How L.A. Residents Can Help Capture Stormwater

When it rains in California, water agencies throughout the Southland use dry wells, dams and large spreading grounds to capture stormwater, but Los Angeles residents also may play a part in filling the arid region’s reservoirs. An LAist story on residential water capture included comments from Edith de Guzman, a water equity and adaptation policy cooperative extensive specialist affiliated with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. It’s difficult to determine just how much an individual household’s yard could contribute to water capture through rain gardens, permeable pavement or swales, but landscaping innovations like those could make an impact, according to research in the 2015 report, Stormwater Capture Master Plan. The study was prepared for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in partnership with TreePeople, where de Guzman worked as director of research at the time. “Parcel by parcel there is an additive effect and we’ve shown that additive effect is really significant,” she said.


A Fee to Ease Manhattan Traffic

News outlets covering New York City’s plan to charge a congestion fee to drivers entering the most traffic-choked parts of Manhattan called on UCLA Luskin transportation experts to provide insight. Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, told Gothamist that New York is unusual in that nearly all of the curb spaces are unmetered. “This is some of the most valuable land on earth, and you could use it free if you bring a car,” he said, calculating that the city could generate $6 billion annually by charging $5.50 a day for every free curb parking spot. Urban Planning chair Michael Manville told the Associated Press that American cities should take heed of London’s experience, where several exemptions to a congestion pricing program have contributed to the return of clogged streets. “There’s always going to be carve-outs,” he said. “But the further and further you start going down that road, there lies madness.”


Turner on Shade Equity Master Plan for Rural California Desert Region

An Associated Press article on efforts to increase shade equity in a rural desert community in Riverside County cited V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), whose work focuses on cities adapting to hotter conditions. The master plan inaugurated in the Eastern Coachella Valley, where summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees, is among other efforts in the United States to increase climate resilience in Latino and other marginalized communities disproportionately exposed to extreme heat. The project, a collaboration of partners including LCI, is funded by a grant from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in California. “What was sort of being left off the table was how heat is affecting rural communities,” said Turner, associate professor of urban planning and geography at UCLA. Community members, part of a collaborative workshop with Luskin urban planning students on social justice issues, are also supporting the project.


Experts Decry Decision That Would Gut L.A.’s Affordable Housing Plan

Experts at the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies based at UCLA Luskin are at the forefront of research relating to affordable housing, and this work served as the basis for an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times questioning a city planning department decision that would shield some wealthier neighborhoods from multifamily development. Aaron Barrall and Shane Phillips of the Lewis Center’s Housing Initiative write that a review of data “shows that L.A.’s current capacity for development … is disproportionately concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color.” Half of this capacity is in the poorest quarter of Los Angeles, while the wealthiest 10% furnishes less than 1%. Although the authors call the situation “disheartening,” they say the city still has time to adopt a strategy to add homes where they’re needed most. “Until L.A. takes those steps,” they note, “very little about this housing plan can be called fair.”


UCLA Report Examines California Public Transit Agency Labor Shortage

A report co-authored by Jacob Wasserman, a research project manager at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was highlighted in a Streetsblog article about labor shortages and their impact on public transit systems in California. Wasserman and co-authors Allie Padgett and Keenan Ky-An Do studied 20 California transit agencies, interviewing a number of workers, to understand ongoing labor shortages at the state’s transit agencies and efforts to attract and retain transit workers. “Raises may not prove enough to alleviate [labor] shortages, given rising costs of living, competition from other sectors and years of prior wage stagnation,” the authors wrote. They cite worker responses including California’s long commutes and high housing costs that make it difficult for them to work close to home. “Hard working conditions on transit push people away and out, even [though] pay and benefits in transit may be better,” they wrote.


Fairlie Discusses Economic Impact of High Unemployment in California

Robert Fairlie, a professor of economics and public policy, recently discussed the long-term implications should the state’s job growth continue to lag behind the national average. Joblessness reduces overall earnings, said Fairlie, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, and that lowers consumer demand and hinders investment. “There is a negative multiplier effect on the state economy from the higher unemployment rates we are seeing,” he said. The story in the New York Times, which was picked up by other news outlets, focuses on the impacts of California’s high unemployment rate — 5.1% in January, which exceeded the national rate of 3.7% and was behind only Nevada’s rate of 5.4%. Among the contributing factors explored in the story are layoffs in the technology sector, a slow rebound in Southern California from prolonged strikes in the entertainment industry and varying demand for agricultural workers.


Ballot Measure to Change Mental Health in State Could Backfire, Cohen Says

In a story about the potential impact of Proposition 1, UCLA Luskin’s David Cohen discussed the implications of an effort to reform California’s mental health system. The statewide ballot measure is backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a step in solving the state’s homelessness crisis. But opponents say it would siphon money away from preventative mental health to add psychiatric institutions and promote involuntary treatment. Researchers like Cohen see involuntary or coerced care as counterproductive. “Few who review the existing evidence conclude that on balance, involuntary treatment improves the lives of those who experience it,” said Cohen, a professor of social welfare and associate dean. People contending with mental health issues can be traumatized by enforced treatment. “Being deprived of freedom is maddening. Being robbed of credibility is humiliating.” Plus, studies show that suicidal people who are institutionalized may actually be at heightened risk of self-harm upon discharge.


A President’s Economic Record Is ‘Heavily Dominated by Luck’

Two United Press International stories about the economic records of Joe Biden and Donald Trump called on UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly for insights. Tilly assessed the economic principles surrounding measures such as tax cuts and infrastructure investments, but also pointed out that the role a president plays in the fiscal health of the country is often overstated. “We tend to give presidents too much credit or blame,” he said. “Most of what is going on in the economy is not something the president can control.” The United States is one cog in a global economy that can be roiled by war, political turmoil, weather emergencies and catastrophic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. ”The economic record of a four-year period is heavily dominated by luck, good or bad,” Tilly said.


Amazon Rainforest Nearing a Tipping Point, Researchers Warn

The collapse of the Amazon rainforest’s ecosystem, home to a tenth of Earth’s land species, could collapse much more quickly than earlier estimated, according to an international team of prominent researchers including UCLA’s Susanna Hecht. Their peer-reviewed paper, the first major study to focus on the cumulative effects of a range of variables including temperature, drought, deforestation and legal protections, appeared in the journal Nature and has been covered by news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC and the Guardian. A forest-wide collapse is “happening much faster than we thought, and in multiple ways,” the researchers said. The study called on governments to halt carbon emissions and deforestation and restore at least 5% of the rainforest. Hecht, professor at UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, is director of the university’s Center for Brazilian Studies.


Questions of Fairness, Financial Viability of Free Transit Rides

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA, spoke to States Newsroom about public transit systems that waived fares to woo back riders after the COVID-19 pandemic. In some locales, officials are debating whether the free rides are financially sustainable. Most cities that have recovered their pre-pandemic ridership have large populations that depend on public transit because they don’t have access to cars, Taylor said. But reduced or free rides make less sense in cities with more affluent commuters, such as San Francisco. “It’s difficult to make an equity case for it,” Taylor said. “There is an excellent argument to be made for free fares in the right situation. But to do it universally would cost enormous amounts of money and actually convey benefits to high-income people who don’t need it.”