An L.A. Story of Power, Influence and Big Personalities

The Los Angeles Times put a spotlight on the newly released autobiography of Zev Yaroslavsky, a fixture in L.A. civic life for decades and now the director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “Zev’s Los Angeles: From Boyle Heights to the Halls of Power” revisits “the period in which Los Angeles became what we know today: big and complex, multiracial, exciting, divided and far deeper than what meets the eye,” writes UCLA Blueprint editor Jim Newton in his review of the book. “Zev’s Los Angeles” recounts Yaroslavsky’s family history, his UCLA student activism and forceful defense of Soviet Jews, and his election to the L.A. City Council at age 26, which spawned a long and consequential career in politics. Newton calls the memoir “a solid history, an insightful analysis of power and a sincere reflection on a life of service,” with fresh insights and behind-the-scenes details about key turning points in the region’s polity.


Manville on Road Tolls: ‘There Is No Other Way to Reduce Congestion’

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times and KTLA and KNBC about an expected pilot program that would charge a toll on some Los Angeles roads. The program aims to ease traffic congestion, reduce carbon emissions and raise funds at a time when gas taxes are down due to the surge in electric vehicles. Manville said that revenues can and should be used to ensure that low-income drivers are not disproportionately burdened by the tolls. Some businesses are concerned that drivers who want to avoid paying freeway tolls will clog local roads; others argue that safety and convenience issues continue to surround many public transit options. Manville said charging a premium toll during peak hours would reduce traffic as well as the risk of crashes. “There is no other way to reduce congestion,” he said. “So you can do something like this or basically you can just live with congestion.”


A Bungled Return of Treasured Artifacts

Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of public policy and social welfare at UCLA Luskin, wrote a Project Syndicate commentary about the legal, political and moral questions surrounding a bungled attempt to repatriate the Benin Bronzes, plundered 125 years ago by colonial powers, to Nigeria. After Germany returned some of the elaborately decorated castings and carvings in December 2022, conflicting declarations about who their rightful owner is stoked confusion and raised fears that the cultural artifacts could wind up on the black market. “While there are lingering doubts about Europe’s and America’s willingness to return treasures that were looted or illicitly obtained during the colonial era, there are also questions about some countries’ readiness to honor the commitments governing such transfers,” Anheier wrote. To prevent narrow national interests from undermining the process of returning stolen national treasures, he urged that UNESCO be designated as the body overseeing such transfers, citing the body’s role as the custodian of world heritage sites.


Lens on California’s Housing Boom, Population Decline

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about an increase in housing construction during the pandemic along with a decline in population in California. “When it takes a decade of really massive economic growth in this state for housing production to catch up to the pre-recession levels, that says as much about the depths of our production crisis as it does about some kind of recent victory,” Lens said. He went on to explain that housing unaffordability and the pandemic played significant roles in reducing population growth in recent years, but the state has a long way to go to meet its housing needs. “We expect more equitable and more productive housing construction over the next decade,” he said, “but it’s going to take some time and take some diligence on the part of the state.”


Younger Angelenos Hit Particularly Hard by Inflation, Pandemic Stresses

Spectrum News 1’s “Inside the Issues” spoke with Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, about this year’s Quality of Life Index, a countywide survey that captures Angelenos’ feelings about inflation, housing affordability, health care, race relations, education and more. “For the last three years, dissatisfaction has definitely been on the rise,” said Yaroslavsky, who has directed the survey since its launch in 2016. “Where it hits the hardest is among younger people,” particularly those in their 30s whose families may have been turned upside down by pandemic stresses followed by spiking inflation. The index also polls residents on the favorability of public officials, and Yaroslavsky spoke about the broad popularity of Mayor Karen Bass in the city she leads as well as countywide. “She’s off to a strong start, and she’s using her political capital to try to do big things,” he said. The interview begins at minute 30.


Yin on Alarming Methods for Repaying Medical Debt

Wesley Yin, associate professor of public policy and management at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the New York Times about new options for paying off medical debt that can ultimately be more costly than using regular credit cards. Medical debt is a burden that has plagued many Americans throughout the years, with about 23 million adults owing more than $250 in health care debt. Yin said some financing plans for repaying this debt have alarming consequences. Some lenders provide small loans at a zero-percent interest rate if it is paid over the course of a few weeks. If the debt cannot be repaid by the deadline, however, high interest will be charged retroactively from the start of the loan. Other financing plans charge extremely high interest rates, with the annual percentage rate of a typical medical credit card being 27%. 


Turner on the People’s Budget

David C. Turner III, assistant professor of Black life and racial justice on the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty, spoke to Spectrum News’ “Inside the Issues” about the history and current goals of the People’s Budget, a community-led alternative to Los Angeles’ official budget. The People’s Budget coalition surveyed Angelenos and found that they want to see funds spent with them in mind, Turner said. For example, money reallocated to grassroots violence prevention programs and gun violence education would “actually help keep us safe,” he said. “We need to make sure we are investing in those strategies.” Continued investment in law enforcement “not only hasn’t worked but statistically doesn’t necessarily help communities,” Turner said. “We could reinvest those dollars and get so much more return on our investment.” The interview begins at the program’s 21-minute mark.


Lens on L.A.’s Unused Housing Vouchers

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin, spoke to ABC7 News about unused housing vouchers in Los Angeles. The process to get a Section 8 voucher includes a long wait within a lottery system. More than 58,000 subsidized housing units and housing vouchers are available in Los Angeles, but only 85% of them are being used. Some landlords exclude tenants who use Section 8 vouchers, and city officials say this has contributed to the unhoused crisis. As Lens explained, “You have to find a rental unit at or below the fair market rent. The landlord, very importantly, has to agree to participate in the program, which means that they don’t have biases against people that are using government money. So there are these things that get in the way.”


Shoup on the Business Sense of Paid Parking

The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, about a plan to extend hours of paid street parking from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The proposal is projected to raise $18 million in annual revenue for San Francisco, but restaurant owners argue that curtailing free parking now would stall efforts to revive the city’s COVID-battered economy. Shoup said the proposal could actually boost business, opening up spaces for customers that might currently be taken by employee cars left in the spots for hours. Shoup’s groundbreaking research on parking has recently been in the public eye, with stories in the Washington Post and Business Insider about policy shifts around the country. In addition, reviews of the new book “Paved Paradise,” which puts a spotlight on Shoup’s work, have appeared in publications including the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, New Republic and Bloomberg’s CityLab.

Lifting of Blood Donation Ban Will Save Lives, Address Stigma

Ayako Miyashita Ochoa of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty wrote an article for The Conversation on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s easing of restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men. The last documented HIV transmission through a U.S. donor’s blood occurred nearly 15 years ago, Miyashita Ochoa wrote. While precautions around HIV exposure were reasonable in the 1980s, “the science has changed,” she said. The lifting of the ban will lead to an estimated 2% to 4% increase in the blood supply, potentially saving more than a million lives. She added, “Removing gender and sexual orientation from the risk assessment for blood donation will take the U.S. one step further in addressing stigma and discrimination against men who have sex with men.” Miyashita Ochoa also discussed the issue on WOSU’s “All Sides” (beginning at minute 37), commenting that COVID-19-era blood shortages spurred the move toward science-based policies that ensure that supplies are safe and sufficient for the nation’s health needs.