Shah Co-Authors Report on Disproportionate COVID-19 Risk Among Latinos Local context is a key factor in the level of risk, the study of Medicaid patients in Contra Costa County finds

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin Professor of Public Policy Manisha Shah co-authored a study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, that showed Latinos had much higher odds of testing positive for COVID-19 than whites.

The USC-UCLA study, conducted in a Northern California regional medical center with a diverse group of adults enrolled in a county Medicaid managed care plan, also indicated a marked racial disparity in odds of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Researchers noted that, while the coronavirus has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities nationwide, in their California study, infection, hospitalization and death were higher for Latinos, but not Black patients, relative to white patients.

The researchers point out that socioeconomic differences may confound racial and ethnic differences in testing and that “the role of sociodemographic, clinical and neighborhood factors in accounting for racial/ethnic differences in COVID-19 outcomes remains unclear.”

The study included data from more than 84,000 adult Medicaid patients at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. The researchers hypothesized that, because all of the patients had Medicaid, “racial/ethnic disparities in testing and outcomes would narrow when controlling for demographics, comorbidities and ZIP code-level characteristics.”

They also expected that these characteristics would be reduced relative to previous studies, given similar insurance coverage, household income and access to health-care providers. Among their conclusions, the researchers highlighted that racial and ethnic disparities depend on local context, citing studies from other states with differing results.

“The substantially higher risk facing Latinos should be a key consideration in California’s strategies to mitigate disease transmission and harm,” they recommend.

“We learned a lot about testing and hospitalization disparities through this study,” Shah said. “We recently implemented a randomized controlled trial with our Contra Costa County partners to better understand vaccine take-up among the vaccine hesitant.”

Shah said that the research team is testing the role of financial incentives, reducing appointment scheduling frictions, and provider messages on COVID-19 vaccine take-up in this diverse Medicaid managed care population.

“We are excited to share the results from this vaccine take-up study very soon,” Shah said.

Additional authors include Mireille Jacobson, associate professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and senior fellow at the USC Schaeffer School for Health Policy and Economics; Tom Chang, associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business; Samir Shah, CEO of Contra Costa Regional Medical Center; and Rajiv Pramanik at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center & Health Centers, Contra Costa Health Service.

ITS, Lewis Center Win Research Awards to Help Shape California’s Future UCLA Luskin-based centers join an ambitious initiative aimed at forging strategies for the state's long-term success

Two centers housed at UCLA Luskin have received research awards from California 100, an ambitious statewide initiative to envision and shape the long-term success of the state.

The Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies will evaluate current facts, origins and future trends in housing and community development, while the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies will look into transportation and urban planning. In total, researchers from four UCLA organizations will spearhead three of the 13 California 100 research areas.

The Lewis Center will summarize California’s housing market and outline a vision for how policy changes could lead to a brighter future for the state’s residents, with a particular focus on increased equity and housing production. Working alongside cityLAB UCLA and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, the Lewis Center team will also create a visualization of this future through creative techniques of diagramming, drawing and rendering to help readers picture the possibilities for California’s communities.

UCLA ITS will delve into transportation policy contradictions: California has invested substantially in public transit, while other public policies encourage driving and work against transit. As the state looks to meet its climate and equity goals, transportation systems — and the land use context surrounding them — will play a key role.

Research for both projects is slated to begin over the summer and be complete by December 2021, and will lead to a set of policy alternatives for the future of California. The policy alternatives will be developed in conjunction with research teams from the other California 100 issue areas.

The California 100 Commission is a multi-generational advisory body that will develop recommendations for the state’s future and test those recommendations across a broad set of policy areas by directly engaging Californians.

“From climate change to aging populations and rapid changes in industry, California will face enormous challenges in the years ahead,” said Kathrick Ramakrishnan, California 100 executive director. “We are fortunate to be able to draw on the deep talent of researchers in California to produce evidence and recommendations that will inform robust public engagement and set the state on a strong, long-term trajectory for success.”

About the California 100 Research Grants

California 100 is a new statewide initiative being incubated at the University of California and Stanford University focused on inspiring a vision and strategy for California’s next century that is innovative, sustainable and equitable. The initiative will harness the talent of a diverse array of leaders through research, policy innovation, advanced technology and stakeholder engagement. As part of its research stream of work, California 100 is sponsoring 13 research projects focused on the following issue areas:

  • Advanced technology and basic research
  • Arts, culture and entertainment
  • Education and workforce, from cradle to career and retirement
  • Economic mobility and inequality
  • Energy, environment and natural resources
  • Federalism and foreign policy
  • Fiscal reform
  • Governance, media and civil society
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing and community development
  • Immigrant integration
  • Public safety and criminal justice reform
  • Transportation and urban planning

High Temperatures Increase Workers’ Injury Risk, Whether They’re Outdoors or Inside The finding reflects another consequence of climate change, according to new study led by R. Jisung Park of UCLA Luskin Public Policy

A UCLA study published today shows that hot weather significantly increases the risk of accidents and injuries on the job, regardless of whether the work takes place in an indoor or outdoor setting.

The report is based on data from California’s workers’ compensation system, the nation’s largest.

“The incidence of heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke definitely go up on hotter days,” said the study’s lead researcher R. Jisung Park, an assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. “But what we found is that ostensibly unrelated incidents — like falling off a ladder or being hit by a moving truck or getting your hand caught in a machine — tend to occur more frequently on hotter days, too.”

By comparing records from more than 11 million California workers’ compensation claims from 2001 to 2018 to high-frequency local weather data, Park and his co-authors isolated the impact of hotter days on the number of injury claims.

The study shows that on days with high temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a 6% to 9% higher risk of injuries than they do on days with high temperatures in the 50s or 60s. When the thermometer tops 100, the risk of injuries increases by 10% to 15%.

Those findings are particularly alarming in the context of climate change, which is expected to produce more high-temperature days each year. The researchers estimate that high temperatures already cause about 15,000 injuries per year in California.

“Heat is sometimes described as a silent killer,” said Nora Pankratz, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. “But if you look into the data and do the statistical analysis, you find that heat has a significant impact on mortality and health outcomes.”

 

It’s not surprising that hot weather would lead to injuries and illness among workers in predominantly outdoor industries such as agriculture, utilities and construction. But the data consistently show that industries in which most people work indoors are affected as well. In manufacturing, for example, days with high temperatures above 95 degrees have an injury risk that is approximately 7% higher than days with high temperatures in the low 60s.

“A lot of manufacturing facilities are not air conditioned,” said Stanford University postdoctoral scholar A. Patrick Behrer, the study’s other co-author. “Because you’re inside, you don’t necessarily think about the temperature as being a major threat.”

The reality is that overheated workers face numerous risks, regardless of where the work occurs.

“Heat affects your physiology,” Park said. “It affects your cognition. It affects your body’s ability to cope. It seems possible that what we’re observing in the data for these workers is that they’re more likely to make mistakes or errors in judgment.”

The researchers found that heat-related workplace injuries are more likely to be suffered by men and lower-income workers. In addition, younger people suffer more heat-related injuries, possibly in part because they’re more likely to hold jobs with greater physical risks on construction sites, in manufacturing plants or at warehouses.

For an office worker at a computer desk, nodding off on a hot summer afternoon is unlikely to cause an injury. “But if you have a huge chainsaw in your hand, you’re not in a great situation,” Park said.

Among the paper’s other conclusions:

  • The number of heat-related injuries actually declined after 2005, when California became the first state to implement mandatory heat illness prevention measures for outdoor workplaces on days when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
  • The financial costs of heat-related injuries may be between $750 million and $1.25 billion per year in California alone, considering health care expenditures, lost wages and productivity, and disability claims.
  • Inequalities in the labor market are exacerbated in part by the fact that low-income communities tend to be situated in hotter parts of the state. People in the state’s lowest household income tier are approximately five times more likely to be affected by heat-related illness or injury on the job than those in the top income tier, the study found.

The study is available now through the Institute of Labor Economics, which disseminates working versions of potentially influential research prior to publication in academic journals. Park previewed the findings  July 15 during testimony at a Congressional hearing organized by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The new study echoes the results of a 2019 study that focused on how extreme temperatures raise injury risk in Texas and in the U.S. mining industry. Park, whose prior research includes a finding that student learning is negatively impacted by warm temperatures, said there has been “an explosion of research just in the last five to 10 years that illustrates, using data, the serious consequences of climate change for health, productivity and economic growth. This likely adds to that urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Pankratz got involved in the study while working at UCLA Luskin as a postdoctoral scholar, having previously researched the impact of heat on businesses while working toward her Ph.D. in the Netherlands. 

Worldwide, she said, there is growing interest in the concept of adaptation — the pragmatic changes that can be made by governments and businesses to cope with the reality of climate change.

“For a long time, the focus has been on mitigation — what can we do to prevent climate change,” she said. “But as it becomes more and more obvious that there is policy inertia on mitigation, it’s important to think about what we can do to adapt and to work as well as possible in a warmer world.”

The study authors, all of whom have backgrounds in economics, realize that the desire to protect workers from heat may be complicated by economic reality. 

Behrer said policymakers could stipulate that workers not be exposed to the heat on days above 100 degrees, for example, without proscribing a specific strategy to be used by individual business owners.

“Then firms have the option either to use air conditioning or come up with some other method of climate control for their facilities,” he said, noting that some might change work hours or shorten the work day during heat waves. “It allows them to decide the most cost-effective way for them to meet the objective of reducing workplace injuries.”

 

Message From the Dean: JR DeShazo to Become Dean at University of Texas The UCLA Luskin professor, Center for Innovation director and former department chair has been selected to lead the LBJ School of Public Affairs

My Friends:

It is with a mixture of incredible sadness and immense pride that I share the news that JR DeShazo will be leaving UCLA Luskin in the coming weeks.  JR has just been announced as the new dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. He assumes his new role on Sept. 10.

As all of you know, JR has been a central and transformative figure in the life of the Luskin School. He has served many roles —most recently as chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy — but made his greatest impact in the further development, expansion and institutionalization of the Luskin Center for Innovation, which today is a premier think tank and research operation focusing on the environmental and technological challenges facing California and beyond. Much of UCLA Luskin’s environmental research effort on Californians and their environment is owed to JR’s effective and important leadership and creativity.

I want personally to extend to JR and his family my best wishes and those of the School as he embarks on his new challenge and the leadership of one of the nation’s leading public affairs schools. And I want to thank JR for his incredible work. JR—YOU WILL BE SORELY MISSED!

All the best,

Gary

Gary M. Segura
Professor and Dean

Read more about DeShazo and his new role at the University of Texas:

THE UT ANNOUNCEMENT

 

Narrower Streets in New Developments Could Help Amid Housing Crisis New research by Adam Millard-Ball of UCLA Urban Planning considers the schools, parks and other infrastructure that go unbuilt because Americans prefer wide streets

Those studies often examine how planning and zoning decisions affect traffic noise, whether neighborhood amenities can be reached by foot and other factors that can make a home more or less valuable.

A new paper expands this body of research by considering the housing, schools, parks and other infrastructure that go unbuilt in favor of wide streets.

The U.S. has some of the widest streets in the world. In 20 of the most populous counties, the median residential street plus sidewalks is 50 feet wide, with the dollar value of land used for streets sometimes stretching into six figures, according to the research in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

Wide streets
A narrow street in Shibuya City, Tokyo. Photo by Tim Foster / Unsplash

Wide streets are less common in some other countries. Certain streets in Japan, for example, are much narrower. Developments in Tokyo since 1990 have average street widths of 16 feet, noted Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and author of the new paper.

“One of the best ways to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more housing,” he said. “To the extent that narrower streets allow developers to build more housing, that will address the No. 1 issue with housing right now.”

The median residential street in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is 50 feet wide, according to Millard-Ball’s sample of counties.

The median width of a residential street in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which includes Cambridge, is 40 feet — the narrowest of the group.

The widest streets in the sample are in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. There, the median residential street is nearly 65 feet wide.

The 50-foot standard

For urban planners, a street is called a right of way. The paved section is the roadway.

A right of way includes the roadway as well as sidewalks, if any, along with space for drainage, utility poles and other public infrastructure. It’s the land usually owned by a city or county that the public has the right to use and make its way through by car, bicycle, foot or other mode. Neighbors waving hello across the sidewalk’s edge of their properties are waving across the right of way.

The median 50-foot right of way Millard-Ball documents stems from nearly a century of history in U.S. planning. After the home mortgage system collapsed during the Great Depression, the federal government stepped in and established the Federal Housing Administration in 1934.

The agency’s mortgage insurance and financial assistance for homebuyers represented “the most ambitious suburbanization plan in United States history,” wrote Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph in a 1995 Journal of the American Planning Association article that reviews the historical rise of U.S. suburbs.

To protect the government’s unprecedented investment in home ownership, mostly for white Americans, developers had to have detailed plans approved by the agency. The agency encouraged cul-de-sacs for new developments and favored plans that discouraged through traffic.

“Moreover, the FHA, unlike other planning agencies, was largely run by representatives of real estate and banking, so developers felt that its intervention protected their interests,” Southworth and Ben-Joseph wrote.

If developers wanted to build homes that would benefit from federal financial backing, rights of way had to be at least 50 feet wide, Millard-Ball explained in his new paper, “The Width and Value of Residential Streets.”

Six-figure values

To understand the value of land used for streets, Millard-Ball drew on research from the Federal Housing Finance Agency that estimates the value of quarter-acre lots zoned for single-family homes across the country. The value of the land used for streets can be substantial in places where low population density and high housing costs converge.

Santa Clara County, California, which includes San Jose, has the most valuable streets in the sample at $146,000 per tax parcel. That’s roughly 40% of the median price of an existing single-family home sold in the U.S. in April 2021, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

“One of the best ways to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more housing. To the extent that narrower streets allow developers to build more housing, that will address the No. 1 issue with housing right now.”

— Adam Millard-Ball, UCLA Luskin

New York City, by contrast, has high housing costs but also high density — large apartment buildings are common. Tens of thousands of people live within each square mile. The land beneath streets in Queens, for example, is worth $36,000 per parcel.

At the other end of the value spectrum, streets are worth $7,000 per parcel in Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio. But land values and street widths can vary greatly within counties.

Terra Vista, a small street in a subdivision 25 miles north of San Antonio, is 52 feet wide and has a land value of $43,288 per parcel. All the land under residential streets in Millard-Ball’s 20 counties is worth nearly $1 trillion in total.

Millard-Ball noted that street land value estimates per parcel are likely low for high-cost, dense cities, which often zone for multifamily buildings over single-family homes.

For example, an Italian specialty food store in the Mission District of San Francisco sold its parking lot for $3 million in 2018 — roughly $36 million per acre, by Millard-Ball’s calculation — to make way for a five-story, 18-unit building, according to the news site Mission Local.

Click to explore the value of land used for streets in 20 of the largest U.S. counties.

Most U.S. counties regulate how and where new housing and business developments are built, according to the National Association of Counties, a nonprofit organization that represents U.S. county governments.

Many large cities do the same.

It would be overly costly for cities and counties to change the width of existing streets, particularly with local governments facing budget shortfalls during the pandemic.

Still, the estimates in the new paper can be instructive for planning officials in places like Bexar, one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., as they permit developments to accommodate new and current residents.

“The values are an indication that cities should be making it easier to use streets for something other than roadways and parking,” Millard-Ball said. “A good analogy is that during COVID, one use of streets has been for outdoor dining. It’s recognition that this land is more valuable to the community if we can use it for people to get together and eat in a safer environment outdoors, than as a parking space or travel lane for cars.”

He continued: “The point is that desolate asphalt is doing nobody any good — not the city, not property owners, not anyone. Cities are often keen to widen the right of way with new developments. Say you want to develop a new apartment building. Often, the city will say, ‘Sure, but you have to give up some land so we can add a turn lane, or widen the sidewalk.’ If cities can widen the right of way, why can’t they narrow it in exchange for improvements that will benefit the public?”

Indeed, when a new residential building goes up, cities commonly require developers to widen streets, according to a 2017 paper in the Journal of Transport and Land Use by Michael Manville, another UCLA Luskin urban planner.

In the paper, Manville looked at how the requirement played out in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2012. He found the city’s predictions of increased traffic with the arrival of new buildings were often wrong, and “the standards the law is based on are in some ways unverifiable. Thus the law likely does little to reduce congestion and probably impedes housing development.”

Flexible design

City and county planning standards vary and change, but the federal 50-foot standard still often dominates residential street design. Still, it’s not always true that counties with more land to expand, like those in Texas, have wider streets. Dallas County, for example, specifies that new residential streets in subdivisions be at least 50 feet wide. The median width of residential streets there is exactly 50 feet, Millard-Ball finds.

Surveyor's chain
A surveyor’s chain owned by John Johnson, appointed Surveyor General of Vermont in 1813. Photo by John Johnson Allen / National Museum of American History

Residential streets in Chicago, meanwhile, are typically 66 feet wide, according to city design standards. That roughly matches the length of the typical surveyor’s chain as the city grew throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. The surveyor’s chain was a tool made up of interlocking metal bars that land surveyors used to measure and mark the shapes of streets to be built.

Uniformity in street design made sense as the nation was expanding and infrastructure technologies were less advanced. But the takeaway for Millard-Ball is that maintaining rigidity in street design means fewer amenities and, potentially, less housing.

He wonders, for example, whether more streets could be built with parking cutouts only where there are no private driveways — providing a unique residential landscape alongside opportunities to use more of the built environment for activities other than driving.

“That would make construction drawings more complex,” Millard-Ball said. “The tradeoff is visual interest — and saving a lot of valuable land.”

The prospect of narrower streets raises the question of whether emergency vehicles would be able to pass, though some planners, and at least one report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, suggest smaller emergency vehicles could be an answer.

This article first appeared on The Journalist’s Resource and is republished here with slight revisions for local style under a Creative Commons license.

Uplifting Latina Voices Through LPPI, Telemundo Partnership Kassandra Hernández MPP '20 makes relevant research about the impacts of COVID-19 accessible to a Spanish-speaking community

By Zoe Day

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinas went from being one of the fastest-growing groups in the labor force to one that was hit hardest by unemployment, with 2.4 million Latinas out of work in April 2020.

This finding from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) at UCLA Luskin is part of a broad body of research on the pandemic’s impact on Latino populations — research that is now being shared with a wider audience through a partnership with Spanish-language news station Telemundo 52.

LPPI research analyst Kassandra Hernández BA ’17, MPP ’20 sees the collaboration as an opportunity to uplift Latina voices and make relevant research more accessible to Latino populations.

“The reports we produce are nothing if no one reads them,” she explained. “We’re studying the impact [of the pandemic] on Latinas, and we would like to reach the people who are being impacted.”

A Telemundo newscast featuring Hernández focused on Latina participation in the labor market, which had been projected to experience substantial growth until the pandemic forced many Latinas to choose child-care duties over paid work. LPPI Director of Research Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas also appeared in the segment, underscoring that “Latinas are overrepresented in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.”

As a native Spanish speaker, Hernández welcomed the chance to connect with the populations that her research focuses on, in their own language.

“Different media outlets are accessible in different languages, but English doesn’t reach Latinas in the same way,” she said.

Two other Telemundo reports featured LPPI-affiliated scholars who shared their expertise on COVID-19’s impact on Latino populations. In one segment, Melissa Chinchilla, a research scientist who studies the intersection of housing, health and community development, explained how unemployment caused by the pandemic led many to move in with friends and family, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission within households.

“Affordable housing and the capacity to accommodate multigenerational families are issues that will require long-term investment,” Chinchilla said.

In another report, Yohualli Balderas-Medina Anaya, a medical doctor on the faculty of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, discussed the long-term symptoms experienced by some COVID-19 patients even after the infection has passed. Anaya expressed concern that some side effects will continue to affect patients for years.

Telemundo reporter Enrique Chiabra, a UCLA alumnus, presented the three-part series aimed at making information about the COVID-19 pandemic accessible for Spanish-speaking populations. That is a key priority for Hernández, who has worked with LPPI faculty experts including Executive Director Sonja Diaz to interpret research and push it into the public sphere.

“Academic research is often not as accessible to the communities it focuses on,” she said. “I want to analyze inequities and share knowledge; I don’t want to stay in the ivory tower.”

Hernández is a double Bruin who earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and labor and workplace studies. After graduation, she worked with AmeriCorps on food insecurity before going back to school to develop her skills in quantitative analysis.

“As a Latina, I have lived what I find in numbers,” said Hernández, a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She spoke about her own mother’s challenges balancing responsibilities as a domestic worker and the demands of being a parent and caretaker.

“I realized not everyone has those same experiences, but I can use numbers as evidence to validate my own story.”

Hernández said she chose the master of public policy program at UCLA Luskin because of the supportive faculty and the opportunity to engage with real-world issues. The experience “opened up my eyes to what I could do and how to analyze policy,” she said. 

Hernández’s research with LPPI has helped shed light on the gender norms and expectations that often push Latina women aside or confine them to the household. The partnership between LPPI and Telemundo, she said, helped break down stereotypes and recognize that Latinas should not be grouped together as a monolith.

As Hernández’s time with LPPI draws to a close, she is excited to meet the next cohort of fellows to continue advancing research and policy work to support Latinas. In the fall, she will pursue her Ph.D. in economics at UC Berkeley, building on her skills from UCLA Luskin to address inequality through policy research focusing on labor, income inequality, immigration, education, food access and environmental economics.

“Everything is connected,” Hernández said. “Inequality dictates access and quality of life.”

Activating Justice Through a 21st Century Latinx Lens UCLA co-hosts a dialogue featuring leading Latinx voices with the goal of sparking a full transformation of the criminal legal system 

By Kacey Bonner

What would our criminal legal system look like if it was truly designed to reduce harm, advance public safety and end America’s legacy as the world’s leading incarcerator?

That was the question on everyone’s mind as leading Latinx elected officials, advocates, academics and media personalities convened to grapple with the issue of criminal justice — a topic of intense national debate.

Hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, the May 13-14 convening “Advancing Criminal Justice Reform Through a 21st Century Latinx Lens” had several goals: creating greater visibility of Latinos within the justice reform movement; identifying opportunities to build solidarity with other communities most impacted by the criminal legal system; and advancing transformative policy focused on justice rather than punishment.

“For too long, Latinos have been left out of the criminal justice conversation, even though we are the second most negatively impacted group by numbers behind Black people when it comes to our criminal legal systems,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

With conversations led by faculty experts such as UCLA Law Professor Jennifer Chacón, over 1,000 participants tuned in to hear from a multiracial cadre of 40 speakers covering topics including ending youth incarceration, defunding the police, and the intersection of the criminal legal and immigration systems – all through a Latinx lens.

Speakers including journalist Maria Hinojosa and author Julissa Arce led lively discussions about the opportunity to create more truthful and inclusive narratives in the criminal justice space and develop tailored solutions that address the underlying structural and systemic deficiencies that drive people to engage in harmful acts.

“It was so exciting to see this come together with so many brilliant people who were able to bring fresh perspective on the issue, the challenges and opportunities before us and how we can work in solidarity across race and experience to achieve common goals that make our communities safer and healthier,” said LPPI fellow Paula Nazario, one of the lead organizers of the convening. A UCLA graduate, Nazario is now pursuing her master of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

The event’s opening plenary session included Kelly Lytle-Hernández, a professor of history, African American studies and urban planning at UCLA. Lytle-Hernández gave attendees key insight into the impacts of the criminal legal system on Latinos, the structural racism propping up the system of incarceration and how the criminalization of immigrants is working to expand systems of mass incarceration.

Breakout sessions then enabled attendees to think about how they can demand better data that creates a clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities ahead and how Latino-facing organizations — both within and outside the justice reform space — can work together to create broad change.

Throughout the convening, conversation returned to the immense data and knowledge gap that obscures the true impact of the criminal legal system on Latinx individuals, families and communities. If this gap persists, there is a risk of creating solutions that fail to address challenges unique to Latinos who are systems-impacted and perpetuating inequities that exist in our current criminal legal system.

A conversation with Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF, closed the two-day meeting. Cartagena said that, while the U.S. criminal legal system hasn’t changed much in the past five decades, it is on the precipice of big change — change made possible by communities that see an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally transform systems of justice.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that there have been amazing opportunities for organizing people around truth, and for having that truth talk to power,” Cartagena said.

“I think we’re stronger than ever to actually have conversations about dismantling systems, about what it means to invest in our communities in different ways and to think outside of every box at every corner so we can get things done.”

 

Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa moderates the opening plenary session with podcast host David Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, author Julissa Arce, District Court Judge Natalia Cornelio and UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle-Hernández.

Jonathan Jayes-Greene of the Marguerite Casey Foundation moderates a “crimmigration” panel featuring Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente, Abraham Paulos of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, UCLA Professor Jennifer M. Chacón and Greisa Martinez Rosas of United We Dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now or Never for Immigration Reform? Congressman from Texas opens LPPI webinar by expressing optimism that progress can be achieved with Democrats in power in Washington — if they act quickly

By Kassandra Hernandez and Les Dunseith

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas sees Democrats in power in Washington, D.C., and thinks the time may finally have arrived for comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy.

“It’s not very often that Democrats have control of the presidency and both chambers of the Congress,” Castro said during a May 4 webinar hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “There’s a real opportunity here to pass comprehensive immigration reform and put 11 million undocumented folks — many of whom are ‘Dreamers’ or others, like their parents, who have been here for generations — on a path to citizenship.”

Castro, who introduced one of four immigration-related bills currently making their way through the political process in Washington, knows it won’t be easy, given the narrow Democratic majorities in both houses and longstanding GOP opposition to immigration reform that includes citizenship. Still, waiting too long could doom the effort.

As the 2022 midterm elections draw closer, elected officials will become “very cautious about the votes that they take,” Castro noted. “So, there’s got to be a lot of momentum and a big push to get immigration reform done this year.”

Castro’s comments came during a 10-minute live interview with webinar moderator Russell Contreras, a justice and race reporter at Axios, that set the tone for a panel discussion with scholars and political experts focusing on the challenges and opportunities for U.S. immigration reform.

During the interview, Castro spoke about why immigration policy reform is so important to him. He represents a district in the San Antonio area that is home to many Mexican Americans like himself.

“In our community, there’s an incredible sense of fairness, there’s obviously an incredible sense of family,” said Castro, whose mother is a renowned community activist and whose twin brother is former presidential candidate Julian Castro.

“There is a permanent class of conservative politicians … who want to use the immigration issue as a way to scare Americans and make them think that there is a lot of brown people who are going to come into the country and harm them,” Castro said. “But you see Mexican American communities being very favorable toward giving immigrants a path to citizenship because they understand that experience. To them, [an immigrant] was their parent or their grandparent. So, when they hear all of the fear-mongering, most of the time, they don’t buy into that.”

Castro said he hopes an umbrella bill that includes comprehensive immigration reform can be passed during this session of Congress, although it has not yet come to a vote. He noted that two other immigration bills have already made it through the House, however, and he urged the U.S. Senate to move forward with that legislation.

Cecilia Menjívar, a professor of sociology at UCLA who is an expert on immigration issues, argued that such piecemeal reform probably has a greater chance of success. Although the current social and political environment is unlike any in recent history, she said systemic barriers are likely to continue to impede sweeping immigration reform efforts.

Joining Menjívar on the virtual panel were Angélica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. All the speakers agreed that the national stance must recognize the complexities of the issue beyond border security and militarization.

Immigration reform is deeply interconnected with labor rights, access to education, health care and violence in other countries, they noted.

“You can legalize the people in the U.S., but if you don’t deal with the system that keeps us out and kicks us out, then you are not doing service to our community,” Salas said.

The so-called border crisis is actually a regional international policy problem, Selee said. “If you have lots of people coming in an irregular fashion, we need to rethink how we facilitate a legal path to immigration.”

Salas called for an urgent change in enforcement. “The detention system is a for-profit system,” she said. “Too many corporations [make] money off of the detention of our people.”

U.S. immigration policy also needs to account for the economic contributions made by the millions of undocumented workers throughout the country, Selee said.

Menjívar cautioned that immigrants should be recognized in a manner that avoids “reducing them to a dollar sign,” noting the many “social and cultural contributions [immigrants] have made to this country over decades.”

Selee pointed out that almost half of immigrants today have college degrees, representing potential talent that can help catalyze economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.

“Unlock that potential, [and] it would fit in really well in a moment where we are trying to recover economically,” he said.

View a recording of the webinar

 

Unpaid Utility Bills Are Disproportionately Piling Up in L.A. Study shows 25-30% of Angelenos have unpaid energy and water bills, with debts unevenly impacting people of color

A new report authored by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge measures the extent of utility debt accumulation among customers served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

Disparities in unpaid bills predate COVID-19 but have deepened since the pandemic’s outbreak. Using data from a November 2020 California State Water Resources Control Board survey, the researchers found one-quarter to one-third of all Los Angeles households faced financial difficulties paying for their utilities. 

“We didn’t expect the magnitude to be this big,” said Silvia R. González, co-author of the study and a senior researcher at the Luskin Center for Innovation. “For many families, this means choosing between keeping their lights on or skipping meals or medical treatment.”

The debt burden is unevenly distributed across Los Angeles — 64% of the population in severely affected neighborhoods are Latino. Black communities also face disproportionate debt, and racial disparities persist even after accounting for socioeconomic characteristics. Further, the study found that lower-income neighborhoods, residents with limited English proficiency and renters face unequal debt burdens. 

Early on in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended water and energy utility shut-offs, which has provided continued utility access for households in California. But accumulating debt has not been forgiven, and this crisis will need to be resolved once the suspension is lifted. 

Researchers said they hope to guide policymakers and utility operators in formulating targeted debt-relief programs, and calls for financial support from COVID-19-related aid to ensure that vulnerable Angelenos will still have access to water and energy after the pandemic.  

“We need an equitable relief plan,” González said. “These communities are already historically underserved areas and they’ve been left behind more broadly during the pandemic. These debts will be impossible for many families to repay.”

Decarbonizing California Transportation by 2045 Report to state outlines policy pathways to meet the zero-carbon time crunch

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. In order to achieve the state’s goals of carbon neutrality by 2045 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, decarbonizing this sector is essential. But such a transition is unlikely to occur rapidly without key policy intervention, according to a new study that included research from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

A team of transportation and policy experts from the University of California released a report April 21 to the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) outlining policy options to significantly reduce transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions. Those policy options, when combined, could lead to a zero-carbon transportation system by 2045, while also improving equity, health and the economy. A second study, led by UC Santa Barbara, identifying strategies to reduce in-state petroleum production in parallel with reductions in demand, was released simultaneously.

The state funded the two studies through the 2019 Budget Act. The studies are designed to identify paths to slash transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions while also managing a strategic, responsible decline in transportation-related fossil fuel supply.

The University of California demand study was conducted by researchers from the UC Institute of Transportation Studies, a network with branches at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and UCLA. The UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy coordinated the report’s policy management, and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change led the study’s equity and environmental justice research.

Bringing about a zero-carbon transportation future will be challenging but not impossible, the report states. Doing so requires urgent actions and a long-term perspective. Importantly, a major upfront investment in clean transportation through incentives and new charging and hydrogen infrastructure will soon pay off in net economic savings to the California economy, with net savings in the next decade growing to tens of billions of dollars per year by 2045.

The report recommends flexible policy approaches that can be adjusted over time as technologies evolve and more knowledge is gained.

“This report is the first to comprehensively evaluate a path to a carbon neutral transportation system for California by 2045,” said Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. “We find that such pathways are possible but will rely on extensive changes to existing policies as well as introduction of some new policies. The study also prioritizes equity, health and workforce impacts of the transition to zero-carbon transportation.”

Researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation led the study’s workforce analysis. Achieving carbon neutrality in California’s transportation sector could create over 7.3 million job-years of employment over the next 25 years, according to the researchers. These jobs would result from “greening” many existing occupations and creating new occupations.

“This presents the state with a golden opportunity to create not only new, high-quality jobs, but also ensure that many existing industries and occupations transition to better practices,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and professor of public policy.

KEY POLICY STRATEGIES

 Zero emission vehicles: Many of the report’s policy options are centered on a rapid transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which is expected to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air pollution as the state’s electric grid is also decarbonized.

Light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for 70% and 20% of the state’s transportation emissions, respectively. The report suggests a combination of enhanced mandates, incentives, and public charging and hydrogen infrastructure investments to speed the adoption of ZEVs. For medium and heavy-duty vehicles, key policy priorities include increasing the availability of charging stations for long-haul freights, electricity pricing reform to make depot charging more affordable, and priority lanes and curb access for zero-emission trucks, among other possibilities.

Vehicle miles traveled: Even with widespread ZEV use, reducing overall vehicle miles traveled is necessary to reduce traffic congestion and emissions from vehicle manufacturing, and to enhance quality-of-life and land-use benefits related to traffic. The report suggests policies that encourage active, shared and micromobility transportation, telecommuting, and land-use changes that reduce people’s reliance on automobiles and enhance community connectivity.

Fuels: About 86% of transportation fuel is petroleum. Shifting toward low-carbon clean energy requires major investments in electricity and hydrogen. Low-carbon liquid fuels compatible with internal combustion engines will be needed to reduce emissions while the transition to ZEVs progresses, as well as in some specialized applications, like aviation. California can support the needed investments in clean fuels with mandated blending levels, new incentives and credits to stimulate investment in very low-carbon liquid fuels for aviation, shipping and legacy combustion engine vehicles.

Getting to zero: Some residual emissions remain in every scenario examined. The report states that at least 4 million to 5 million metric tons per year of negative emissions capacity (equal to 2.5% of current transportation emissions) is needed by 2045 to counteract those residual emissions. These could come from carbon capture and sequestration projects that pull carbon from the air to store it underground, as well as so-called sequestration by natural or working lands.

BENEFITS

In addition to direct economic benefits beginning around 2030, the transportation decarbonization policies could also lead to health, equity and environmental justice, and workforce and labor benefits.

Health: Transportation is a major cause of local air pollution and contributes to climate change. Particulate matter harms lungs and hearts, while nitrogen oxide compounds contribute to ozone pollution and other health impacts. The report found that cleaner heavy-duty vehicles would significantly reduce pollution in many of the state’s most vulnerable communities. The health benefits of reducing local pollution will grow with the deployment of clean transportation technologies and could translate to more than $25 billion in savings in 2045.

Equity and environmental justice: Transportation in California carries a legacy of inequity and damage to disadvantaged communities. These communities often lack quality public transportation or viable transportation choices. Highways have been built with little consideration for displacement, and many communities of color have been divided by freeways, perpetuating historic segregation policies like redlining. The report identifies options that prioritize equity in transportation investments and policies.

For example:

  • Continue to support electric vehicle incentives targeted to lower-income buyers and underserved communities, including used vehicles.
  • Prioritize deploying electric heavy-duty vehicles in disadvantaged communities and magnet facilities such as commercial warehouses in those communities.
  • Support transit and zero-emission services and charging stations in disadvantaged communities. This can help reduce vehicle miles traveled and increase accessibility while avoiding displacement.
  • Avoid siting non-renewable fuel production facilities in disadvantaged communities, engage communities disproportionately affected by transportation sector emissions in decision-making concerning the siting of new infrastructure and investments associated with achieving carbon neutrality, and continue to carefully monitor and control local pollutants.

“We must confront the legacy of the lack of public and private investment where Black, indigenous and people of color live and work,” said Bernadette Austin, acting director of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. “This report identifies ways to strategically invest in sustainable infrastructure while intentionally avoiding disruptive and damaging infrastructure in our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”

Workforce: The transition to a carbon-neutral transportation system will disrupt jobs in some sectors while creating new jobs in others, like clean vehicle manufacturing and electric and hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The report suggests that California prioritize the needs of impacted workers. In addition, wherever ZEV-related industry expansion creates quality jobs, state policy should focus on creating broadly accessible career pathways.

Economy: The transition to ZEVs is expected to generate savings for consumers and the economy well before 2045. Within the next decade, the cost of owning and operating ZEVs is projected to drop below that of a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle. That is because battery, fuel cell and hydrogen costs will continue to decline; electricity costs will be much less than petroleum fuel costs; and maintenance costs of ZEVs will be less. These savings can be invested elsewhere by households and businesses.

For further information about this report, contact Samuel Chiu or Kat Kerlin at UC Davis.