An Agence France-Presse story featured comments by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, and Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, on the status of California’s high-speed rail project. The original plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco was revised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in February to link Merced and Bakersfield instead, a distance only a third of the originally planned route. Construction delays and unexpected budget increases have prompted criticism of the “train to nowhere.” Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the curtailed route. “It absolutely does not make sense,” she said. “Any transit project needs big [urban] centers as origins and destinations, and so to have something like that … all but kills the project.” Wachs agreed, arguing that “California should have capitalized on its existing rail network, including that currently dedicated to freight.” The AFP story was picked up by several news outlets, including Yahoo! News and Daily Mail.
By Mary Braswell
Leading Los Angeles political figures who paved the way for Latino empowerment over the last half-century took the stage at UCLA to share their strategies and personal stories — and underscore that the work is not finished.
To longtime Angelenos, their names were familiar: Alatorre, Cedillo, Molina, Polanco and Villaraigosa. Collectively, their influence has been felt far beyond Southern California.
The speakers are among 10 L.A.-based pioneers profiled in the book “Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America.” Authors George Pla and David Ayón joined the May 14 conversation in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.
“There are 60 million Latinos in the United States, 15 million in California. And the panelists are right, they continue to be stereotyped, continue to be invisible,” Pla said. “But ‘Power Shift’ is not about one group over another. It’s an American story about a group of individuals who have made contributions to our entire society in California and the United States.”
Blazing trails carries an immense responsibility, the panelists agreed.
“We had to kick open the door in order to really get in there and set the example,” said Gloria Molina, the first Latina to be elected to the California legislature and to Los Angeles City Council and the first woman on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
“Being the first, everybody was watching. It’s really very important to be at your best all of the time,” she said.
Friends since high school, Gil Cedillo and Antonio Villaraigosa became passionate political activists during their years at UCLA in the early 1970s. Cedillo went on to serve in the state legislature and now sits on the L.A. City Council. Villaraigosa spent decades in public service, including as speaker of the California Assembly and mayor of Los Angeles.
Also in the 1970s, Richard Alatorre was elected to the Assembly before becoming, in 1985, only the second Latino to serve on the L.A. City Council in the 20th Century.
Richard Polanco completed Alatorre’s Assembly term, launching a 15-year tenure in the legislature that was hailed for increasing Latino representation.
“Tonight is really important to me personally,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which hosted the event. Segura’s work in Latino politics began in the 1990s, when California was roiled by two ballot initiatives. Proposition 187, which denied public services to undocumented immigrants, was later found unconstitutional. Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in public hiring and university admissions, is still in place.
“I owe my career, and in many ways my current position, to the mobilization of Latino electorates and leaders that resulted in those wars of the mid-1990s that reshaped California and will reshape, eventually, the United States,” Segura said.
Sonja Diaz, the evening’s moderator, noted that the gathered leaders were anything but single-issue politicians. On health care, LGBTQ issues, voting rights and community development, they effected changes felt far beyond the Latino community, said Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which is based at UCLA Luskin.
Villaraigosa concurred. “Across the board, all of us, we were not just Latino leaders, we were leaders for the whole state. We were progressives in our time, focusing on issues across the spectrum,” he said.
While coalition-building is important, Cedillo said, “We should be very clear that our community at this very moment is under attack, under siege” by a Trump Administration that has demonized the Latino community. “We should not pause or be shy about organizing ourselves as a community to defend our interests.”
Inspiring the next generation of Latino leaders is key to that effort and part of the reason “Power Shift” was written. The book also profiles political and labor leaders Miguel Contreras, Maria Elena Durazo, Ed Roybal, Art Torres and Esteban Torres.
The Luskin Lecture audience included two UCLA undergraduates who arrived early enough to receive a free copy of “Power Shift.”
Tatiana Velasquez, a chemistry and materials science major, and Patricia Valdezco, a political science major, said they grew up in California but were not aware of the trailblazing history of the evening’s speakers.
“It always goes back to the state curriculum, and what’s being taught is not this,” Velasquez said.
Molina recounted a conversation with her young niece, who read “Power Shift” and asked her classmates to name leaders in the Latino community.
“These sixth-graders had a hard time coming up with a name, but they finally concluded that it was Cesar Chavez and Pitbull,” Molina said. “The children got very angry. … They said, ‘Why aren’t we learning this? Why don’t we know this?’ ”
She added, “We need young people to understand that this isn’t a history that was, oh, way back then and now is now. We need to continue that kind of leadership today. … We are not finished. Our agenda has just begun.”
View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture on Flickr.
By Gabriela Solis
With the next U.S. Census in 2020 drawing near, political and community leaders are working now to plan strategically and ensure that all communities are accurately counted in Los Angeles.
With that in mind, a recent panel discussion hosted by Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), focused on issues related to the 2020 Census.
The Trump administration has pushed to add a question about respondents’ citizenship status to the 2020 Census, and accurate counts of communities across Los Angeles are threatened, many experts say. According to research by UCLA Professor Matt Barreto, 69.9 percent of Latinos, 39.4 of blacks and 99.9 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders expressed concern that the citizenship question would lead to their immigration status being shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Community groups need to prepare … With or without a citizenship question, there will remain major concerns and fear among our communities,” Barreto told a crowd on the UCLA campus during an April 24 panel discussion about the Census.
Barreto, who is faculty co-director of LPPI, and other experts have noted that billions of dollars in federal program funding is at stake. The Census also determines the number of representatives for each state in the U.S. House, so an undercount could cost California some political clout.
To ensure this does not happen, community organizations can play a vital role.
Erica Bernal-Martinez is chief operating officer of the National Association of Latino Elected Official (NALEO) Educational Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that facilitates full Latino participation in the American political process. Even without a citizenship question, Bernal-Martinez said, many vulnerable communities are often undercounted.
Members of Bernal-Martinez’s organization work closely with community leaders across the United States in an effort dubbed Get Out the Count. This year, children are one of the campaign’s focuses, because “400,000 Latino children were not counted in the 2010 census,” she said.
Los Angeles County represents a fourth of the state’s population, and it is one of California’s hardest-to-count regions, particularly within the county’s most diverse neighborhoods in central and east Los Angeles, and south to Compton. But there are best practices that can increase participation even in communities that often have low civic engagement.
For example, Berenice Nuñez, vice president of government relations at Altamed, shared her agency’s tactic to promote election participation in communities with low-propensity voters. Altamed is the largest federally qualified health center in California, and the organization produced an innovative voter mobilization campaign aimed to inform, empower and mobilize their patients and employees during the November 2018 midterm elections.
The campaign included such strategies as canvassing, registering legal residents to vote, distributing bilingual voter guides, sending phone messages about upcoming elections while patients were on hold, and providing transportation assistance on Election Day.
An analysis conducted by LPPI of Altamed’s campaign found remarkable success for the strategy. The Latino vote increased by 432 percent in South Gate and 330 percent in Boyle Heights, which were two targeted communities.
“I challenge you to join us at the table to make sure our communities are counted,” said Nuñez, who encouraged community leaders in attendance at a UCLA event in April to use the Altamed campaign as a model for future elections — and to ensure participation in minority communities during the 2020 U.S. Census.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville weighed in on the controversial Senate Bill 50 in a recent Los Angeles Times column. SB50 aims to relieve the housing shortage, reduce commuting time and combat climate change by requiring cities to allow multi-family complexes to be built in areas near mass transit, among other provisions. Many California residents have expressed concern that SB50 would increase housing density and destroy the integrity and character of their neighborhoods. Manville understands the concerns of residents but believes that everyone must contribute to solving the housing crisis, including those living “smack dab in the middle” of the nation’s second-largest city. “We have people in our city living in tents. They live in their cars. They live under our highway overpasses and they die on our sidewalks,” Manville said. “At a certain point, the pedigree of your house has to matter a little bit less.”
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky was featured in the Los Angeles Times commenting on Senate Bill 50. According to census data, nearly two-thirds of California residences are single-family homes and between half and three-quarters of the developable land in much of the state is zoned for single-family housing only. Among other provisions, SB50 would allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes to be built on much of the residential land now zoned for only single-family houses. “When people around the world think of L.A., one of the things they think of is a home with a backyard,” Yaroslavsky said. “I think much of it should be preserved.” Doing away with single-family-only zoning would unalterably diminish California for current and future residents, he said.
Mimi Walters, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2014 to 2019, shared her personal pathway to political office, “From Orange County to Washington, D.C.,” at a noontime talk May 9 to an audience that included graduate students and undergraduates from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The Republican former lawmaker, who represented California’s 45th district, also served previously in both the California State Senate and State Assembly. Walters talked about what it took to win campaigns from student government in high school to a seat on her local city council in Laguna Niguel to state and federal seats. For Walters, success has come through preparation that included volunteer work, participation in and support for other candidates, and fundraising. “I said, ‘If I really want to do this, I better learn how to campaign.’ So I got involved in other people’s races. I worked on other people’s campaigns. That is how I learned how to run a race.” She added, “The other thing … when you go and volunteer for somebody’s campaign and you someday want to run, they remember.” Navkaran Gurm, a first-year pre-major in Public Affairs, said he was impressed by Walter’s talk and how candid she was about what is required to seek elected office. “It was a good intellectual exchange. She gave us the facts and inside look at the life of a politician,” Gurm said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville is quoted in a StreetsBlog USA article on worsening traffic congestion in and around Los Angeles, especially in the Sepulveda Pass. The completion of the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project in 2015 was projected to alleviate congestion, but studies have shown that traffic is worse despite the addition of an extra lane. This phenomenon, known as the law of induced demand, explains how travel time on the pass during rush hour has gone up by 50 percent in the past four years. According to the theory, when the supply of a good (in this case traffic lanes) is increased, more of that good will ultimately be consumed. “So you have a road that is every bit as congested, just wider,” Manville said. On possible fixes for the problem, Manville explained that establishing a toll system may be the best way to combat traffic: “When you do price the road, people switch to transit.”
Kevin de León, former president pro tempore of the California State Senate and current policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst at UCLA Luskin, co-authored an opinion piece with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Sacramento Bee stressing the urgency of combating climate change and pollution in California. Air pollution in the Central Valley and Los Angeles has increased asthma attacks, emergency room visits and premature deaths, according to the 20th annual State of the Air report published by the American Lung Association. Despite coming from opposite sides of the political spectrum, de León and Schwarzenegger agree that “asthma and other lung diseases have no party affiliation.” The effects of climate change on air quality can be seen in increasing smog, ozone pollution and frequency of wildfires. Schwarzenegger and de León propose “aggressively cutting transportation pollution,” concluding that “protecting our citizens should be a cause everyone can get behind, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.”
The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin was featured in a Public Seminar essay that highlighted the institute’s continuing collaborative efforts to support “organizations that conduct critical work on behalf of the dispossessed, including debtors, those displaced by gentrification and the formerly incarcerated.” Student debt and the prospect of tuition-free public universities have lately moved from fringe debate to a mainstream topic of discussion among Democratic presidential candidates. The institute has served as a model for creating reciprocal relationships between academia and debt relief organizations, often giving voice to academics who argue that “educational institutions that run on debt are in conflict with those who critique such models or who are working to concretely transform them.” This is “all the more reason for activists … to work in collaboration with those who may have access to resources but whose institutional affiliations may limit them in other ways,” the essay said.