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Dean’s Town Halls Offer Forum for Questions and Concerns

Dean Gary Segura hosted a trio of virtual town hall-style discussions this month, inviting students to discuss issues of concern. In the past, Segura held one session per year, but he has stepped up the frequency and split into separate sessions for the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs because of the challenges of pursuing higher education amid COVID-19. Segura was joined by department chairs and staff, who fielded a broad range of inquiries about remote learning, university finances, racial reconciliation and support for international students. Segura said the School has set aside additional funds to support students in need and noted that a number of faculty hires are in the works. Plans for graduation are taking place on two tracks, in-person and remote, depending on health restrictions, he said. Students shared their experiences with virtual instruction, weighing in on what works and what does not. They also learned about a national campaign in support of paid internships and discussed departmental efforts to update training and curriculum on issues of equity. Although quarterly town halls are planned, the dean stressed that students can offer input at any time. The coronavirus pandemic has required flexibility and forbearance. “It’s a very difficult time, there’s no question about that. People’s patience is starting to wear a little thin — but don’t let impatience put your health at risk,” Segura cautioned. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you’ve got to hang on.”


 

A Blunt Assessment of Grand Olympic Promises

The notion that cities chosen to host the Olympics are guaranteed to reap a financial windfall for years to come is flatly untrue, according to noted U.S. economist Andrew Zimbalist, who has spent years scrutinizing the costs and benefits of major sporting events. Zimbalist dissected the extravagant promises and deep pitfalls of past Olympic experiences and handicapped Los Angeles’ chances of success in hosting the 2028 Summer Games at the Luskin School’s first Transdisciplinary Speaker Series event of the academic year. Host cities have been beset by cost overruns, environmental degradation and displacement of local populations, he said. And with fewer cities willing to bid for the Games, the International Olympic Committee has been forced to consider hosts with questionable human rights records. “It’s valuable to have the best athletes from around the world congregate in the Olympic Village and live together and model what peaceful co-existence looks like,” he said, “I just don’t like the way it’s organized now.” As for the upcoming L.A. Games, “Yes, there’s a risk, but I think it’s a safe risk,” said Zimbalist, an author and professor of economics at Smith College. Southern California is already home to major sports venues and other infrastructure, including a ready-made Olympic Village at the UCLA dormitories, which also accommodated athletes during the city’s 1984 Games. For the future, Zimbalist envisioned permanent Olympic venues — for summer, perhaps in the area between Olympia and Athens, Greece. “There’s no reason, either environmental or economic, to argue for rebuilding the Olympic Shangri-La in a new place every four years,” he said.


 

Diaz Appointed to Commission to Redraw City’s Electoral Map

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, has been appointed to the commission that will redraw Los Angeles City Council district boundaries to ensure that constituents are fairly represented. “As a fourth-generation Eastsider, I am humbled to serve the city as we seek to uphold diverse communities’ fundamental right to elect their candidates of choice,” said Diaz, a civil rights attorney with extensive experience in voter protection efforts. “I’ve focused my career on advancing equitable policy solutions, and redistricting is a critical component to ensuring front-line communities have leaders that will fight to keep them safe, housed and visible in the new decade.” As part of the redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed, commissioners closely analyze demographic data and offer members of the public opportunities to weigh in. Their proposal for a new electoral map for Los Angeles must be submitted to the City Council by June 2021. Diaz was appointed to the commission by Councilman Kevin de León. “Sonja has long been an advocate for equity in Los Angeles, using her voice to protect the civil rights of countless Angelenos,” de León said. “As we redraw the invisible lines that unite our diverse districts into a cohesive city, Sonja’s leadership and deep knowledge of the Voting Rights Act will be critical to ensuring more equal and reflective representation … for the entire city of L.A.”


 

Model Identifies High-Priority Areas for Vaccine Distribution

To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, UCLA public health and urban planning experts have developed a predictive model that pinpoints which populations in which neighborhoods of Los Angeles County are most at risk of becoming infected. The researchers hope the model, which can be applied to other counties and jurisdictions as well, will assist decision makers, public health officials and scientists in effectively and equitably implementing vaccine distribution, testing, closures and reopenings, and other virus-mitigation measures. The model, developed by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA BRITE Center for Science, Research and Policy, maps Los Angeles County neighborhood by neighborhood, based on four important indicators known to significantly increase a person’s medical vulnerability to COVID-19 infection — preexisting medical conditions, barriers to accessing health care, built-environment characteristics and socioeconomic challenges. The research data demonstrate that neighborhoods characterized by significant clustering of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income households and unmet medical needs are most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Knowing precisely which populations are the most vulnerable and where new infections are likely to occur is critical information in determining how to allocate scarce resources. The data can also provide insights to social service providers, emergency agencies and volunteers on where to direct their time and resources, such as where to set up distribution sites for food and other necessities. And importantly, identifying the areas and populations with the highest vulnerability will help decision-makers equitably prioritize vaccine-distribution plans to protect the most vulnerable. — Elizabeth Kivowitz Boatright-Simon

Report Finds Spike in Food Insecurity, Patterns of Inequality

A new report from UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) documents a surge in food insecurity across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. By mid-July, more than 64 million people reported difficulty getting enough to eat — a level of food insecurity that is higher than that experienced during the Great Recession, the study found. Federal government programs did provide food, employment and housing assistance to help Americans weather the pandemic, but “that did not prevent rising crisis levels of hunger and food insecurity,” said CNK Director Paul Ong, co-author of the report. Households experiencing food insecurity increased from 10.5% in October 2019 to 18% in late April and to 26% by early July, according to the study, which analyzed data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey. Researchers also identified patterns of inequality along ethnic and racial lines: Between April 23 and July 21, 2020, food insecurity was reported by 36% of Black and 31% of Latino households, compared to 16% of non-Hispanic white households. Shelter-in-place mandates contributed to the high level of food insecurity, with some respondents saying that health issues, transportation problems or fear kept them from going to the grocery store. For most, however, the problem was financial, with nearly 80% of those suffering food insecurity reporting that they could not afford to buy more food. “Using a strictly rational approach, increasing access to healthy food would reduce health care costs and the loss of lives, which would benefit all society,” said co-author Tom Larson, professor emeritus at Cal State Los Angeles. “Morally, providing aid is just the right thing to do.”  


 

‘We Set Our Destiny,’ Becerra Says of Fellow Californians

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra weighed in on the Golden State’s place in a deeply divided nation during a conversation with UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura just hours after polls closed in the 2020 election. As they awaited final results in the presidential race, Becerra told viewers that California’s unique role as an engine of innovation and economic growth transcends any election or individual politician. “Regardless of what happens around us, we set our destiny,” he said. Hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and Town Hall in partnership with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the Nov. 4 dialogue touched on Becerra’s role battling the Trump administration on health care, immigration, climate change and scores of other issues. To date, the state has sued the federal government 104 times, Becerra said. “We go to court against Donald Trump not because it’s easy or it’s fun,” he said. “We go to court because we must protect our people, our values and our resources.” Of urgent concern is safeguarding the environment, he said, noting, “We have lost four years in addressing the climate crisis, and Mother Nature is not going to give us those years back.” As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Becerra called for more police training, accountability and transparency but noted, “Let’s not make it look like it’s a simple thing like ‘defunding police.’ ” He added, “I respect the work that’s done every day by men and women in uniform. I will go after those who have engaged in improper conduct in that uniform.” 


 

Election Primer: When Will We Know Who Won?

Study Examines Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Small Businesses in L.A.’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

The UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK), in collaboration with Ong & Associates, recently released a new report on COVID-19 pandemic impacts on minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles. Previous CNK studies have documented the disproportionate adverse impacts of the pandemic on marginalized neighborhoods in labor and housing markets. The new report focuses on small businesses and examines whether the COVID-19 crisis disproportionately impacted local businesses in ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Answers to this question provide academic insights on racial systemic inequality and inform policy interventions, according to Paul Ong, co-author of the report and CNK director.  “If the disparities are significant, there are profound policy implications. Race-conscious government efforts to address systemic racism are needed to ensure an equitable economic recovery,” the researchers said. The team used location data to analyze foot traffic patterns to restaurants and retail locations in ethnic and comparison neighborhoods from February through September 2020. The results indicate an earlier and steeper decline in commercial activity in Chinatown and, while retail was resilient in ethnic neighborhoods, restaurants suffered greater declines on average than in comparison neighborhoods. Ong and colleagues found that overall, the ethnic neighborhoods collectively performed worse than the county as a whole prior to lockdown and performed no better than the county under shelter-in-place orders. The project was partially supported with grants from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs (funded by Southern California Grantmakers) and from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center (funded by the Stanley Kow Lau and Dora Wong Lau Endowment).