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DeShazo and Callahan Recommend Expansion of Housing and Transportation Choices

JR DeShazo and Colleen Callahan, the director and deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, co-authored an article in Capitol Weekly outlining their recommendations for incorporating housing and transportation choice into climate action policy in California. After successfully passing climate action legislation, politicians are now faced with “the enormous task of meeting these goals,” the authors said. They recommend “bundling climate change solutions with initiatives to ease the housing crisis, transportation problems and income inequality” in order to maximize consumer choice. According to DeShazo and Callahan, “all Californians — including members of low-income and vulnerable communities — deserve choice in terms of where they live, where they work, how they move around and how they power their lives.” They conclude with their hopes to “ease housing and transportation burdens while cutting greenhouse gas emissions and expand choice for all Californians.”


Newton on ‘Golden Age’ for California Democrats

In a BBC News article relating the launch of Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential bid to a resurgence of Democratic power in California, Public Policy lecturer Jim Newton weighed in on the so-called Golden Age for California Democrats. Harris, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gavin Newsom represent a consolidation of the Democrats’ progressive wing. Newton explained, “You don’t have to look back very far for [California] to be fairly reliably Republican. This notion of it being an absolutely rock-solid Democratic bastion is a relatively new phenomenon.” After decades of economic failure, California is reaping the benefits of rapid economic expansion. Experts do predict a downturn, but Newton still sees opportunity for Democrats. “There’s going to be a downturn, and how Newsom handles that really will help send the message of whether this state is something different or just better than most at riding an upward business cycle,” he said.


Not Enough Land for Newsom’s Housing Goals, Monkkonen Finds

Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen was featured in the Los Angeles Times and KTLA 5 News explaining the results of a recent UCLA study that highlighted a discrepancy between the amount of land necessary to fulfill Gov. Gavin Newsom’s housing goals and the amount of land the state of California has set aside for development. Cities and counties have set aside enough land for the construction of 2.8 million homes out of the 3.5 million housing units Newsom aspires to build in the next seven years, the report found. Monkkonen explained that “because not all that land can be developed quickly for home construction, the state would probably have to double or triple the amount of land zoned for housing for the governor to reach his goal.” He said the report “shows pretty clearly that it’s going to be a hard slog to actually get 3.5 million housing units built.”


UCLA Report Provides Strategies for Making Covered California More Affordable Public Policy's Wes Yin helps develop policy options to keep insurance costs down

By Mary Braswell

With California taking steps to revamp its health care system, research by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is guiding the conversation.

The report, published Feb. 1, details strategies to improve the affordability of Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. It was co-authored by economist Wes Yin, associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

Affordability is “the top challenge for individuals who are insured as well as those who remain uninsured,” according to the report (PDF), which lays out a wide array of proposals to meet that challenge, including:

  • capping out-of-pocket premiums for all eligible Californians;
  • offering expanded cost-sharing benefits, which would lower deductibles and the cost of office visits; and
  • creating a California-only penalty for those who opt out of coverage, to replace the penalty that was phased out by the federal government.

“This will help push the conversation forward, now with policy options that we know will improve affordability and market stability,” said Yin, who wrote the report with economist Nicholas Tilipman of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Covered California’s policy and research division.

Commissioned under a state law, the report was presented to the governor’s office and state Legislature. It was developed amid a shifting landscape for health care in California.

On Jan. 30, Covered California reported mixed figures for 2019 enrollment. Although the number of Californians held steady from 2018 to 2019, the number of new enrollees dropped by 23.7 percent. In addition, on the first day of his term, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his own far-reaching health care plan, calling for increased premium subsidies and Medicaid coverage for undocumented youths up to age 26, among other reforms.

“Our analysis gives policymakers a sense for how different approaches benefit Californians and at what cost,” Yin said. “So this report bolsters the governor’s effort to improve health care access.”

The dialogue, he said, will include a debate over the state’s funding priorities.

“From a wider lens, it’s helpful to think about how we can best spend that next public dollar,” Yin said. “It could be health care, it could be pre-K programs, it could be public education or parental leave benefits. These are all important. And there is a strong argument for improving the affordability of health care coverage and reducing cost-sharing burdens. Coverage improves health — especially mental health — it improves chronic disease management and it drastically reduces the risk of catastrophic spending and debt incurred by consumers.”

The report includes proposals to address the divisive issue of penalties for Californians who choose not to buy health insurance. Covered California attributes the decline in new enrollments to removal of the federal individual mandate penalty beginning this year. A statewide penalty would create a fresh incentive to opt in.

“The penalty appears to be quite impactful,” Yin said. “What we’re seeing in Covered California the past year shows that, and our modeling also shows that. Zeroing out the penalty has directly caused premiums to increase and enrollment to drop. Including a penalty while making plans more affordable can be both an effective and fair way of expanding coverage and lowering premiums.”

The report also notes that premium costs can vary widely for consumers based on their age and geographic location. “For consumers nearing retirement age living in high-cost regions, premium costs can exceed 30 percent of income for the most common benefit package,” it said.

To make health insurance more affordable for those consumers, California could use subsidies to cap all premium payments at 15 percent of annual income. Currently, subsidies are offered only to people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $103,000 for a family of four. Consumers who earn just over the 400 percent threshold would not qualify for federal premium subsidies, Yin said. A 15 percent cap would also eliminate this so-called tax-credit cliff.

The report’s policy options are based on a model developed by Yin and Tilipman that shows the potential effects that various policy proposals would have on health care enrollment, consumer health spending and public spending.

As elected officials and consumers debate competing visions of health care reform — from repealing the federal Affordable Care Act to moving to a state-run single-payer system — Yin said the proposals are aimed at expanding coverage and increasing affordability as much as possible.

“Let’s find ways to build on the successes of the Affordable Care Act and make it work better,” Yin said. “These are models for improvement.”

Kevin de León Joins UCLA Luskin Former state legislative leader who bolstered California’s role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy will teach public policy courses and provide insight on issues of special importance to Latinos

President pro Tempore Emeritus of the California State Senate Kevin de León has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs as a distinguished policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst.

“Kevin de León has led the way for more than a decade on issues as important as environmental protection and climate, immigration, education, and so much more. Our students and researchers will both benefit greatly from his insights and vision,” Dean Gary M. Segura said in announcing the appointment.

De León began his new role at UCLA Luskin on Jan. 22, 2019, and will teach his first courses at UCLA in the spring quarter that begins in April. His courses will focus on topics of interest to the School’s graduate students studying public policy and to undergraduates in UCLA Luskin’s new major in public affairs.

As the first Latino in more than a century elected to the position of president pro tem of the California Senate, de León championed California’s global leadership role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy. He also focused his attention on rebuilding the state’s infrastructure; improving public education; ensuring workplace and health care equity for women, immigrants and low-wage workers; and enhancing public safety.

In Sacramento, de León also led the creation of a first-of-its-kind retirement savings program for low-income workers. He pushed for a requirement that a quarter of all carbon cap-and-trade revenue — now totaling over $8 billion — be spent in disadvantaged communities. As Senate leader, he shepherded legislation that set California on the path to a 100 percent clean energy future — the largest economy in the world to do so — thereby creating the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation.

His role at UCLA Luskin will include an advisory position with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), which is a multifaceted laboratory designed to support Latinos around domestic policy challenges. Research and policy briefs from LPPI tackle major legislative issues that directly impact Californians, particularly communities of color.

In December 2017, de León served as keynote speaker for the launch of LPPI, saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world.” De León also spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”

Last year, de León launched a historic challenge to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He prevailed in a tough primary battle, earned the overwhelming endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party, and secured more than 5 million votes.

He has an extensive record on women’s rights, gun-violence prevention and workers’ rights. De León has also worked to create solutions to address the state’s transportation, housing and infrastructure goals.

Another aspect of de León’s appointment at UCLA Luskin will be a collaboration with the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) to design implementation strategies for signature laws that he shepherded during his time in the State Capitol, including legislation to ensure that disadvantaged communities have access to clean transportation options.

Other collaborations with LCI will advance efforts to move the state to 100 percent zero-carbon energy and provide support for policies designed to ensure that California continues to lead the country with its climate policies. De León will help craft community-based solutions that advance these statewide goals.

De León attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and he graduated from Pitzer College.

Police Unions Object to Transparency, Newton Writes

Public policy lecturer Jim Newton recently published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times denouncing police unions’ “blanket attempts to shield [police] records.” Police shootings across the country have prompted demands for more transparency in law enforcement. A new law in California, SB 1421, requires that “records of police shootings and other uses of force be made public,” including “cases in which officers were investigated for dishonesty or sexual assault.” According to Newton, police unions are resisting the law by arguing that it “only applies to new records created after the law took effect.” Newton compares SB 1421 to other sunshine laws like the Freedom of Information Act, where access to “old documents … shed substantial new light on American history.” Newton acknowledges the special circumstances that may require withholding certain records from the public, but stresses the importance of transparency as a “crucial tool for keeping police accountable.”


Newsom Appoints 2 UCLA Luskin Graduates to Policy Advisor Roles

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement of appointments to his team includes two accomplished UCLA Luskin alumnae, Giannina Pérez MPP ’03 and Lande Ajose MA UP ’95. They are among the senior advisors and members of the communications team announced Jan. 11 by the Governor’s Office. Pérez, who was appointed senior policy advisor for early childhood, has experience working in state policy, advocacy and government. In her time working in the California Legislature and with organizations like Early Edge California and Children Now, Pérez has focused on women’s and children’s issues that include child care, access to educational opportunities and domestic violence. Ajose was appointed senior policy advisor for higher education. She has extensive experience in research and evaluation of higher education and postsecondary degree attainment, serving on the WASC Senior College and University Commission, the Institute for Higher Education Policy, and on the advisory committee of the Higher Education Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California.


 

UCLA Luskin Master of Social Welfare Receives Top Ranking

The Master of Social Welfare (MSW) at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has been named the No. 1 program of its kind in California for 2019-20 by HumanServicesEdu.org, an online resource for information on education, practice and employment in the human service fields. The organization describes the MSW as a comprehensive two-year program, selected from among California schools accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), that offers the highest level of training, designed to produce the next generation of well-equipped leaders in social work and to help advance the overall knowledge base of social work policy and practice. In a news release announcing the designation, HumanServicesEdu.org noted, “When we got to the UCLA Luskin Master of Social Welfare, it was clear we had a winner. With a decided focus on experiential learning, valuable opportunities to study abroad, and a world-class faculty with lots of front-line experience, UCLA Luskin offers students something they just won’t find anywhere else.” UCLA Luskin’s MSW program was among hundreds of schools across the United States assessed by the organization in compiling a list of the best programs for each state, according to Kelly Simpson, senior editor for HumanServicesEdu.org. UCLA Luskin also was recognized for offering hands-on experience in field work placements, as well as opportunities to participate in advanced research and projects, along with concurrent degrees available with other top UCLA programs including Asian American Studies, Law, Public Health and the Master of Public Policy program at UCLA Luskin.


 

In the Weeds of Legalized Pot Recreational cannabis raises pressing questions for California officials, citizens and UCLA faculty experts seeking to devise common-sense policies

By Mary Braswell

When Californians voted in 2016 to bring the cannabis industry out of the shadows, the aim was to create an environment where marijuana was safe, controlled and taxed. This has not been a simple undertaking.

Legalization of recreational pot has raised pressing questions from public health officials, local law enforcement, state regulators, city planners and citizens hungry for common-sense policies — not to mention the growers, retailers and users who drive California’s multibillion-dollar weed industry.

What will the city-by-city patchwork of laws look like? How can marijuana cultivators safely introduce pesticides into a neighborhood? When will communities see the benefits of tax revenues? How will lifting the stigma on pot use affect adolescents?

The need for facts, evidence and clear thinking has never been greater. Fortunately, UCLA Luskin researchers and policy experts are on the case, among them Public Policy lecturer Brad Rowe MPP ’13.

‘A REALLY TRICKY BUSINESS’

Proposition 64, the ballot measure that legalized recreational pot, gave each of California’s 482 cities and 58 counties the authority to license cultivation, manufacturing and sales. So far, most have declined to do so.

The more than 160 cities and unincorporated areas that decided to move forward face a labyrinth of policy questions, said Rowe, who launched his own research firm, Rowe Policy + Media, in 2017. He also serves on the faculty of UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative, teaches a Public Policy class on drugs and crime, and advises municipalities that are venturing into the marijuana fray.

“Cannabis is a really tricky business, and it’s one that is probably going to have more volatility than most of the other licensing areas,” Rowe said.

In many cases, he said, communities have overestimated the financial gains and underestimated the complications.

“Expectations have been set so high for tax revenues. Common claims from city representatives are, ‘We’re going to build libraries and parks and football programs for the kids,’ ” Rowe said. “The truth is that you’ve got to get your system up and running, and realistically expect that that store that you just licensed may only generate tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands in tax revenue for you this year. … It’s hard to pay for your new inspector and the new police officer you just hired, and your financial department has to figure out how to handle the cash.”

Cannabis commerce requires cities to create systems for licensing, taxation, financial compliance and the delicate matter of handling deposits from a largely cash business, Rowe said. They must keep up with evolving regulations from the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control and shifting signals from the federal government, which strictly prohibits pot.

They will have to consider whether growing outdoors will create a nuisance and how to safeguard first responders against new threats. Firefighters arriving at a site that uses pesticides or volatile solvents for terpene extraction “shouldn’t be inhaling that stuff,” Rowe said.

Some of the policy debates veer toward the high end. Sonoma, he said, is considering whether to permit tastings of cannabis products, just as it does for viognier and pinot noir. “So then we’re getting into on-site consumption, event permits, more cannabis cops,” Rowe said.

On the whole, he said, “it can be a big hairy hassle for the cities, and that’s one of the reasons a lot of them have said we’re going to kick the can down the road and see how these other cities do.”

SEEKING JUSTICE, EQUITY AND FACTS

Rowe’s work with the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative focuses on criminal and juvenile justice as drug offenses are reclassified.

“Are we even moving away from the war on drugs? That is the intent but in practice it’s a trickier thing, so we’re looking at equity considerations,” he said.

The health and well-being of young people must be a top policy priority, he argues.

“The one thing I am super concerned about is cannabis use disorder among adolescents,” Rowe said, citing brain research as well as recent studies measuring the toll that compulsive pot consumption takes on test scores and analytical skills.

“We just don’t know enough about the plant,” he said. “We don’t know enough about its addictive properties; we don’t really know what will happen as it becomes de-stigmatized and easily available.”

Legalization has led to new funding for research aimed at answering these questions. Proposition 64 earmarks $10 million a year for public universities to evaluate the impact of the law and make recommendations to the state.

Rowe has visited cities up and down the state as a consultant with MuniServices, which helps local governments manage their affairs. He has hosted forums for potential pot licensees, family and faith-based groups, and other stakeholders and says, “There have been some really heartfelt, interesting conversations. Some are opposed and some just want this to be done with caution.”

Many simply want reliable information, he said.

“There’s a lot of room for reasonable conversation; there’s a lot of room for public policy people to come into this area,” Rowe said. “It’s only going to get bigger. It’s going to be a very big industry.”

Manville on the California Housing Crisis

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to Reason about the California housing crisis. Manville attributed the crisis to severe constraints placed on building new housing. “The hallmark of a housing crisis is not that your new housing is expensive. New housing has always been more expensive than existing housing. The hallmark of a housing crisis is when a junky-looking bungalow in Venice costs $1 million that was built in 1985,” Manville said. He explained that “we don’t allow enough new housing to sort of contain this price appreciation.” The article notes that the relationship between cities and developers is complicated. If local governments stop limiting new housing development, they will lose the ability to gain concessions, often in the form of community spaces and services, from developers, Manville said.