Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impact of Chinatown’s most popular restaurant, Howlin’ Rays. While Chinatown locals have struggled to stay afloat as office and housing costs rise, the Nashville-style hot fried chicken restaurant has attracted masses of Los Angeles locals and visitors since it opened in 2016, resulting in lines up to five hours long. Ong explained that new businesses like Howlin’ Rays attract a specific clientele, prompting increased investment and property development in Chinatown that alienates locals. After realizing that many locals didn’t have the time or money to try Howlin’ Rays, L.A. Times reporter Frank Shyong waited two hours in line to buy chicken to distribute to nearby business owners. “The biggest challenge is understanding how we all play a role in a much larger dynamic,” Ong remarked. “More broadly, we have to talk about what we want our cities to look like.”
A Daily News article discussing the upcoming June vote on Measure EE included comments by Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. Measure EE is a proposed 16-cents-per-square-foot parcel tax that pledges to pay for lower class sizes, attract high-quality teachers, and improve programs and services for students within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Yaroslavsky explained that “typically, when you have lower voter turnout, and there’s a campaign on both sides, it makes it more difficult for the yes side to get a two-thirds vote.” Proponents of the bills argue that the tax is necessary to make up for inadequate funding from the state, while opponents blame the district for mismanagement of funds. “My instincts tell me this is going to be close,” Yaroslavsky said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, nor would I be surprised if it lost.”
By Mary Braswell
Meyer and Renee Luskin — alumni, benefactors and lifelong friends of UCLA — received the university’s highest honor at a reception that was followed by an engaging symposium inspired by their deep commitment to education and social justice.
Chancellor Gene Block bestowed the UCLA Medal on the Luskins on May 29, at the conference center bearing their name.
“What drives Meyer and Renee is precisely what drives UCLA: a desire to solve society’s biggest challenges and to create opportunity for all through education and research,” Block said.
Countless UCLA students have benefited from scholarships funded by the Luskins, and the couple’s legacy can be seen across the campus. The School of Public Affairs was rechristened with the Luskin name in 2011, providing the resources to further its research efforts and expand educational opportunities for students in the fields of public affairs, public policy, social welfare and urban planning.
The UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, which opened in 2016 in the heart of campus, is a structure of “ageless grace” that will bring people together to explore new ideas for generations to come, Block said.
The medal citation read aloud by the chancellor specifically recognizes the Luskins for their “entrepreneurial spirit and a vision for recycling and repurposing available resources,” as well as being “catalysts for convening people around important issues that require collaboration.”
After receiving the UCLA Medal, Renee Luskin, who earned a B.A. in sociology in 1953, said it has been a “true joy” to be part of the university’s remarkable journey. “We have met so many extraordinary people and made treasured friendships here,” she said.
Meyer Luskin, who grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side and Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights in an immigrant family with little education or financial means, remembered his first day at UCLA.
“I recall a shy, innocent, simple, somewhat odd, not-quite-17-year-old freshman walking up Janss Steps in 1942. Yes, that was 77 years ago,” said Luskin, who completed his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949 after a break for military service during World War II.
“How do I feel? UCLA, one of the world’s great universities, is awarding me its highest honor. It has been an incredibly long and fortunate journey to this podium.”
The medal ceremony drew family, friends and colleagues of the Luskins along with UCLA faculty, staff and supporters. It was followed by a symposium moderated by Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Renee and Meyer Luskin, he said, “are two people who are thoughtful and critical of social conditions that they see as inequitable, who embrace the role of education as the linchpin of democracy, who are remarkably intellectually curious about everything under the sun, and whose affection for and celebration of the many students whose lives they have touched is amazing to witness.”
In that spirit, Segura guided the conversation by panelists selected for their varied perspectives on UCLA’s mission and because they could speak to issues important to the Luskins:
- JR DeShazo, public policy chair and director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, specializes in environmental policy and politics.
- Andrea Ghez, head of UCLA’s Galactic Center Group, is a globally recognized expert in observational astrophysics.
- Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of computer science who has been on the UCLA faculty since 1963, developed the mathematical theory of packet networks, the technology underpinning the Internet.
- David Myers, director of the Luskin Center for History and Policy, has written extensively on modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history.
- Andrew Vega, who earned his B.A. in English language and literature from UCLA in 2007, is principal of the Alliance Renee and Meyer Luskin Academy, and is known for helping to turn around low-performing schools.
The conversation touched on inequity in education and threats posed by environmental degradation and technology used for inappropriate or even nefarious purposes. It also recognized the spirit of innovation kindled at UCLA, seen in the drive and ingenuity of its students.
“I think this is an important lesson for our students — and all of us, really — to never let our fear of failure stop us from taking risks,” Block said.
The couple have also provided financial support at UCLA for the Legal Ethics program at UCLA Law, the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin.
View additional photos from the event in an album on Flickr.
Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong and Assistant Director Silvia R. González have co-authored a book on urban ethnoracial inequalities. “Uneven Urbanscape: Spatial Structures and Ethnoracial Inequality,” newly published by Cambridge University Press, draws from a vast trove of research and data to evaluate the causes and consequences of urban inequality, specifically looking at housing, employment and education. Focusing on Los Angeles, Ong and González studied small geographic units that approximate neighborhoods to determine how location relates to access and isolation. Los Angeles, they found, is “a powerful case study for understanding spatialized racial and ethnic stratification.” The authors describe the different elements that make up the urban spatial structure — place, relative location and networks — as a means to evaluate how spatial structure produces and reproduces ethnoracial inequalities in cities. “The material world reflects and projects socioeconomic realties and is instrumental in creating the lived experience,” they wrote. “By touching a broad range of human activities, the urban landscape, or urbanscape, becomes complicit in the production of socioeconomic injustices along racial and ethnic lines.” Ong and González said Los Angeles as a case study provides critical insights into the nation’s racial and ethnic hierarchies. They call for engaged scholarship with research such as theirs and conclude, “The academy is a privileged institution that should embrace societal responsibilities to directly combat socioeconomic disparities.”
By Mary Braswell
A deep exploration of social justice as a guiding principle behind urban design will evolve into a book conceived by the UCLA Luskin faculty.
Over spring quarter, Urban Planning brought 10 prominent scholars to campus to shed light on public space in all its complexity. They spoke about the market forces, political calculations, environmental concerns and lifestyle trends that are transforming cities in Southern California and around the world, pushing some citizens to the fringe. And they offered frameworks for putting inclusion back at the center of urban design.
The speakers’ insights will become chapters in a book that shares the same name as the lecture series: “Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City.”
“Cities are very much theaters of inequality, an inequality that has been increasing in the last decade,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who organized the project with Chair Vinit Mukhija and Assistant Professor Kian Goh.
“The larger question that motivates this series is whether there is anything we can do through physical planning and urban design to create more just cities.”
The speakers who came to UCLA as part of the Harvey S. Perloff Lecture Series and Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series brought decades of experience both in scholarly settings and on the front lines of urban upheaval.
They included Setha Low, described by Loukaitou-Sideris as “one of the most prominent anthropologists and ethnographers of our time.” A professor at City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Low has worked with U.N. Habitat and other institutions to develop global social justice indicators for urban design.
“This is a really important moment in time,” Low said during her April 23 visit to UCLA. “There is a push to create a society, at a moment of great divisiveness, that is much more open and accessible and let’s say free. We need places to come together.”
She said one of her greatest challenges is communicating these ideals to the general public.
“We need to really explain how public space creates flourishing societies,” she said. “We need to really reach outside of ourselves and reach a much broader public so that they understand why it matters.”
The April 25 lecture by Harvard Professor Diane E. Davis was moderated by Goh, who noted, “The things that I learned from her, mostly to do with politics and scale, really informed the work that I do now.”
Davis, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA and now serves as the chair of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, raised foundational questions such as “What makes a city public?” and “What gives a city a robust democratic public sphere?”
“I’m really interested in the politics of how people and states interact or don’t interact with each other,” she said. “I think that is a really important framing for thinking about the best urban design.”
The notion that public space transcends national boundaries guided a May 1 talk by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, professors at UC San Diego and partners in a studio specializing in urbanism, architecture and political science.
“We believe that the convergence of geopolitical borders, climate justice and poverty is ultimately the challenge of our time,” said Cruz, explaining a project the two had created for the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Called “MEXUS: A Geography of Interdependence,” the presentation cast the border region as a shared space interwoven with environmental, economic and cultural connections.
Forman sounded an alarm about the “nativist mentality” that is moving into the mainstream, “legitimizing open racism that we haven’t seen since the middle of the 20th Century.”
“We see the San Diego-Tijuana border region as a microcosm of all of the injustices that neoliberal globalization has inflicted on the world’s most vulnerable people: poverty, climate change, accelerated migration, gender violence, human trafficking, slow suburbanization, privatization and so on,” she said.
Forman said that she and Cruz want to tell a very different story about life on the border.
“Our work reimagines the U.S.-Mexico border as a tissue of social and spatial ecologies, an amazing laboratory for political, urban and architectural creativity. For us, conflict is a creative tool.”
These other speakers also contributed to the series: Rachel Berney and Jeff Hou of the University of Washington, Alison Hirsch of USC, Kimberley Kinder of the University of Michigan, Matt Miller of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Rios of UC Davis.
Loukaitou-Sideris, Mukhija and Goh will join the “Just Urban Design” lecturers in contributing chapters to the planned book, which has sparked interest from several publishers.
Collecting the insights of guest speakers in a single book is a model that UCLA Luskin Urban Planning has successfully used before. In 2014, Loukaitou-Sideris and Mukhija invited lecturers to contribute essays examining urban activities such as street vending, garage sales and unpermitted housing to create the book “The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor,” published by MIT Press.
Stan Paul contributed to this article.
Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to the Chicago Tribune about third- and fourth-generation Japanese Americans’ resurgent interest in the internment of their ancestors during World War II. Umemoto went on her own pilgrimage to what remains of Manzanar, the camp where her father was held. “Any Japanese American who saw and understands what our parents and grandparents went through is left with a feeling that they don’t want to see anyone else go through that experience,” said Umemoto, director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA. “So when there is talk of Muslim bans, deportations based on race or ethnicity, or just the overall racial hatred being sown against immigrants … well, we know what terrible things that can lead to.” Umemoto said her visit made her father’s experience more real. “You feel how it might have been for the families who were put behind barbed wire with armed guards, not knowing when they could leave or what would happen to them,” she said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Elon Musk’s underground people-mover for the Las Vegas convention center’s expansion. Musk’s Boring Co. secured a $48.7-million contract after the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board approved construction of the roughly mile-long transit loop. Manville was surprised to learn that an underground plan was more affordable than a proposed elevated rail because tunneling is often more expensive. Based on the few details released by the Boring Co., Manville said it would be difficult to assess the project. “This is kind of a market test for him. Can he now build something that is more commercially viable than what he’s done with his test tunnel in Hawthorne?” Manville said. “But there’s nothing intrinsically interesting about building a tunnel to move people around. That’s what a subway is, right?”
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox “Consider It” episode discussing the issue of sex work in the United States. “For the most part, sex workers are women who are making the choice to do [sex work] as a source of livelihood. We can argue about how good or bad of a source of livelihood this is, but ultimately, sex work is work,” Shah said. “The sex market is often characterized as one of moral repugnance because of moral beliefs that we shouldn’t put a price on sex.” Nevertheless, public policy experts have found numerous benefits associated with the decriminalization of sex work. Shah explained that during the six years that indoor prostitution was decriminalized in Rhode Island, there was a decrease in gonorrhea incidents and reported rape offenses. “Based on current research, decriminalization of sex work is overall better for women,” Shah concluded.
By Naveen Agrawal
“Let’s get ready to … RHNA!” That was the rallying cry from UCLA Luskin Associate Professor Paavo Monkkonen during a recent panel discussion on Los Angeles’ housing needs with policy experts familiar with the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) process.
California’s 1967 housing element law — and the RHNA process — is an underemphasized aspect of state policy that matters just as much today as it did half a century ago, the panelists said.
Held May 15, 2019, “Planning for the Housing That Greater L.A. Needs” was the third and final installment for the year in the Housing, Equity and Community Series, a partnership between the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.
The event was moderated by Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Providing the state’s perspective was Melinda Coy, senior policy specialist with the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Providing the regional view was Ma’Ayn Johnson MA UP ’05, who is a senior housing and land use planner at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Representing municipalities was Diana Varat JD/MA UP ’08, who works at Richards, Watson & Gershon, a firm that specializes in public law services.
California’s housing law seeks to ensure that cities zone for enough housing to accommodate population growth. In the RHNA process, state agencies project the population growth of each region. Then, metropolitan planning organizations like SCAG allocate a number of housing units to individual cities based on the projected growth. Cities are then required to demonstrate that they have enough capacity to accommodate these additional housing units, but RHNA does not force cities to build those units. Enforcement is spotty and construction often lags, resulting in housing shortages in many areas.
Recent state legislative actions have sought to reform the RHNA process, with a particular eye on equity. These and other issues related to the RHNA process are detailed in a newly released Lewis Center brief.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently vowed to enforce RHNA targets more strictly, and his office has gone as far as initiating lawsuits against cities that are not meeting their targets, including Huntington Beach.
Coy described the state’s expanding role in promoting and enforcing RHNA targets, including providing technical assistance to help local governments comply. Coy also mentioned that her department’s staff has increased, reflecting the governor’s emphasis that housing planning be taken seriously.
The complexity of regional governance over the 191 cities and six counties represented by SCAG was emphasized by Johnson. She also cited the importance of having a social justice and equity perspective when RHNA targets are allocated to individual cities so that racial and low-income housing segregation is avoided. She also mentioned that RHNA targets will likely increase to reflect unmet need, not just projected growth.
As a contract attorney working on housing compliance with various California cities, Varat characterized the law as requiring cities to “collect research and ignore it.”
Varat pointed out that identifying sites for affordable housing is a burdensome task for cities. And because it is not coupled with a requirement that those sites actually be developed as affordable housing units, the effort is often moot.
Coy described the housing element law as an effort to create a public safety net for what is otherwise an unprotected essential need. Varat, however, countered that the state’s effort to dictate city policy is based on a presumption that cities hold the power to develop new housing — in most cases, developers actually hold that power.
Another tension between local autonomy and regional/state authority involves existing affordable housing units. Varat criticized the housing element’s emphasis on new units, rather than preservation of existing affordable units. Coy acknowledged this shortcoming, saying that individual RHNA targets are supposed to include existing units, but they seldom do.
One lesson was clear — participation matters. Johnson informed the audience that meetings of SCAG are held monthly and are available by webcast. Both Coy and Varat underscored the importance of planning education and community engagement, and they see promise that the upcoming round of RHNA targets will better address previous gaps.
View a Flickr album of photos from the event.
Associate Professor of Public Policy and Chicana/o Studies Chris Zepeda-Millán spoke to the Associated Press about the reboot of the 1990s drama “Party of Five.” Disney announced that the Freeform network will air the reboot, which has been updated to feature a Mexican American family whose parents are deported. Zepeda-Millán said that it is very telling that a mainstream television network would develop a show focused on immigration status, particularly because it is an American story that has been going on for decades. “Now it will get some mainstream exposure through the very powerful media of television,” he said. Although there are a few television shows that feature Latino characters, they are mainly comedies, Zepeda-Millán said. “I haven’t seen a drama, mainstream show like this,” he said. “Its success will depend on how the characters are portrayed.” The story was picked up by several news outlets, including the New York Times and The Telegraph.