By Mary Braswell and Joanie Harmon
Growing up amid the ancient redwoods of Sonoma County, Amy Stanfield developed a deep connection to trees, even greeting her favorites by the names she gave them as a little girl.
“You can stand in the forest and then look up and you just have this very awe-inspiring feeling looking up at these insanely tall, old, historic trees,” Stanfield said. “Redwood trees are really just a symbolic and beautiful part of my life.”
So when the third-year public affairs major spotted a new course on offer in spring quarter — “Trees in the City,” taught by Associate Professor of Urban Planning Kirsten Schwarz — she quickly enrolled.
“I think all the students came to this course with a love of trees,” Schwarz said. “I don’t want them to lose that, but I do want them to think a little bit more critically about the role of trees in the city, and who might benefit from them.”
Trees tell a complex story, touching on water use, climate change, gentrification and even mundane considerations like sap falling on cars.
Schwarz’s course examines urban forestry through an environmental justice lens, weaving together social sciences, natural sciences and fieldwork with the Los Angeles nonprofit TreePeople.
It’s one of several innovative courses that illustrate the UCLA Luskin public affairs major’s emphasis on deep engagement in civic life and rigorous scholarship that draws from many disciplines.
Also new in spring 2021 has been Public Affairs 125, “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools,” taught by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on school safety and student well-being.
Astor, who has a joint appointment with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, said he designed the curriculum with a holistic approach to enhance how universities prepare future educators, social workers, psychologists, administrators and policymakers.
“The new vision proposes that schools won’t just respond to crisis,” Astor said. “It will recognize the current inequities in the system and create school settings that uplift and inspire students — graciously creating a community of educators, peers and families that will elevate the aspirations of each child.”
The course incorporates lessons from more than a year of upheaval endured by schools around the country.
“The dual global pandemics of COVID-19 and our national reckoning with systemic racism after the murder of George Floyd focused a bright light on many blind spots we have as a society when we discuss and research school safety,” Astor said. “The two pandemics highlighted well-documented health, racial and geographic inequities, and started a widespread public conversation about them.”
With her keen interest in education policy, Stephanie Tapia Onate was glad she could take the new course in her final quarter as an undergraduate.
“I like that it focused on improving the school environment. As a former student of the LAUSD public school system, I know that there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Tapia Onate, who will soon graduate with a public affairs bachelor’s degree, then pursue a master of public policy at the Luskin School in the fall.
What sets “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools” apart, she said, is the opportunity to personally engage with a wide variety of experts and to develop the practical skills needed to deliver a policy message to the general public.
Astor’s lineup of guest speakers comes from an impressive array of disciplines, including education, public policy, social welfare, psychology, neuroscience, medicine and law. Scholars from UCLA and across the nation, as well as top officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District, have spoken to the class on topics that included racism, bullying, weapons and drug use, mental health and the unique needs of LGBTQ, homeless or undocumented students.
The course has an expansive view of how to make schools a safe space not just for students but for teachers and staff, Tapia Onata said.
“Teachers do deal with a lot of secondary trauma and sometimes they’re often forgotten in the conversation about mental health resources in schools,” she said. “They are one of the communities at school that we do need to support.”
Students in Astor’s class learn to develop strong policy positions then communicate them to the public through op-eds, TED Talks and TikTok campaigns.
Tapia Onate chose to create a series of one-minute policy videos on TikTok, a platform now used frequently for educational outreach as well as entertainment.
“It’s straight to the point, it can deliver your message really fast, and people are more likely to remember what you say in a short video,” she said.
Immersion in civic life is also central to the “Trees in the City” curriculum. During their quarter-long partnership, students worked with TreePeople to fill the nonprofit agency’s most immediate need — turning a voluminous amount of information about the benefits of trees into messaging tailored to local communities.
One team of students developed a school curriculum on the importance of trees that aligned with Next-Generation Science Standards; they even identified sources of potential funding that TreePeople could pursue.
“Students were really interested in ways that environmental stewardship and curriculum centered around trees could be introduced early on,” Schwarz said.
Amy Stanfield said her team chose to highlight the wisdom of those who “lived on the land the longest and most successfully” — Los Angeles’ Indigenous communities.
Through case studies and an infographic, the team demonstrated how to incorporate time-tested traditions into Westernized systems and provided resources to residents who want to connect with local Indigenous leaders.
“We wanted to center our project on amplifying Indigenous people’s voices in the science world and in this type of urban ecology setting,” Stanfield said.
In a happy coincidence, her work with TreePeople will continue next year as she interns with the nonprofit group for her senior capstone research project.
“Trees in the City” has been a perfect match for Stanfield’s interests, which blend ecology, policy and urban planning, as well as film. She is grateful for the personal attention that Schwarz gives each of the 14 students in the upper-division class, and for the interactive curriculum that has deepened her understanding of urban greenspaces.
“Everyone in my college life can’t hear me say enough about it,” Stanfield said. “I get done with class and say, ‘You guys, my tree class is making me so happy!’ ”
By Kassandra Hernandez and Les Dunseith
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas sees Democrats in power in Washington, D.C., and thinks the time may finally have arrived for comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy.
“It’s not very often that Democrats have control of the presidency and both chambers of the Congress,” Castro said during a May 4 webinar hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “There’s a real opportunity here to pass comprehensive immigration reform and put 11 million undocumented folks — many of whom are ‘Dreamers’ or others, like their parents, who have been here for generations — on a path to citizenship.”
Castro, who introduced one of four immigration-related bills currently making their way through the political process in Washington, knows it won’t be easy, given the narrow Democratic majorities in both houses and longstanding GOP opposition to immigration reform that includes citizenship. Still, waiting too long could doom the effort.
As the 2022 midterm elections draw closer, elected officials will become “very cautious about the votes that they take,” Castro noted. “So, there’s got to be a lot of momentum and a big push to get immigration reform done this year.”
Castro’s comments came during a 10-minute live interview with webinar moderator Russell Contreras, a justice and race reporter at Axios, that set the tone for a panel discussion with scholars and political experts focusing on the challenges and opportunities for U.S. immigration reform.
During the interview, Castro spoke about why immigration policy reform is so important to him. He represents a district in the San Antonio area that is home to many Mexican Americans like himself.
“In our community, there’s an incredible sense of fairness, there’s obviously an incredible sense of family,” said Castro, whose mother is a renowned community activist and whose twin brother is former presidential candidate Julian Castro.
“There is a permanent class of conservative politicians … who want to use the immigration issue as a way to scare Americans and make them think that there is a lot of brown people who are going to come into the country and harm them,” Castro said. “But you see Mexican American communities being very favorable toward giving immigrants a path to citizenship because they understand that experience. To them, [an immigrant] was their parent or their grandparent. So, when they hear all of the fear-mongering, most of the time, they don’t buy into that.”
Castro said he hopes an umbrella bill that includes comprehensive immigration reform can be passed during this session of Congress, although it has not yet come to a vote. He noted that two other immigration bills have already made it through the House, however, and he urged the U.S. Senate to move forward with that legislation.
Cecilia Menjívar, a professor of sociology at UCLA who is an expert on immigration issues, argued that such piecemeal reform probably has a greater chance of success. Although the current social and political environment is unlike any in recent history, she said systemic barriers are likely to continue to impede sweeping immigration reform efforts.
Joining Menjívar on the virtual panel were Angélica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. All the speakers agreed that the national stance must recognize the complexities of the issue beyond border security and militarization.
Immigration reform is deeply interconnected with labor rights, access to education, health care and violence in other countries, they noted.
“You can legalize the people in the U.S., but if you don’t deal with the system that keeps us out and kicks us out, then you are not doing service to our community,” Salas said.
The so-called border crisis is actually a regional international policy problem, Selee said. “If you have lots of people coming in an irregular fashion, we need to rethink how we facilitate a legal path to immigration.”
Salas called for an urgent change in enforcement. “The detention system is a for-profit system,” she said. “Too many corporations [make] money off of the detention of our people.”
U.S. immigration policy also needs to account for the economic contributions made by the millions of undocumented workers throughout the country, Selee said.
Menjívar cautioned that immigrants should be recognized in a manner that avoids “reducing them to a dollar sign,” noting the many “social and cultural contributions [immigrants] have made to this country over decades.”
Selee pointed out that almost half of immigrants today have college degrees, representing potential talent that can help catalyze economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.
“Unlock that potential, [and] it would fit in really well in a moment where we are trying to recover economically,” he said.
View a recording of the webinar
A new report authored by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge measures the extent of utility debt accumulation among customers served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Disparities in unpaid bills predate COVID-19 but have deepened since the pandemic’s outbreak. Using data from a November 2020 California State Water Resources Control Board survey, the researchers found one-quarter to one-third of all Los Angeles households faced financial difficulties paying for their utilities.
“We didn’t expect the magnitude to be this big,” said Silvia R. González, co-author of the study and a senior researcher at the Luskin Center for Innovation. “For many families, this means choosing between keeping their lights on or skipping meals or medical treatment.”
The debt burden is unevenly distributed across Los Angeles — 64% of the population in severely affected neighborhoods are Latino. Black communities also face disproportionate debt, and racial disparities persist even after accounting for socioeconomic characteristics. Further, the study found that lower-income neighborhoods, residents with limited English proficiency and renters face unequal debt burdens.
Early on in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended water and energy utility shut-offs, which has provided continued utility access for households in California. But accumulating debt has not been forgiven, and this crisis will need to be resolved once the suspension is lifted.
Researchers said they hope to guide policymakers and utility operators in formulating targeted debt-relief programs, and calls for financial support from COVID-19-related aid to ensure that vulnerable Angelenos will still have access to water and energy after the pandemic.
“We need an equitable relief plan,” González said. “These communities are already historically underserved areas and they’ve been left behind more broadly during the pandemic. These debts will be impossible for many families to repay.”
By Les Dunseith
Anyone who has driven through the Sepulveda Pass during rush hour knows that traffic on Interstate 405 can be a nightmare. Still, it’s not as bad as it was made to seem in an altered photo that’s making the rounds on Facebook.
The image shows 19 (!) lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic snaking along the freeway just north of the Getty Center, about 3 miles from the UCLA campus. And when an Associated Press reporter decided to fact-check the photo, she turned to Professor Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.
Not only did Taylor have the insight necessary to debunk the altered photo, but he even had a recent picture of the real 405 to prove it.
Here’s the fake picture:
And here’s the photo by Taylor, taken in approximately the same location (although looking southbound, the opposite direction), which offers proof that there are not 19 lanes in that stretch of freeway, but 12 — including carpool lanes in each direction that were added in 2011 and 2012 during the infamous “Carmageddon” project.
In its story about the picture, the AP provides a link to the original photograph that had been doctored to produce the viral fake, saying it appears to have been captured in 1998. It shows five lanes of traffic in each direction, with far fewer cars.
Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, wrote to the AP reporter that the false image “has been bouncing around for years.”
“It’s a bit of obvious hyperbole to (I assume) make a point about continually widening freeways to address growing traffic levels,” Taylor wrote. “The idea that someone would take this seriously is, well, alarming.”
Thanks to the AP and Taylor, Facebook has now added a notification that the photo has been altered.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. In order to achieve the state’s goals of carbon neutrality by 2045 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, decarbonizing this sector is essential. But such a transition is unlikely to occur rapidly without key policy intervention, according to a new study that included research from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
A team of transportation and policy experts from the University of California released a report April 21 to the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) outlining policy options to significantly reduce transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions. Those policy options, when combined, could lead to a zero-carbon transportation system by 2045, while also improving equity, health and the economy. A second study, led by UC Santa Barbara, identifying strategies to reduce in-state petroleum production in parallel with reductions in demand, was released simultaneously.
The state funded the two studies through the 2019 Budget Act. The studies are designed to identify paths to slash transportation-related fossil fuel demand and emissions while also managing a strategic, responsible decline in transportation-related fossil fuel supply.
The University of California demand study was conducted by researchers from the UC Institute of Transportation Studies, a network with branches at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and UCLA. The UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy coordinated the report’s policy management, and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change led the study’s equity and environmental justice research.
Bringing about a zero-carbon transportation future will be challenging but not impossible, the report states. Doing so requires urgent actions and a long-term perspective. Importantly, a major upfront investment in clean transportation through incentives and new charging and hydrogen infrastructure will soon pay off in net economic savings to the California economy, with net savings in the next decade growing to tens of billions of dollars per year by 2045.
The report recommends flexible policy approaches that can be adjusted over time as technologies evolve and more knowledge is gained.
“This report is the first to comprehensively evaluate a path to a carbon neutral transportation system for California by 2045,” said Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. “We find that such pathways are possible but will rely on extensive changes to existing policies as well as introduction of some new policies. The study also prioritizes equity, health and workforce impacts of the transition to zero-carbon transportation.”
Researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation led the study’s workforce analysis. Achieving carbon neutrality in California’s transportation sector could create over 7.3 million job-years of employment over the next 25 years, according to the researchers. These jobs would result from “greening” many existing occupations and creating new occupations.
“This presents the state with a golden opportunity to create not only new, high-quality jobs, but also ensure that many existing industries and occupations transition to better practices,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and professor of public policy.
KEY POLICY STRATEGIES
Zero emission vehicles: Many of the report’s policy options are centered on a rapid transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which is expected to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air pollution as the state’s electric grid is also decarbonized.
Light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for 70% and 20% of the state’s transportation emissions, respectively. The report suggests a combination of enhanced mandates, incentives, and public charging and hydrogen infrastructure investments to speed the adoption of ZEVs. For medium and heavy-duty vehicles, key policy priorities include increasing the availability of charging stations for long-haul freights, electricity pricing reform to make depot charging more affordable, and priority lanes and curb access for zero-emission trucks, among other possibilities.
Vehicle miles traveled: Even with widespread ZEV use, reducing overall vehicle miles traveled is necessary to reduce traffic congestion and emissions from vehicle manufacturing, and to enhance quality-of-life and land-use benefits related to traffic. The report suggests policies that encourage active, shared and micromobility transportation, telecommuting, and land-use changes that reduce people’s reliance on automobiles and enhance community connectivity.
Fuels: About 86% of transportation fuel is petroleum. Shifting toward low-carbon clean energy requires major investments in electricity and hydrogen. Low-carbon liquid fuels compatible with internal combustion engines will be needed to reduce emissions while the transition to ZEVs progresses, as well as in some specialized applications, like aviation. California can support the needed investments in clean fuels with mandated blending levels, new incentives and credits to stimulate investment in very low-carbon liquid fuels for aviation, shipping and legacy combustion engine vehicles.
Getting to zero: Some residual emissions remain in every scenario examined. The report states that at least 4 million to 5 million metric tons per year of negative emissions capacity (equal to 2.5% of current transportation emissions) is needed by 2045 to counteract those residual emissions. These could come from carbon capture and sequestration projects that pull carbon from the air to store it underground, as well as so-called sequestration by natural or working lands.
In addition to direct economic benefits beginning around 2030, the transportation decarbonization policies could also lead to health, equity and environmental justice, and workforce and labor benefits.
Health: Transportation is a major cause of local air pollution and contributes to climate change. Particulate matter harms lungs and hearts, while nitrogen oxide compounds contribute to ozone pollution and other health impacts. The report found that cleaner heavy-duty vehicles would significantly reduce pollution in many of the state’s most vulnerable communities. The health benefits of reducing local pollution will grow with the deployment of clean transportation technologies and could translate to more than $25 billion in savings in 2045.
Equity and environmental justice: Transportation in California carries a legacy of inequity and damage to disadvantaged communities. These communities often lack quality public transportation or viable transportation choices. Highways have been built with little consideration for displacement, and many communities of color have been divided by freeways, perpetuating historic segregation policies like redlining. The report identifies options that prioritize equity in transportation investments and policies.
- Continue to support electric vehicle incentives targeted to lower-income buyers and underserved communities, including used vehicles.
- Prioritize deploying electric heavy-duty vehicles in disadvantaged communities and magnet facilities such as commercial warehouses in those communities.
- Support transit and zero-emission services and charging stations in disadvantaged communities. This can help reduce vehicle miles traveled and increase accessibility while avoiding displacement.
- Avoid siting non-renewable fuel production facilities in disadvantaged communities, engage communities disproportionately affected by transportation sector emissions in decision-making concerning the siting of new infrastructure and investments associated with achieving carbon neutrality, and continue to carefully monitor and control local pollutants.
“We must confront the legacy of the lack of public and private investment where Black, indigenous and people of color live and work,” said Bernadette Austin, acting director of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. “This report identifies ways to strategically invest in sustainable infrastructure while intentionally avoiding disruptive and damaging infrastructure in our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”
Workforce: The transition to a carbon-neutral transportation system will disrupt jobs in some sectors while creating new jobs in others, like clean vehicle manufacturing and electric and hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The report suggests that California prioritize the needs of impacted workers. In addition, wherever ZEV-related industry expansion creates quality jobs, state policy should focus on creating broadly accessible career pathways.
Economy: The transition to ZEVs is expected to generate savings for consumers and the economy well before 2045. Within the next decade, the cost of owning and operating ZEVs is projected to drop below that of a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle. That is because battery, fuel cell and hydrogen costs will continue to decline; electricity costs will be much less than petroleum fuel costs; and maintenance costs of ZEVs will be less. These savings can be invested elsewhere by households and businesses.
A group of UCLA engineers has become the first university team to win the grand prize in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE global competition. By mitigating the carbon footprint of concrete, the team’s invention could eventually be a major step in the global battle against climate change.
The UCLA CarbonBuilt team, led by Gaurav Sant, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, won $7.5 million in the competition’s track for technologies related to coal-fired power generation.
The winning technology is a first-of-its-kind, eco-friendly approach for taking carbon dioxide emissions directly from power plants and other industrial facilities — emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere — and infusing them into a new type of concrete invented by the team. As it hardens and gains strength, the specially formulated concrete permanently absorbs and traps the greenhouse gas.
Through extensive research at UCLA and testing at the Integrated Test Center, a facility outside of Gillette, Wyoming, the researchers demonstrated that their process reduced the carbon footprint of concrete by more than 50% while producing concrete that was just as strong and durable as the traditional material.
Each CarbonBuilt concrete block stores about three-quarters of a pound of carbon dioxide — a significant amount considering an estimated 1 trillion concrete blocks will be produced annually by the year 2027.
Sant joined the UCLA faculty in 2010. He and a group of staff scientists, postdoctoral scholars and doctoral students began the research that led to the award in 2014. A team from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, led by Director JR DeShazo, supported the venture with public policy and economic guidance.
Sant directs the UCLA Institute for Carbon Management and also holds a faculty appointment in the UCLA Engineering materials science and engineering department.
“As a third-generation civil engineer, I have been fascinated with the role that construction has played in solving societal challenges,” he said. “To have spent the past decade developing a solution to mitigate the carbon footprint of concrete with a phenomenal team, and to have won the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE doing something I’m passionate about, is an ultimate dream come true.”
Sponsored by NRG Energy and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition was launched in September 2015 to find ways to beneficially use carbon dioxide emissions. The nonprofit XPRIZE Foundation challenged a global community of problem-solvers to develop technologies for turning carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas power plant emissions into valuable products. A Canadian team called CarbonCure won the competition’s other track, for natural gas-based power generation.
UCLA’s entry was one of 47 submissions from 38 teams in seven countries. CarbonBuilt, formerly known as CO2Concrete, was named one of the 10 finalists in October 2017.
Sant said the original inspiration for the winning technology came from an unlikely source: seashells.
“Seashells are made of calcium carbonate, which is nature’s original cementation agent,” he said. “We were really motivated by the idea of how seashells were held together. And that’s how we really set about to turn carbon dioxide into concrete.”
Challenged by experts in academia and industry who said it couldn’t be done, Sant and his team spent the next seven years on a mission to prove them wrong.
First, the UCLA researchers developed a new formula for cement, which is the binding agent in concrete. They used hydrated lime, or portlandite, which can absorb carbon dioxide quickly, to replace traditional calcium silicate cement, known as ordinary portland cement. Then, the team created a method in which carbon dioxide taken directly from flue gas is quickly absorbed by portlandite as the concrete hardens.
In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide into the concrete, CarbonBuilt’s Reversa process reduces the amount of ordinary portland cement needed to produce concrete by between 60% and 90%. The process also occurs at ordinary temperatures and pressures. As a result, CarbonBuilt concrete has a much smaller carbon footprint than conventional concrete. That could go a long way toward reducing the world’s greenhouse gas output, since the production of traditional cement used in concrete is the cause of nearly 9% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Another compelling advantage of the new technology is that it is cost-effective. Unlike other carbon-mitigation technologies that require an expensive setup to capture the carbon dioxide emissions or purify them, the CarbonBuilt process allows for carbon dioxide in power and industrial plants’ flue gas to be utilized directly and converted at its source without those extra steps.
“It’s a transformative, eureka moment for UCLA and for science and engineering,” said Jayathi Murthy, the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Dean of UCLA Engineering. “Through sheer tenacity and determination, Gaurav and his team were able to turn a research project into an innovative technology that can solve a real societal problem and drive positive change in the world.”
To advance to the finals, the UCLA researchers demonstrated that their technology could consume 135 kilograms (about 297 pounds) of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. In 2017, the team had to meet certain technical requirements, subject to verification by an independent firm. Those results were then evaluated by a panel of expert judges from academia and industry who assessed the amount of carbon dioxide that was converted into CarbonBuilt concrete, as well as the engineering, environmental and economic value of the construction material.
Originally scheduled for February 2020, the competition’s final round was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the UCLA team deployed to the Integrated Test Center to demonstrate its system on an industrial scale. The demonstration ran for four months and produced nearly 150 metric tons (more than 330,000 pounds) of CarbonBuilt concrete blocks. Some of the concrete blocks were donated to the Eastern Shoshone tribe for housing projects on the Wind River Reservation in Fort Washakie, Wyoming.
The funds from the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE award will support innovative carbon-mitigation research and technology development at UCLA Engineering. CarbonBuilt, which is a private company founded by Sant, has secured rights related to the project’s patent portfolio owned by UCLA to commercialize the technology.
Prior to winning the grand prize, the team has raised $10 million toward the development of the CarbonBuilt technology. In addition to a $500,000 award from the XPRIZE Foundation in 2018 for reaching the finals, Sant secured a $1.8 million grant in 2019 from the Department of Energy. (Additional testing to complete the DOE grant recently concluded at the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama.) And the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation contributed $1.5 million in 2017.
Many UCLA faculty members have contributed to the team’s success, including Center for Innovation Director DeShazo, a professor of public policy and of civil and environmental engineering; Dante Simonetti, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of bioengineering; Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of materials science and engineering; and Mathieu Bauchy, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Additional team members include current and former UCLA Engineering project scientists Dale Prentice, Gabriel Falzone, Iman Mehdipour and Bu Wang; Hyukmin Kweon, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar; Zhenhua Wei, a former doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering; Camly Tran, executive director of the Institute for Carbon Management; and seasoned industry advisers including Edward Muller, Stephen Raab and CarbonBuilt CEO Rahul Shendure.
By Les Dunseith
Residents of Los Angeles County have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, with significant numbers citing the pandemic’s adverse impact on their finances, health and children’s education, according to UCLA’s sixth annual Quality of Life Index.
“A year ago we speculated about how resilient our region would be in the year to follow,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who oversees the index. “We now know that Los Angeles County has demonstrated robust resilience, but a significant toll has been exacted on our residents by the tumultuous events. Many of our residents — especially younger ones — are anxious, angry and steadily losing hope about their future in Los Angeles.”
This year’s Quality of Life Index, or QLI, was based on interviews with 1,434 county residents over a 20-day period beginning on March 3, just as vaccinations were beginning to fuel optimism about a possible return to more normal life. Last year’s survey, conducted in the earliest stages of the pandemic, found high levels of anxiety about the possible impacts of COVID-19. Twelve months later, respondents said many of those fears had come to pass:
- More than half of those surveyed (54%) reported that they or a close family member or friend had tested positive for the coronavirus.
- Forty percent said their income went down because of the pandemic, with 22% saying it dropped “a lot” and 18% reporting “some” decline. Roughly 1 in 5 (18%) said they had lost their job at some point during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Three-quarters of parents (76%) with school-age children felt their kids had been “substantially hurt, either academically or socially,” by pandemic-related distance learning and quarantine experiences.
In addition, nearly a fifth (17%) of all respondents reported that their income declined “a lot” in the past year and that they also suffered at least two specific negative impacts, such as a job loss, a wage or salary reduction, a decline in work hours or difficulty paying their rent or mortgage. This group was disproportionately composed of women under age 50, single people, renters, those without college degrees and those with household incomes of less than $60,000.
“These are among the most vulnerable individuals living in our county,” Yaroslavsky said.
The QLI, a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment with major funding provided by Meyer and Renee Luskin, asks a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents each year to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results of this year’s survey were made available April 19 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is taking place virtually.
Mirroring last year’s result, this year’s overall quality-of-life rating held steady at 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100), which is slightly more positive than negative. But researchers noted that marked changes emerged among specific racial and ethnic groups, especially with younger residents.
Younger Angelenos: Sinking optimism, tempered by race
Reflecting a trend seen in recent QLI surveys, the county’s younger population — those between the ages of 18 and 49 — rated their quality of life lower than older residents, and the pandemic seems to have exacerbated that disparity.
“The varied manifestations of COVID-19,” Yaroslavsky said, “fell most heavily on the shoulders of younger county residents.”
In particular, researchers observed a growing belief by younger Angelenos that the cost of living in the region is threatening their ability to make ends meet, get ahead or gain some sort of financial security.Yet even among this demographic, the survey revealed a distinct divergence in views between Latinos and whites, the two largest racial/ethnic groups in the county. While they have faced demonstrably harder challenges in the region, Latino residents overall were more positive about their quality of life than whites — and this was particularly pronounced among younger residents.
“Repeatedly, younger Latinos are more positive about their own conditions and express greater approval and positivity toward the variety of public officials and governmental entities that affect their lives,” said Paul Maslin, a public opinion and polling expert with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research) who has overseen the QLI survey process since 2016. “Among younger white residents in Los Angeles County, a greater sense of frustration and even bitterness is apparent.”
The survey uncovered a number of noteworthy differences in these two groups’ views of the pandemic, public officials and the opportunities available in the region:
- Younger white residents were evenly split over whether the handling of the pandemic had been fair or unfair to “people like them” (48% vs. 49%), whereas younger Latinos reported that it had been fair to them by a 2-to-1 margin (65% vs. 33%).
- About two-thirds (68%) of younger whites believe the Los Angeles area is a place where the rich get richer and the average person can’t get ahead, compared with only 55% of younger Latinos.
- Younger Latinos had more favorable views of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (57%) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (53%) than younger whites, 57% of whom had unfavorable views of Garcetti and 62% unfavorable views of Newsom.
- Younger white residents rated the response to the pandemic — across all levels of government — much more harshly than younger Latinos. Only about a third of whites approved of the response of federal, state and county governments and local school districts. Latinos’ ratings of approval were at least 20 points higher for every level of government and for local school districts.
- However, in terms of paying their rent, more younger Latinos (43%) reported falling behind than did young whites (31%).
The 2021 QLI: Resilience and change
While this year’s quality-of-life rating remained at 58 overall, reflecting a remarkable resilience among county residents, several significant shifts within the nine major categories that make up the survey tell a different story.
This was most noticeable in the education category, where the satisfaction rating of respondents with children in public schools dropped from 58 last year to 52 this year, one of the most dramatic one-year declines in any category in the QLI’s history.
Satisfaction ratings for public safety also fell over the past year, from 64 to 60, influenced significantly by a growing concern over violent crime. And respondents’ rating of the quality of their neighborhoods dropped from 71 to 68.
On the other hand, satisfaction with transportation and traffic rose from 53 to 56, which researchers attribute to a significant reduction in commuter traffic caused by pandemic-related workplace shutdowns.
With regard to the workplace, 57% of employed respondents said they currently work from home or split time between home and their place of work. As to the future, 77% said they would prefer a mix of working from home and their workplace when the pandemic ends, with just 16% wanting to “almost always work at home.”
The 2021 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research). The full reports for 2021 and previous years are posted online by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.
By Stan Paul
Martin Wachs, distinguished professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, died unexpectedly April 12 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 79.
“Marty Wachs was mentor to an entire generation of urban planners and urban planning scholars and a cherished friend of many of the Luskin faculty,” wrote Dean Gary Segura in a memo about Wachs’ passing to the Luskin School community.
Throughout his five decades of service to the University of California — which included teaching and serving in top research and leadership posts at both UCLA and UC Berkeley — Wachs earned a reputation as a world-class scholar and expert in the field of transportation planning. He garnered numerous accolades and academic awards.
Wachs was a prolific author, writing and collaborating on more than 160 articles and four books on relationships between transportation, land use and air quality, and the use of performance measurement in transportation planning. He also was interested in many related aspects and social issues, including professional ethics, aging, the environment and finance.
He came to UCLA in 1971 as an associate professor in a newly founded Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Wachs was widely known as an outstanding teacher and caring mentor. In the wake of his death, numerous colleagues, former students and friends have shared memories and tributes that will be collected on a page of remembrances over the coming weeks.
Among one generation of planners influenced directly by Wachs is Brian Taylor, who studied under Wachs as an urban planning doctoral student at UCLA Luskin.
“The number of students who studied under Marty is legion,” said Taylor, professor of public policy and urban planning at the Luskin School and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, which was founded by Wachs. “It’s just a veritable who’s who in the area of transportation policy and planning.”
Wachs’ dedication to students and colleagues included supporting their work and aspirations before, during and long after their studies.
“He was a mentor to people who did and did not study with him,” Taylor recalled. “He’s the person that we went to … late in our careers for advice about things.”
“He clearly enjoyed the role of teacher,” said Chris Tilly, professor and current chair of urban planning at UCLA. “I can’t think of how many times I walked past his office and heard him listen carefully, then offer thoughtful advice to a student, whether an undergrad, a [master’s of urban and regional planning], or a Ph.D. student — not your typical emeritus.”
Tilly also described Wachs as an “influential person who built institutions, organized things and people, and made change. He did much to build our department. We have all lost someone who greatly enriched our lives.”
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning and the former chair of urban planning, said, “Marty was a giant in the field of transportation, someone who early on set the stage for the advancement of transportation planning and policy and who kept contributing to it till now.” She added, “For me, Marty was also an inspiring mentor and role model, a trusted friend, and a wonderful colleague and collaborator. I will miss him dearly.”
At the time of his death, Wachs was collaborating and consulting with colleagues on research, working on papers, actively mentoring students and looking forward to attending a socially distanced game of his beloved L.A. Dodgers, said Taylor, noting that Wachs was also a longtime UCLA basketball season ticketholder.
Taylor described Wachs as a first-class scholar, an exemplary teacher and a caring person. “He was an extraordinarily kind and generous person. … That’s just who he was. He was a true mensch.”
Wachs was deeply committed to public service and over his career served on advisory boards and commissions at the local, state and national levels, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the U.S. Department of Transportation. He was a member of professional and honorary societies and served on editorial boards for transportation and planning journals and publications.
In a 2006 tribute to Wachs at his retirement from the University of California, Robert Cervero, a former UCLA urban planning doctoral student and now professor emeritus of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley wrote: “I had the privilege of being around Marty as a student and colleague over the past 30 years. It is an unspoken truth by those in the transportation planning academy that Marty is the gold standard on how to be a professor — sharp, decisive and demanding, yet warm, caring and approachable. His profound and lasting influence on the field and today’s generation of transportation planning professionals and scholars is unparalleled.”
In 2000, he served as chair of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. He retired from the University of California in 2006 and later, in 2010, stepped down from a role as senior principal researcher and director of the Transportation, Space and Technology Program at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.
More recently, Wachs was a member of the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group and, in 2016, he was chosen to serve as chair of a design commission for the famed “gateway to New York,” the Port Authority Bus Terminal of New York.
His honors included a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowships, a UCLA Alumni Association Distinguished Teaching Award, the Pyke Johnson Award (twice, four decades apart) for the best paper presented at an annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board and the Carey Award for service to that board. He also was named a Distinguished Planning Educator, the highest honor the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning bestows on a faculty member.
Prior to coming to UCLA, Wachs was an assistant professor in civil engineering at Northwestern University and an assistant professor in systems engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from City University of New York in 1963, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering from Northwestern University in 1965 and 1967, respectively.
Wachs also served as a U.S. Army captain.
He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Faye Wachs; son, Steven Wachs; son-in-law, Navid Ardakani; daughter-in-law, Shirley Tse-Wachs; grandson, Ziya; and granddaughter, Leia.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, Wachs’ family has requested that those interested in making a donation contribute to the Urban Planning Professors Emeriti Fund, specifying that the gift is being made in his memory. Proceeds from this fund support the Martin Wachs Fellowship in Transportation, which provides financial assistance to promising students studying transportation policy and planning at UCLA.
Gifts can also be made by check payable to the UCLA Foundation. Please include “Fund #90695Q” in the memo field and send the donation to the UCLA Foundation, P.O. Box 7145, Pasadena, CA 91109.
The Wachs family also encourages gifts to be made in Marty’s memory to other causes or charities of importance to individual donors.
Friends and Colleagues:
I am deeply saddened to report that our friend Marty Wachs, professor emeritus of Urban Planning, passed away Sunday night. Marty was a 50-year member of the Luskin and Urban Planning Community since his arrival as an associate professor of Urban Planning in 1971. He spent 25 of those years on the UCLA faculty.
Martin Wachs was a professor, chair (three terms), and the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA who then spent a decade at UC Berkeley, where he was also chair and director of their Transportation Center. He also held appointments at UIC, Northwestern and Rand. Marty was the author of more than 160 articles and four books on transportation, land use and environment. He was an award-winning teacher and scholar, recognized for his research with a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, and he was the winner of a UCLA distinguished teaching award.
He was mentor to an entire generation of urban planners and urban planning scholars and a cherished friend of many of the Luskin faculty.
We are in touch with his wife, Helen, and will share details regarding arrangements as they become available. The Luskin School will plan an appropriate commemoration of his life and work, in consultation with his family, in the near term.
I know you all join me in offering our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.
Gary M. Segura
Professor and Dean
Further coverage will follow. The Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA is encouraging people to add remembrances of Martin Wachs in the comments section of a post on the ITS website. Email tributes also may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org