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Urban Planning Program Wins APA California Chapter Excellence Award

The California Chapter of the American Planning Association honored the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning program with this year’s Landmark Excellence Award, a high accolade in the field of urban planning. Marking its 50th year, UCLA Urban Planning was recognized at the organization’s 2020 annual conference, held online Sept. 14-16. The awards jury acknowledged “the remarkable contributions to planning theory and practice that have emerged from UCLA’s top-tier students and faculty.” Over the past half-century, it said, the program has been “a hub of thought-provoking and ground-breaking scholarship in the field of community development, environmental planning, housing, land development, regional and international development, transportation and urban design.” Also winning an APA California Award was Katelyn Stangl MURP ’19, who received an award of merit under the academic category. As part of her master’s capstone, Stangl prepared a study on parking oversupply. With the help of Los Angeles City Planning, L.A. Department of Transportation and the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, she evaluated entitlements, permits and building plans of over 300 developments in Los Angeles. The findings of her research can contribute to making Los Angeles and other cities more walkable, less polluted and better designed by removing the incentives to produce unneeded parking oversupply. APA California is a network of practicing planners, citizens and elected officials committed to urban, suburban, regional and rural planning in the California.

Kaplan on Pandemic Stress, Increased Firearm and Alcohol Sales, and Suicide Risk

“The convergence of stress from the pandemic with increased firearm and alcohol sales creates a hazardous situation for those at risk of suicide,” cautioned Professor of Social Welfare Mark S. Kaplan, co-author of a correspondence in the latest volume of The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Kaplan and a team of researchers from around the United States responded to recent research suggesting an increase in alcohol-related suicides due to the economic decline related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting previous co-authored research, Kaplan and his colleagues wrote that “alcohol ingestion itself (and especially acute alcohol intoxication) might be a key risk factor for suicide during and shortly after economic contractions.” The unemployment rate during the current pandemic could exceed that of the Great Depression of the 1930s, especially among socially disadvantaged groups, they point out in the journal published by the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. “Particularly relevant to the economic contraction related to COVID-19, we found that suicide rates were most closely associated with rising poverty. These findings suggest that more than individual-level economic factors are at play in influencing suicide risk; place-level economic shocks also matter,” they noted. Kaplan and his team cite the increase of alcohol sales during a time of physical distancing when people may be becoming intoxicated in isolation. They also noted that the current situation could provide opportunities for suicide prevention. Experts in the field suggest increasing alcohol taxes, limiting times for alcohol sales, reducing the density of alcohol outlets and increasing access to treatment for people with substance use disorders.

Zepeda-Millán Publishes ‘Walls, Cages, and Family Separation’

Walls, Cages, and Family Separation: Race and Immigration Policy in the Trump Era,” a new book co-authored by Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán and University of Washington Associate Professor Sophia Jordan Wallace, takes a closer look at the evolution of U.S. immigration policy leading up to and during the presidency of Donald Trump. Published by Cambridge University Press, “Walls, Cages, and Family Separation” examines the “deeply racist roots” of U.S. immigration policy, which have been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s racially charged rhetoric and policies, including the border wall, migrant family separation and child detention measures. Zepeda-Millán and Wallace point to Trump as the “most blatantly anti-Latino and anti-immigrant president in modern American history” and examine the factors motivating his support base. Their research shows that resentment and fear among whites who feel culturally threatened by Latinos motivates them to support Trump’s immigration policies. They examine how support for immigrant detention and the wall has shifted over the duration of Trump’s presidency, as well as the stereotypes and misinformation that play a role in public perception of immigrants and immigration policy. While Trump’s immigration policies have been widely criticized and are unpopular with many Americans, Zepeda-Millán and Wallace argue that Trump is relying on his ability to “politically mobilize the most racially conservative segment of whites who back his draconian immigration enforcement measures” in his bid for reelection. “Walls, Cages, and Family Separation” is Zepeda-Millán’s second book, following his first release, “Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism.”

UCLA Voting Rights Project Scores Court Victories

UCLA’s Voting Rights Project (VRP) scored major court victories in Texas and Pennsylvania in its fight against attempts to suppress the voice of voters in this critical election year. In Texas, a federal judge blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to limit ballot drop boxes to one per county. VRP, part of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, partnered with the League of United Latin American Citizens to sue Abbott. Chad Dunn, VRP’s director of litigation, argued the case in federal court on Oct. 8. The following day, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman struck down Abbott’s order, finding that it resulted in substantial confusion, created burdens on disabled, elderly and minority voters, and “likely violates their fundamental right to vote.” To support the case, Matt Barreto, VRP’s faculty director, co-authored an expert report with research fellow Michael Rios MPP ’20 and political science doctoral students Chelsea Jones and Marcel Roman. They documented that Abbott’s rule would force some voters to travel more than 90 miles round-trip to a downtown ballot return center, as opposed to a satellite county office within five miles. The research also found that many voters preferred using official drop-off sites rather than mailing in their ballots due to concerns about Postal Service slowdowns. In Pennsylvania, a U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by President Trump’s reelection campaign that sought to place several restrictions on voting, including prohibiting voters from submitting ballots in drop boxes. VRP submitted an expert report documenting the importance of ballot drop boxes and the need to prevent voter intimidation. In the event these rulings are appealed, VRP is ready to file an appellate brief to defend every citizen’s right to vote.

Update: On Oct. 27, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the governor’s order to restrict the state’s counties to only one drop-off site for mail-in ballots.


Villasenor Co-Authors Book on ‘Unassailable Ideas’ on Campuses

A new book by Public Policy Professor John Villasenor examines the dominant belief system on American campuses, its uncompromising enforcement through social media and the consequences for higher education. In “Unassailable Ideas: How Unwritten Rules and Social Media Shape Discourse in American Higher Education,” Villasenor and co-author Ilana Redstone argue that higher education is being reshaped by a campus culture that is increasingly intolerant to diverse views and open inquiry, a trend that is exacerbated by the narrow lens of social media. The book, which will be released Oct. 15, highlights a newly emerged environment in higher education that forecloses entire lines of research, entire discussions and entire ways of conducting classroom teaching. Following their critiques of the well-intentioned unwritten rules about identity on college campuses, Villasenor and Redstone present a set of recommendations to build a new campus climate that would be more tolerant toward diverse perspectives and open inquiry. The book has garnered praise from scholars including University of Pennsylvania Professor Jonathan Zimmerman, who said,  “The real danger to higher education isn’t a cabal of jack-booted censors but the much subtler forces that discourage us from critiquing our dominant assumptions about multiculturalism, discrimination and identity.” Cal State Los Angeles Sociology Professor Bradley Campbell said “Unassailable Ideas” is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the serious threat to free speech and academic freedom at American colleges and universities.

As Election Nears, LPPI Hosts Roundtable With Philanthropic Leaders About Latino Agenda

Working with Hispanics in Philanthropy, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, or LPPI, hosted a virtual conversation Oct. 1 with 29 philanthropic leaders about shaping a political agenda for Black and brown people. Titled “Juntos Ganamos,” or “Together We Win,” the discussion centered on “Shaping a 21st Century Latino Agenda,” a blueprint recently created by UCLA LPPI for policy reforms on issues that include climate change, health, economic opportunity and voting rights. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened existing inequities, and the agenda seeks to address systemic racial injustices and chart a path forward. The roundtable was the first in a series in which Latinx foundation presidents, CEOs and trustees will examine the role of philanthropy amid a global pandemic, ongoing economic inequality and a renewed focus on violence involving police. “There is importance in building unity and coalition among all communities of color, while recognizing the efforts, lives and leadership of our Black peers,” said María Morales MPP ’20, who helped put together the roundtable. Speakers included Sonja Diaz, founding director of the initiative, who said Latino workers often experience “invisibility” in the workplace. “Essential should not be interchangeable with disposable,” Diaz said. Roundtable attendees also learned about research that demonstrates that Black, brown, Asian and Indigenous people combine to make up America’s new majority, potentially influencing policy for years to come. Mobilizing such voters is essential for both parties in the November elections, presenters noted, and philanthropy can play a key role in helping to build solidarity among ethnic communities. — Eliza Moreno

New Research Shows Global Impact of Extreme Heat on Learning

Extreme heat deepens educational inequities for students around the world, according to new research by R. Jisung Park, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Just published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Park’s study analyzed standardized achievement data for more than 144 million 15- to 19-year-olds in 58 countries, as well as detailed weather and academic calendar information. The findings showed that the rate of learning decreases with an increase in the number of hot school days. “Temperature is a surprisingly disruptive factor for students — both for high-stakes test-taking and for learning over the longer term,” said Park, an assistant professor of public policy specializing in environmental and labor economics. The new study broadens Park’s body of research into the effect of extreme heat on learning. Previous analyses of U.S. data showed that high temperatures can diminish student performance on standardized exams. In addition, minority and low-income students who attend U.S. schools that lack air conditioning are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of heat, the research found. The latest study measured the effects on a global scale, showing that “heat disrupts learning across a wide range of climates and levels of development,” Park said. The research underscores the importance of policies aimed at improving physical learning environments. More broadly, it demonstrates that the impact of climate change on personal development can add up over time, possibly putting a brake on national economic growth and individual economic mobility.


UCLA Research Center Develops Online Anti-Racism Hub Focusing on Asian Americans

A new website known as the Movement Hub was developed by the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) to serve as a centralized platform to amplify on-the-ground activism and organizing by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The website offers resources for and by AAPI organizations to promote cross-racial unity. “It’s our hope that this site will be a useful tool to raise awareness on the intersectional issues impacting the AAPI community and other communities of color,” said Paul Ong, UCLA Luskin research professor and CNK director. The hub’s resources, developed by CNK Senior Researcher Silvia R. González in conjunction with the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, will facilitate connections between people’s experiences and data. For example, the hub allows people to report hate crimes against AAPI people and find resources to help victims. From March to early August of 2020, more than 2,500 hate crimes against AAPI people were reported to Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning and child bullying involving AAPI people. “Anti-Asian rhetoric in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to violence and hate crimes against our communities, repeating historical racist and xenophobic patterns,” said Bo Thao-Urabe, senior program strategist at the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, which provided $2 million toward an anti-racism response network in 20 states. “We have to find ways to participate in the global uprising for justice and radical transformation. Our anti-racism response network and the Movement Hub are resources to help AAPI organizations do that.”

Millions of Latinos at Risk of Job Displacement by Automation

The potential acceleration of job automation spurred by COVID-19 will disproportionately affect Latinos in U.S. service sector jobs, according to a new report from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin. The report calls on state and local officials to start planning now to implement programs to support and retrain these workers. Researchers looked at occupational data from the six states with the largest Latino populations and found an overrepresentation of Latinos in industries where jobs are more susceptible to automation, including construction, leisure and hospitality, agriculture, and wholesale or retail trade. More than 7.1 million Latinos, representing almost 40% of the Latino workforce in those six states — Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas — are at high risk of being displaced by automation, the report shows. “As Latinos take a disproportionate financial hit from the COVID-19 crisis, now is a good time to focus on increasing training opportunities and to strengthen the social safety net to catch workers who are left behind,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, the report’s author and director of research at the policy initiative. A failure to prepare Latinos for jobs in the digital economy and other growing sectors will come with economic repercussions to the U.S. by creating a shortage of skilled workers in an aging and shrinking labor force, the report says. The research will be used as a baseline for discussion at a convening this month of policymakers, industry leaders, training organizations and higher education administrators organized by the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program. — Eliza Moreno


Astor Briefs Congress on Social Work and Student Well-Being

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor appeared at a congressional briefing focused on how social workers can help provide for the safety and educational achievement of students in light of calls to remove police from public schools. Many U.S. schools are patrolled by safety officers yet have no counselors, nurses or social workers on staff, adding to inequities that are deeply felt by Black, Latino, Native American and rural communities, Astor said. He called for a holistic national plan that re-envisions the role of schools in providing key social services to families struggling to feed, house and provide health care to their children. “There are needs at a mass scale that we probably haven’t seen in our country since the Great Depression,” said Astor, citing a recent policy brief he co-authored. Astor urged policymakers, education professionals, social workers and scholars to work together on a master plan that considers these core questions: “What do want our schools to look like in our country? What kind of democracy do we want to have? Should the zip code of a child dictate the kind of resources and opportunities they have?” The Sept. 23 online briefing was sponsored by a broad coalition of national social work organizations in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus, chaired by Rep. Barbara Lee of California. “We’ve got to bring the power of social work back to the schools,” Lee said during the briefing. “It is a matter of justice, and social workers are known for fighting for justice for everyone, especially our children.”