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Transformative Climate Communities Built Resilience During Pandemic, Studies Find 

New reports from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show that the local knowledge, partnerships and established trust that underlie Transformative Climate Community (TCC) partnerships have allowed them to identify changing needs and respond quickly during the pandemic. These responses were bolstered by government-funded community engagement plans that offer leadership opportunities that tackle community goals around climate action and resiliency. TCC was established by the California Legislature in 2016 to provide funds to the state’s most disadvantaged communities while simultaneously reducing pollution, strengthening the local economy and improving public health through community-based projects. Cap-and-trade dollars have funded the first three rounds of the program under the direction of the California Strategic Growth Council, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current budget proposal includes $420 million for TCC implementation and planning grants over three years. The latest round of reports by UCLA document the progress of TCC grants in four sites: Fresno, Ontario, Watts/South L.A. and Northeast Valley L.A. A fifth site, Stockton, will soon be added to UCLA’s TCC evaluation cohort. “We can learn a lot from these five living laboratories for holistic climate action,” said Professor JR DeShazo, principal investigator on the ongoing study and director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “It’s impressive,” said Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project manager of UCLA’s TCC evaluation. “During a year when so much has come to a halt, these initiatives have continued to quickly adapt and meet the needs of residents.”

Climate Research Brightens an Elementary School Campus

The research of Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner has helped to create a colorful gift for the children of Fernangeles Elementary School. A new mural melding art with science, and reflecting inspiration from youth in the community, was installed on the school’s Sun Valley campus this spring. Called “Beat the Heat,” the mural depicts a park with shade trees and a large purple paleta melting under a bright sun — all painted with a solar reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 30%. Turner conducts research into the effectiveness of this coating as a climate change intervention that cities can use to combat the “urban heat island effect.” At Fernangeles Elementary, schoolchildren watched as Turner “took the temperature of the building” with a thermal camera that demonstrated the effect of the cooling paint. Turner then used the camera to measure the heat signatures of walls, the ground and a picnic table on campus, giving the students a real-world lesson in climate science. Artist Kristy Sandoval designed and painted the mural based on ideas conceived by youth from the environmental justice nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful. Mural collaborators include Dora Frietze-Armenta, Yesenia Cruz, Nicole Martinez, Diego Ortiz and Veronica Padilla of Pacoima Beautiful; Fernangeles Elementary Assistant Principal Carolina Gonzales; art historian Lizy Dastin; and Creative Paving Solutions, which manufactured the solar-reflective paint. The mural is the second spearheaded by Turner as part of a “green intervention” aimed at starting a conversation about climate change. The first, a massive rendering of the Greek god Zeus, was installed in South Los Angeles in 2019.

At left, artist Kristy Sandoval paints the image she designed with inspiration from youth who were asked how they like to keep cool. At right, an infrared image shot by Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner shows hotter surfaces, including a metal bench, in yellow and cooler surfaces in purple.


Researchers Analyze Incidents Involving UCLA Police

Property-related incidents are the most frequent type of police-related event at UCLA, followed closely by incidents involving people whose presence or behavior is deemed disruptive or out of place, without any indication of violence, according to a new report from the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The study examines police activity at UCLA based on data compiled in compliance with the Clery Act, which requires public disclosure by the Police Department at UCLA regarding the nature, date, time and location of incidents, as well as their disposition status or outcome. The researchers use maps and charts to visualize Clery Act data relating to events involving police, plus some fire department responses, in 2014 and 2019, with supplemental information focusing on arrests by the UCPD in 2018, the most-recent information available. Less than 10% of events involve force or threat of violence, they found, and data maps reveal that a substantial amount of UCPD activity and arrests occur off-campus, mostly in the greater Westwood area but also farther afield. Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of public policy and urban planning at UCLA Luskin, helped oversee the study, working with Noah D. Zatz and Jennifer M. Chacón, professors of law at the UCLA School of Law, and Alejandra A Martinez, an undergraduate research assistant at the Lewis Center who studies economics and was the lead author. Their report also found that more than 80% of reported police activity during the study periods did not result in follow-ups for any asserted or possible crime.

A Virtual Showcase for Urban Planning Students’ Research

UCLA Luskin’s annual showcase of research completed by graduating master of urban and regional planning students is a virtual affair this year. The 2021 Capstone Poster Session features brief videos of MURP students presenting the yearlong projects that helped client organizations overcome a planning-related challenge. This year’s capstone projects address pressing issues facing cities and regions, including safer streets, equitable community investments, protection from wildfire and the preservation of urban green spaces. “Academic research is often labeled abstract and lacking practical application. That is certainly not the case with these applied planning research projects,” Urban Planning faculty member Taner Osman said in an introduction to the video presentation. Twenty-nine students participated in the virtual poster session, which was shared with alumni, peers, current and past clients, and potential employers. Using research and scholarship to advance solutions to real-world problems is a priority in each of UCLA Luskin’s programs. Graduating public policy and social welfare master’s students, as well as the School’s first graduating class of public affairs majors, are also completing rigorous capstone projects that pair them with community partners to provide hands-on problem-solving. Their work will be shared with a broader audience at the end of spring quarter.


Social Welfare Issues Update About Anti-Racism Efforts

The UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty, students and alumni who joined forces in summer 2020 to craft an Action Plan to Address Anti-Blackness and Racism recently issued a progress report and accompanying video explaining their efforts. The team came together following the killing of George Floyd to examine the curriculum and culture, developing a set of action items to address racial disparities within the department and across the education of social workers. Their new report details progress that has been made so far, including a series of virtual events during the 2020-21 academic year that focused on racial justice and the history of how white supremacy has impacted the practice of social work. The progress report also discusses areas where further progress is needed at UCLA Luskin, such as recruiting more Black faculty members and providing additional funding opportunities to students of color. Read more about the team and their efforts.


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Chancellor’s Arts Initiative Awards Grant to Umemoto

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto has been named a recipient of the 2021 Chancellor’s Arts Initiative, a program to advance arts-related research that is timely, relevant and original and that increases public awareness of the arts at UCLA. Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, is one of 12 faculty members to receive a grant under the $150,000 program sponsored by the Chancellor’s Council on the Arts and the Office for Research and Creative Activities. Priority was given to projects that contribute to UCLA’s larger commitments to sustainability, anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion. Amid a rise in anti-Asian violence in America, the Asian American Studies Center in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Center will spearhead a multimedia and multiperforming arts event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Los Angeles Chinese Massacre of 1871, which involved the lynching of 19 Chinese immigrants. In addition to spoken narrative based on an original script, the project will feature body movement artists and a soundscape that draws from culturally diverse acoustic instruments and computer-generated sounds. This community engagement piece will include a pre-performance workshop and a post-event reception with speakers, performers and invited guests sharing historical accounts of racist violence against Asians in Los Angeles and linking the experiences of the past to the present. The Chancellor’s Council on the Arts also announced the launch of GO ARTS UCLA, an online platform that brings together the full array of UCLA arts and humanities events and research in one central location, underscoring the role of the arts at the university and within Los Angeles’ cultural ecosystem.


Study Identifies Regional Patterns in COVID-Related Food Insecurity

During the COVID-19 pandemic, disadvantaged households in the San Francisco Bay Area were at higher risk of food insufficiency compared with similar households in the Los Angeles and Inland Empire regions, according to new UCLA research published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. The study was conducted by Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin; Professor May Wang of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; and doctoral students Miriam Pinski and Lilly Nhan. The researchers evaluated U.S. Census Bureau survey data to understand regional differences in the determinants of food insufficiency, defined simply as not having enough food to eat. The team focused on three metropolitan areas: San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley; Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim; and Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario. Overall, the rate of food insufficiency was lowest in the Bay Area, one of the state’s most affluent regions. However, the Bay Area’s disadvantaged households fared worse than their counterparts in Southern California. “Income and educational levels are higher, but income inequality and cost of living are also higher” in the Bay Area, the researchers explained. The study pointed to Los Angeles as a region where an active food distribution network was already in place, enabling governments, schools and community organizations to respond more effectively to the sudden increases in food insecurity brought about by the pandemic. The study was designed to guide the development of economic relief programs and increase the reach of federal assistance programs to address widening health disparities.


Ong Featured in APA Tribute to Groundbreaking Urbanists

Paul Ong

The American Planning Association (APA) featured the work of UCLA Luskin Research Professor Paul Ong in a tribute to Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders who have shaped the nation’s history and communities. Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, was one of 12 planners, architects, historians and community organizers who have “influenced our built environment, fought for historical and cultural preservation, and championed social justice to help make great communities for all,” the association’s Planning magazine said. Ong joins a list including modernist architect I.M. Pei, statesman Norman Mineta, Vietnam Wall designer Maya Lin and racial justice attorney Manjusha Kulkarni, who co-founded the hate crime reporting center Stop AAPI Hate. As a UCLA researcher and educator, Ong has specialized in urban planning, social welfare and Asian American studies, with a focus on labor, environmental justice and immigration. Over the past year, Ong has examined the direct and indirect impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on people and communities as part of the COVID-19 Equity Research Initiative at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. The initiative focuses on systemic racial and class inequalities with the goal of developing insights that will lead to a just and fair recovery. The APA said its list of honorees, compiled in consultation with Asian American Studies scholars, is “intended to shine a spotlight on the many ways that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have built careers in service of their communities, especially in the face of adversity.”

Journal Focuses on COVID-19’s Impact on Indigenous Communities

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee guest-edited a special issue of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal that focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on indigenous populations. “COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples: Impact of and Response to the Pandemic” is the first of two special issues that include articles, reviews and commentaries by American Indian scholars and researchers in the field. American Indian communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, experiencing death rates 1.5 times higher and infection rates 3.5 times greater than those for non-Hispanic whites. Akee and co-editors Stephanie Carroll and Chandra Ford wrote in the introduction that “the structural racism of colonialism is the driver of myriad negative outcomes for Indigenous Peoples, and the effects of COVID-19 are no exception.” The journal issue highlights the deep impact of the pandemic on indigenous communities as well as their resilience, and points to the importance of self-determination in preserving the well-being of these communities. The issue also compares the public health responses in different countries and how factors including racism, ableism, historical injustice and unfair resource allocation have contributed to the impact of the pandemic on different indigenous communities. The authors stress the need for public health responses that are culturally appropriate and respectful in order to support indigenous communities and their traditions. Akee said the forthcoming second special issue on COVID-19 will feature “emerging, innovative models of health care, access and service for effective public health responses to the needs of Indigenous communities.”

Access the special issue
Read the introduction

State Risks Falling Short of Carbon Reduction Benchmarks Unless It Puts Equity First

To reach Gov. Gavin Newsom’s net-zero emission vehicle goal by 2035, officials should put equity goals at the forefront of the state’s strategy or risk falling short of benchmarks and worsening community disparities, according to new research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The report highlights challenges and opportunities amid California’s push to cut carbon emissions and local air pollution. The study comes as state lawmakers consider Newsom’s 2021-22 budget proposal, which includes $1.5 billion toward zero-emission vehicle efforts. “As California transitions to a zero-emission transportation system, it needs a robust and multifaceted agenda for equity-centered clean transportation policies,” said JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “Pursuing this agenda of recommendations elevates and builds equity into the next generation of California’s clean transportation policies.” The study, commissioned by the Los Angeles Business Council, underscores that previous clean transportation policies did not equally benefit all Californians. Low-income communities hit hardest by pollution have been largely left behind in the green transition, and disparities threaten to impact communities of all income levels through climate change. The greatest hurdle to meeting environmental goals appears to be directing clean vehicles to moderate- and low-income drivers who are more likely to own older, emissions-heavy vehicles. Researchers recommend lowering the purchase price of new and used zero-emission vehicles, subsidizing vehicle financing, and reducing the cost of charging infrastructure and the electricity or fuel itself. A key recommendation is for zero-emission fleets to be deployed first to disadvantaged communities.

Read the full report