Wachs on Return to Normal Traffic Levels When Economy Reopens

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, was featured in a Los Angeles Times column discussing the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on traffic levels in Los Angeles. During the pandemic, vehicle volume has been reduced by 40% and more in parts of the city, air quality has improved, and traffic is moving 12% to 30% faster. Nevertheless, urban planning experts doubt the roads will stay empty when the economy reopens. Wachs pointed to congestion pricing as the only proven way to get people to drive less. ”The only strategy that works 100% of the time is charging people more money,” he said. “Charge more to park, charge to drive, quadruple the cost of gasoline, impose congestion pricing.” Traffic jams in the Sepulveda Pass could be eliminated by charging people $10 to make the trip, he said. However, many politicians are hesitant to embrace congestion pricing because they don’t believe their constituents want it.

Helping Students, Teachers and Families Cope With COVID-19

Professor Ron Avi Astor and Ph.D. student Kate Watson of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare teamed up with Professor Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University to create a set of questionnaires to assess how well teachers, students, parents and others are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. The questionnaires have been widely distributed to social workers, educators and psychologists at no cost. “Schools can respond better to the most pressing needs of their students, teachers and families amid the COVID-19 pandemic by hearing the entire community,” Astor told Ampersand, a publication of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Sample questionnaires, available at these links for  teachers, students and parents, may be used in conjunction with abridged versions of two books co-authored by Astor and Benbenishty: “Mapping and Monitoring Bullying and Violence: Building a Safe School Climate” and “Welcoming Practices: Creating Schools That Support Students and Families in Transition.”  Astor and Benbenishty will also appear at a free UCLA Luskin Summit webinar on “A New Normal for Schools During the Pandemic” on Monday, May 4, at 9:30 a.m.  To register and attend the webinar, visit this link.

Here is Ampersand’s full interview with Astor:


Steinert-Threlkeld on Search for Facts Amid ‘Infodemic’

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld was featured in a Well and Good article about the role of social media in the COVID-19 pandemic. Dwindling trust in traditional media outlets has prompted people to turn to social media for news, making it difficult to discern credible sources from non-credible sources. The WHO has described the spread of hazardous false information as an “infodemic.” Steinert-Threlkeld commented that in countries like Iran and China, where information is censored, citizens have been turning to banned networks in search of accurate information. “Because it was clear to individuals [in China] that what they were seeing was different from what state media was saying, people very quickly downloaded VPNs [to access banned sites like Twitter], which we’ve seen in past crises as well,” he explained. “What we’ve seen in a lot of provinces, especially where Wuhan is, is a tripling in the number of users accessing Twitter once the quarantine happened.”

Heymann Recommends Investing in Preventive Health Workforce

Distinguished Professor of Public Policy Jody Heymann co-authored an opinion piece in the Hill arguing that creation of a “preventive health workforce” is key to reopening the economy and protecting the nation’s health and security. Heymann and co-author Aleta Sprague called for investing in a “national cohort of health workers who can roll out each element of the national COVID-19 strategy” and would continue to reduce preventable deaths from other causes once the pandemic is contained. They argued that strengthening the public health infrastructure “would not only create hundreds of thousands of jobs at a time of unprecedented layoffs, it would vastly expand our capacity to contain this pandemic and prepare for the next.” They also recommended accelerating and simplifying loan forgiveness to incentivize more people with backgrounds in public health, law, social work, urban studies or health sciences to commit to preventive-health-related jobs as careers.

Shelter-in-Place Burden Felt Keenly in Vulnerable Neighborhoods

A new report from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the public interest consulting firm Ong & Associates examines the disproportionately high burden of shelter-in-place orders on low-income and minority neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. The report illustrates race and class inequalities at the neighborhood level as communities follow mandates for social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. According to the report, the communities most burdened by these mandates are “those with the greatest exposure to possible virus carriers, the highest stress levels associated with struggling to remain physically fit, and the most challenges to fulfilling essential daily or weekly needs.” To measure this vulnerability, researchers developed a “shelter-in-place burden index” that analyzed factors such as population density and access to public parks and supermarkets. According to the report, the analysis shows that “over-burdened neighborhoods tend to be low-income with a disproportionately large number of people of color and to suffer from a digital and transportation divide.” The report’s authors called on governments, foundations and community organizations to assist neighborhoods with the greatest need and develop equitable programs for social and economic recovery. “This is not the time to yield to the relatively few clamoring for an opening of the U.S. economy, without regard for the spread of the coronavirus. It is the time that we recognize and close the socioeconomic gap through actions that ensure fairness and justice,” II&D Director Ananya Roy noted.


‘All of This Is Going to Change Us’: Two Deans on the State of COVID-19 Leaders of UCLA's Public Affairs and Public Health schools launch Luskin Summit 2020

By Mary Braswell

The opening session of the 2020 UCLA Luskin Summit drew a far-flung virtual audience seeking authoritative, research-based information about the questions on everyone’s mind: What are the prospects of containing COVID-19? When and how should social distancing restrictions be relaxed? What have we learned from this shared global ordeal?

Two UCLA deans, Gary Segura of the Luskin School of Public Affairs and Ron Brookmeyer of the Fielding School of Public Health, drew on their expertise about the pandemic’s health and policy implications at the April 22 event, the first of at least a dozen online sessions that will be offered by the Luskin School in April, May and June.

“COVID has done us one favor,” Segura said. “It’s allowed us to see things more clearly than we did before the crisis,” including the searing depths of inequality in the United States, the importance of a competent government and the discovery that a simpler life can be rewarding.

In terms of slowing the spread of coronavirus, Brookmeyer said, “The current lockdown has bought ourselves some time. The question is, are we making the best use of this time?”

The insights shared by Segura and Brookmeyer came as UCLA Luskin launched the Summit’s second year, wrapping up the School’s 25th anniversary celebration.

Moving from an on-campus location to an online platform in response to the coronavirus’ spread widened the audience for the opening session. More than 400 people watched via Zoom and Facebook Live, from Southern California to New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Houston and Myanmar.

Viewers were invited to pose questions to the deans, whose conversation was moderated by Adrienne Alpert, host of ABC7’s public affairs program Eyewitness Newsmakers. Some asked about prospects for lifting orders to limit social contact.

Brookmeyer called for caution. “If we don’t have the necessary public health infrastructure in place, this thing will just explode again,” said the dean, who has conducted extensive research into the arc of illness and epidemic around the world.

He explained that different models make starkly different predictions about the virus’ march and described the protracted process of testing, manufacturing and administering an effective vaccine — a process he said is bound to take longer than the 12 to 18 months some are estimating.

“Without a vaccine, we may need intermittent periods of physical distancing to avoid overloading the health care facilities,” he said. “If we suppress this first wave, do we have the public health infrastructure in place to contain future waves?”

The eventual relaxation of social distancing restrictions should be gradual, strategic and nuanced, he said, predicting that wearing masks, sanitizing surfaces and closely monitoring the most vulnerable populations will be necessary for some time.

“All of this is going to change us, and it’s not completely clear how,” Brookmeyer said.

“The challenges, and particularly the inequities, are going to be profound,” Segura concurred.

Latino households are particularly hard hit by the coronavirus’ economic impact, he said, citing a nationwide survey. While proposals to institute relief for those unable to pay their rent or mortgage are promising, the number of homeless is bound to rise by the end of the crisis. And the need for computers and broadband access in homes — where K-12 students are now learning remotely — has turned public education into a “luxury good,” Segura said.

Still, both deans found cause for optimism.

Brookmeyer cited the public’s new appreciation for the people and institutions that guard the nation’s health. “The public health infrastructure had been really underfunded, and I think calling attention to this will help us in preparing for future public health emergencies,” he said.

Segura pointed out that “COVID is changing our lives in a million ways,” and not all of them are bad.

One example: “Has anyone noticed the air in Los Angeles? It’s crystal clear,” he said. “Do we want to go back to sitting on the 405 [freeway] for an hour?”

By necessity, telecommuting has been tested across sectors in the past few months, Segura noted. Some employers have found new ways to measure productivity, and some workers have found valuable uses for time once spent commuting.

“These are things that we’ve become used to and that we’ve internalized into our COVID quarantine lives. And I’m not so sure we’re going to be all that happy to give them up,” he said.

“COVID has actually revealed some things that we can do better to improve our quality of life.”

Visit the UCLA Luskin Summit page for a lineup of upcoming sessions, as well as recordings of past sessions as they become available.

Ong and Diaz on Supporting Latino and Asian Communities During COVID-19

Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, and Sonja Diaz, director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, co-authored an opinion piece for NBC News about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communities of color. Their research suggests that Latino and Asian neighborhoods will be most affected by the predicted loss of 1.6 million jobs in California by this summer. Furthermore, they argue that “Latino and Asian workers disproportionately rely on low-wage jobs where the most layoffs in the wake of COVID-19 are occurring.” They write that the CARES Act stimulus packages are not enough to protect these vulnerable households, especially undocumented immigrants and service workers who hold multiple part-time jobs. Ong and Diaz recommended that states create “recovery programs focused on those who are highest at risk of not receiving federal COVID-19 relief” so that no one is left out of the recovery.

Emergency Fund Will Support UCLA Luskin Students

UCLA Luskin has launched two new funds to support students experiencing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Luskin School Student Emergency Fund focuses on providing emergency support and technological tools to students with financial need. The Luskin Undocumented Masters & Ph.D. Student Support Fund focuses on undocumented graduate students who have been hit hard by the pandemic but are ineligible for federal assistance. The funds are aimed at alleviating financial stress so that students can focus on academic success — in particular, on learning how to make an impact on the world with a UCLA Luskin education. Donations to the Luskin School Student Emergency Fund will be matched by a UCLA Luskin board member, including a dollar-to-dollar match up to $5,000 and an additional $5,000 if the fund receives donations from at least 100 donors. That fund will provide laptops, access to strong internet connections and other technology upgrades to students in need, in addition to emergency financial assistance. “Now more than ever, strength of community is imperative as we brave through this unique period of history,” Dean Gary Segura wrote in an open letter to the UCLA Luskin community. “We look to our alumni, parents, staff and friends to come together, for both keeping camaraderie for each other and to support our students.”


Leap on Gang Intervention Workers’ Commitment to Communities

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in the Los Angeles Times discussing gang intervention workers’ continued commitment to the communities they serve during the COVID pandemic. While much of Los Angeles is shuttered during this time, many gang intervention workers are continuing to interact with vulnerable populations, providing food and toiletries, mediating conflict and educating people about the importance of social distancing. Los Angeles has designated intervention workers as essential during the pandemic. “These are not just those guys who know how to negotiate peace treaties; they are a community asset,” Leap explained. Many of the intervention workers are themselves former gang members and are able to use their street credibility to dispel misinformation and educate people about the coronavirus. “Historically and presently, where authorities are not trusted, these men and women … are the go-between, the objects of trust.”

UCLA Voting Rights Co-Founder Wins Texas Vote-by-Mail Case

Texas voters will have access to vote-by-mail ballots during the global pandemic as a result of efforts by UCLA faculty member Chad Dunn, director of litigation for the Voting Rights Project. Dunn, an attorney, brought suit on behalf of the Democratic Party in Austin, Texas, seeking to clarify election law in the state regarding eligibility for a mail-in ballot. Texas is among just 17 states that require voters to provide an excuse to receive a mail-in ballot, one of the strictest absentee ballot policies in the country. The Texas effort was among several recent initiatives advocating wider access to vote-by-mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic that have been initiated by Dunn along with colleagues at UCLA affiliated with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI). Representing Texas plaintiffs who fear contracting the novel coronavirus during in-person voting, Dunn successfully argued that social distancing or being confined at home falls under the disability exception for a mail-in ballot in Texas. A judge agreed, saying he will issue a temporary injunction allowing such voters to cast mail-in ballots in upcoming elections. “The right to vote is fundamental, and the judge’s ruling shows that public health must be at the forefront,” Dunn said after the hearing. “If the judge’s ruling holds, we will have ensured that all 16 million eligible Texans are able to safely vote in the July runoff elections and in November if they so choose.”