UCLA to Conduct First-of-Its-Kind Analysis for Drinking Water in California $3 million contract from the state will help reveal water system risks and solutions

By Colleen Callahan

California is the only state to legally recognize a human right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. But this right is not yet a reality in all communities. About 400 water systems in California are currently known to be noncompliant, with many others suspected of being at high risk of violating quality or affordability standards.

Through a $3 million contract with the California State Water Resources Board, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) will conduct a statewide drinking water needs analysis to identify risks and solutions for water systems and private wells throughout the state.

LCI, which unites UCLA scholars and civic leaders to solve environmental challenges, will analyze the technical, managerial and financial capacity of hundreds of systems that provide drinking water to Californians, which has never been done comprehensively before. The center will start with the state’s existing database of noncompliant water systems and will also identify systems at risk of future violations.

“About 90% of California’s public water system violations occur in systems serving less than 500 service connections, underscoring the inherent risk of small size and lack of capacity,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and lead researcher on the analysis.

The center will develop a method for assessing different types of drinking water risks, then evaluate solutions for those risks. Recommendations will be tailored for each water system and private well in violation or at risk of violation. Interventions could include:

  • Using enhanced treatment technologies.
  • Consolidating with a system that has more capacity.
  • Providing emergency water during an interim period.

In addition, the center will analyze the costs of interim and long-term strategies, identify the appropriate funding source and determine whether additional funding is needed.

Recognizing that advancing the human right to water must be a collaboration, the LuskinCenter for Innovation will partner with several entities to conduct the analysis. Subcontractors include the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center, Corona Environmental Consulting, Cal State Sacramento’s Office of Water Programs and the nonprofit Pacific Institute. The work is expected to conclude in 2021.

“This work recognizes that California needs to further address the drinking water quality and affordability issues faced by a number of small and medium-sized water systems and private well owners in a more strategic and better-funded way,” Pierce said.

This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 200, which established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to help finance the effort to bring adequate water supplies to disadvantaged communities.

The LCI analysis will help inform the spending plan for SB 200 and other associated funding streams by prioritizing which water systems and wells get funding and determining the best solutions for each community.

For the smallest systems, water safety is a primary concern; for larger systems, the center will focus on affordability. LCI’s previous research identified wide disparities in the cost of water. In Los Angeles County, different rates charged by water providers can lead to average annual water bills that are up to $2,000 higher in some households.

In the years since California enshrined a human right to water in 2012, LCI has supported its implementation. This work includes the design of a statewide water rate assistance program for low-income households, as required by Assembly Bill 401, which then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2015. The center’s report will be released later this year.

In another example of support for sustainable water systems in L.A. County, JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, is serving on an oversight committee for Measure W, which will raise hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes to capture and treat stormwater runoff.

 

Visiting Scholar Has His Eyes on the Road — Literally — in Search of Wildfire Impacts Climate adaption expert Mikhail Chester focuses on infrastructure vulnerabilities in a changing environment

LUSKIN UP-CLOSE

By Claudia Bustamante

For the next year, the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin will benefit from the research and expertise of a climate adaptation specialist.

Mikhail Chester, an associate professor of civil engineering at Arizona State University, has joined the institute as a visiting scholar, focusing his yearlong appointment on studying infrastructure vulnerabilities in a changing environment.

Specifically, Chester will study how roads are vulnerable to wildfires.

“Roads are not designed for the worsening conditions of climate change,” Chester said.

The old, conventional thinking about this problem was to map the hazards: Where will it be hotter? Where will it flood? Where do the roads and bridges intersect?

“Infrastructure are not fragile, brittle things. They’re tough,” he said. “What I’ve been trying to do is shine a light on how we can think more critically about what ‘vulnerability’ means.”

Last year, California experienced its largest and deadliest wildfire season. And despite a wet winter, the state is again braced for an active wildfire season spurred by rising heat and driven by winds.

In recent years, Californians have seen wildfires burn near, and eventually cross, freeways.

And yet, “for the most part, the asphalt is OK,” Chester said. “It turns out the biggest danger to roads is after the wildfire.”

‘As infrastructure professionals ― planners and engineers ― if we can’t recognize issues and make changes, we’re going to be irrelevant.’

— Mikhail Chester

A fire will burn up vegetation, creating ground debris. It will also shift the soil chemistry, making it less likely to absorb water. The two can combine to disastrous effects following heavy rains. In what has become a routine post-wildfire concern, rocks, mud and other debris flow down hillsides left barren from recent fires and wreak havoc on roadways and other infrastructure.

While at UCLA, Chester ― who hopes to engage with professionals across multiple campus disciplines, such as urban planning, engineering, climate science and public health ― plans to connect the state’s fire forecasts and transportation infrastructure with various environmental indicators, like terrain, vegetation and soil characteristics.

“When you connect the dots and put all these things together, ideally, you come up with a better way of characterizing vulnerability,” Chester said.

Once the risks are identified, local officials and policymakers can draft an array of responses ranging from strengthening infrastructure and managing forests to detouring traffic away from vulnerable roadways.

A civil engineer with a public policy background, Chester is a leading researcher on the interface between infrastructure and urbanization. His work on the environmental impact of transportation looks beyond tailpipe emissions to assess the role of roads, fuel supply chains and manufacturing.

In Arizona, with high temperatures and flash flooding, he has explored climate adaptation and resilience. He is also currently involved in an interdisciplinary study with UCLA on the sun and heat exposure a person experiences in their day-to-day travels.

All of this work, as Chester explains, is the groundwork for a larger question: How will we manage infrastructure for the next 100 years?

The world is rapidly changing and new technology constantly emerging. People will continue to demand more from an infrastructure that is rigid and not designed to quickly and efficiently accommodate changes such as, for example, autonomous vehicles.

“I think we are woefully unprepared for how we manage infrastructure or how we think about the problem,” said Chester, whose work aims to reimagine these concepts for the 21st century and beyond.

“We are so stuck with the status quo that I’m worried whether or not we can make substantive change fast enough. I think as infrastructure professionals ― planners and engineers ― if we can’t recognize issues and make changes, we’re going to be irrelevant.”

Battleground Legislators Meet at UCLA to Develop 2020 Strategies Two days of leadership training energize lawmakers from Arizona, a state that reflects the nation’s changing demographics

By Maria Morales

“You’re the next frontier.”

Those were the words of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dean Gary Segura as he welcomed Latino legislators from Arizona to a two-day leadership academy at UCLA this summer.

The elected leaders came to deepen their understanding of educational, economic and social issues in Arizona and craft policies to address the needs of the state’s Latinos.

This is a crucial time to look at the opportunities and challenges faced by Arizona’s elected officials, said Erica Bernal, chief operating officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and advisory board member of UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The conference, which was held Aug. 16-17, was hosted by the two organizations, along with Arizona State University’s Center on Latina/os and American Politics Research.

One of the country’s fastest-growing states, Arizona will be “the marquee battleground state in 2020,” said LPPI faculty director Matt Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA. The number of eligible Latino voters will be at a record high and the bilingual electorate will be a driving force in the campaign, he said.

For candidates, Barreto said, this creates a challenge: How will they connect and engage with this emerging demographic?

During workshops, conference participants explored demographic changes in the Latino community, the importance of state budget realities, lessons learned from former elected officials, and the essential role of accurate data in crafting policy.

Research- and evidence-based policymaking was a recurring theme throughout the two days. Edward Vargas, professor at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, shared current polling trends, strategies on how to analyze this data to determine its legitimacy, and best practices on using the numbers to build support among stakeholders.

Vargas also encouraged legislators to think of possible polling questions to engage and communicate with their constituents, keeping in mind the need for culturally relevant questions and true representation of the community.

The conference provided the 13 members of Arizona’s Latino caucus with the opportunity to exchange ideas, build a support network and learn how to incorporate research into their policymaking.

During the gathering’s second day, legislators applied the lessons they learned at a practicum led by Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging and professor of social welfare and public policy. The skill-building exercise allowed the legislators to incorporate polling data and effective messaging to develop sound legislative policy ideas.

“It was great to see it all unfold,” said Amado Castillo, a third-year undergraduate policy fellow with Latino Politics and Policy Initiative. “The practicum was quite inspirational as it not only gave the legislators the opportunity to use real examples to formulate policy proposals but also allowed us to look and see what type of legislators they are and what they prioritize.”

The Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and its partners will continue the training academy in December in Tempe, Arizona, and will host two roundtables in Phoenix, the state’s capital, in January and February 2020.

View more photos from the leadership academy on Flickr and Facebook.

Armoring Up for the Fight Against Housing Injustice At a weeklong summer institute at UCLA, scholars and activists master the tools of research to advance safe shelter as a human right

By Mary Braswell

When Raquel Rolnik began her work for the United Nations Human Rights Council monitoring access to adequate housing, she found that the world body did not fully grasp the scope of the challenge.

“Adequate housing was seen as a problem of underdeveloped countries, those countries full of favelas, slums, barrios,” said Rolnik, who served as a U.N. special rapporteur from 2008 to 2014. “And of course it was not a problem at all in the developed world — at all.”

The global financial crisis of the last decade helped put that myth to rest, shining a spotlight on people in countries — rich and poor — who struggle to find secure housing, said Rolnik, who shared her experiences at a weeklong summer course hosted by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

With “challenge inequality” as its rallying cry, the institute strives to advance democracy through research, critical thought and alliances between academia and activism. With that mission in mind, the institute developed the curriculum on “Methodologies for Housing Justice.”

‘We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.’ — Raquel Rolnik

More than 50 participants from universities and social movements attended the Aug. 5-9 course led by Rolnik and Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. A large Los Angeles contingent was joined by participants from Oakland, Orange County, Austin, Chicago, New York, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Manila and other locales.

Their goal was to share knowledge, master the tools of research and strengthen their commitment to uphold what the United Nations calls a basic human right: a place to live in peace, security and dignity.

Nancy Mejia, who works with Latino Health Access and other advocacy groups in Santa Ana, said the swelling demand for stable housing in Orange County compelled her to take part in the summer institute.

For years, Mejia’s work centered on access to healthy food, open spaces and recreation, but she found that constituents forced to move from place to place could not take advantage of these programs. So she shifted her focus to tenant rights, rent control and other housing justice issues.

“We’re getting more organized, and this is the sort of place to come and hear what else is going on around the country,” Mejia said. “We are getting the tools, connections and networks to build our capacity as a movement.”

The summer institute underscored that, rather than a social good, housing has become a commodity used to enrich property owners.

The dozen instructors covered a broad spectrum of issues, including laws against squatting or sleeping in one’s car that in effect make poverty a criminal offense; the ethics of collecting and controlling data on private citizens; and the responsibility of researchers to take the next step — to act for the greater good.

“We are not talking about an individual process of eviction,” Rolnik said during a session on her work with the São Paulo Evictions Observatory. “We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.”

The Evictions Observatory was created to turn small bits of information collected from across the Brazilian metropolis into data-rich maps exposing broad trends of inhumane behavior.

Rolnik displayed a map highlighting pockets of São Paulo where at least 100 evictions took place within one kilometer — frequently in locations known for drug consumption or inhabited by non-white residents. At times, tenants were cleared out so that businesses could expand. In one case, she said, a building was demolished while squatters were still inside.

Largely powered by university students, the Evictions Observatory intervenes on behalf of the homeless and lobbies for “key-to-key” policies — that is, no person may be evicted unless he or she has a safe place to land.

The observatory is led by Rolnik, a professor, architect, urban planner and author. In addition to her position as U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, Rolnik has held positions with the Brazilian government, non-governmental organizations and academia. She currently chairs the design and planning department at the University of São Paulo.

“Raquel’s work and career to me have always been an inspiration for how one might in fact be both inside and outside powerful institutions and produce scholarship and frameworks of social change that are abolitionist, that are anti-colonial and that are committed to a human right to housing,” said Roy, who also holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy at UCLA.

The summer course was offered through the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, which was launched by Roy’s institute, with support from the National Science Foundation, to unite movement-based and university-based scholars in the field.

That expression of solidarity attracted Joshua Poe, an independent geographer, city planner and community activist from Louisville, Kentucky. To sharpen his skills in urban design and data visualization, Poe returned to school to earn a master’s in urban planning but acknowledged that he has an “insurgent relationship” with academia.

“For a lot of people who’ve been doing movement-based research or movement geography or movement science, we’ve been somewhat isolated and somewhat invalidated at times and kind of gaslighted by academia,” Poe said. “But this institute lends not just legitimacy to what we’re doing but also expands our networks and emboldens our work in a lot of ways.”

Poe spoke after a day of lectures and training at the Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN, an advocacy group headquartered in downtown’s Skid Row. LA CAN, part of the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, also hosted a book launch for the English version of Rolnik’s “Urban Warfare: Housing Under the Empire of Finance.”

At the close of the summer institute, the work was not done. In the coming weeks, participants will craft chapters on key housing justice methodologies, which will be disseminated as a digital resource guide available to all.

“This open-access volume will be a critical resource for defining housing justice as a field of inquiry,” Roy said.

View photos from the summer institute on Flickr.
Summer Institute on Housing Justice

A Research Spotlight on the World’s Vulnerable People UCLA Luskin launches international outreach to identify strategies to empower women and children

By Mary Braswell

In Tanzania, programs aimed at improving women’s health have been in place for decades, but rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among adolescents remain high.

In El Salvador, several comprehensive centers for women needing health care, job training, legal help and protection from domestic violence have opened. Why aren’t more women taking advantage of these services?

Around the world, when well-intentioned policies to improve the lives of people fall short of expectations, researchers mobilize to investigate and advise.

This is the mission of a new initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs called International Development and Policy Outreach.

IDPO’s focus on global health and education comes at a critical time, said Manisha Shah, professor of public policy and founding director of the initiative.

“There is so much need right now,” said Shah, whose extensive research as a development economist in Africa, Asia and Latin America has guided governments and agencies seeking effective, evidence-based policies.

Shah cites this sobering statistic: Of all new adolescent HIV cases in the world, three out of four are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of those cases, 80% are girls.

Tanzanian boys peek into a clubhouse for girls launched as part of a health education campaign. Photo by Jennifer Muz

She is currently evaluating a safe-sex campaign in Tanzania, where 60% of teen girls are sexually active by age 18. Fewer than 10% of girls ages 15 to 19 use any modern contraception, however. And adolescent girls there experience high rates of violence by their intimate partners.

Shah said policies grounded in research can bring about improvements in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents during the next decade — which in turn would create better educational and employment opportunities.

“There is a great need to look at some of these subpopulations that aren’t historically targeted by the average intervention or policy being implemented in lower-income countries,” she said. “Part of what’s exciting at Luskin right now is the number of faculty who are doing this type of international work.”

International Development and Policy Outreach integrates their efforts, puts a spotlight on their findings, builds a network of international stakeholders, and acts as a springboard for advocacy, Shah said.

The initiative will also create opportunities for students of public policy, social welfare and urban planning who are drawn to international development issues, she said.

The health of an entire community hinges on the well-being of women and children, the researchers at IDPO have established. They have studied teachers in Pakistan, caregivers in rural Colombia, sex workers in Indonesia and young HIV patients in South Africa, among many other populations.

In Shah’s Tanzania research, advocating for girls means also reaching out to boys. The boys come to play soccer and stay to hear about health risks and violence against girls — part of an international program that combines sport with sex education.

Shah’s research team is measuring the relative impact of empowering girls, turning boys into allies and simply providing access to contraceptives. The goal is to identify and invest in the most effective policies — to find some way to curb adolescent pregnancy, the spread of disease and intimate partner violence. The Tanzania project is being conducted in collaboration with the international development organization BRAC.

Shah is also helping design strategies to promote El Salvador’s Ciudad Mujer women’s resource centers.

“These are safe spaces where women can come if they need a lawyer, health services, employment services. But take-up rates for the domestic violence services have been relatively low, and they don’t understand why,” Shah said. “I’m working with the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of El Salvador to do the research and to figure out what is going on.”

This is the kind of practical impact that powers IDPO, which is launching this summer with support from UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.

“We have so many great professors across all departments working internationally,” Shah said. “IDPO speaks to some of our newer strengths, bringing it all together to foster research, support faculty, and advocate for better policies through our findings and our relationships abroad.”

In Memoriam: Mark Kleiman, World-Renowned Scholar of Drug Policy Educator, prolific author and blogger provided extensive guidance to policymakers on marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform

Mark A.R. Kleiman, emeritus professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and one the United States’ pre-eminent experts on drug and crime policy, died July 21 after a long illness. He was 68.

Kleiman’s long list of publications includes his most recent co-authored books, “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford University Press, 2012) and “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford, 2011), as well as “When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment” (Princeton University Press, 2009).

He also worked at the United States Department of Justice, serving as director of the Office of Policy and Management Analysis, Criminal Division, and as the associate director for Drug Enforcement Programs. And he held posts as deputy director for management and director of program analysis for the city of Boston.

“Mark was a rare breed in academia, a truly Renaissance mind,” said Mark Peterson, professor of public policy in the UCLA Luskin School and one of Kleiman’s colleagues. “I quickly realized that he was both the smartest person in the building and among the funniest, with a quick wit that often required educational sophistication to fully grasp.”

Peterson added: “I can say that his network was simply enormous, encompassing friends, colleagues, mentees and protégés, graduate and undergraduate students, media figures, state and federal policymakers, all of whom he helped, he informed, he guided, and he just simply cared about.”

Kleiman also authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, technical reports and policy memos, as well providing articles and commentary for news media and book reviews and for professional publications. He served as editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis and was a referee for numerous professional policy journals. He also was an active blogger on “The Reality-Based Community,” focusing on public policy analysis of the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and drug policy in the United States and abroad.

Kleiman, who was born in Phoenix and grew up in Baltimore, graduated magna cum laude in political science, philosophy and economics from Haverford College. He earned his master’s in public policy and doctorate in public policy at Harvard.

He came to UCLA in 1996 shortly after the founding of the graduate program in public policy in what was then known as the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research. He served on the faculty of the Luskin School until retiring in 2015. He later joined the faculty of New York University, where he was affiliated with NYU’s Wagner School and served as director of the crime and justice program at NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management.

Prior to UCLA, Kleiman held academic posts at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and at the University of Rochester. He also served stints as a visiting professor at the Batten School of Leadership and Policy at the University of Virginia, Harvard Law School, and the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. He was a visiting fellow at the National Institute of Justice.

In addition, Kleiman served on the National Research Council as a member of the Committee on Law and Justice, and he was chairman of the board of the Los Angeles-based Botec Analysis Corporation, a research and consulting firm that develops solutions to issues in public policy in the areas of crime, justice and drug policy.

“Mark leaves behind a legacy — us,” said former student Brad Rowe, who earned his master’s in public policy in 2013, and who later worked closely with Kleiman. “He was a teacher first and foremost.”

Rowe said that Kleiman was a demanding instructor, but “he could always make you laugh with his ready-made arsenal of anecdotes.”

Rowe, who now teaches a public policy course at UCLA Luskin and serves as the school’s intellectual successor to Kleiman on drug policy, continued, “And, wow, I’ve rarely met someone who so loved seeing justice done.”

UCLA was the launching point and incubator for many of Kleiman’s ideas, Rowe recalled. “It was a safe haven where he valued the commitment this group has for thought and action rooted in truth, equality, dignity and public safety.”

Albert Carnesale, UCLA chancellor emeritus and professor emeritus of public policy and mechanical and aerospace engineering, first met his future colleague during Kleiman’s time as a doctoral student at Harvard.

“In addition to being an extraordinary fount of original ideas, deep insights, and rigorous and revealing analyses, he was a devoted mentor to generations of students, a valuable colleague, a caring friend, and a compassionate and effective advocate for fairness and justice,” Carnesale wrote in an email after learning of Kleiman’s death.

Former student Jaime Nack, the president of Three Squares Inc. and who graduated with a master’s in public policy in 2002, wrote: “Mark Kleiman was an amazing professor … He truly cared that we mastered the material. He knew it would serve us in life and in our careers.”

No services are planned. He is survived by a sister, Kelly Kleiman, who posted on social media: “If you are moved to honor him, please donate to the NYU Transplant Institute, the ACLU, or any Democratic candidate.”

Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Aspiring Urban Planners Seek to Mitigate Gentrification Impacts in Pacoima Researchers study alternative living spaces in a community about to launch major development and infrastructure improvements

By Les Dunseith

For Silvia González studying for a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA is about more than learning how cities and communities can be better designed. It’s about promoting economic and environmental justice and housing equity, causes she is personally connected to.

González and her family grew up 20 miles north of UCLA in the working-class communities of Pacoima and San Fernando, spending several years in a garage converted to a living space without permits on a property owned by her aunt. Her family eventually moved out, and “later it was torn down, after inspectors found out.”

That result is “exactly what we don’t want to happen” in Pacoima, González said. “If it’s affordable housing, then how do we keep it?”

Fast forward to the past academic year, when González served as a graduate instructor for a comprehensive research project in which 16 urban planning master’s degree candidates in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs spent nearly six months studying ways to make sure a pending major redevelopment effort in the community does not lead to displacement of the people already living there.

The research and final report were produced for a nonprofit organization known as Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies. The research effort was a byproduct of $23 million received by Pacoima as part of a statewide grant process that is providing funding for development and infrastructure projects to achieve significant environmental, health and economic benefits in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who also served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

Pacoima is one of many places in Southern California in which many lower-income residents scrape by amid a housing affordability crisis by taking up residence in converted garages and other outbuildings, or in portions of homes that have been added or converted as places to be rented. One subgroup of the UCLA Luskin class utilized aerial images and walked the streets of Pacoima to catalog the presence of these types of living spaces, which are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

In the geographic area they studied, the team found that almost half of all properties included a secondary dwelling — often without the permits and inspector approvals to be considered legal. According to the project report, about three-quarters of the tenants pay less than $1,000 per month in rent. Almost half live in an ADU on a property in which the main unit is occupied by a relative.

On May 28, the team went to Pacoima City Hall to present its findings, which also detail the personal impact of housing instability on Pacoima’s residents. In their summary report, the researchers wrote that their research questions had presumed that the condition of individual housing units would be the defining characteristic of the tenant experience.

“We were wrong,” they wrote. “Tenants face a variety of good and bad conditions, but the most important factor influencing their quality of life was the relationship between the landlord and tenant.”

González said that Pacoima Beautiful and its partner organizations are committed to finding solutions to address possible gentrification and housing displacement before it happens in Pacoima. As grant awardees, the organizations are required to prepare and implement a displacement avoidance plan. González also works for UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which had assisted Pacoima with the grant application and is now taking the lead in developing that plan. Pacoima Beautiful is responsible for managing it.

“I really love the way that it came about,” González said. “The decision to address displacement before it happens came from the community. The community is interested in taking advantage of the housing options that are already there and building on that.”

The research effort included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and site observations, with volunteers from the new UCLA Luskin undergraduate public affairs program helping with some tasks.

Some of the findings were surprising.

“I think everyone has these assumptions around accessory dwelling units … that they are only for the short term or for temporary housing, which we found actually wasn’t true,” Bremner said. The majority of residents living in ADUs in Pacoima do so for many years, the study found.

When they looked at how space is used, Bremner said researchers expected that the shared communal spaces common to ADUs would promote bonding among residents, but that was not the case. For example, a youth from a family of five reported sleeping on a sofa in the living room of one dwelling and rarely interacting with the 10 people in other families living in two other ADUs on the property.

This interviewee was among a number of high school youths who spoke to the researchers, and those survey participants provided detailed descriptions of their living arrangements.

“I think the stories of the youth were very impactful,” said González, who noted that most cope with the burden of schoolwork and the pressures of teenage life while living in stressful, overcrowded conditions.

The urban planning team also analyzed the willingness of property owners to sell or lease all, or part, of their land for the purpose of creating community land trusts, which acquire and hold land in the interest of promoting affordable housing by removing properties from the speculative real estate market.

As urban planners concerned about housing equity, the UCLA team tended to view the idea of community land trusts as a good approach. But, González said, the homeowners were “apprehensive about being a part of a community land trust in the way that we were pitching it, which was a community land trust that owns accessory dwelling units.”

Property owners were not interested in the idea if it meant the homeowner would be responsible for dealing with the tenants.

“But if there’s an organization that will deal with the tenants— that will be responsible for them — then [property owners] wanted to participate,” González said.

The comprehensive project was just one step in a long process for Pacoima, but both Bremner and González believe the results will prove valuable.

“From Pacoima Beautiful’s perspective, I think it changed their approach to organizing,” González said. “They are an environmental justice organization. And now seeing how important that housing is to their community, I think it’s going to change the way that they approach the project. And it is going to change the way they do future projects.”

LPPI Student Fellow Gains Insight at Latinx Criminal Justice Convening Second-year MPP student María Morales represents UCLA Luskin at a Texas gathering to discuss how criminal justice and immigration systems impact U.S. Latinos

Leadership development is a key component of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) at UCLA Luskin, allowing student fellows to gain hands-on policy experience and realize opportunities to develop management skills, as well as champion equity and innovation.

María Morales, a second-year Master of Public Policy student and a 2019-20 LPPI student fellow, became the latest example of this idea in action when she was selected to attend the 5th annual Latinx Criminal Justice Convening in Brownsville, Texas, in June.

Morales is serving as a project manager for an LPPI criminal justice system project that is currently underway, and she saw the conference as a professional development opportunity that allowed her to familiarize herself even further with research and efforts in the field. She also welcomed the opportunity to talk about issues of importance to Latinos in her home state of Texas.

One benefit of the trip for Morales was getting to see how a multilingual approach was incorporated.

“I was impressed by the way that interpreters established a multilingual culture during the gathering, ensuring Spanish and English-only speakers communicated smoothly with each other,” she said.

It was clear to Morales that organizers understood that language barriers often hinder efforts within the justice system to combat injustices. Community-centered, multigenerational sensitivity to interpretation is also beneficial, Morales explained, when formerly incarcerated individuals are welcomed home for the first time.

“It promotes a healing component for all participants,” she said.

The convening was organized by LatinoJustice PRLDEF in partnership with Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network. A variety of local and national organizations came to the U.S.-Mexico border town of Brownsville to engage in conversations about Latinos in the criminal justice and immigration systems.

Organizers said the two-day encuentro was intended to create a space for Latino leaders, activists, academics and impacted community members to explore connections within the criminal justice and immigration systems across the United States. They also discussed strategies to promote an inclusive movement that does not leave anyone behind.

Morales said she found the intersection between immigration, incarceration, criminality and the war on drugs very interesting. The degree of overlap of those issues was new to her.

“I had not realized how all these were intertwined and played a role in the relationship between the Latinx community and the criminal justice system,” she said.

Another impactful experience for Morales related to the general lack of data about the Latinx community in the United States. Based on her research for LPPI, she was able to engage in a “fishbowl conversation” on the topic, bringing a student’s perspective to the discussion.

Morales said she was inspired and motivated by the opportunity to be part of these types of conversations for the first time in such a setting.

“Speaking on the lack of Latinx data in the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems underscored the importance of research and the need to identify these disparities in order to enact meaningful policies based on accurate evidence,” she said.

During the gathering in Brownsville, community members highlighted their work on the ground to end collaboration between state and local police departments with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement efforts in the states of Texas and Georgia.

Another topic of discussion related to a jail closure in Los Angeles and efforts to prevent construction of a replacement. The intersection of criminal law and immigration law — often referred to as “crimmigration” — was the focal point of these conversations, with attorneys explaining the importance of litigation and the need for advocates to be patient during a legal process that often becomes lengthy. A lack of lawyers with expertise in social justice was also mentioned, Morales said.

This topic was of special importance to Morales because she will soon begin working with a group of other MPP candidates on their Applied Policy Project, and “crimmigration is a topic we are interested in exploring for our capstone project,” she said. “Learning more about its impact on the community at this convening has further piqued my interest.”

Morales found the convening enjoyable and insightful. “It was an honor being able to attend this convening and feel such passion and dedication in the room,” she said.

‘I See Our Future and It Looks Amazing’ Commencement speaker Janet Murguía urges UCLA Luskin graduates to use their 'public affairs nerd' superpowers for good

By Mary Braswell

As members of UCLA Luskin’s Class of 2019 walked across the commencement stage to receive their hard-earned master’s and doctoral degrees, each took on a new mantle: Advocate. Warrior. Watchdog.

And don’t forget “Superhero.”

“I believe being a public affairs nerd is in fact a superpower, one that if used for good can transform the lives of millions of people,” keynote speaker Janet Murguía told the 260 graduates at the June 14 ceremony at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, challenged the graduates to put their educations to work in the world — a feat requiring determination, patience and resilience.

“Your degree and everything it represents can be a force for good,” she said. “We desperately need people with your talents to help us defend and build that more perfect union.”

The newly minted policy, social welfare and planning scholars and professionals are entering the workforce at a pivotal time, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said.

“The next 18 months are among the most important in the history of this nation. We face a critical time in deciding who we are as a people, what values matter to Americans and what our historic role is in human history,” Segura said.

“I want to thank you, perhaps prematurely, for all that we expect you to do with all that you have learned.”

Segura shared the stage with faculty members from every department, noting, “Luskin faculty engage the world as it is, to diagnose and hopefully help address our many challenges.” The hiring of 14 faculty members over two years and the fast expansion of the new undergraduate major in Public Affairs are just two measures of the School’s growth, he said.

Following the conferral of degrees, crowds surrounded the graduates at an outdoor reception, offering congratulations, taking photos and admiring regalia decorated with “UCLA 100 Years” to mark the university’s Centennial Celebration. Mortarboards showed off personal touches, often thanking families and friends who buoyed the graduates as they worked toward this milestone day.

Student speakers echoed that spirit of gratitude throughout the commencement ceremony.

Robert Gamboa of Public Policy memorialized his twin brother, Albert, who died seven years ago. “His passing was one of those crystal-clear moments when everything and nothing made sense,” Gamboa said. “But I knew then that I must double down my efforts to fight for social justice.”

Gamboa’s classmates represented different backgrounds and value systems, he said, “and yet we came together as one. We found something in common, something at our very core, something that led us here to Luskin to expand our knowledge. And that something has energized us, guiding us, creating a bridge to change — smart, systemic, lasting change that will save lives.”

Social Welfare speaker Gabriela Andreina Peraza Angulo told her classmates, “The world really needs us right now, maybe more than ever. Injustice, greed, inequity, racism, forces of discrimination, of violence, of exclusion. Forces of sexism. And did I mention racism? All of these forces are gaining in strength. …

“But they’re not counting on us. Here we are. And we’re ready to build those bridges instead of a wall, we’re ready to connect instead of divide.”

Caroline Calderon urged her Urban Planning classmates to challenge power structures in a rousing address that incorporated oral histories she conducted with about 15 of her peers.

“We have seen the possibilities of radical community action,” she said. “Our commitment involves sharing the knowledge we have and being humble about that knowledge, and recognizing the power and privilege that we have been given.

“This is our commitment, to be accountable to our own convictions and values, to be accountable to poor people, to black and brown communities, not in words but in action.”

Three students received special honors at commencement. The Public Policy Student Award went to Lindsay Graef, who earned her MPP and MSW concurrently. Michelé Dianne-Shaunte Jones won the Social Welfare Student Award, and Jacob Wasserman won the Urban Planning Student Award.

Murguía’s address included a poignant tribute to her parents, who instilled a sense of purpose and possibility in their seven children.

“Two humble, simple people from Tangancícuaro, Michoacán, in Mexico with little means worked very hard, sacrificed much and dedicated themselves to the education of their family, and to the service and care of their community. I am a witness to — and in many ways evidence of — their belief in the American Dream,” she said.

“However your generation defines the American Dream, I know that, like my parents, you will leave the world a better place than you found it,” Murguía said. “You know how I know? As I look out at you today, graduation day, I see our future and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to see where your superpowers will take us.”

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Commencement 2019

View a video of the entire commencement ceremony: