Building Momentum to Address Plastic Pollution

Daniel Coffee MPP ’20, associate project manager at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an Orange County Register article about new legislation to address plastic pollution. There are a dozen state bills in California proposing reduction of single-use plastics and refilling of returnable beverage bottles, as well as a federal proposal that would place the responsibility for plastic reduction and recycling on companies that make and utilize single-use plastics. “In the past few years, we’ve had a breakthrough in terms of public awareness, but I don’t think we quite have the political will yet,” Coffee said. “The plastics industry and the fossil fuel industry aren’t shy about pouring money into influencing policymakers.” The state proposals, which are more incremental, are more likely to become law than the landmark federal proposal. “If SB 54 passes, then other states could see what’s possible and follow suit,” Coffee said. “California is often the leader in this type of legislation.”

Ong Highlights Economic Obstacles Facing Asian Americans

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was cited in Los Angeles Times and USA Today articles about economic hardships among Asian Americans in the United States. Many hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and beauty salons were forced to close at the beginning of the pandemic, and a report by Ong found that Asian Americans accounted for one in four workers within those sectors. Now, long-term unemployment levels among Asian Americans have been exacerbated by a surge in anti-Asian sentiment. Among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, Asians have the largest income gap between the top and bottom 10%, and this trend has been accelerated by the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Ong explained that Los Angeles’ Chinatown “was hit earlier, even before the lockdowns, and it lost much more business and has recovered much more slowly,” a trend also seen in New York and San Francisco.

Policies Reflect Preferences of Affluent Americans, Gilens Finds

Professor of Public Policy and Social Welfare Martin Gilens was featured in an Atlantic article about the influence of wealth on politics. In his research, Gilens has found notable differences in the policy preferences of affluent Americans compared to the middle class. These differences are not limited to economic matters like taxation, but also include funding for public education, racial equity and environmental protections, which the wealthy are less likely to support. These differences in policy preferences are significant because of the influence the rich have over government officials. In one report, Gilens analyzed thousands of public survey responses and found that, on issues where the views of wealthy voters diverged significantly from those of the rest of the populace, the policies ultimately put in place “strongly reflected the desires of the most affluent respondents.” Gilens concluded that the policies on these controversial issues “bore virtually no relationship to the preferences of poorer Americans.”

Matute on Improving Public Transit Apps

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the growing role of technology in public transit service. New York, London and Los Angeles are releasing new apps and digital versions of their subway maps, which give riders access to information about how close a train is to their station as well as any closures or delays. Matute explained that the new platforms are designed with more focus on the user experience than some predecessors, which first appeared on app stores around 2010 and were often neglected by transit agencies afterward. “These apps just fell out of favor and ended up being removed from the marketplace,” he said. The growth of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber and competition with other navigation apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps has prompted public transit agencies to invest resources in improving the digital experience for riders.

Holloway on Pandemic’s Impact on Gay Social Life

A Daily Beast article about the impact of the pandemic on gay communities cited research by Ian Holloway, director of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice at UCLA Luskin. Stay-at-home orders resulted in the closing of many gay bars and other social spaces for LGBTQ individuals. Holloway was the lead author of a study that surveyed 10,000 gay men in 20 countries about their mental health and use of social networking during the pandemic lockdown. The study found that those who only left their homes for essentials during the first COVID lockdowns were 37% more likely to feel anxious than those who didn’t, and 36% more likely to feel lonely. It’s important to remember that gay men “come to this pandemic with disproportionate rates of mental health issues,” said Holloway, an associate professor of social welfare. Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is allowing some businesses to reopen, but no one knows when bars and nightclubs will return to normal.

Yaroslavsky on Impending Closure of Ralph’s Market

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impending closure of a Ralph’s grocery store that serves a large Jewish community. The Pico-Robertson market, which has an extensive kosher section, is scheduled to close in May after the Los Angeles City Council voted to require large grocery stores to pay workers an extra $5 an hour for about four months as compensation for working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pending shutdown has sparked fierce debates on social media over who is to blame: parent company Kroger or city politicians. “It’s unusual for a business to pull out and just selectively pull out,” said Yaroslavsky, a former city councilman and county supervisor in Los Angeles. “They’re walking away from a community that’s been loyal to them.” The article also cited Zev Hurwitz MPP ’18, who started an online petition to keep the Westside market open. 


Taylor on Transit Opportunities in a Post-COVID Era

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Time magazine about COVID-19’s impact on public transit systems around the world. Mass transit has seen steep declines in ridership and revenue as people have begun to work from home or opted for cars over public transportation. However, the COVID-19 disruption has also led to a global reckoning as leaders ponder how to positively reshape their cities for the post-pandemic era. “Many are arguing this pause could give us an opportunity to reallocate street space, to reconsider how much curb space we devote to the storage of people’s private property, which cars are,” Taylor said. Improving public transit and phasing out cars could lower greenhouse-gas emissions, make streets safer and more pleasant for pedestrians, and create opportunities for retail and hospitality sectors. According to Taylor, it all depends on the decisions city leaders take now to “intelligently manage automobiles” and protect public transit.


Storper Research Points to Roots of L.A.’s Problems

A Zocalo Public Square column on the urgency of fixing Los Angeles’ longstanding economic and equity problems cited research by Michael Storper, distinguished professor of urban planning. Storper studied the different trajectories of the Bay Area and Los Angeles, two big regional economies that were at parity in 1970, with similar education levels and numbers of engineers. The Bay Area’s leading institutions in education, business and government became highly networked and planned collaboratively. The Los Angeles region remained a collection of separate, siloed communities that competed with one another. Today, the Bay Area is 30% richer than the L.A. region, Storper found. Noting that COVID-19 made the depths of Los Angeles’ problems undeniable, the column called on leaders to build real foundations that allow people to find stability and health in the short term, while reducing inequality to spread prosperity in the long term. 


Wachs Expresses Skepticism About L.A. Monorail Project

Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning Martin Wachs spoke to Forbes about the possible construction of a high-speed monorail in Los Angeles. Local officials are evaluating proposals for a $6.1 billion monorail that would aim to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Transit systems in Germany, Japan, China and India use monorails, but the Los Angeles project would be the first in the United States. Wachs is skeptical but open to the possibility that a monorail could work in Los Angeles. “When you actually work out the numbers and do a careful and thorough design, and consider that in most places where a transit route is being contemplated it’s being added to an existing network, it just hasn’t penciled out,” he said. Wachs recalled working with science fiction author Ray Bradbury on a monorail proposal that was rejected 50 years ago. “The world’s a better place for having people who are visionaries, but it also needs traditional engineers.”

Kaplan on Mitigating Youth Suicide Risk During Pandemic

Professor of Social Welfare Mark Kaplan was featured in a Press-Enterprise article about the increase in suicide risk among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there has been a decline in adult suicides since the beginning of the pandemic, data show that suicides among minors have stayed consistent or increased compared to before the pandemic. Many experts have expressed concern that social isolation, distance learning and other pandemic stresses are hitting young people especially hard. Crisis hotlines have experienced an increase in calls from young people suffering mental health problems. Kaplan, who has been studying suicide for decades, explained that young people who were already more likely to consider killing themselves are more vulnerable now, including LGBTQ youth, those suffering abuse, homeless youth, those with substance abuse problems, those living in foster homes or those growing up in poverty. “There’s a physical isolation that’s taking its toll,” he said. “It’s leading to despair.”