Posts

Grassroots Environmental and Financial Assistance for L.A. Residents UCLA Luskin researchers find emPOWER campaign reaches areas impacted by poverty and pollution

By Stan Paul

Low-income households in California face higher energy, transportation and water affordability burdens than other populations as a percentage of household income spent on utilities. Yet the existence of a number of environmental benefit programs provided by state and local agencies does not ensure that these households benefit from them.

A new pilot program designed to enable low-income households across Los Angeles County to realize more fully those benefits is off to a good start, according to a new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation or LCI. The purpose of the LCI report is to provide an evaluation of the first year of the campaign, including its equity implications, the effectiveness of its outreach and areas for growth.

“The pilot stage’s reach to the most environmentally disadvantaged communities in the region was undeniably a success,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the center and lead author of the program evaluation, “emPOWER: A Scalable Model for Improving Community Access to Environmental Benefit Programs in California.” The report was co-authored by Rachel Connolly, a graduate student researcher at the Luskin Center for Innovation. Connolly is a doctoral student in the Environmental Health Sciences department within the Fielding School of Public Health.

The emPOWER outreach campaign was launched in 2019, with Liberty Hill Foundation, a Los Angeles-based social justice philanthropic organization, serving as regional hub administrator. Through existing community relationships, Liberty Hill funded eight community-based organizations across the county to connect low-income residents with a suite of environment-related financial assistance programs, including those offering clean and affordable energy and clean transportation. These incentive programs provide benefits including, but not limited to, utility bill savings, zero-emission vehicle incentives and energy efficiency home upgrades.

The platform was launched to realize opportunities via community relationships and to address longstanding public health issues in environmental justice communities. mark! Lopez, the executive director of one of the organizations, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, explains the importance of this neighborhood engagement in Southeast Los Angeles County.

“When our folks have limited income, that reduction [in cost] is everything,” Lopez said. “That reduction is the ability to breathe; it can mean everything for the trajectory of our families.”

“That’s the really novel aspect of the program,” said Pierce, who is also an adjunct assistant professor in urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The community organizations are already connected with a lot of people who can benefit from these programs. “People trust them, and they can convey the opportunities in a much more effective way.”

Pierce pointed out that emPOWER benefit programs are brought together in one place enabling households to sign up at once, “instead of a number of separate programs that are hard for people to understand or sign up for. It’s great that there are so many programs but at this point they can be operated and communicated in a more coherent way.”

The emPOWER program will continue to operate in Los Angeles County in 2020, with goals to expand the campaign model beyond Los Angeles, first to the Inland Empire and ultimately statewide. Broadening and deepening this campaign can help ensure a just transition in the process of climate change adaptation over the next several decades, according to the authors.

Report Findings:

  • The emPOWER campaign serves as a replicable model for the state. It prioritizes funding to authentic grassroots organizations working to build power in communities on the front lines of industrial pollution.
  • Despite some administrative challenges, the campaign engaged more than 11,000 distinct households and received over 2,700 eligibility applications.
  • Especially compared to existing individual programs, the campaign was highly successful in reaching communities disproportionately affected by systemic racism, poverty, pollution and now the pandemic. Over 90% of emPOWER participants live in a state-identified disadvantaged community or low-income community census tract.
  • Monetary benefits for participants are tremendous. On average, each emPOWER participant is eligible for more than nine incentive programs. Eligible participants can receive hundreds of dollars in benefits for their electric, gas and water utility bills. For instance, the average participant could receive $320 annually in electricity bill assistance through Southern California Edison’s CARE program. In addition, many participants can receive up to $9,500 in benefits to trade in an old gas-guzzling vehicle for an electric car through the Replace Your Ride program.
  • Notable process successes of the campaign included community organizations’ ability to build upon existing relationships with their communities, a focus on program benefits that participants were consistently motivated to apply for, and active technical assistance and program adaptation.  Frequently reported challenges that need to be addressed in future phases of the program include community hesitation and misconceptions regarding emPOWER and the associated incentive programs.

Study Aims to Bolster California’s Safe-Water Efforts at Child Care Facilities Luskin Center for Innovation analysis offers wide-ranging guidance on state mandate to test drinking water for lead

By Michelle Einstein

Efforts to ensure safe drinking water for children need further support to reach their intended audience, according to an analysis of California’s mandate requiring child care facilities to test their water for lead, known as AB 2370.

The finding from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is part of a new report and policy brief that examine strategies for developing and implementing the state’s testing and remediation program for those sites. Among its recommendations, the report stresses the need for a dedicated funding stream to ensure the program’s success.

“We’ve learned from a similar program in California’s schools that if robust monitoring and funding doesn’t exist, much of the needed testing and remediation won’t be implemented,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the center and lead author of the study.

In order to be successful, Pierce predicts, the program will require five to 10 times more funding than the $5 million currently budgeted by the state.

To determine how to best implement the program, the researchers synthesized feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including child care providers, environmental justice advocates and water utilities. They found several current shortcomings, including the fact that many child care providers have not received directives to test their water and that the program’s messaging is only available in English and Spanish.

The study recommends that stakeholders at all levels have a voice in helping to design the program to correct problems. A co-design process that includes parents, day care centers, utilities and state agencies will result in higher compliance rates and confirm that all centers have their facilities tested in a timely manner, the researchers say.

It is also important that the program not increase mistrust of tap water in settings where such concern is unmerited, according to the report. For instance, after hearing about the lead testing program, some day care centers and parents began using bottled beverages, even though their drinking water was clean. Bottled water can be expensive and has a negative environmental impact.

Lead exposure poses an acute threat to young children and their families. Even low-level exposure has been connected to loss in IQ, hearing impairments and learning disabilities. Recognizing this threat, California passed Assembly Bill 2370 in 2018, which mandates the testing of drinking water for lead at licensed child care facilities built before 2010. These sites must complete the tests before 2023 and, if elevated levels are found, remedy the problem or find alternative sources of water.

AB 2370 represents a meaningful step toward further protecting children’s health, the researchers say, but implementing the law remains a huge feat. Thousands of day care centers must test and clean up their plumbing systems, and many of these facilities are experiencing funding and staffing shortages, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, the researchers view the program as an important step toward ensuring the human right to clean water for all Californians. A more streamlined and supported implementation process, they say, would help officials better deliver on-the-ground results statewide.

The study was funded by First 5 LA, an independent public agency working to strengthen systems, parents and communities so that by 2028, all children in Los Angeles County will enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life.

Wells Updates ‘Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing’

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding the rapid evolution of green building practices and integrating those approaches into affordable housing may be more critical than ever, according to Walker Wells, a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning lecturer. In “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing,” Wells and co-author Kimberly Vermeer, a Boston-based sustainability consultant, argue that the best way to meet health and climate challenges is by providing society’s most vulnerable people with housing stability while reducing the environmental, health and climate impacts of constructing and operating buildings. In this fully revised edition of a book first published in 2007, the authors provide guidance on innovative green building practices and green building certifications available for affordable housing. To help builders align design decisions with environment-friendly goals, the authors explain the integrated design process. They also detail best practices for green design, from water management to renewable energy. Acknowledging the complexity of financing green affordable housing projects, Wells and Vermeer also discuss funding sources and the latest financing strategies. New case studies span high-desert homeownership, supportive housing in the Southeast and net-zero family apartments on the coasts. “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing” seeks to provide information for everyone in the affordable housing industry, including housing development project managers, designers, engineers, funders and housing advocates. Wells is a principal at Raimi+Associates, a consulting service with offices in Los Angeles, Riverside and Berkeley, California. Vermeer founded and leads Urban Habitat Initiatives, a consulting practice that advances sustainability and climate resilience.

Cities Need Array of Climate Change Strategies, Turner Says

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner was featured in an Arizona Republic article about her research on combating climate change and lowering urban temperatures. Turner partnered with climate scientist Ariane Middel to research the effect of surface-cooling solar reflective paint on how a person walking along the street feels the heat. “The broad lesson has to do with the fact that we need to be sensitive to context when we make decisions,” Turner said. “If the end goal is urban heat island mitigation, then we want to do something different than if our end goal is pedestrian comfort. They’re not the same thing, and they can’t be conflated.” Research like Middel’s and Turner’s is essential for cities developing heat mitigation techniques and investing in new infrastructure. It’s important to develop strategies using a combination of tools that address the specific needs of different city blocks and neighborhoods, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, they said.


DeShazo on Future Demand for Electric Vehicles

JR DeShazo, director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an ABC News article discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on electric vehicle sales. Electric vehicles, or EVs, are already more expensive than their gasoline-powered equivalents, and widespread economic insecurity as a result of the pandemic has made Americans less likely to buy one during this time, even if they can afford it. DeShazo, a professor of public policy and urban planning, predicted that the pandemic may usher in new environmental policies around the country. “A lot of states are talking about sustainable stimulus package incentives for vehicles that would include used and hybrid vehicles, charging equipment at home and at work, and subsidies for clean transportation,” he said. “In some ways the pandemic has made people appreciate life without all this car-created pollution. It has changed how people think about EVs.”


Improved Air Quality Tempered by Human Costs, DeShazo Says

JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to LAist about the complicated effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on vehicle emissions and air pollution in Los Angeles. Emptier roads have decreased vehicle emissions and nitrogen dioxide levels, yet experts have noted that smog levels are staying high later in the evening. While air pollution due to transportation-related emissions is decreasing, researchers can’t yet say with scientific certainty by how much — or what the lasting effects of that drop in emissions will be. Furthermore, DeShazo warns against compartmentalizing only the benefits of improved air quality while ignoring the huge human costs of the unprecedented global health crisis. “We’re seeing how important travel is to producing employment opportunities and educational opportunities and access to health care,” he explained. “I think we have to be very cautious in how we interpret this impact.”


Turner Explores Environmental Benefits of New Urbanism

A CNU Journal article cited Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner, one of several scholars who contributed their expertise to the publication of A Research Agenda for New Urbanism. The book highlights research needs from the social, environmental and economic sides of New Urbanism, including transportation, diversity, accessibility and theoretical foundations. Turner highlighted the impact of urbanism on microclimate as a critical area of climate research and stressed the need for “studies that evaluate the role of design in adapting to hotter urban environments.” Some environmental benefits of New Urbanism, including transit-oriented design and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, have been well-established. However, Turner pointed out the “lack of empirical assessment of the relationship between new urbanist design and ecosystem services, climate adaptation planning and other environmental outcomes.” She recommended establishing field tests at new urban projects in the U.S. and abroad to gather valuable environmental data.


UCLA Study on Plastic Waste in L.A. County Will Inform Ordinance Research shows that recycling is not a panacea for plastic waste problem and finds that reusable alternatives can be cost-effective

By Colleen Callahan

A new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) that highlights impacts of plastic production and waste in Los Angeles County will benefit the county in drafting an ordinance addressing plastic waste.

“One of the findings from the report that may surprise Angelenos is that a majority of plastic waste in L.A. County is not currently recycled,” said Gary Gero, the county’s chief sustainability officer. “This is just part of the problem behind the environmental, economic, energy and human-health-related impacts associated with plastic production and waste in L.A. County, which this study clearly reveals.”

The report also analyzes alternative options in food service and singles out single-use plastic food service waste for its outsized representation in litter and its low recycling potential. No facility in L.A. County currently recycles plastic food service ware because of concerns about food contamination and other issues. After a policy change from China in 2018 to limit recyclable waste materials accepted by that country, only #1 and #2 plastics are commonly recycled.

“Fortunately, there are alternatives to plastic containers, cups, straws and ‘sporks’ that make practical and economic sense,” said JR DeShazo, the principal investigator on the study and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “Solutions are on hand, as the report makes abundantly clear.”

Researchers found that compostable ware can reduce environmental impacts as compared to plastic. But the report also explains that a full transition to compostable ware across the region would need to be approached carefully.

For one, it would require an expansion of the currently limited composting infrastructure in L.A. County. Fortunately, state regulations are in place to mandate this expansion over the next few years and the county is actively working toward meeting those state targets. In addition, a larger transition to compostable ware would require thoughtful consideration of materials in order to select products with a lower lifetime environmental impact as compared to plastic. Compostable products that are 100% fiber-based without chemical treatment produce the best environmental outcome.

No disposable ware can beat the environmental footprint of reusable food service ware, researchers found. Moving to reusables in place of disposables represents a large shift for many food vendors, with higher up-front costs but lower expenditures over time.

The fiscal break-even point for businesses can generally occur within the first year of transition, with direct cost savings for businesses afterward totaling thousands of dollars per year, according to the study.

“It was heartening to see the conclusions related to economic impacts of moving our businesses to more sustainable materials,” Gero said. “It’s also relatively easy for us, as individuals, to do something about it — like bringing our own cups, straws and utensils when we dine at a fast-service type of restaurant.”

In California, 135 cities and counties have adopted ordinances related to single-use plastic reduction. Researchers interviewed officials from eight of those cities, mostly in L.A. County.

The experiences of these jurisdictions indicate that policies restricting plastics have been effective at reducing the adverse impacts of plastic waste with no reported negative economic impacts. These jurisdictions have provided avenues for vendors to claim exemptions for financial hardship, but the rate at which vendors have applied for such exemptions is very low, the study notes.

The Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office commissioned the study, per a motion by county supervisors directing the office to contract with UCLA to study the issue of plastic waste, processing, recyclability and alternatives in the county. The motion came after supervisors earlier in 2019 approved the OurCounty Sustainability Plan, a comprehensive approach to help L.A. County transition to a more sustainable future through actions that include plastic waste reduction.  The county plans to release its draft ordinance later in 2020.

 

Enhancing the Resiliency of L.A.’s Water Supply Through Recycling Luskin Center for Innovation is analyzing a plan to recycle all of L.A.’s wastewater by 2035, a project that could be the largest capital water project investment in L.A. this century

By Colleen Callahan

Analysis by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) is underway in support of Los Angeles’ goal to recycle all wastewater by 2035 and use it to replenish local groundwater and reduce the need to import water.

“Using recycled water is the next major step in Southern California to ensure needed resiliency against future droughts and earthquakes,” said Nicholas Chow MSc Civil and Environmental Engineering ’16, water engineering project manager for LCI. “Our study could inform construction of a pipeline that provides millions of customers with a new source of clean water.”

According to an announcement by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2019, the city will stop discarding wastewater to the ocean and instead recycle that water for beneficial use. The plan to meet this goal centers on the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, which is the largest wastewater treatment facility west of the Mississippi River. Hyperion receives the vast majority of the city’s total wastewater but currently recycles only 27%. The rest goes into the Pacific Ocean.

The LCI researchers are assessing a proposed Hyperion reuse and groundwater development project that would include construction of $2 billion worth of infrastructure over a decade in order to achieve the city’s 2035 implementation goal. Experts say this project may become the largest capital water project investment for Los Angeles during the 21st century.

In announcing the project, Garcetti framed the effort as L.A.’s next “Mulholland moment,” a reference to the legacy of water chief William Mulholland and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which opened more than 100 years ago and helped create modern Los Angeles by redirecting water from the Owens Valley hundreds of miles away. City leaders now have an opposite ─ reducing the amount of water imported from far-away.

“Maximizing L.A.’s recycling capacity will increase the amount of water we source locally and help to ensure that Angelenos can count on access to clean water for generations to come,” Garcetti said in his announcement.

The objective of the UCLA study is to estimate the project’s value — specifically, how investing now in recycled water might avoid future costs for rate-paying households and businesses. Researchers are factoring in droughts, seismic events and the rising price of imported water, all of which threaten L.A.’s water supplies.

Commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the agency responsible for maximizing beneficial use of water treated at the Hyperion plant, the UCLA study is being conducted in collaboration with L.A. Sanitation and Environment, which operates the Hyperion plant.

Environmental Economists Warn EPA Analysis Undermines Pollutant Protections

Roll Call, The Hill and Reuters were among news agencies covering a report finding that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that could lead to an increase in mercury pollution from power plants relied on a flawed analysis. The report was issued by the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC), which is co-chaired by JR DeShazo, Public Policy chair and director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation. The E-EEAC examined the cost-benefit analysis underpinning the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards proposal, which emphasized the cost of pollution controls rather than the overall public health benefits. This approach could lead to legal challenges, the E-EEAC warned. The group, made up of environmental economists, is an independent organization providing guidance to the EPA. It was created after the EPA disbanded its own advisory committee of environmental economists in 2018.