Posts

New Online Mapping Tool Helps California Prepare for Extreme Heat

As summer kicks off and California braces for more record-breaking temperatures, a new tool co-developed by UCLA researchers will help government officials, school administrators and communities visualize the neighborhoods most in danger from extreme heat. Low-income residents and communities of color are impacted most by hot weather, which is the deadliest effect of climate change in California. “Heat is an equity issue. Neighborhood by neighborhood, we’re going to be experiencing heat differently,” said Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “That’s why it’s important to identify where protections are most needed, and where they’ll have the biggest impact.” The online mapping tool developed by UCLA and the Public Health Alliance of Southern California allows users to find information about temperature extremes, explore vulnerable populations, understand community health situations and seek out state resources such as air conditioners for low-income households. Researchers created the tool with a variety of audiences in mind. For instance, data at the school district level can help educators understand how their risk compares to nearby districts. They can also identify funding programs to weatherize classrooms and playgrounds. Other users, like state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and local and tribal governments, can use the tool to identify where to target investments. At the household level, residents can find programs to make their homes more energy efficient, help pay for energy costs or install rooftop solar panels to provide cheaper electricity. The California Strategic Growth Council’s Climate Change Research Program provided funding.


 

Luskin Center for Innovation and a Case Study of Community-Led Research

One of the cornerstones of many research center efforts at UCLA Luskin is community-driven research. Take, for example, the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) project, with evaluation spearheaded by the Luskin Center for Innovation. Work at UCLA related to TCC has been going on for many years and in many forms, ranging from policy decision guidance for state officials to on-the-ground documentation of grassroots climate action. The team from the Luskin Center for Innovation is tracking hundreds of millions of dollars invested in local climate action. For example, they’re measuring the impacts of energy efficiency upgrades, like smart thermostats and LED lighting, to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy bills. Taking you inside this effort are researchers affiliated with the Luskin Center for Innovation, who are all UCLA Luskin alumni.

Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10, co-executive director; Silvia R. González BA ’09, MURP ’13, UP Ph.D. ’21, director of research, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and an LCI-affiliated scholar; Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project director; and graduate researcher Elena Hernandez, MURP and MPH ’22

Tell us about what TCC is and how UCLA got involved.

González: TCC is all about recognizing the strengths of community institutions and individuals who are pushing forward environmental justice policies.

It’s focused on the ground-breaking climate action that’s happening in communities across California, with a focus on disadvantaged communities that have historically experienced disinvestments. Many of these residents are on the front lines of climate change. 

The program encourages their visions for climate resilience by supporting them with power and financial resources. It’s really a leading example of local climate action.

Callahan: We first got involved because the state wanted to understand if the program was on the right track. We were called in as evaluators. And evaluation is really important to tell you a number of things: Like are we setting ourselves up for success? Do we have the right ingredients in place, the right kind of logic model or theory of change established? And are we putting in the right investments to achieve this vision?

The Luskin Center has a long track record of doing policy-applied research and working very closely with state administrators to improve their programs. So, this reputation of creating actionable research, plus the longstanding relationships we’ve had with local community organizations, have been essential.

Can you describe those relationships? 

González: In the case of Pacoima — one of the communities that we’re working with — UCLA Luskin has a long-term relationship with Pacoima Beautiful [a grassroots environmental justice organization], and there’s an established trust. We’ve taken time to build a relationship with communities around us. For instance, Veronica Padilla [executive director of Pacoima Beautiful] graduated from the master’s in urban planning program. Before joining the evaluation team, I had been working with Pacoima Beautiful for years even prior to TCC. 

But long-standing relationships aren’t always the case for researchers. There’s always a lot of mistrust in communities of color with outsiders coming in.

It was really easy to work with community members since we had a long-standing history together. The trust we built over time enabled us to speak directly with residents and staff of community organizations. That access helped us gather new insights in our research that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. 

Karpman: To add to that, one of the reasons Pacoima chose us as an evaluator is the collaborative work that UCLA has already been doing in the community, particularly through Silvia, while at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, and the work that she and Professor Vinit Mukhija did as part of a Luskin MURP comprehensive project class. 

They developed a displacement avoidance plan in collaboration with residents. It was really a generative endeavor that turned into new research projects and partnerships. It’s been cool to see how that project has endured even after the students have graduated.  

Describe examples of what community-led research looks like in the TCC project. 

González: The TCC’s evaluation approach of community-based research isn’t just surface-level. It’s about our research methods, the principles that are guiding the on-the-ground work, and the way the project is amplifying the voices of community members.

Hernandez: For instance, we attend as many in-person events as we can, and we try to attend all of the collation meetings with other local organizations. We’ll go to neighborhood fairs and speak directly to residents. We walk a fine line between being a partner and an evaluator. We’re there to collect data, but also to support the site. 

We also want to make sure that our research deliverables are actually useful, so it’s not an extractive one-way street where researchers get data and then leave. It’s actually beneficial.

Our annual progress reports show impacts of the community’s work, with detailed numbers and profiles of residents. They showcase the community’s accomplishments with TCC.

They’ve been really meaningful to the community members. I always enjoy talking to residents and hearing what’s important to them. It’s fun to see how they light up when they talk about their projects. They’re really proud.

What type of impacts has the research had?

Karpman: It’s really informing active discussions about how to address climate change in an equitable way. Our work as an evaluator is going to help inform the degree to which this model gets replicated across the country.

Callahan: TCC is now part of the national dialogue around making federal climate investments more equitable, and federal agencies are looking at TCC as a model. Our research is documenting the benefits of resourcing and empowering historically underserved communities to realize their visions for community health, well-being and prosperity while combating the climate crisis.

González: Another impact is that it opens up an opportunity to bring in a more diverse set of researchers to UCLA who are interested in equity-focused work, and researchers that come from the front-line communities. 

That’s one of the benefits that I see for the Luskin Center, that now you’re going to have people like me and like Elena, who come with a diverse set of experiences or identities. That will have an impact over the long run.

Karpman: That’s a good point. Since we’ve started working on TCC, the racial and socioeconomic diversity
of our graduate student research pool is really different. 

Hernandez: In this project, I feel seen. This is research that I can be part of and give back to my community. 

At the same time, this is a way to highlight the stories of community members. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones doing the important work.

ITS, Lewis Center Have Thrived for Decades

The Institute of Transportation Studies was created within the University of California in 1947 and has been in permanent existence at UCLA since 1994. The Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies marked its 30th year in 2020 with a grand celebration just six days before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Both remain influential and productive, promoting a faculty-student research relationship that for many is a hallmark of the Luskin School experience. Here are interviews with the two current directors and a handful of alumni. 

Brian Taylor, UCLA double-alumnus, longtime professor and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies

Why are UCLA and ITS the right fit for you?

Oh, I keep coming back to UCLA. I transferred from Berkeley to UCLA as an undergraduate … and went to graduate school at Berkeley. And then I came back to UCLA for my Ph.D. in urban planning, but at the time it was in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. I taught [at another university] for a while and then was recruited to come back to UCLA a third time. 

I understand that I was the first faculty member hired in the “School of Public Affairs.” My appointment began July 1st, 1994, and the School began on July 1st, 1994, at midnight. 

What we know today as the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California … was created by the California Legislature in 1947 to examine the growing transportation needs for the state of California after World War II. The original branch was at UC Berkeley, and eventually a branch was opened at UCLA. It existed from the 1950s into, I believe, the early 1970s, primarily in engineering. … They used to crash test cars in what is now the sculpture garden. They had the tracks, and they’d run them up with the dummies in the cars. 

[That version was later moved] from UCLA to Irvine. … In 1994, the branch at UCLA was reestablished, but instead of being in civil engineering, it was established in what’s now the Luskin School of Public Affairs. And the founding director was Professor Martin Wachs. 

Transportation is the thing that everybody’s an expert in. Because they all travel. 

What makes it unique is that transportation is one of the things that connect all of human activity. It’s education, communication. Where we live, where we work, where we shop, where we play, how we relate to friends. We’ve learned what it’s like to do it by Zoom and that’s one way. And the other way is to come together. And if you come together for activities, whether it’s manufacturing, or to socialize, or to see a sporting event or to go shopping, those things all require transportation systems. 

The transportation program at UCLA is fairly unique among universities. … Others tend to have their centers anchored in engineering, and it is very much an infrastructure focus. We are anchored in a school of public affairs. And because of that, our transportation experts, who are known around the world, are not, quote-unquote, transportation experts. They’re people who focus on transportation around some realm. So, take [professor] Donald Shoup. He was basically a land economist who realized that parking had huge effects on urban development and the environment. And as a land economist, he’s become one of the most prominent transportation scholars in the country.

Only the late Marty Wachs and I, and now [recent faculty addition] Tierra Bills as the third, were actually first and foremost transportation people, even though we’re widely considered as one of the top transportation research centers in the country. And because we bring in these experts from these other fields who see the connections to urban design and safety, to the environment and to economic outcomes in poverty, to all of these things connected to transportation, [it] has made us so relevant and so intellectually rich as a result.

How do students benefit from being associated with ITS?

ITS, like many of the other centers, has for years devoted substantial funding to students, offering scholarships to recruit outstanding students, diverse students to the Luskin School. At this point it’s millions of dollars in scholarships. We are the largest single funder of students at UCLA outside of — I have been told this repeatedly — outside of the graduate division in terms of funding our students.

Is there a signature event or a signature activity?

Oh, yes. It’s the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium on the Transportation-Land Use-Environment Connection. We’ve been doing it since ’91. It’s at UCLA’s Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, and we are known internationally for this symposium. It has led to changes in policy at the state and federal level. We have had secretaries of transportation in California, the head of the Federal Transit Administration, and we’ve had prominent academics from around the world
to speak.

Any unmet challenges or missed opportunities over the years?

I think urban planners could have been more intentional about addressing transportation justice and equity issues.

And there is — I hate to use the word disturbing — but the view of transportation in the eyes of many public officials, whether on the right or the left, often involves big projects, concrete and steel. They might favor some projects or oppose others. So, often we are approached and asked, “What can you do to help us? How do I get approval for this project or kill this other project?” But when we engage with public officials, rarely do they just say, “This is a vexing problem. What can we do to address it?”

Urban Planning alumni Andrew Mondschein PhD ’12 of the University of Virginia and Anne Brown MURP ’14, PhD ’18 of the University of Oregon worked with ITS while students; Lance MacNiven MURP ’16 is the national zero-emission lead for WSP USA, a civil engineering firm

How does your career today relate to your time at UCLA?

Mondschein: I’m still really interested in travel behavior and expanding the idea of what accessibility is and how we understand that concept. And that all came from the opportunities, the things that I experienced and the things I got to work on at UCLA. I do work on accessibility, particularly looking at cognitive mapping and understanding how people actually understand the opportunities that are available to them and the way that transportation systems shape that.

MacNiven: Although I never worked for ITS directly, I was very close with Brian [Taylor], and he was kind of a partial advisor with the late, great Marty Wachs for my capstone project. I am the national lead for zero-emission vehicles and fleet planning support and serve as a project manager for
the transition to zero-emission vehicles, primarily for transit and freight.

My capstone was connected to L.A. Metro bus system ridership and basically improving ridership. … I’m back on the bus side primarily with the zero-emission aspect. A lot of my studies and research with ridership and trends definitely inform the duty cycles and other things that we look at on the zero-emission side.

Brown: I’ve always been in transportation equity. Essentially, with the rise of shared mobility during my six years at UCLA, that’s the angle I went. UCLA provided flexibility to pivot into this whole new opening. Back in 2014, we just had no idea what was going on with any of these services.

What stands out about your time at UCLA?

Brown: Brian [Taylor], Evy [Blumenberg] and Marty [Wachs] were some of my primary advisors the entire time
I was at UCLA, kind of like surrogate parents and grandparents in a work context. They all came to my wedding. It’s just a wonderful community.

The support goes beyond the classroom. It’s out of the classroom on research projects. But there’s depth of care that they really invest in you as an individual. And it goes beyond graduation, too. We’re in regular touch. It feels like any time an email pops up or the call comes through, it’s like no time has passed.

Mondschein: Fundamentally, the people at ITS were so supportive and could take anyone that was excited and engaged in transportation and encourage them to think how it might have benefit to society and might be able to change the world.

It was really a special kind of unique environment to be able to talk to like-minded people in a little bit of an educational hothouse. It was a lot of fun.

MacNiven: The professors, you know, it’s full of brainiacs; we could spend all day talking about how smart they are. But it’s the human connection that really draws people in and keeps us tight. 

When I first came to UCLA, reading about [Wachs, Taylor and Shoup], I was intimidated. I was like, “Oh, man, there’s Brian Taylor.” But then you get to know him. And, quite honestly, a lot of the times I’m talking to Brian Taylor it’s about college basketball.

Marty was my capstone advisor. He was busy but he accepted me. And I would go to his house on the weekends, you know, to basically bug him with questions. And there were times when my wife had our car, and he would offer to come pick me up to go to his house on a Saturday. 

That stuff sticks with you forever. It really shows the community.

Brown: I think about advice I was given early on but have not yet mastered. It’s to think, “What are the questions? What’s the purpose of doing the research?”

You can use research to answer questions that can better transportation, better society, better connect people to opportunities. 

I can’t look at a new technology without thinking, “Well, what do we do with this? How can we harness this to better the public good? What are its potential pitfalls and how do we avoid those?” In a lot of ways, my professors are the voices in my head that continue to drive my research agenda. They trained me in their own style. And I am forever grateful for that.

MacNiven: There’s no perfect silver bullet to this in terms of which transportation system we should favor. We deal with this a lot on the zero-emissions side because everyone seems to think that zero emission is the silver bullet to solve all our environmental problems.

But we’re always trying to think about the pros, and the cons. Who are the winners? Who are the losers? And let’s
zoom in on those “losers” a little bit to see how we can mitigate those situations.

It’s not just producing great research, but also trying to translate it into practice. 

two men and a woman sit in large white chairs and talk

UCLA Luskin scholars Allen Scott, left, Evelyn Blumenberg and Paul Ong have each led the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies during its three-decade history.

Evelyn Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95, a faculty member since 1995 and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies since 2018

Who works with the Lewis Center and has it changed over its three decades of existence?

I was first involved with the Lewis Center as a student. I did projects through the Lewis Center when I was a doctoral student [when it was still] in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning. 

The overall mission of the Lewis Center has held constant, but within that broader mission, each of the directors put their own stamp on the kinds of policy issues they were engaged in, and on who they were collaborating with.

And the areas of emphasis have evolved with the directors. Currently, we do “live,” “move” and “work” as our three areas. A lot of “live” is focused on affordable housing qualities of neighborhoods. “Move” is the work we do on transportation in the region. And “work” reflects our interest in jobs and the regional economy. 

We work with students in all of the graduate and undergraduate degree programs.

The Lewis Center, like some of the other centers in the Luskin School, helps fund capstone projects in all three departments. And there are also students who get funding from the Lewis Center and write policy briefs that are based on their work.

We also help solicit some of the capstone projects. We do a broad solicitation, but many of [the clients] are alumni. Some of them had been involved in Lewis Center projects when they were students. It’s like match.com, where we try to match our great students with great projects. And that’s one way in which former students who are now alums can participate. 

How do faculty benefit from their association with the Lewis Center?

Faculty are really good at academic research. And they can figure out how to fund academic research. And, you know, they have to produce academic scholarship in order to get promoted. That happens with or without the Lewis Center. 

The Lewis Center allows them to amplify the policy implications of their research. 

Certainly, they apply for funds through the Lewis Center, and that helps their academic portfolio. But the big advantage is that we have the ability to help them promote their findings to communities, to elected officials and to other stakeholders. 

And we do it in a number of ways. We create reports and policy briefs. We have started a podcast around housing and affordable housing. We structure a lot of our events around the scholarship of faculty. They can use those events as a way of getting out their research and the policy and planning recommendations that fall from it.

And being involved with Lewis Center is a vehicle for bringing faculty and students together on topical areas. As an individual faculty member, oftentimes you’re working on your own. The centers offer a collegial place to interact and to creatively think about how to pursue policy interventions. 

We’ve had meetings where all we do is brainstorm. We think about bringing faculty and students together to think about what the next round of research should be. So, it’s
an incubator.

I got into this business to make a difference, right? To improve communities, to make life better for low-income households. This is an opportunity to translate the research into policy, and to do it with others.

State Investments to Fight Climate Change Are Working, Reports Show

Watts is a leader in local solutions to the climate crisis, according to new progress reports for a state-funded project. This year, 300 Watts residents received energy efficiency upgrades like smart thermostats and LED lighting to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy bills. Volunteers delivered 261,000 pounds of fresh food to almost 10,000 residents by rescuing produce that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. And the community also started planting 2,250 trees, which will cool down streets and sequester carbon. These projects in Watts are part of the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program administered by California’s Strategic Growth Council, which is providing millions of dollars in grants for climate action and community benefits in partnership with local government, residents and organizations. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analysis documents the progress of TCC-supported action in five communities across California: Fresno, Ontario, Stockton, and the northeast San Fernando Valley and Watts neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The annual reports are part of an ongoing evaluation that UCLA is conducting in collaboration with TCC grantees. “Learning from these pilots is important,” said Jason Karpman, project director at UCLA. “As one of the most comprehensive community-scale climate programs in the world, lessons from TCC can support equitable climate action elsewhere.” Policymakers are considering how to bring elements of TCC to more underserved communities, and a previous report from the Luskin Center for Innovation identified the TCC program as a nationwide model for such efforts.

 

Yaroslavsky on Takeaways From Tuesday’s Elections

A New York Times article on key takeaways from this week’s nationwide primary elections turned to Zev Yaroslavsky for his insights on the California races. Yaroslavsky, a longtime public servant who is now on the UCLA Luskin faculty, said voters were more interested in effective government than ideology. “People want solutions,” he said. “They don’t give a damn about left or right. It’s the common-sense problem-solving they seem to be missing. Government is supposed to take care of the basics, and the public believes the government hasn’t been doing that.” Yaroslavsky directs the Luskin School’s Los Angeles Initiative, which produces the annual UCLA Quality of Life Index to measure residents’ satisfaction with life in L.A. County. In its election coverage, the Los Angeles Times cited the index’s findings that Angelenos are deeply disillusioned with the status quo, particularly inflation, public safety and housing.


 

Monkkonen, Lens on Flawed Approach to Fair Housing Compliance

A Policies for Action article co-authored by UCLA Luskin faculty members Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens assessed California’s bumpy implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, part of the U.S. Fair Housing Act. The rule, which sets out a framework for local governments and agencies to take decisive steps to promote fair housing, was codified into California law in 2018. Research by Lens and Monkkonen, along with co-author Moira O’Neill of UC Berkeley, found a lack of political will to comply with the law in some jurisdictions and a lack of clarity on the state’s expectations. The authors write, “Is it enough to do ‘better’? Given the deeply entrenched segregation in U.S. land-use plans, the reforms we’ve observed are not sufficient to achieve the ‘integrated and balanced living patterns’ envisioned by the Fair Housing Act.” They called on the state to create binding minimum expectations, including the use of metrics to track progress toward the goal of desegregated cities.


 

Yaroslavsky on Deep Dissatisfaction Among L.A. Voters

A CNN analysis about the potential for a right-tilting backlash among California voters who are discontented with public disorder cited Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime public servant who now directs the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. Yaroslavsky said the level of voter frustration is reminiscent of the late 1970s, an era of high inflation and soaring property tax bills that produced California’s Proposition 13 and helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. He cited this year’s UCLA Quality of Life Index, a poll of 1,400 residents that showed deep dissatisfaction with life in L.A. County. The region’s struggle to meet the basic housing needs of its people is “a billboard that says failure,” Yaroslavsky said. “I think homelessness is both a real issue but it’s also a metaphor for everything else that’s gone wrong in society and government’s ability to address something that is so visible and so ubiquitous in the county.”


 

Shoup on the Wisdom of Eliminating Parking Requirements

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, was mentioned in a New York Times opinion piece about the hidden consequences of parking requirements. In his book “The High Cost of Free Parking,” Shoup explained that rules that require developers to include a minimum number of parking spaces increase real estate costs. Furthermore, building more parking lots creates more urban sprawl, making cities less walkable and more car-dependent. Parking lots also exacerbate the effects of global warming by creating urban heat islands that absorb and reflect heat. Shoup has also noted that parking requirements worsen inequality by forcing people who can’t afford to drive a car to still pay for parking infrastructure. “People who are too poor to own a car pay more for their groceries to ensure that richer people can park free when they drive to the store,” Shoup wrote. Now, California is considering legislation that would eliminate or reform minimum parking regulations.


Manville on Sharing Wealth of Housing Market

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a Los Angeles Times column about the possibility of a new luxury tax on homes in Los Angeles. The housing market has rewarded many homeowners who have seen their properties quadruple in value before selling. In response, the United to House L.A. initiative has proposed an additional tax on property sales above $5 million that could then be funneled into homelessness prevention. “If the value of your house doubles, that’s not because you did a killer kitchen remodel, it’s because L.A.’s economy took off like a rocket,” Manville said. “Did you personally kickstart the L.A. economy? Impressive as you are, probably you didn’t.” According to Manville, “the community as a whole created that value, and there is no particular reason that you should mop up a big share of it while someone who rents gets punished for it, simply because you were lucky enough to own a house while it happened.”


Shoup on What to Do About L.A.’s Cracked Sidewalks

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, spoke with NBC4 News about Los Angeles’ backlog of 50,000 complaints about broken sidewalks. An audit last year found that the city pays about $7 million a year to settle injury claims related to sidewalks in disrepair. “In L.A., the sidewalks are a disgrace,” Shoup said. “We could use them as an obstacle course for the 2028 Olympics.” California cities including Pasadena and Oakland have passed “point of sale” ordinances that require homeowners to fix damaged sidewalks in front of their properties when they sell their homes, Shoup said. “People ought to pay for sidewalk repairs when it’s convenient for them and when they have the cash available. And that is at the time of sale.” He added, however, that the sidewalks are currently so dangerous that the city must look for a quicker fix.