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.

Grants Support Challenging Convention, Strengthening Communities

Four members of the UCLA Luskin faculty have received research grants from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The 2019-20 grants, among 10 awarded to faculty across the UCLA campus, support research, scholarship and teaching that challenge established academic wisdom, contribute to public debate and/or strengthen communities and movements, the institute said. UCLA Luskin recipients are:

  • Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, who will study undocumented Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia and their layered, complex relationship with the legal system in their everyday lives.
  • Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, who will use the lessons of Hurricane Sandy to research the key role public housing and infrastructure play in the quest for climate justice.
  • Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who will create multimedia public narratives that document the stresses of gentrification, displacement and other community changes.
  • Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare, who will develop a restorative justice initiative to take research to the streets, producing knowledge about historically misrepresented communities beyond the confines of academic publication traditions.

In addition to awarding faculty grants of up to $10,000, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy supports research by graduate student working groups. The six groups announced for the 2019-2020 academic year include several urban planning and social welfare students from UCLA Luskin.

Monkkonen on Plan to Zone for 1.3 Million Homes

Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about a state requirement that Southern California cities and counties plan for the construction of 1.3 million new homes in the next decade. The Southern California Association of Governments — which had proposed zoning for just 430,000 new homes during that period — must now determine how to fulfill the commitment in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, Orange, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Monkkonen argued for new housing in places where the demand is highest, such as Los Angeles’ Westside and other areas with strong job growth. To do otherwise would be “a travesty of planning,” especially given recent efforts to increase penalties on local governments that do not comply. Monkkonen said it’s unclear whether the law, which requires zoning for new housing but does not guarantee that the construction will take place, will have a significant effect on the region’s housing shortage.

Koslov on the Thorny Debate Over ‘Managed Retreat’

Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, spoke with the New York Times about a new study on “managed retreat” as an option for communities threatened by climate change. The study, published in the journal Science, found that choosing to relocate rather than rebuild can create new opportunities for communities damaged or threatened by climate disaster. Strategic, orderly and equitable relocation plans should be one of several options available to these communities, the researchers said. They added that regularly updated climate hazard maps should be provided to citizens so that they can make informed choices. “I’m so glad that these kinds of pieces are getting written,” said Koslov, noting that the debate over managed retreat is “inevitably thorny and conflictual.” She added that decisions about whether retreat is the best option should factor in social, economic and cultural considerations, not just physical geography.

Segura on Biden’s Strategy to Win Over California

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura spoke to USA Today about presidential candidate Joe Biden’s strategy to persuade California Democrats that he deserves their support. As the front-runner in several polls, the former vice president has presented himself as the most electable candidate, but his rivals counter that middle-ground politics will not inspire the passion needed to beat President Trump. Segura, who co-founded the polling and political analysis firm Latino Decisions, said Biden would be wise to emphasize his core beliefs. “His argument should start with, ‘There’s a reason I’m the most popular candidate and it’s that the preponderance of the Democratic electorate agrees with me on most issues — and, in fact, the preponderance of other Democratic candidates agree with me on most issues,’ ” Segura said. “He can better frame the argument by drawing attention to the fact that there is a huge portion of the American public that sees him as the logical, rational alternative to what we’ve been experiencing under Trump.”


 

Yaroslavsky on Tug-of-War Over Rehired Deputy

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KCAL9 News after a judge overturned L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s decision to reinstate a fired deputy. The county Board of Supervisors had sued the sheriff’s department, contending that the deputy, who was let go over accusations of stalking and domestic violence, should not have been rehired. “This is not about some policy decision. This is not about whether you should put more police on the streets in Valinda or more in Willowbrook,” said Yaroslavsky, a former county supervisor. “This is about whether the sheriff’s department is going to hire or reinstate deputies who violated their oath of office.” He added, “If you’re a taxpayer or a voter in Los Angeles County, what the sheriff is doing is exposing your pocketbook to huge lawsuits, huge liabilities that the taxpayers are going to have to pay for.”


 

Cohen Offers Perspective on Mental Health Facilities

Social Welfare Professor David Cohen provided context and history in a CNN report assessing the veracity of President Trump’s comments linking gun violence to the closure of mental health facilities. “They closed so many — like 92% — of the mental institutions around this country over the years, for budgetary reasons,” Trump said. Cohen clarified that, since the mid-1950s, about half of the nation’s psychiatric facilities have closed and the number of residents in state mental hospitals has fallen from about 550,000 to about 100,000 today. The facilities closed in an effort to “deinstitutionalize” the mentally ill by placing them in less restrictive environments — not because of budget cutbacks, he added. But many patients were left with nowhere to go. “Society after World War II discovered a new passion to solve social problems and include the excluded, and all sorts of institutions — including orphanages, institutions for mentally retarded persons, homes for unwed mothers, youth detention centers, etc. — were phased out, with their residents often in effect kicked out from where they had lived for years,” Cohen said.

Taylor on ‘America’s Worst Freeway’

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Mashable about the prospects for relief on “America’s worst freeway” — Los Angeles’ congested 405. Mayor Eric Garcetti has called for a transportation revolution that encourages ridesharing and emission-free cars and expands the system of rail, subways and electrified buses — all by the time the 2028 Olympics come to town. The plan includes a new public transit system through the 405 corridor. However, Taylor cautioned, “if that freeway becomes free flowing, it is an invitation to use it.” Los Angeles has built an enormous commuter rail system, yet public transit use is plummeting and auto ownership is rising, he said. Though it has been met with suspicion and hostility, his solution to fixing the 405 — charging motorists to use it — is the surest way to change ingrained driving habits, said Taylor, a professor of urban planning. He concluded, “There must be consequences to driving.”


 

Park on Hot Classrooms and the Achievement Gap

R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy, spoke with KPCC’s “Take Two” about his research linking extreme heat with the racial education achievement gap. Students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams, Park and his colleagues found. In addition, black and Hispanic students are 9 percent less likely than white students to attend schools with functioning air conditioning, they found. “We know that that can have effects on the economic opportunities that these students can have access to,” Park told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 23:40. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy. “In the meantime,” he said, “we need to protect the most disadvantaged communities from the effects of climate change that are already coming down the pike.” Park’s research was also highlighted in USA Today and the Washington Post.


 

Yaroslavsky on County Election Chief’s Grand Plan

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the L.A. Times about the county’s election chief, who is spearheading an overhaul of the voting system. Since Dean Logan became the registrar-recorder and clerk for Los Angeles County in 2008, he has advocated for replacing an antiquated balloting system. The new $300-million system known as Voting Solutions for All People will face its first test in March, when it is introduced countywide for the presidential primary election. Voters will use the new machines at a smaller number of multipurpose “vote centers” that will replace the roughly 5,000 traditional polling places. Yaroslavsky, who served on the county Board of Supervisors from 1994 to 2014, expressed confidence in Logan. “He’s got an engineer’s mind with an artist’s vision,” Yaroslavsky said. “If you’re in an airplane that has a problem in midair, he’s the kind of guy you would want as the pilot.”