Creating ‘Home’ in a City of Renters Panel discussion at UCLA Luskin highlights L.A. rental protections

Amid California’s ongoing housing and affordability crisis, numerous efforts are underway to protect tenants. But, they’re only as good as the enforcement behind them, as was made clear at a recent UCLA Luskin event.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed various tenant protections into law, including establishing statewide rent stabilization and just-cause eviction protections, and prohibiting discrimination against tenants with housing vouchers. Locally, other proposals like a right to counsel are being considered.

At the same time, numerous reports of landlords scurrying to evict tenants or drastically raise their rents before the new law goes into effect Jan. 1 have prompted cities across the state to enact emergency moratoriums.

Evictions, tenant protections and enforcement were among the topics at the Nov. 20 event designed to highlight the state’s persistent problem. “Eviction and Code Enforcement: Making Rental Housing ‘Home’” was part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series co-hosted by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Ziman Center for Real Estate.

Speakers included Michael Lens, associate faculty director at the Lewis Center, Chancela Al-Mansour, executive director of Housing Rights Center, and chief inspector Robert Galardi with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department which oversees multifamily rental units.

Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, said academic research into evictions has not kept pace with community activists.

“This is an area in which advocates and tenants’ rights groups have been working, agitating and talking about the plight of people who have been displaced from their homes for a very long time,” he said.

Part of the reason academia might be behind is that eviction data are hard to come by. “Data is spotty and incomplete. We have some very specific data on evictions that doesn’t give you every type of eviction,” Lens said.

In a forthcoming research paper, Lens and his team reviewed more than 700,000 court-based eviction cases in Southern California between 2005 and 2015 to ascertain what types of neighborhoods see more evictions. They found that neighborhoods with higher populations of African Americans and higher poverty rates saw high rates of eviction.

A separate study currently underway is focusing on two types of evictions in Los Angeles — court-based evictions and no-fault, otherwise known as Ellis Act eviction petitions.

The L.A. study has not produced as consistent a story because Ellis Act evictions are harder to predict, Lens said. Regardless, city and county officials should be monitoring these data on a regular basis to focus on what neighborhoods are seeing growth in evictions, he added.

Al-Mansour of Housing Rights Center helped the audience to understand the human impact of these evictions.

She shared the story of an African American client who had been using Section 8 vouchers for housing for 20 years in South LA. When new owners took over the building, they issued a 90-day eviction notice to everyone using the vouchers. It took her client longer than anticipated to find someplace that would accept her voucher, but she lost her new unit when the paperwork failed to arrive after being mistakenly sent to the old address. She quickly went from living in her car to living on the streets and suffering abuse.

“She’s now suffering from severe mental trauma and will be very, very hard to house,” Al-Mansour said. “If this law would have been in effect 18 months earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Al-Mansour also shared information about various rights held by tenants, including a right to withhold rent to ensure habitable premises. She also discussed a variety of landlord disclosure laws that could nullify a rental contract when violated.

“Oftentimes, people don’t know their rights; they just know something is wrong,” she said, adding that those in the audience should be ambassadors and share what they’re learning with their neighbors and communities.

Los Angeles, where 70% of people rent, has one of the strongest code enforcement programs. Unlike other cities, L.A. enforces penalties against owners for citations and violations.

Started in 1997, the city’s code enforcement program proactively inspects all multifamily rental units in the city every few years.

Galardi gave an overview of the city’s inspection program, which is housed in the Housing and Community Investment Department. More than 100,000 rental properties comprise about 850,000 multifamily rental units in the city. The program’s goal is to inspect each unit once every four years, but the department looks more often at some high-risk units that have had issues and citations during previous inspections, Galardi said.

“The benefit of this program for tenants is that this is a proactive inspection,” Galardi said. “That takes the burden off the tenant in terms of [fear of] retaliation, which is a big concern for renters in the city.”

Code enforcement also builds in follow-up visits to ensure that necessary repairs are addressed by landlords.

As a mechanism of tenant protection, Galardi said code enforcement inspectors are the “boots on the ground going to the units” and raising awareness among tenants about their rights.

To view a recording of the event, visit the Lewis Center’s YouTube page.

View additional photos on the UCLA Luskin Flickr channel:

 

Housing, Equity and Community Series

An Outdoor Oasis for Angelenos in Their Golden Years A Westlake park designed for older adults brings UCLA Luskin research to life

By Mary Braswell

At Los Angeles’ new Golden Age Park, garden beds are raised far above ground so that visitors can tend to flowers and vegetables without stooping down.

Lawns, pathways and exercise areas are laid out on one seamless plane — a stumble-proof surface for those who move about with canes, walkers and wheelchairs.

Once a vacant lot, this tranquil green space was designed with older adults in mind — the culmination of research spearheaded by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“It’s a little oasis in the city, less than a third of an acre,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who launched the study of senior-friendly open spaces that would eventually evolve into a blueprint for Golden Age Park.

Expanding knowledge to bring real change to people’s lives is a core part of UCLA Luskin’s mission. But researchers rarely see their ideas brought to life so vividly, Loukaitou-Sideris’ team agreed.

At Golden Age Park, visitors can stroll along circular walkways, build strength and balance on low-impact exercise machines, practice their gardening skills, or simply rest in areas designed for socializing or solitude. Shade trees, roses and purple sage create a pocket of nature on a street lined with apartment buildings.

The park’s architects relied on a toolkit called “Placemaking for an Aging Population” that was created by Loukaitou-Sideris’ team of urban designers, planners and gerontologists. The guidelines were shaped by case studies from around the world as well as input from older adults just around the corner.

The team reached out to St. Barnabas Senior Center, which serves the largely low-income and minority residents of Los Angeles’ Westlake neighborhood, just west of downtown. In focus groups conducted in Spanish, Korean and English, St. Barnabas regulars said they did not feel comfortable going to nearby MacArthur Park but would welcome a safe and accessible outdoor space geared toward their age group.

Loukaitou-Sideris’ team also partnered with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a nonprofit devoted to increasing access to parks and gardens, particularly in communities of color. The group had been eyeing a lot at 739 S. Coronado St. — just a three-minute walk from St. Barnabas — hoping to convert it into a park.

With support from numerous foundations, government agencies and neighborhood partners, the trust purchased the lot, which had sat vacant for nearly 30 years. And with guidance from Loukaitou-Sideris’ team, Golden Age Park came to life.

“This is a model for how to work with local universities and thought leaders to put research into practice,” said Chandelle Wiebe, director of development and communications for the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.

Shortly after its November grand opening, Loukaitou-Sideris visited the park with other members of her research team: Lené Levy-Storms, associate professor of social welfare and geriatric medicine; Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and Lia Marshall, a doctoral candidate in social welfare.

Loukaitou-Sideris recalled the inspiration for the study. “It all started in Taiwan,” where years earlier she had visited a park crowded with older adults enjoying the benefits of outdoor recreation. In the United States, by contrast, many parks are constructed with children in mind, and the over-65 population often feels unwelcome.

“I had been doing this work on parks,” she said. “But I am not a gerontologist.”

“And I had never built a park,” said Levy-Storms, whose research in gerontology focuses on intergenerational communication.

The two created the team that applied for a grant, conducted interviews, studied park accessibility in other cultures and eventually produced the toolkit for senior-friendly open spaces, which has been honored by the American Planning Association.

“This park is so reflective of our research because it brings together urban design, planning and gerontology,” Brozen said as she and her colleagues admired the age-appropriate features of Golden Age Park:

  • Pathways form a loop lined with distinctive landmarks to guide those who sometimes lose their way.
  • A sloped ramp, elliptical trainer and tai chi wheel offer opportunities for a low-impact workout.
  • High fences and a clear sight line to the street provide a sense of security.
  • Seating areas made of temperature-sensitive materials include benches with arms for those who need to steady themselves as they sit or stand.
  • A children’s play area welcomes park-goers who would like to bring younger relatives along.
  • The raised gardens invite visitors to plant and prune without having to bend.

Some of the St. Barnabas seniors said they hope the park becomes a community treasure, a place where all generations can come together to make friends, learn other languages and share the vegetables grown in the garden.

And the park is welcomed by its neighbors. At the grand opening, “a woman from the apartment complex next door was very vocal about loving this park,” said Marshall, who also lives in the neighborhood. “She said she was going to be looking out for it.”

View more photos of Golden Age Park on Flickr.

Golden Age Park

A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019

Powerful Latinas From 5 States Offer Inside View of Politics Legislators from the southwestern U.S. provide insight during a panel discussion hosted by UCLA Luskin

By Les Dunseith

In an era when politics often seems to consist of partisan bickering and legislative stonewalling, it may seem that nothing of importance is happening in government. But a recent panel discussion hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative showed that real impact is still being made in many statehouses. And the growing prominence of Latina elected officials is a big reason why.

Latina legislative leaders from five states in the southwestern United States — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico — traveled to LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles to participate in a panel discussion.

“Tonight is a special evening for us,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the initiative, which is based at UCLA Luskin, in her opening remarks. “This is actually a rare time where Latinas are going to be over-represented on stage.”

Jennifer Medina, a national correspondent for the New York Times, led the questioning of the panel of state senators. She began by asking the panelists, who are all Democrats, to reflect on what has changed in recent years to make it possible for more women of color like themselves to win elected office.

The panel cited changing demographics and the backlash against unpopular efforts by conservative lawmakers to crack down on illegal immigration as keys to mobilizing opposition in states such as California and Arizona. But Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of New Mexico cited a third reason for a recent surge in minority officeholders.

“A big trigger for the change — and it’s a dramatic change and it’s happening now — was the election of this president,” she said.

The desire to mobilize the Latino electorate to help oust Donald Trump from the White House in 2020 was a recurring theme of the panel discussion.

“The federal government is like a dumpster fire right now. Congress is broken,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales of Colorado. “So there has been a tremendous amount of responsibility that has fallen to us in the states to be able to actually show what governance looks like.”

Unlike the other four panelists, Sen. Rebecca Rios of Arizona holds elected office in a state that is controlled by Republicans. She says the GOP’s dominance of political races there has been gradually eroding.

 Arizona’s going to be pivotal in the 2020 presidential race. No doubt about it,” Rios told the crowd of about 200 people at the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative event. Trump’s margin of victory in her state was less than 4% in 2016, and “there is a massive effort by nonprofits and [Democrats] to energize our base and register people of color to vote in 2020.”

There are no shortcuts to building political success, the candidates said. It takes time, effort and experience.

“What I’ve learned my whole life, as a union organizer, was you have got to have a base … that’s mobilized and that’s continuously pressing the issues forward,” said California Sen. María Elena Durazo, who said she feels a responsibility “to vote the right way” on issues of importance to Latinos.

Pushing legislation of importance to Latinos, which some people call identity politics, can be tricky for elected officials to navigate. Their political views can be misconstrued or mislabeled. In the view of Nevada Sen. Yvanna Cancela, it’s important to talk about race, gender and minority representation in inclusive ways that bring people in rather than pushing them away.

“The constitutions of our states were written at a time where people who look like us didn’t have representation,” Cancela said, motioning to her fellow Latinas. “They are not systems designed for people like us to operate in, and have power in. And to fundamentally change those systems, we need our teams to be as big as possible.”

The panel noted time and again the importance of seeing all issues as important to Latino communities while highlighting a few issues they see as critical to Latinos and women.

“There are still so many hard-working people who are just poor and, you know, have to live bunched up in a small apartment,” said Durazo, who emphatically underscored poverty during the panel. “Those are outrageous things. That should be the Latino agenda. That’s what we should all be on the same side of fighting for.”

Others highlighted education and climate change, noting these issues are being championed in the Latino community.

Sedillo Lopez, the state senator from New Mexico, said she has seen growing agreement that elected officials should take action because of global warming and the environment “and what it means for our children.”

“[It’s] women and Latinas who are bringing this to the forefront,” she said. “And that’s why we need to be elected. We need to express ourselves with our very, very powerful voices.”

Medina closed out the panel by asking the panelists: “What’s keeping you up at night?”

Cancela answered quickly, drawing laughs: “Donald Trump’s Twitter account keeps me up at night.”

Gonzales is focusing on championing legislation in Colorado, but “as I head into this next legislative session, it will be, ‘What can I do differently?’” she said. “Can I do work that will have a concrete impact on people’s daily lives?”

Rios said the ongoing immigration crisis is never far from her thoughts. “What has made me cry is the reality that we’re tearing families apart, that we have children that are literally languishing without parents and with no idea what’s happening to them.”

But, ending on a hopeful note, Rios noted that her position of influence helps to create space for others, particularly the children who visit her office.

“This is my opportunity, hopefully, to engage these children — to let them know, ‘This is your Senate. You belong here,’” Rios said. “If I can do nothing else but make our children, our people, recognize that they belong and that we need them in positions of power, making decisions that are going to affect them and their families and our communities, then I’ve done my job.”

View images from the event on Flickr:

LPPI Latina Politics Panel

Mark S. KaplanUCLA Luskin

Social Work Journal Tackles Firearm Violence in Special Issue Professor Mark Kaplan of UCLA Luskin sees latest issue of Health & Social Work as a call to action for social workers and the profession to address a national epidemic

By Stan Paul

A new special edition of a social work journal focuses on gun violence in part because of guidance provided by Mark Kaplan, professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin.

Kaplan was part of an editorial team of social work scholars from throughout the United States who bring together research on various aspects of firearm violence in the November edition of Health & Social Work, which is published by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Press and Oxford University Press.

He said that the special edition was meant to spark serious discussion and serve as “a call to action to people to begin thinking of this as a major challenge in professional circles.”

Kaplan, who uses population data to understand suicide risk factors among veterans, seniors and other vulnerable populations, joined colleagues in contributing articles to the publication. Kaplan’s contributions were co-authored with UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Ph.D. students Amelia Cromwell Mueller-Williams and Carol Leung, along with Ziming Xuan, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Health.

According to an editor’s note about the special issue, “The field of social work has an obligation to address significant issues affecting clients and communities, including the outstanding issues of gun violence in the United States.”

Firearm violence in the United States is considered a public health crisis, and statistics cited in connection to the special issue paint a sobering picture.

Almost 40,000 people — about 60 percent from suicide — die annually. A large proportion of those dying are young people, the editors noted in their call for papers. Not all populations are affected equally — African American men make up the majority of firearm homicides.

The special issue also looks at the stress faced by people who survive shootings, pointing out that many live with chronic effects from their injuries. Gun violence affects immediate victims plus their families and communities.

Kaplan serves on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And he is a scientific advisor to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Given the alarming rates of gun deaths in this country, the time seems right for social workers to address this issue in a more comprehensive way,” said co-editor Mickey Sperlich, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work. The volume’s other co-editors are Patricia Logan-Greene, also an associate professor at the University of Buffalo, and Karen Slovak, who serves on the faculty of the School of Social Work at Capella University in Minneapolis.

Although recent mass shootings across the country have heightened public awareness and concern, policy action and research remain obstructed at the federal and state levels by strong opposition from national anti-gun-regulation groups, according to the editors. They note that some professional organizations have responded to this crisis by issuing comprehensive policy statements and practice guidelines for frontline workers, but little guidance exists for social work practice.

Contributors to the special edition delve into the relationship of firearm violence to race, gender and geography, as well as a less-publicized aspect — suicide.

Articles focus on the impact of firearm safety legislation on homicide rates and data that show differences in effectiveness for black and white populations. Another article looks at how fear of crime and racial bias influence gun ownership, especially for white people. A literature review of gun violence published in social work journals since the 1990s identifies the strengths and weaknesses of existing scholarship. Another literature review of community-based gun violence interventions suggests the value of systems-based approaches.

An article by Kaplan and his co-authors looks at the effects of firearm control policies on suicide rates for men, a “hidden epidemic” that accounts for the majority of deaths — not only of suicides but all gun-related deaths nationwide.

“One of the things we tried to do with the hidden epidemic paper was to even dig deeper and show that suicides involving firearms are even more hidden than other forms of gun violence, which often get most of the attention,” Kaplan said. “Most gun deaths in the country are suicides.”

At one level, the more guns in a community and the more guns in a state, the greater the age-adjusted firearm suicide rate, according to the article. “There are policy levers that we identified,” Kaplan explained. “So this is an epidemic that may be amenable to policies that would restrict people’s access, population-level access, to guns.”

In a “Viewpoint” article, Kaplan writes that “evidence suggests firearm-means restriction and firearm-suicide prevention represent gaps in social work education and practice, offering opportunities for universities and continuing education programs.” By increasing knowledge in this area, social workers can effectively engage their communities and advocate for stricter firearms laws. When enacted statewide, such laws lead to decreased numbers of firearm suicides.

A “Practice Forum” in the volume describes how social workers who were already engaged in a community-violence-prevention initiative responded to local outrage over the shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man and father of five who was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police in 2016.

“Social workers have an important role to play in supporting communities to heal and promoting community health in the aftermath of gun violence and trauma,” the authors conclude.

“Hopefully, it’s the start of a conversation that people will have about resorting to means that are more policy-oriented approaches,” Kaplan said. But he cautioned, “This is not a problem that will be resolved or addressed adequately on a one-by-one individual level. This is a much larger problem that needs to be addressed in a more upstream, universal way.”

For more information on the special edition of Health and Social Work and to access the articles, visit Oxford University Press (Oxford Academic) or NASW Press.

How America Became ‘the World’s Largest Jailer’ James Forman Jr. traces the rise of 'warrior policing' in a UCLA Luskin Lecture centering on his Pulitzer-winning book

By Mary Braswell

For more than three decades, the United States has imprisoned its people at a higher rate than any other nation, so Yale University law professor James Forman Jr. understands how individuals might feel powerless to change that reality.

“When we look at something as awful as the largest prison system in the world, it can be easy to think about it as somebody else’s problem to solve,” Forman said during a Nov. 7 UCLA Luskin Lecture at the California African American Museum. “But we all have to think about what we can do individually and then collectively in response.”

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, former public defender and co-founder of an alternative school for incarcerated youth shared insights into the complicated evolution of U.S. criminal justice over the last half-century. Key turning points came in the 1960s and 1980s, when heroin and crack epidemics devastated communities of color and led to an era of “warrior policing,” he said.

Forman urged the audience to take tangible steps to turn the tide. Vote. Don’t skip out on jury duty. Find the time and energy to work for a cause close to your heart.

His appearance as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series wove historical research with stories of his childhood as the son of civil rights pioneers, an interracial couple at a time when such marriages were illegal in much of the country.

“The notion that we would be critical or skeptical of government authority that was purporting to act in the name of public safety but was actually harming people is something that I just grew up on,” Forman said.

He has spent much of his career investigating how the United States “earned the dishonor of being the world’s largest jailer.” Part of the answer, he found, lies in grave missteps by African American leaders with the best of intentions — the subject of his acclaimed 2017 book, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”

Forman found that African Americans who came to power during the drug wars of decades past did not have adequate resources to protect their communities and became over-reliant on police, prosecutors and aggressive tactics.

“We were passing the same laws, the same stop-and-frisk, the same mandatory minimums, the same school-to-prison pipeline. And we were getting the same results,” he said.

Then and now, actions of officials at the local level have enduring consequences, he said.

“It’s crucial that we look at the small steps, the hidden steps, the often invisible steps, some of them made by well-intentioned people,” he said. “Those individual decisions are the bricks that collectively have built the prison nation that America has become.”

Mass incarceration is fundamentally a local issue, Forman said, noting that 88 percent of prisoners in the country are in state, county and local prisons and jails.

“California and Texas together, just two states, have more people incarcerated than the entire federal government,” he said. “Los Angeles County all by itself is responsible for one-third of the people who are incarcerated in the state of California.

“So where we sit right now, this is ground zero in the fight against mass incarceration because this is one of the most incarcerated counties in one of the most incarcerated states in the most incarcerated country in the world. So we have some work to do right here in Los Angeles.”

Forman called on the audience to turn out for March elections for Los Angeles County district attorney, pointing to a trend he has seen over the last five years: In city after city, a new generation of progressive prosecutors has been voted into office, he said.

And he urged those present to understand their own power to bring about change. “For most of us we need to start where we live, we need to start with what we love,” he said.

For Forman, that means eradicating the “education deserts” found inside the criminal justice system. In 1997, he helped launch the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, which is now housed inside Washington, D.C.,’s juvenile prison. More recently, he has offered a seminar in which 10 law students and 10 Connecticut inmates come together behind prison walls to study criminal justice, part of a program called the Inside-Out Prison Exchange.

His “outside students” from Yale and Quinnipiac universities are exposed to a corrections system they might never otherwise see. The benefits for “inside students” are borne out by research showing that recidivism goes down and employment goes up — and by their own testimonials.

One of Forman’s incarcerated students told him he valued the “feeling of mattering.”

The student, he recounted, said, “I liked the law and the policy that we learned in this class, I did. … But really what I liked most of all was that every week when I came to class and I entered the seminar circle, I knew that I was entering a space where I was treated like I was smart, where I was treated like I had something to say.”  

Forman urged the Luskin Lecture audience to embrace their own ideas for creating “a justice system that deserves to have the word justice in the title.” By doing so, he said, “You will create a system that protects and heals and reforms and mends communities, without all this toxicity and brutality of our current system.”

Forman shared the stage with Michael Lens, assistant professor of public policy and urban planning, who led a conversation after the talk, and Professor Máximo Langer of UCLA Law, who offered closing comments. Langer is faculty director of the UCLA Criminal Justice Program, which co-sponsored the Luskin Lecture along with the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura welcomed the evening’s guests, noting that the Exposition Park venue was chosen to “get us out in the community, to address questions, issues, thoughts, ideas that are important considerations in matters of public concern … so that we might learn from one another.”

View photos from Forman’s lecture on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin Lecture Series: James Forman Jr.

Abrams Elected to American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Social Welfare Chair will be the first woman from UCLA to be inducted into the national honor society

By Zoe Day

Professor Laura S. Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), a prestigious national society honoring excellence in the research and practice of social work.

Abrams will be the first woman from UCLA to be inducted into the academy, which currently recognizes 140 fellows.

“Entering my 20th year as a professor, I am honored to be included as a member of the AASWSW,” said Abrams, whose research broadly focuses on improving the well-being of youth and young adults with histories of incarceration.

“I hope to work with AASWSW to advance social work’s unique lens in addressing social inequities and injustices,” she said.

Established in 2010, the academy’s mission is to recognize and encourage premier scholars, practitioners and outstanding leaders in the social welfare field whose work contributes to a sustainable and equitable future.

The academy is the sponsoring organization for the Social Work Grand Challenges, an initiative to use science to champion social progress, and aims to influence policy by serving as a source of information for the social work profession.

Abrams joins UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an internationally recognized expert on school safety, who was inducted into the academy in 2017.

“Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” Astor said. “This is a great honor that is very well-earned.”

Election of fellows into the academy is by confidential nomination and confirmation by a supermajority of academy members. Abrams will be inducted at the Society for Social Work and Research conference in Washington, D.C., in January. Astor will give the induction speech at the conference.

Other fellows from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and Professor Emeritus Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013).

In addition to numerous peer-reviewed articles, Abrams is the co-author of two ethnographic books, including: “Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C” and “Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth.”

Abrams has contributed to the larger social work profession by serving on the editorial boards of Social Service Review, Qualitative Social Work and the International Journal of Social Welfare. She is former vice-chair of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work and former board-member-at-large for the Society for Social Work and Research.

Making the Most of the Student-Mentor Connection Annual Senior Fellows Leadership breakfast puts spotlight on a successful partnership

By Mary Braswell

A student and mentor brought together by UCLA Luskin’s Senior Fellows Leadership Program shared stories of their rewarding yearlong partnership at an Oct. 24 breakfast launching the initiative’s 23rd year.

The gathering at the UCLA Faculty Center gave this year’s class of 45 Senior Fellows a chance to meet the graduate students they were matched with and hear insights from Tom Epstein, president of the California Community Colleges board of governors, and Irma Castañeda, a second-year master of public policy student.

“The best thing about being a fellow here is you get to work with so many smart, conscientious and diverse students,” said Epstein, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow since 2015.

Castañeda said she applied for the program last year to broaden her understanding of career options in the public policy field.  She accomplished that and much more, she said.

“I’m a first-generation college student and a first-generation professional, and I was navigating this space as a new student,” she said. By the end of the year, Epstein had helped her to build a professional network in Los Angeles and Sacramento and land a summer internship tailored to her interests in higher education.

At their monthly check-ins, Epstein and Castañeda talked about classes, career goals, internships and job prospects. Epstein also provided email introductions to key figures in his field and invited Castañeda to a meeting and dinner of California Community Colleges governors.

The life of a graduate student can be filled with coursework, campus activities and outside jobs, Castañeda said, but “it’s really important to prioritize this experience.” The Senior Fellows Program offers a rare gift — sustained one-on-one access to a leader in the public, private or nonprofit sector — and students should make the most of it, she said.

She also encouraged her classmates to take full advantage of the resources offered by UCLA Luskin’s Career Services team, led by Executive Director VC Powe.

View more photos from the Senior Fellows breakfast on Flickr.

The first step, Castañeda said, is to ask questions — lots of them.

She learned this during her search for a summer internship that would help her learn more about the community college system. Finding none, she consulted career counselor Donna Lee Oda, who helped her edit her resume, craft a cover letter and pitch herself as a summer intern candidate.

Epstein connected her with the deputy chancellor of California Community Colleges, who created a research internship just for Castañeda. She spent the summer conducting analysis for the governmental relations division and presenting her findings at a legislative briefing at the state Capitol.

“It was something that I wouldn’t have imagined, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I hadn’t asked,” she said.

Epstein said he is grateful for the chance to serve as a Senior Fellow, recalling that an internship while he was at UCLA Law launched a rewarding career. He thanked his own mentor, Zev Yaroslavsky — then a young city councilman and now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin — who was present at the breakfast.

Epstein’s career journey took him through politics, healthcare, insurance, media and the environment, in addition to higher education. He has worked in the White House, state government and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Students mentored by Epstein through the Senior Fellows program are now working at the California Endowment, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the California Department of Finance, Green Dot Schools and L.A. Care. One is a doctor with Kaiser Permanente and another is a teaching assistant at UCLA, he said.

Epstein addressed the public policy, social welfare and urban planning students gathered at the breakfast. “I’m grateful for your commitment to public service,” he said, “because our country needs you.”

This year, 37 returning Senior Fellows were joined by eight new mentors:

Warren T. Allen MPP ’03, founding member and attorney with WTAII PLLC

Nahtahna Cabanes MSW ’13, vice president of strategic partnerships with L.A. Works

Ken Chawkins BA ’85, business policy manager with the Southern California Gas Company

Elizabeth Forer CEO, Venice Family Clinic

Louise McCarthy MPP ’04, president and CEO at Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99, BA ’97, executive vice president of Community Coalition

Sarah Smith, senior director of education for the International Rescue Committee

Nancy Sutley, chief development officer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

A ‘New Day’ for Asian American Women in Arts and Media Luskin Lecture brings together pioneers striving for more authentic portrayals on screen and stage

By Mary Braswell

Four women who have strived to bring more authentic portrayals of Asian Americans onto the screen and stage shared stories of risk-taking, perseverance and the importance of mentorship at the opening event of this year’s UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series. 

The pioneers from diverse parts of the arts and media landscape came together for “Dawn of a New Day,” a conversation at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 17.

“Tonight we hear from Asian American women who have risen to shape the narrative rather than be dictated by the gaze of others,” said Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning and director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA, one of the event’s co-sponsors.

The audience heard from Grace Lee, director of documentaries and feature films; writer, actor and satirist Fawzia Mirza; Tess Paras, who blends acting, music, comedy and producing; and comedian and performance artist Kristina Wong.

“One of the reasons I got into storytelling and filmmaking in the first place is that I wanted to tell the story that I wanted see,” said Lee, who co-founded the Asian American Documentary Network to share resources and lift up emerging artists. “I just didn’t see a lot of films or stories out there about Asian Americans, women, people of color.”

Lee says she makes a point of hiring diverse film crews and interns to “develop that pipeline so that they can see models just like I had when I was first making films.”

“It’s living your own values,” she said. “It’s really important for us to question, ‘Who gets to tell this story? We get to tell this story.’ ”

Mirza took an unconventional path into the creative arts. She was in law school when she realized she’d rather be an actor. She finished her degree and worked as a litigator to pay off student loans but realized that “art, for me, is a way of figuring out who I am.”

“Talking about my queer, Muslim, South Asian identity through art is a way for me to survive,” she said, but cautioned, “Just by virtue of claiming your identity, sometimes you’re not trying to be political but you are politicized.”

Paras spoke of the one-dimensional acting roles — like the “white girl’s nerdy friend” — that are often available to Asian American women. After a YouTube video she created to satirize such typecasting went viral, she realized, “Oh, this is what happens when you take a big risk and tell your story.”

There is a hunger for honest portrayals of diverse communities, Paras said, a lesson she learned through a crowdfunding campaign for her film about a young Filipina American who struggles to talk to her family about a sexual assault.

“Folks came out of the woodwork because I was creating something that had not to my knowledge really been told,” Paras said. “There were a bunch of young Filipino women who were like, here’s 15 dollars, here’s 25, here’s 40, because I have never seen a story about this.”

Three of the four panelists — Lee, Paras and Wong — are alumnae of UCLA, as is moderator Ada Tseng, entertainment editor for TimesOC.

“I was convinced that the rest of the world looked like UCLA, … a world where everyone is super-political and talks all the time about politics and identity,” said Wong, whose senior project for her world arts and culture major was a fake mail-order-bride site that skewered stereotypes of Asian women.

“So much of the path I’m on felt quite normal because there were other Asian American queer and non-binary folks who were creating solo work,” Wong said. Not until she left California to go on tour did she find how misunderstood her edgy humor could be.

The event was also the closing program for the multimedia exhibit “At First Light,” organized by the Japanese American National Museum and Visual Communications, a nonprofit media arts group. The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs co-sponsored the lecture, along with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and its Center for Ethno Communications and the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA.

“The panel tonight is a testament to how far we’ve come, though we all know there’s still so much further to go,” said Umemoto, noting that UCLA’s Asian American studies and urban planning programs are marking 50-year anniversaries this year.

Also celebrating a milestone is the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which just turned 25, Dean Gary Segura told the crowd. The Luskin Lectures are a key part of the School’s mission to hold a “dialogue with the people of Los Angeles and California on issues of public concern,” Segura said.

View additional photos from the Luskin Lecture on Flickr.

LLS_Asian Women in Media

Street Art Meets Climate Science in the Big, Blue Face of Zeus Massive mural in South L.A. is painted with a surface-cooling coating to start a conversation about our warming world

By Mary Braswell

The gigantic mural at the corner of Avalon and 62nd in South L.A. is super cool. The face of the Greek god Zeus painted in electric blues against a black background looks down as people walk by on the sidewalk and cars pass on the street. At 72 feet wide and 27 feet high, the street art makes a big, bold statement in a neighborhood of warehouses and loading docks.

It also literally cools down the brick wall it’s painted on.

Created with a solar reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 30 percent, the so-called eco-mural aims to tap into the popularity of street art to start a conversation about climate change, said V. Kelly Turner, assistant professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Project leaders V. Kelly Turner, left, and Lizy Dastin. View more photos from the “cool art” mural project on Flickr.

Turner conducts research on urban design and the environment, including the effectiveness of cooling surface paint to combat the “urban heat island effect” that drives up temperatures in cities. She does extensive work with the city of Los Angeles, which is testing the reflective coating on streets in every council district.

“L.A. has the first-of-its-kind cool pavement project. And we’re also a vanguard for supporting the street arts,” Turner said. “But no one’s ever done a street art intervention or mural using cool paint.”

To make that vision a reality, Turner reached out to street art advocate Lizy Dastin, who teaches art history at Santa Monica College. Dastin recruited muralist Eric Skotnes from the activist art collective Indecline, whose work blending graffiti art and classical figures has been commissioned on spaces across the United States and as far away as Israel and Peru.

By the time the mural Turner envisioned was unveiled — on an October day when temperatures in Los Angeles hit 95 degrees — the list of collaborators included artists, urban planners, climate scholars, community activists and entrepreneurs. But as Skotnes put the finishing touches on the towering face of Zeus, the excitement was tempered by the gravity of the underlying issue.

Turner cited research showing that extreme heat leads to more deaths than all other weather-related hazards combined. The danger is especially acute in cities, where buildings, roads and parking lots trap heat during the day and hold on to it into the evening, making afternoons and nighttime temperatures unnaturally hot.

In Southern California, cities often run 9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the undeveloped regions that surround them. By 2021, as climate change intensifies, Los Angeles could experience an additional 60 to 90 days of temperatures above 95 degrees every year, UCLA research shows.

Facing that grim prospect, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has commissioned several urban design interventions — including planting trees and applying cool paint to roofs and streets — to fulfill his pledge of lowering citywide temperatures by 3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2035.

To help the city gauge the effectiveness of the cool pavement strategy, Turner travels across the region to collect field data on the reflective paint. She has attached 100 tiny sensors to key fobs and placed them in trees in Ontario, Watts and Fresno. Along with collaborator Ariane Middel of Arizona State University, she has accompanied a temperature-sensing robot named MaRTy as it trundled down the sidewalks of Pacoima and Ontario to measure how the average pedestrian would feel the heat.

While other studies have focused on surface temperatures, the research by Turner and Middel is the first to determine the cool pavement sites’ “mean radiant temperature,” a more accurate predictor of thermal comfort for humans. The suite of measurements includes surface and air temperature, long- and short-wave radiation, wind speed and humidity.

The two researchers found that cool pavement surface temperature is lower than untreated asphalt at all hours, but mean radiant temperature can be almost 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher in the afternoon. Turner noted, “Cool pavement is not a panacea but one tool of many in making climate-adapted cities that are less hot.”

It’s all part of what she calls a “fantastic urban experiment.”

“Anytime a city does something like this — green interventions, let’s call them — as scholars, it’s incumbent on us to evaluate them using the tools of science,” she said. “We are really doing what’s called ‘adaptive management’— do, learn from doing and adjust.”

Turner is a social scientist who identifies urban design problems and builds teams to develop answers. That skill was clearly evident in the network she built to make the South L.A. mural a reality.

The idea for the project came in the middle of the night, she recalled. She immediately sent predawn emails to Dastin, a friend from their days at Wellesley College and founder of the street art advocacy venture Art and Seeking, as well as research partner Middel, who conducts climate studies as director of the SHADE Lab at Arizona State.

Armed with a thermal camera, Middel captured the heat signature of the finished mural, swirls of yellow, orange and purple that showed the effects of the cooling paint.

“That’s the most exciting part. The art exists in the visual spectrum and the infrared,” Turner said. “It’s interesting from an artistic perspective because it’s a different artistic parameter, a challenge for the artist.”

Muralist Skotnes developed the Zeus concept in tribute to the building owner, Amped Kitchens, whose logo includes a lightning bolt — the god of sky and thunder’s weapon of choice. The building houses a community of Los Angeles food makers who rent state-of-the-art production, packaging and storage facilities. Owners Mott Smith, a UCLA alumnus, and Brian Albert are advocates of sustainable urbanism and eagerly offered their 1920s-era building as a canvas for the mural.

The solar reflective coating was donated by Creative Paving Solutions of Arizona, and the project was underwritten by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation and the nonprofit Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles.

Turner sees the mural as an eye-catching way to raise public awareness about the urgent need to adapt to a warming world. But she says her end goal is to offer practical, data-based solutions for cities like Los Angeles.

“As a human environment geographer,” Turner said, “my passion is trying to think through how to make this research more useful for a city planner who needs to figure out, ‘OK, I’ve got this intersection, how can I make it cooler for people waiting for the bus?’ ”

The “cool art” mural as seen in infrared, left, and to the naked eye. Photos by Ariane Middel