Threlkeld presented his latest research, which was motivated by the Women’s March in the United States, as an example of measuring protest with new data sources that include geo-located Twitter accounts. While conducting research, Steinert-Threlkeld has observed that working with social media data has actually become more difficult of late.

“While Facebook lets you use data from profiles that are public, most people have private profiles,” Steinert-Threlkeld said. Seeing private data requires researchers to work directly with Facebook, which has become more cautious in the wake of a controversial 2014 paper, thus impacting what scholars can publish. In addition, Instagram previously provided much more data, but since 2016 it has followed the Facebook model and that data has been severely restricted despite Instagram’s norm of having public profiles, he said.

“This workshop will discuss how ‘humans as sensors’ can continue to yield productive research agendas,” Steinert-Threlkeld told conference attendees.

Talking about new and innovative ways to do this, Michael Macy, a sociologist and director of the Social Dynamics Laboratory at Cornell, began his presentation by pointing out the innate difficulties of observing human behavior and social interaction, as well as both the potential and the limitations of social media data.

“There are privacy concerns; the interactions are fleeting. You have to be right there at the time when it happens.” He added, “They’re usually behind closed doors, and the number of interactions increases exponentially with the size of the population.”

But, Macy said, new technologies in various scientific fields have opened up research opportunities that were previously inaccessible.

“We can see things that we could never see before. In fact, not only can we see things, the web sees everything and it forgets nothing.”

He tempered the potential of digital data with the fact that for the past several decades the main instrument of social science observation has been the survey, which comes with its own limitations, including unreliability when people recount their own behavior or rely on memories of past events. But, he said, “In some ways I see these social media data as being really nicely complementary with the survey. They have offsetting strengths and weaknesses.”

Macy provided examples of ways that tracking of political polarization can be done, not by looking at extreme positions on a single issue but by inferring positions on one issue by knowing the position that individuals hold on another. This can range from their choices of books on politics and science to their preferences for cars, fast food and music.

“The method seems to recover something real about political alignments … political alignment can be inferred from those purchases, and then we can look to see what else they’re purchasing,” Macy said.

“What I think we’re really looking at is not the era of explanation, at least for now … it’s the era of measurement, and what we are now able to do is to test theories that we could not test before because we can see things that we could not see before.”

The day’s presentations also included the ways in which data can be used to provide rapid policy evaluation with targeted crowds and how demographic sampling weights from Twitter data could be used to improve public opinion estimates. Data could also help fight poverty worldwide.

The world seems awash in information and data, but “most of world doesn’t live in a data-rich environment,” said presenter Joshua Blumemstock, an assistant professor at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Information and director of the school’s Data-Intensive Development Lab.

“You can use Twitter data to measure unemployment in Spain. The problem is that these methods don’t port very well in developing countries,” Blumenstock said. “There’s these big black holes in Africa for Twitter.”

Blumenstock discussed how data from billions of mobile phone calls in countries such as Rwanda could be used in conjunction with survey data to create a composite of where individuals fall on the socioeconomic spectrum. In turn, the information collected could be “aggregated up” to a much larger regional or national level.

“And when you aggregate up, you start to get things that might be conceivably useful to someone doing research or some policymaker,” such as being able to respond instantaneously to economic shocks, Blumenstock said. In addition, instead of costing millions of dollars and taking years, he said this methodology could potentially cost thousands of dollars and be conducted in weeks or months.

“For researchers like me who are interested in understanding the causes and consequences of poverty … just measuring the poverty is the first step. For people designing policy for these countries, their hands are tied if they don’t even know where poverty is,” Blumenstock explained. “It’s hard to think about how to fix it.”

 

 

 

UCLA Study Helps Californians Save Electricity — and Money — this Summer Participants in UCLA Luskin research effort receive smartphone notifications that help them make smart decisions about electricity usage and avoid peak pricing

Electricity demand fluctuates each day, and consumers who want to unplug during peak times to save money and help the environment now have a new tool at their disposal. Chai Energy, a partner of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, is making real-time energy information a reality for electricity consumers who want to reduce or shift their electricity usage during peak periods when electricity is the most expensive.

In a pilot study funded by a California Energy Commission grant of more than $2 million, UCLA is seeking to understand and identify the most effective demand response program designs for different types of households across the state, depending on social characteristics.

“We want to provide a comprehensive tool that will help customers save money while improving grid reliability, reducing pollution during peak hours, and maybe even preventing blackouts” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

How does the study work? 

The UCLA researchers have partnered with a clean technology company named Chai Energy. “Chai developed a free smartphone application that displays your home daily electricity consumption and provides you with tips on how to better manage your electricity bill,” DeShazo said. This could include knowing when it makes financial sense to replace an old appliance, or simply what time to use it based on electricity prices. Chai has also developed a gateway device that establishes communication between a participant’s smartphone and the smart-meter already installed in his house, allowing users to see real-time energy consumption by individual household appliances.

The UCLA Luskin Center is delivering and testing messages designed to inform Californians about their electricity consumption and provide tips for reducing it. About 10,000 Californians are expected to download the app and participate in the study.

“This large sample will enable researchers to identify the most effective format, timing and content of messages,” said Julien Gattaciecca, project manager and one of the researchers.

How can Californians participate?

The free Chai Energy application can be found by searching for Chai Energy in android or IOS app stores or by visiting chaienergy.com. Those who install the app are automatically enrolled in the study. A free Chai gateway device with a market value of $75 is being randomly distributed to 5,000 participants.

The study is currently available only for customers of Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electricity (SDG&E).

 

Luskin Center and the Chai Energy App from UCLA Luskin on Vimeo.

The video is also available on YouTube.

Community Choice Is Transforming the California Energy Industry Report by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation researchers finds that Community Choice Aggregators provide a competitive alternative for electricity consumers

By George Foulsham

J.R. DeShazo

After decades of dominance by electricity monopolies, California is experiencing the emergence of community choice aggregators, a new type of utility that provides cities and counties the opportunity to choose what kinds of energy to purchase for their needs.

Community choice aggregation allows cities and counties in California (and other states that have enacted it) to group individual customers’ purchasing power within a defined jurisdiction to buy energy. In California, community choice aggregators are legally defined by state law as electric service providers.

These aggregators, or CCAs, have introduced competition into historically protected, investor-owned utility territories. In doing so, they have given eligible California customers a choice of retail energy providers. Since 2010, California communities have established eight CCAs. More than a dozen additional communities are making strides toward switching to CCAs.

“California is headed toward transformation with this rapid development of community choice aggregation programs,” said J.R. DeShazo, principal investigator for a new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Our report highlights the benefits of CCAs while identifying unresolved policy questions that must be addressed by state regulators.”

According to the report, CCAs in California generally offer a larger share of renewable energy — up to 25 percent more — compared to the investor-owned utility in the same area. “We estimate that these efforts resulted in a total reduction of approximately 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016 — the equivalent of $7.5 million in reductions at the 2016 carbon price of $12.73 per metric ton on the statewide carbon market,” DeShazo said.

CCAs offer greener energy at a competitive price, according to Julien Gattaciecca, Luskin Center researcher and lead author of the study.

“CCAs have recently entered the energy market, allowing them to benefit from a long decline of falling wholesale renewable energy costs,” Gattaciecca said. “Some CCAs also offer larger incentives than their local investor-owned utility to households and businesses that self-generate energy through rooftop solar programs, and some have made the commitment to source energy from local renewable facilities, and directly own local solar facilities.”

DeShazo, who is a professor of public policy at the Luskin School, added: “Community choice aggregation is currently the best policy tool available to cities and counties who want to tailor energy procurement to their community’s preferences. The stakes are high. Regulators are grappling with important policy decisions that could affect the future of the energy market as well as the pocketbooks of Californians.”

With investor-owned utilities facing increasing competition, the study concludes that more choices can only benefit consumers, with the right regulations in place.

“Currently, an important part of the load in California is looking at CCAs,” Gattaciecca said. “The three major investor-owned utilities could see between 50 and 80 percent of their load departing for CCAs or direct access providers by 2025 or 2030.”

The eight operational California CCAs are Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy, CleanPower San Francisco, Peninsula Clean Energy in San Mateo County, Apple Valley Choice Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Redwood Coast Energy Authority. Other CCAs expected to launch this year are East Bay Community Energy in Alameda County, Los Angeles Community Choice Energy and Valley Clean Energy Alliance in Yolo County and Davis.

UCLA Team in Carbon XPRIZE Competition Receives $1.5 Million Donation Gift from Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation will support researchers, including a team from the Luskin Center for Innovation, working to convert carbon dioxide into building material

A more recent example of CO2NCRETE being produced by the UCLA researchers. Photo by George Foulsham

UCLA has received a generous $1.5 million gift from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation to support faculty members competing for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. The funds will support the team’s efforts to develop a process for capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into a material that can be used in building and construction.

The international competition, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to conclude in 2020, was launched to encourage the development of breakthrough technologies that power plants and other industrial facilities can use to fight climate change. It will award a total of $20 million to finalists and winners.

UCLA’s Carbon Upcycling team is one of 25 that has advanced to the semifinals by demonstrating a process for capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plant smokestacks, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. The trapped emissions will be used to create a carbon dioxide–neutral building material called CO2NCRETE, which can replace traditional concrete. The binding component of traditional concrete is responsible for nearly 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

“The Carbon Upcycling team is working on an innovative technology to address a primary source of carbon dioxide emissions, and I want to thank the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation for their vision and generous support of this UCLA initiative,” said Jayathi Murthy, the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Dean of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The team is led by Gaurav Sant, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science, and J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and professor of public policy in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Among other team members are Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Richard Kaner, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of materials science; and Mathieu Bauchy, professor of civil engineering.

“The next step involves scaling up the reactors, processes and systems required to produce CO2NCRETE,” Sant said. “This will help us overcome the challenges of producing CO2NCRETE in industrial quantities, while ensuring the rapid capture of carbon dioxide and its benefits.”

A total of up to 10 teams will advance to the Carbon XPRIZE finals, with up to five teams in each of two parallel tracks — one will test technologies at a coal power plant, and the other at a natural gas power plant. The teams in the finals will split a $2.5 million purse, and the winning team in each track will receive $7.5 million.

The gift from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation is part of the $4.2 billion UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.