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Mukhija on Empowering Homeowners to Ease the Housing Crisis

Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija argued for loosening restrictions on “granny flats” and other accessory dwelling units in a Sacramento Bee opinion piece co-authored with state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). As a result of legislative reforms that went into effect in 2017, applications from homeowners who want to build basement apartments, backyard cottages, garage conversions or upstairs additions are up across the state. These units, just one element of a broader strategy needed to ease the state’s housing crunch, are “the low-hanging fruit for cities seeking a quick and inexpensive way to increase housing,” the authors wrote. They urged Californians to support Senate Bill 13, which would reduce fees levied on homeowners, loosen owner occupancy requirements and strengthen state oversight of local ordinances. In addition to relieving the housing crisis, the authors wrote, “homeowners can generate rental income that provides much-needed financial security, especially for seniors who may be house rich but cash poor.”


 

Amplifying the Voice of Latinos on Policy Issues Latino Policy & Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin School will fill a critical research gap and provide a think tank around political, social and economic issues

By Les Dunseith

A new initiative underway at the Luskin School of Public Affairs will take advantage of the immense research expertise at UCLA to fill a critical gap in research and policy analysis related to issues that impact Latinos and other communities of color in California and across the country.

The Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) will be “a comprehensive think tank around political, social and economic issues faced by California’s plurality population,” said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura about the new effort, which also received startup funding from the Division of Social Sciences. Matt Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana/o Studies, co-founded the project with Segura in February 2017.

Founding Director Sonja Diaz came aboard in March and has spearheaded meetings with scholars, community organizations, public officials, staff members from governmental agencies, and potential funding partners to formalize the initiative and secure its place among the various research centers at UCLA.

“People on this campus are supportive and willing to partner.”
—Sonja Diaz

“One of the things that I have personally been so impressed with is that people on this campus are supportive and willing to partner,” said Diaz, who earned a Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin in 2010 before going on to receive her law degree from UC Berkeley. “They see the value of supporting LPPI as a meeting place, as an organization and as a foundation to build upon.”

Scholars from across campus have already come aboard, including professors from schools and departments such as Medicine, Business, Health Policy and Management, History and Law.

“We stand here on the shoulders of individual researchers, scholars, students and their centers to actually start having a convergence and a meeting place,” Diaz said about the role of LPPI in uniting Latino-focused research efforts so that studies can be found and shared more easily among interested parties. “We have more than 16 people already in place to produce rapid-response and evidence-tested research on domestic policy issue areas.”

Segura, himself a professor of public policy and Chicana/o studies, said that the University of California — particularly UCLA — is an ideal home for the enterprise. LPPI will develop new research, as well as assist existing faculty research projects and provide direct support for the community, centered around policy issues of vital importance to Latinos.

“The city of Los Angeles is the second-largest Spanish speaking city on the planet — after Mexico City, and significantly ahead of Buenos Aires and Madrid,” Segura explained. “If you are going to study what is happening to Latinos in the United States, you begin in Los Angeles, and your next stop is California.”

Barreto noted that Latinos have been the largest minority group in the U.S. since 2001, and the Latino percentage of the population continues to grow, particularly in California. “Yet, there is a significant gap between the diversity of our state and the institutional representation of Latinos in Sacramento, as well as in the UC system,” he said. “Through this initiative, we hope to increase policy-relevant research on Latinos in California and the country as a whole.”

Basing LPPI at UCLA not only makes sense geographically, it makes sense organizationally, Segura said.

“UCLA has a very strong Department of Chicano/a Studies. It has a very strong Chicano Studies Research Center. And the Luskin School of Public Affairs is UCLA’s — and I would argue the University of California’s — best voice on questions of human service and human need,” Segura said. “The concentration of Latino academics here makes UCLA the right place for LPPI. It’s where it should exist.”

“The concentration of Latino academics here makes UCLA the right place for LPPI.”
—Gary Segura

Although LPPI is still in the organizational phase of its evolution, Diaz noted that its leaders have “already connected with, met with, and partnered with more than 50 community-based organizations, both nationally and at the state level.”

Segura, Barreto and Diaz continue to meet with potential funding partners, including a host of state and federal foundations, and recently completed a trip to Sacramento to engage with members of the California Legislature. The visit served a dual purpose, simultaneously letting elected officials know about LPPI and giving the leadership team an opportunity to ascertain the needs of elected officials in terms of the policymaking demands of the populations that they represent.

“One of the things that we learned is that state government does no demographic research as a matter of form,” Diaz said. “It means that policy is not always best-tailored to the needs of communities of color. We know there is an opportunity there — a need for this type of research.”

To fill that need, LPPI will be launching new research projects to be completed by internal staff members, often working with postdoctoral candidates and graduate assistants. Those projects will afford students an opportunity to get hands-on training and will forge partnerships that Diaz sees continuing beyond graduation as former UCLA students take their places in government life.

“One of the things that is unique about LPPI is that it’s action-oriented,” she explained. “It’s not enough to just produce the research and produce the evidence, but we will actually put it into the hands of people who can go ahead and integrate it into their own proposals.”

The ability to respond quickly to issues of concern among Latinos is a vital aspect of the new initiative. “It’s no secret that a majority of Latinos felt disrespected and under attack by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign,” Barreto said. “It is more important now than ever before to have an objective, research-based approach to policy and politics, to understand the Latino experience in this country, and to make sure that policymakers at all levels of government — from president of the school board to president of the United States — understand that Latinos contribute equally to our communities and expect to have equal input into, and equal outputs, from the political system.”

Diaz sees LPPI becoming a go-to source of information on Latino policy issues at City Hall, in Sacramento and for people nationwide. Segura concurs, noting that he has launched an effort to hire additional faculty members at UCLA Luskin who will add new areas of expertise to the cadre of faculty members across the campus who are already actively pursuing important policy or social issue research.

Segura’s ultimate goal for the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative?

“We will be doing something in the world to improve the lives of the people that we study,” he said, “which, really, is why we do it.”

 

UCLA Researchers Seek Juvenile Justice Alternatives for Children Under 12 UC study indicates that a minimum-age standard is needed to protect California children from prosecution in the juvenile court system

By Stan Paul

Dr. Elizabeth Barnert, left, and Laura Abrams. Photo by George Foulsham

Although Laura Abrams and Dr. Elizabeth Barnert come from opposite ends of the UCLA campus, their work in their respective academic professions meets at the intersection of health and juvenile justice.

A recent University of California study led by Abrams, professor of social welfare in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, offers a powerful rationale for shielding children 11 years old and younger from prosecution and incarceration in the state’s juvenile justice system.

“Children in the juvenile justice system literally meet the definition of children with special health care needs,” said Barnert, who worked with Abrams as members of a team affiliated with the University of California Criminal Justice and Health Consortium. Prior to their study, which was recently published in International Journal of Prisoner Health, the issue in California was not on anyone’s radar, they said.

“Kids in conflict with the law are kids that typically have unmet health needs. We see a lot of undiagnosed depression, ADHD and learning disabilities — or absentee parents who can’t support their children due to working three jobs, deportation, imprisonment or substance abuse,” Barnert said. “When we prosecute these children or lock them away, we’re putting them in a system that traumatizes them further and often makes their problems worse.”

The UCLA study brought together UC experts from social welfare, medicine, psychology and psychiatry, law and criminology, as well as community partners from organizations such as the Children’s Defense Fund-California and the National Center for Youth Law.

“Our findings provide a rationale for why California should have a minimum age for entering the juvenile justice system and why children 11 and younger should be excluded,” Barnert said. “The study recommendations are based on international human rights standards, guidelines from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatricians, and medical evidence that children’s brains do not fully mature until their mid-20s.”

Added Abrams: “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has established a standard on children in conflict with the law. The convention states that every country should have a minimum age of criminal responsibility, or what we refer to as a minimum age of juvenile justice jurisdiction. The United States does not have this type of law at the federal level, however, so it is up to the states to determine.”

Abrams pointed out that protections for minors already built into current state law are based on the capacity or the intent to commit a crime, as well as the competency to stand trial. California’s 58 counties, however, set many of their own juvenile probation standards. Therefore, “there’s no way to insure, without a minimum-age law, that state laws around capacity and competency are being implemented fairly and without geographic or racial disparities. There is no statewide oversight of these mechanisms for protecting children,” Abrams said.

Findings and recommendations from the UC study and related policy briefs prepared by the researchers include:

  • Children should be held less culpable under criminal law, given their expected developmental immaturity, as repeatedly recognized in recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
  • Children have a diminished capacity to make intentional decisions regarding participation in crimes or to understand that an act was morally wrong.
  • Children have less developed abilities to understand court proceedings and meaningfully participate, emotionally or cognitively, in working with attorneys to wage their own defense.

California currently has no law that specifies a minimum age for prosecuting and imprisoning minors. But a new state senate bill, SB 439, which incorporates the research and recommendations in the UC study, would change that by amending sections 601 and 602 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code related to juvenile court jurisdiction. In particular, the bill would substitute current references to “any person under 18 years of age” with language specifying individuals “ages 12 to 18.”

In its first hearing on April 4, the senate’s committee on public safety passed the bill, which was then referred to the senate appropriations committee, the next step in the legislative process. The bill is part of a package of criminal justice reform bills put forth by the legislators in March.

Proposed amendments and revisions to SB 439 can be found online.