Listening to — and Learning From — Urban Youth of Color New research by UCLA Luskin faculty finds young people who are actively engaged in civic improvement and eager to be heard about solutions

By Les Dunseith

In places where exposure to violence is prevalent, those seeking to advance causes on behalf of urban youth of color should start by listening to the young people themselves, according to a new publication from two UCLA faculty members.

What do such youth say about violence in their neighborhoods?

“You see it everywhere. You could ride down the street, you would see somebody arguing. You go down another street, see somebody fighting,” said Justin, a 17-year-old black and Asian youth.

“I don’t like it. It’s too many killings. … I can’t choose, I can’t do nothing about it. I’m still young,” said Salome, a 16-year-old Latina.

So, what can be done — and by whom?

“We all have to communicate and cooperate. …  I just feel like if everybody just came together and put their minds together about what the community should be and how it should be, I think the community would probably be much better place for kids to grow up,” said Jamal, a 17-year-old black youth.

“Why we got a mouth?” asked Kendra, a 15-year-old black youth. “Our opinions do matter. It can even change the world.”

These four interviewees were among 87 youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods in Rochester, New York, who spoke with Associate Professor Laura Wray-Lake for a qualitative study of youth engagement. She was joined in analyzing the information by co-author Laura S. Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. Their monograph — essentially an eight-chapter book on one topic — was made available online May 12 by Monographs for the Society of Research on Child Development, a respected quarterly journal.

“The purpose of the study was to understand how civic engagement is defined and experienced by these youth of color in their own words and from their own perspectives. We also wanted to know what assets and adversities young people experienced that shaped their civic engagement,” Wray-Lake said of the publication, “Pathways to Civic Engagement Among Urban Youth of Color.”

The monograph, which is accompanied online by teaching and outreach materials, is based on data collected by Wray-Lake in 2015-16 when she was on the faculty at University of Rochester. The interviewees ranged in age from 12 to 19, and were mostly black (61%) or multiracial black (27%). A majority (60%) were male. About one-quarter had parents who had completed high school, and 36% had a parent who attended at least some college.

The study participants did more than just express strong opinions. Many took action to benefit others. The most common type of civic engagement was helping out in the community — mentoring younger children at the recreation center, for example, or participating in an annual community cleanup. Some youth helped their neighbors by mowing lawns or shoveling snow.

“Some youth were civically engaged by intervening to protect others from harm, and this was a form of civic engagement not often recognized in the literature,” Wray-Lake said. “A number of youth described helping to stop or break up fights to protect a friend, or talking a friend out of joining a gang.”

Although political engagement was much less common among the youth she interviewed, Wray-Lake said a few talked about sharing posts on social media to speak out against injustice or joining marches or protests against gun violence.

The monograph is based upon work funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Wray-Lake sees value in publishing it during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the ways that youth can connect with others, navigate community spaces and participate in civic life.

“In this time when people are confined to their homes, we hope this work contributes to conversations about reimaging community spaces for youth that are safe, supportive and prioritize their voices,” Wray-Lake said.

She and Abrams believe the findings can lead to more-informed policies related to investing in safe spaces and community-led anti-violence initiatives for urban youth of color.

Civic empowerment was one of two key factors that influenced the level of engagement among study participants.

The other?

Feeling heard and supported by adults.

 

Paid Sick Leave a Crucial Weapon During COVID-19 Era and Beyond Global study shows that gaps in coverage for ailing workers put nations’ health and economic security at risk

By Mary Braswell

At a time when the world’s attention is focused on curbing the spread of infectious disease, new research by the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center shows that strengthening guarantees of paid sick leave is crucial to protecting health and economic security around the globe.

Just published in the journal Global Public Health, the study found that almost every country (94%) mandates some form of paid sick leave at the national level. The United States is one of 11 countries that do not.

Yet, even in nations that guarantee paid time off for illness, the analysis showed critical gaps that undermined the ability of sick workers to follow public health advice and stay home from the very first day of illness. This was true in such countries as Italy and Iran, among the hardest hit in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the study noted.

Rules that limit the duration of leave, set low rates of pay and exclude certain classes of employees put countries’ health and economic systems at risk, the study concluded. The global health emergency underscores the consequences.

‘The cost of providing paid sick leave is modest compared to the cost of reining in a pandemic.’ — Jody Heymann, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center

“The cost of providing paid sick leave is modest compared to the cost of reining in a pandemic,” said Jody Heymann, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a distinguished professor of public policy, health policy and management, and medicine at UCLA.

“This is particularly true once the more rapid spread of disease caused by workers going to work sick is factored in,” said study co-author Amy Raub, principal research analyst at WORLD. She pointed to previous studies showing that ill employees are 1.5 times more likely to go to work when they lack strong paid leave guarantees.

Heymann and Raub led the research team that analyzed government policies in all 193 U.N. member states to answer an array of questions: When do paid sick leave benefits begin and how long do they last? What is the rate of pay? Are self-employed and part-time workers covered? Are there exemptions for small businesses? The findings are based on long-term policies in place as of March 2019 and do not reflect temporary policy changes in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

“The pandemic provides a stark illustration that expanding sick leave protections to the world’s workers is urgently needed,” Raub said.

Recognizing that their paid sick leave policies left them ill-equipped to combat COVID-19, countries around the world put stronger protections in place. However, Heymann said, “these temporary changes do not ensure that countries are prepared for the next pandemic.”

“In the last 20 years, the world has battled a series of acute health emergencies,” said Heymann, citing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002, the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012, among other outbreaks. “And new and dangerous respiratory diseases are bound to emerge.”

“Well-designed paid sick leave is critical to ensure workers stay home when sick to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious pathogens — both when the economy is open and during an economic shutdown,” Raub said.

The new study found strong sick-leave policies in place in both low-income and affluent countries. In key areas, the United States’ record lagged far behind:

  • The U.S. has no permanent national sick leave policy, although some state and local governments have adopted protections.
  • Even if the nationwide emergency paid sick leave act adopted amid the coronavirus outbreak were made permanent, the U.S. would be the only country to exclude workers from the benefits based solely on the size of the business they work for.

Beyond the United States, there are critical global gaps:

  • 58% of countries do not explicitly guarantee paid sick leave to self-employed workers. This group makes up nearly half of the world’s work force, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.
  • 65% of countries — including 54% of high-income countries — do not explicitly guarantee paid sick leave to part-time workers. This gap disproportionately impacts women, who are more likely to be employed part time than men in nearly every country.

To conduct the study, the multilingual research team analyzed the full texts of labor and social security legislation, as well as other resources. For each of the 193 countries, source materials were read independently by two researchers, who then compared and reconciled their assessments.

View a fact sheet and maps illustrating key findings from this report here. Questions about the study may be directed to Erin Bresnahan at the WORLD Policy Analysis Center.

The WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA is a nonprofit policy research center that aims to improve the quantity and quality of globally comparative data on policies affecting human health, development, well-being and equity. With this data, WORLD informs policy debates and advances efforts to improve government transparency and accountability. The center’s founding director, Jody Heymann, is a distinguished professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, Luskin School of Public Affairs and David Geffen School of Medicine. She is also dean emeritus of the Fielding School.

On-the-Ground Guidance for L.A.’s Far-Reaching Climate Strategy University researchers and a robot named MaRTy complete first on-site test of city’s Cool Streets program

By Mary Braswell

Los Angeles’ ambitious plan to cool the city as the planet grows warmer is getting a boost from two university professors and a street-smart robot named MaRTy.

The researchers, from UCLA and Arizona State University, have completed the first on-site evaluation of the city’s Cool Streets program, one of several sustainability strategies outlined in Los Angeles’ 2019 Green New Deal.

By covering several blocks of road with a solar-reflective coating engineered to reduce surface temperatures, the city’s pilot program aims to test the cooling effects on an entire neighborhood. The researchers broadened the body of knowledge by collecting a sophisticated suite of measurements that simulate the experience of a pedestrian walking on the surface.

“Once you take things down to the street level, arguably you have to start thinking about the thermal load on people,” said V. Kelly Turner of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who collaborated with Ariane Middel of ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering.

The reflective coating aims to prevent asphalt from retaining heat, which contributes to the “urban heat island effect” that keeps cities from cooling down, even in the evening. But the study by Turner and Middel, newly published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, reveals an unintended, ground-level effect: The paint’s highly reflective properties can actually elevate pedestrians’ exposure to heat.

Imagine a scene that has become increasingly common as Angelenos shelter in place: families taking neighborhood walks, often with a dog in tow. On a coated road, the dog might appreciate the cooler surface beneath its paws. But the dog walkers might feel an uptick in heat reflected off the ground.

City workers apply a cooling paint on roads in Pacoima

City workers apply a cooling paint on roads in Pacoima, part of Los Angeles’ strategy to combat climate change. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services

“From an urban planning perspective, this idea of cool pavements is really innovative. Cool streets may be great for mitigating the urban heat island, if that’s the goal,” said Turner, who noted that the widespread use of the reflective paint on roofs, roads and other surfaces can reduce the amount of heat absorbed in the built environment.

However, she added, “If the goal is framed in terms of a public health benefit, we need to know a bit more, since the reflected radiation increases the heat load on a pedestrian walking over the surface.”

Turner and Middel hope their initial findings will open the door to further research that will help the public and private sectors fine-tune their green initiatives. In addition to gathering more information about cooling paint’s impact on human comfort and health, future studies could answer questions about cost-effectiveness, maintenance needs and the tradeoff between daytime glare and nighttime visibility, they said.

Putting MaRTy into action

To collect their cool pavement data, Turner and Middel took MaRTy for a spin on the streets of two Los Angeles neighborhoods chosen for the pilot project.

The robot is “essentially a garden cart that has a lot of meteorological sensors attached to it,” said Middel, who created the tool at ASU’s SHaDE Lab to calculate “mean radiant temperature” — the data set that gives MaRTy his name.

In addition to measuring surface and air temperature, wind speed and humidity, the robot collects information on long- and short-wave radiation to determine mean radiant temperature, which is a reliable predictor of thermal comfort for humans. MaRTy is also nimble enough to trundle along sidewalks, ravines or other locations where a pedestrian might wander, setting him apart from measurement tools mounted on street vehicles.

On a day in July 2019 when air temperatures hit the high 80s, the research team walked the blocks of the two neighborhoods, in Pacoima and Sun Valley, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. They found that the coated roadways were cooler to the touch, by as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with nearby untreated asphalt — meaning the paint successfully lowered surface temperature, as it was designed to.

However, Turner and Middel also discovered that mean radiant temperatures at midday were more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in a five-foot–high area above the cool surfaces, compared with asphalt. In the midafternoon, that number fell to about 3 degrees.

While Los Angeles’ Cool Streets program targets roads designed for cars rather than people, the study provides useful data for agencies considering the cooling paint for playgrounds or other pedestrian areas.

Turner and Middel say the findings will also inform their separate, ongoing study supporting California’s Transformative Climate Communities program, which invests in climate action at the local level. Both of the researchers’ projects were underwritten by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, where Turner is associate director of urban environment research.

Greg Spotts, chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services, said he welcomes the on-the-ground findings produced by Turner, Middel and MaRTy and called for further study.

“By being the first municipality in California, and possibly the country, to deploy a cool pavement coating on a public street, we now have physical sites where researchers can do some of their work. Before, most of the research was based on computer modeling,” he said.

Spotts, who earned his master’s in public policy at UCLA Luskin in 2008, spearheaded the cool pavement project as one part of a multipronged strategy to combat climate change at the neighborhood level. To date, the Bureau of Street Services has planted trees, built shade structures and installed hydration stations, among other interventions.

Future research could explore how cool pavement works in combination with these complementary measures to reduce the overall heat island effect on a community scale while also increasing pedestrian thermal comfort at the street level.

Turner and Middel concurred that climate change must be tackled from multiple directions.

“There is not just one solution that’s going to solve all our problems,” Middel said. “We have to look at the benefits and tradeoffs of all the solutions we’re considering to come up with the best way to cool our cities.”

Virtual Conference Shines Light on Women’s Transit Safety Issues New UCLA report on transit safety of college students is released during InterActions LA

By Lauren Hiller

A new UCLA study found that being a woman, identifying as LGBTQI, having a long commute, or waiting in poorly lit areas significantly increased the likelihood of being sexually harassed on public transit.

In the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Transit Safety Among University Students,” Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and researchers sought to better understand the characteristics of individuals and circumstances that increased their risk of harassment during their public transit journeys.

Professor Loukaitou-Sideris reported the findings during the Lewis Center’s April 3 InterActions LA conference, which brought together researchers, transit agencies and community activists around the topic of women’s safety in transportation.

The study surveyed 1,284 students from UCLA and the California State University campuses of Los Angeles and Northridge. According to the report, this population was chosen because university students are typically more transit-dependent than the general public, and because their young age may make them more vulnerable to victimization. Los Angeles was one of numerous cities studied as part of a global research project.

Much of the preexisting data on perceived safety and incidents of sexual harassment on transit in Los Angeles did not identify such characteristics as gender, sexuality and race. This study also uniquely delved into when in the course of a transit journey — walking to or from a station, waiting for the bus or train, or on the actual vehicle — sexual harassment occurred.

According to the study, 72% of respondents experienced some form of harassment on a bus, compared to 48% on rail, with women experiencing far more numerous instances than men. However, very few students (10%) reported the experience to either law enforcement or transit agencies. And more than half of women reported changing how they dressed or adjusting their travel patterns, such as riding only during daytime or waiting in well-lit areas.

Because women make up more than half of transit riders in the United States, Loukaitou-Sideris said it’s imperative to prioritize their safety.

“Their safety is an important concern that we need to tackle if we want to have more women riding transit and — for women who are already captive transit riders — riding transit more comfortably and without fear,” she said. “I think everyone deserves that in our transit systems.”

Safe Transit During COVID-19

The challenges that women and vulnerable populations face have only been magnified by the current COVID-19 crisis. Under statewide and local “safer at home” orders, it is frequently low-income women of color who are still traveling to work to provide essential services to the rest of the region, according to the other panelists at the InterActions event, including speakers from Pueblo Planning, Los Angeles Walks and Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles (ACT-LA).

“COVID-19 has revealed that our transit system is a lifeline,” said Mariana Huerta Jones, senior coalition and communications manager at ACT-LA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring equitable access to public transit infrastructure and funds.

During the InterActions presentation, Huerta Jones said public transit is often the only transportation option available to low-income residents working in jobs deemed essential in industries such as grocery stores, hospitals and sanitation.

Ensuring Women’s Safety

Other InterActions speakers like Monique López, founder and social justice planner at Pueblo Planning, spoke about the importance of including the voices of marginalized communities when crafting policy recommendations. And Daisy Villafuerte, advocacy and engagement manager from Los Angeles Walks, discussed grassroots efforts to improve transit experiences.

Presenting the next steps from LA Metro’s recent “Understanding How Women Travel” report, Meghna Khanna, senior director of the Countywide Planning and Development Department, and her team found that safety is still the biggest concern and barrier to riding transit for all women riders. While 60% of women felt safe traveling on Metro during the day, that number decreased to 20% at night.

Khanna and her team at LA Metro found that women frequently mentioned increased police presence as a solution that would help them feel safer on transit; however, not all transit riders agree.

“For many people of our community, more police doesn’t mean more safety. It can actually mean the opposite. It can mean racial profiling, harassment, criminalizing of poor or houseless individuals,” Huerta Jones said.

Solutions beyond policing — such as increased service frequency, improved cleanliness around stations, and the presence of non-police transit ambassadors — are just first steps in ensuring women can use transit without fear.

View a video about transit safety:

Opinions About Quality of Life in L.A. Vary Sharply Across Generations Annual UCLA survey finds less optimism among young and economically stressed residents

By Les Dunseith

Residents felt slightly better than last year about life in Los Angeles County, according to UCLA’s fifth annual Quality of Life Index, which was conducted just as the coronavirus crisis descended on the region last month. Ratings increased in all categories, with the exception of the two most directly affected by the pandemic — health, and jobs and the economy.

The overall quality-of-life rating rose from 56 to 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100) in the survey, released April 23 by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Responses varied dramatically by age and household income, however. The survey took place between March 18 and 26, which coincided with the implementation of strict social distancing measures in the county and state.

“The slight increase in county residents’ satisfaction may be more of a reflection of the past year’s quality of life than of the new reality with which we have all been living for the last six weeks,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “Since then, we have been in uncharted territory, which we will be able to better measure in the months ahead.”

The onset of the COVID-19 crisis may have contributed to a sharp increase in how important health was to respondents when compared with the other survey categories. Sixty-five percent said health was of high importance in rating their quality of life, an 8% increase over the 2019 survey. This was second in importance only to the cost-of-living category, which has been the most salient category of the Quality of Life Index, or QLI, since its inception in 2016.

A telling takeaway from this year’s survey is a growing generational and economic divide among county residents. Respondents were asked whether Los Angeles is a place where people who work hard can get ahead. While 41% answered yes, a majority of 55% said no. That pessimistic outlook was held by 64% of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 62% of those living in households with annual incomes of less than $60,000.

Housing and the fear of homelessness also remain priority issues for county residents. When asked whether they are worried about losing their home and becoming homeless as a result, 31% of respondents answered yes, an increase of 9% over last year. Thirty-nine percent of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 48% of those with household incomes of less than $60,000 said they were worried.

“The notion that nearly 2 out of 3 younger and lower-income earners increasingly believe they are at an economic dead-end is a most distressing finding in our survey,” Yaroslavsky said. “When nearly 4 out of 10 young and economically stressed Angelenos go to bed each night worrying about becoming homeless, we are all diminished. This is a troubling trend that continues to plague our society.”

The QLI is a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment. Researchers ask a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results are being released April 23 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is being held virtually this year because of the ongoing health crisis. The host of that session is Adrienne Alpert of ABC7 in Los Angeles, where she is a reporter and host of a public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.”

As in previous years, the 2020 QLI’s categories fell into three distinct tiers in terms of respondents’ level of satisfaction: a bottom tier including cost of living (45), education (50) and transportation and traffic (53); a middle tier including the environment (58), jobs and the economy (59), and public safety (64); and a top tier including health care (69), race relations (71) and neighborhood quality (71).

Overall satisfaction with quality of life rose across all age groups in the 2020 survey. Those aged 40 to 49 matched the index’s average score of 58, but those aged 39 and younger gave a rating of 54. Those older than 50 gave a 61 rating, a significant increase over last year. Older respondents are generally more satisfied with their financial security in retirement, while younger residents are less secure and more concerned.

Other key findings

  • The results of questions directly related to the coronavirus were released publicly on April 8. County residents expressed high concern over the virus’s impact on their health (79%) and economic situation (82%). In addition, 61% gave local public health officials high marks for their response to the pandemic, compared with 39% for federal officials.
  • Almost two-thirds of people surveyed (63%) favor building housing in their neighborhoods to help transition people out of homelessness, as long as the housing includes access to medical and social services and has on-site security.
  • Sixty-two percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. A majority of respondents (53%) had a favorable opinion of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but less than one-third (31%) had a favorable view of Sheriff Alex Villanueva, while 34% said they had no opinion and 13% had never heard of Villanueva.
  • Roughly 4 in 5 respondents (79%) expressed satisfaction with race relations in the county, and this strongly positive opinion was reflected across all demographic groups in the survey: Latinos (80%), whites (81%), Asians (77%) and African Americans (77%).

“One year from now, we will be living in a different world,” Yaroslavsky said. “In the past, Los Angeles has faced and overcome great challenges, but we are now in the midst of a crisis we could have never imagined. Next year, we will certainly know more about the extent of our region’s resilience.”

The 2020 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of 1,503 county residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of ­­plus or minus 2.5%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

 

View a PowerPoint presentation about the 2020 L.A. County Quality of Life Index

 

View additional information about this year’s study and previous studies housed at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies

UCLA Researchers Lead Coronavirus Transportation Response Research projects related to the health crisis will be fast-tracked for funding by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies and partners

By Claudia Bustamante

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies will fast-track funding for research projects related to COVID-19 and its effects on public health, the economy and transportation, with those submissions due by April 19 and funding to be dispersed by June.

As part of its research goals for the next fiscal year, UCLA ITS and sister institutes at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Irvine pivoted priorities to investigate the effect of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 on transportation in the United States. This quick adjustment will allow researchers across the University of California system to collaborate and harness their collective expertise in transportation engineering, planning and policy.

Transportation and transit use have rapidly shifted in the country due to social distancing recommendations, shelter-in-place restrictions, quarantines and other mitigation efforts meant to slow the spread of the virus.

The collective UC Institute of Transportation Studies will prioritize research projects:

  • looking into the response to the public health emergency, including the mobility needs of essential workers and vital goods;
  • the capacity of both the private and public sectors to meet transportation needs during the crisis;
  • the substitution of technology-enabled access for mobility in response to movement limitations.

It will also fund projects focused on the recovery of transportation services and systems when this public health emergency ebbs, including coping with the backlog of goods and people movement.

Brian Taylor, chair of UC ITS, said the California Legislature and executive branches, as well as regional and local governments and agencies, have come to rely on the statewide institute’s expertise and assistance in times of need.

“We aim to produce research that meaningfully informs public officials in making critical, and sometimes difficult, decisions about California’s transportation systems,” he said. “Now more than ever, UC ITS is committed to supporting the state with data and research to help it respond to and recover from the effects of this terrible pandemic in the weeks, months and years ahead.”

Taylor also serves as director of the UCLA branch and a professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Established by the California Legislature in 1947, UC ITS funds about 50 research projects a year that cover a wide variety of topics, including congestion management, performance evaluation for state transportation programs and policies, climate change mitigation strategies, micromobility like scooters and bike share, among others. Over the past 25 years, the four ITS branches collectively have formed one of the world’s preeminent university transportation research centers.

The institute’s annual research program will divvy up about $800,000 among projects tied to state-established priorities, including the COVID-19 response and other topics related to transportation and housing, transportation equity, innovative mobility, travel behavior, aviation, safety, and active transportation.

More information about the COVID-19 response and recovery solicitation is available here.

What the Ebola Outbreak Could Teach Us About How to Contain the Novel Coronavirus New study underscores the importance of public engagement and trust during health crises

A new research paper examining the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in Africa could hold crucial insights for policymakers grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic — namely, the importance of public engagement and trust during health crises.

The study, co-authored by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Darin Christensen of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, shows that where people lack confidence in their health providers, they are less likely to seek testing and treatment when they feel sick. This stymies efforts to identify, treat and isolate infected patients to limit further contagion.

By the end of the Ebola outbreak in early 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were more than 28,000 cases of the disease in West Africa — with roughly half coming from Sierra Leone. Simple interventions that encouraged people to seek treatment increased reporting of Ebola cases by 60%, which the authors estimate reduced the virus’ reproduction rate by 19%.

‘Strengthening ties between health providers and the communities they serve could bolster containment efforts as the current pandemic spreads to poorer countries,’ researcher Darin Christensen says.

“The epidemic generated tremendous fear, and families faced tough choices about whether to care for loved ones at home or report to clinics for testing and, if needed, isolation,” said Christensen, a political economist who holds a joint appointment with UCLA’s department of political science. “That choice may seem obvious in a rich country. But in poorer countries, like Sierra Leone, citizens often have little confidence that health providers will treat them with compassion or deliver effective care. Interventions that build that trust encourage timely testing — exactly what was needed to contain Ebola and, now, COVID-19.”

Conducted across 254 government-run health clinics covering approximately 1 million people — more than 15% of Sierra Leone’s population — the research tested the effects of two interventions aimed at increasing public involvement with, and trust in, the country’s health system.

Under the first intervention, community members participated in meetings with local health clinics, and articulated complaints and suggestions designed to improve health services.

The clinic staff also shared public health advice with community members, like encouraging women to come into the clinic to give birth. This experiment turned patients into “accountability agents who hold health system actors to account,” according to the paper.

The other intervention was an incentive program that gave out awards to health care workers at clinics that were doing a good job of providing services. The intent was to motivate providers to encourage their clinics to provide a higher quality of care.

The study found that these accountability interventions prior to the Ebola outbreak spurred a vast increase in testing and the reporting of Ebola cases — including those who tested both positive and negative for the virus. The reporting did not reflect higher rates of disease in the areas that benefited from the interventions. The higher rates of testing resulted in more effective containment, and ultimately, there were 30% fewer deaths among Ebola patients in the areas that benefited from the interventions.

As governments, particularly in less-developed countries, seek to contain the spread of COVID-19, “there has rightfully been a lot of focus on the test kits and other equipment needed to fight this virus,” Christensen said. “But it’s also important to think about how we encourage people to change their behavior — to get tested, to self-quarantine. Our research suggests that strengthening ties between health providers and the communities they serve could bolster containment efforts as the current pandemic spreads to poorer countries.

“Many governments don’t have the capacity or mandate to enforce strict restrictions on travel or gatherings,” Christensen concluded. “They must appeal to their citizens to voluntarily change behavior. The Ebola epidemic demonstrates that public engagement and confidence help determine whether people heed those calls.”

The study was co-authored by Christensen and Oeindrila Dube of the University of Chicago, Johannes Haushofer of Princeton University, Bilal Siddiqi of UC Berkeley and the Center for Effective Global Action, and Maarten Voors of Wageningen University. The research team also has a forthcoming companion piece that underscores the effectiveness of crisis-response measures that emphasize community engagement.

 

Study Identifies Underperforming Water Systems in L.A. County Report and policy guide provide full picture of more than 200 water systems, plus a look at regionwide trends and disparities

By Colleen Callahan

A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) found significant disparities in the quality, affordability and accessibility of water across Los Angeles County. However, the number of health-related water-quality violations in the county is quite low compared to other parts of Southern California, the researchers concluded.

The study evaluated the county’s more than 200 water systems and compared current data to findings published in LCI’s 2015 water atlas. The progress report flags interventions that may be necessary to continue improvements and address persistent problems. Los Angeles County is working with state and federal agencies to respond to several systems that incurred repeated water-quality violations.

A 2012 state law (Assembly Bill 685) establishes that all Californians have the right to safe, affordable and accessible water – referred to as the “human right to water.” Yet this right is not a reality for everyone in L.A. County, due primarily to differences in community water systems that directly provide water to residents and businesses.

“The goal is to give systems operators, regulators and residents the most current and comprehensive picture of water system performance in order to identify what systems are in need of interventions,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of LCI and lead author on the report. “Despite momentum, urgent attention is needed to address water system problems.” Pierce also teaches urban planning at UCLA Luskin.

System performance overview 
While most systems in L.A. County provide sufficient levels of safe and affordable water to their customers, many small systems – particularly mobile home parks, RV parks and mutual water systems – are most at risk for having technical, managerial and financial challenges that lead to poor outcomes related to quality, affordability and accessibility.

Governance trends
There are fewer active community water systems today than five years ago. The reduction of apparently 10% of systems in L.A. County suggests that some have consolidated, which reflects progress in reducing water system sprawl that results in many small, low-capacity systems at higher risk of un­derperformance.

Quality trends
Compared to other counties in Southern California, the number of health-related water-quality violations in L.A. County is low, particularly on a per capita basis.

Affordability trends
The report found great disparity in how much residents pay for water across systems. For an amount of water sufficient for a family of four, rates today range from $26 to $134 per month.

Accessibility trends
Few systems report producing less than the standard set in the “human right to water” legislation — 55 gallons per person per day. However, systems in San­ta Clarita and Antelope Valley were most likely to face declining groundwater levels. Increasing population, changing precipitation patterns under climate change and other factors pose challenges.

“In addition to the state’s efforts, more regional, local and system-level work will be necessary to ensure the human right to water for all,” said Kyra Gmoser-Daskalakis, a researcher at LCI and co-author of the report.

UCLA Luskin Research Informs State’s Water Affordability Actions Effort for California Legislature represents the first statewide picture of California’s water affordability challenges

By Stan Paul

Researchers at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation helped develop and inform recommendations for a report released this week by the California State Water Resources Board aimed at establishing a statewide low-income rate assistance program for water.

The report was requested from the Water Board, within the California Environmental Protection Agency, by the California State Legislature via AB 401, which passed in 2015.

In creating the report, Water Board staff worked with UCLA lead investigator and author Gregory Pierce and Center for Innovation (LCI) colleagues Nicholas Chow, J.R. DeShazo and Kyra Gmoser-Daskalakis.

“We gathered and analyzed data on water rates, household incomes, and other low-income assistance programs to create the first statewide picture of California’s water affordability challenges,” said Pierce, LCI associate director and senior researcher for the center’s Water, Environmental Equity and Transportation programs.

To date no federal government or state has developed or administered a water rate assistance program, added Pierce, who is also an adjunct assistant professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In California, about 13 million people (34%) live in households with income under 200% of the federal poverty level ($50,200 for a family of four in 2018). At the same time, retail cost of water has risen over the past decade and will continue to rise, while low-income households continue to struggle, according to the report. Among several reasons offered to support a statewide water affordability program include the fact that the majority of the state’s more than 3,000 water systems are too small to support low-income programs by themselves.

“Through research, we are broadly supporting efforts to implement policy to make the human right to water a reality,” said Pierce, explaining that affordability is one of three dimensions of the human right to water, which also includes quality and accessibility.

Recommended in the report is a three-part strategy to comprehensively address water affordability for low-income Californians, including those who pay indirectly through rent. The recommendations are: a direct water bill credit, a renter’s water credit, and water crisis assistance.

If implemented in full by lawmakers, the effort is expected to cost about $600 million in the first year. This would include administrative expenses as well as billing modifications.

The report also identifies possible revenue sources, including tax increases, which would require a two-thirds approval by the state legislature or voter approval via a ballot initiative.

UCLA Study on Plastic Waste in L.A. County Will Inform Ordinance Research shows that recycling is not a panacea for plastic waste problem and finds that reusable alternatives can be cost-effective

By Colleen Callahan

A new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) that highlights impacts of plastic production and waste in Los Angeles County will benefit the county in drafting an ordinance addressing plastic waste.

“One of the findings from the report that may surprise Angelenos is that a majority of plastic waste in L.A. County is not currently recycled,” said Gary Gero, the county’s chief sustainability officer. “This is just part of the problem behind the environmental, economic, energy and human-health-related impacts associated with plastic production and waste in L.A. County, which this study clearly reveals.”

The report also analyzes alternative options in food service and singles out single-use plastic food service waste for its outsized representation in litter and its low recycling potential. No facility in L.A. County currently recycles plastic food service ware because of concerns about food contamination and other issues. After a policy change from China in 2018 to limit recyclable waste materials accepted by that country, only #1 and #2 plastics are commonly recycled.

“Fortunately, there are alternatives to plastic containers, cups, straws and ‘sporks’ that make practical and economic sense,” said JR DeShazo, the principal investigator on the study and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “Solutions are on hand, as the report makes abundantly clear.”

Researchers found that compostable ware can reduce environmental impacts as compared to plastic. But the report also explains that a full transition to compostable ware across the region would need to be approached carefully.

For one, it would require an expansion of the currently limited composting infrastructure in L.A. County. Fortunately, state regulations are in place to mandate this expansion over the next few years and the county is actively working toward meeting those state targets. In addition, a larger transition to compostable ware would require thoughtful consideration of materials in order to select products with a lower lifetime environmental impact as compared to plastic. Compostable products that are 100% fiber-based without chemical treatment produce the best environmental outcome.

No disposable ware can beat the environmental footprint of reusable food service ware, researchers found. Moving to reusables in place of disposables represents a large shift for many food vendors, with higher up-front costs but lower expenditures over time.

The fiscal break-even point for businesses can generally occur within the first year of transition, with direct cost savings for businesses afterward totaling thousands of dollars per year, according to the study.

“It was heartening to see the conclusions related to economic impacts of moving our businesses to more sustainable materials,” Gero said. “It’s also relatively easy for us, as individuals, to do something about it — like bringing our own cups, straws and utensils when we dine at a fast-service type of restaurant.”

In California, 135 cities and counties have adopted ordinances related to single-use plastic reduction. Researchers interviewed officials from eight of those cities, mostly in L.A. County.

The experiences of these jurisdictions indicate that policies restricting plastics have been effective at reducing the adverse impacts of plastic waste with no reported negative economic impacts. These jurisdictions have provided avenues for vendors to claim exemptions for financial hardship, but the rate at which vendors have applied for such exemptions is very low, the study notes.

The Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office commissioned the study, per a motion by county supervisors directing the office to contract with UCLA to study the issue of plastic waste, processing, recyclability and alternatives in the county. The motion came after supervisors earlier in 2019 approved the OurCounty Sustainability Plan, a comprehensive approach to help L.A. County transition to a more sustainable future through actions that include plastic waste reduction.  The county plans to release its draft ordinance later in 2020.