An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times juxtaposed a Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) plan to meet housing construction requirements with recommendations from Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to combat the affordable housing crisis in California with construction of 1.3 million new units of housing. The op-ed, written by the managing director of Abundant Housing L.A., accused the SCAG plan of “disproportionately dumping housing into the sprawling exurbs” while leaving wealthy cities with massive job pools alone. Critics say the SCAG plan will create a housing and jobs imbalance that will lengthen commutes and lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Working with Monkkonen, Abundant Housing L.A. researchers built a different model for distributing housing requirements that minimizes sprawl, prioritizes accessibility to transit and creates affordable housing where people want to live and have opportunities to work, the op-ed said.
Global Public Affairs (GPA) at UCLA Luskin welcomed Vivek Maru, founder and CEO of the legal advocacy nonprofit Namati, to campus on Oct. 24. In his talk entitled “The Global Struggle for Environmental Justice,” Maru shared three stories of local people — smallholder farmers in Sierra Leone, fisher people on the coast of India and families in an industrial zone of Baltimore — who used the law to stand up to industries polluting their communities. Their work was supported by Namati, which trains and deploys community paralegals around the world to help people understand and exercise their legal rights. Maru said isolated incidents can lead to great change in policies and systems. He stressed the importance of the “legal empowerment cycle,” in which grassroots experiences can trigger systemic change. Namati, founded in 2011, convenes the Global Legal Empowerment Network, more than 2,000 groups and 7,000 individuals from all over the world. Members collaborate on common challenges, such as enforcing environmental law and securing basic rights to healthcare and citizenship. More information about Maru’s work is available in a free e-book, published by Cambridge University Press. — John Danly
By Claudia Bustamante
For the next year, the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin will benefit from the research and expertise of a climate adaptation specialist.
Mikhail Chester, an associate professor of civil engineering at Arizona State University, has joined the institute as a visiting scholar, focusing his yearlong appointment on studying infrastructure vulnerabilities in a changing environment.
Specifically, Chester will study how roads are vulnerable to wildfires.
“Roads are not designed for the worsening conditions of climate change,” Chester said.
The old, conventional thinking about this problem was to map the hazards: Where will it be hotter? Where will it flood? Where do the roads and bridges intersect?
“Infrastructure are not fragile, brittle things. They’re tough,” he said. “What I’ve been trying to do is shine a light on how we can think more critically about what ‘vulnerability’ means.”
Last year, California experienced its largest and deadliest wildfire season. And despite a wet winter, the state is again braced for an active wildfire season spurred by rising heat and driven by winds.
In recent years, Californians have seen wildfires burn near, and eventually cross, freeways.
And yet, “for the most part, the asphalt is OK,” Chester said. “It turns out the biggest danger to roads is after the wildfire.”
‘As infrastructure professionals ― planners and engineers ― if we can’t recognize issues and make changes, we’re going to be irrelevant.’
— Mikhail Chester
A fire will burn up vegetation, creating ground debris. It will also shift the soil chemistry, making it less likely to absorb water. The two can combine to disastrous effects following heavy rains. In what has become a routine post-wildfire concern, rocks, mud and other debris flow down hillsides left barren from recent fires and wreak havoc on roadways and other infrastructure.
While at UCLA, Chester ― who hopes to engage with professionals across multiple campus disciplines, such as urban planning, engineering, climate science and public health ― plans to connect the state’s fire forecasts and transportation infrastructure with various environmental indicators, like terrain, vegetation and soil characteristics.
“When you connect the dots and put all these things together, ideally, you come up with a better way of characterizing vulnerability,” Chester said.
Once the risks are identified, local officials and policymakers can draft an array of responses ranging from strengthening infrastructure and managing forests to detouring traffic away from vulnerable roadways.
A civil engineer with a public policy background, Chester is a leading researcher on the interface between infrastructure and urbanization. His work on the environmental impact of transportation looks beyond tailpipe emissions to assess the role of roads, fuel supply chains and manufacturing.
In Arizona, with high temperatures and flash flooding, he has explored climate adaptation and resilience. He is also currently involved in an interdisciplinary study with UCLA on the sun and heat exposure a person experiences in their day-to-day travels.
All of this work, as Chester explains, is the groundwork for a larger question: How will we manage infrastructure for the next 100 years?
The world is rapidly changing and new technology constantly emerging. People will continue to demand more from an infrastructure that is rigid and not designed to quickly and efficiently accommodate changes such as, for example, autonomous vehicles.
“I think we are woefully unprepared for how we manage infrastructure or how we think about the problem,” said Chester, whose work aims to reimagine these concepts for the 21st century and beyond.
“We are so stuck with the status quo that I’m worried whether or not we can make substantive change fast enough. I think as infrastructure professionals ― planners and engineers ― if we can’t recognize issues and make changes, we’re going to be irrelevant.”
Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about an L.A. City Council runoff election that highlights the debate over the “Green New Deal.” John Lee and Loraine Lundquist are vying for the seat representing the northwest San Fernando Valley — site of the massive Aliso Canyon methane leak that pushed thousands of people out of their homes. Lundquist has endorsed Mayor Eric Garcetti’s package of environmental proposals; Lee says the mayor’s plan is too costly, and his supporters have called Lundquist’s agenda “extremist.” The Valley campaign is “a little bit of a microcosm of what’s happening on the national stage around the Green New Deal,” Callahan said.
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about a study attempting to tally the carbon footprint of electric scooters. The research measured several factors: the energy-intensive materials that go into making the vehicles; the driving required to collect, charge and redistribute them; and the shortened lifespan of scooters battered by use on urban streets or attacked by vandals. The study concluded that e-scooters aren’t as eco-friendly as they may seem. While traveling a mile by scooter is better than driving the same distance by car, it’s worse than biking, walking or taking a bus — the modes of transportation that scooters most often replace, the researchers from North Carolina State University found. “That actual trip somebody’s taking on the scooter — that’s pretty green,” Matute said. “What’s not green is everything you don’t see.”
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov spoke to Vice about “managed retreat” as a strategy for coping with climate change — and perhaps creating a better quality of life. Faced with rising sea levels, some communities lobby for protection from walls and levees. Staying in place is seen as a sign of resilience, moving away a sign of surrender. Koslov noted that walling off cities could create “provinces of the wealthy” that bring about environmental and social havoc. “You could end up with these walled city-states and then everyone else is just left to fend for themselves,” she said. Managed retreat — moving populations away from an environmental threat in a carefully planned strategy — can be empowering and restorative if the people involved have a voice in the move, she said. Koslov, who has a joint appointment with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, is currently working on a book based on her fieldwork on Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy.
In a recent CityLab article, UCLA Luskin’s Kian Goh commented on the Indonesian president’s approval of a plan to relocate the nation’s capital. The current capital of Jakarta is overcrowded and sinking by a few inches per year as a result of excessive underwater pumping. “Only part of this [relocation plan] is environmental,” explained Goh, assistant professor of urban planning. She stressed the economic and political factors at play, arguing that “a move to literally reposition the capital may have to do with reframing the center of power in the country itself.” Even if the president is successful in moving the capital, the government will still need to deal with the sinking land and rising seas in Jakarta. Goh predicts that Jakarta will remain the center of economic activity in Indonesia regardless of whether the capital is moved, concluding that “the people will still be there, and the problems they face will still be there.”
Policies on air pollution, climate change and water have far-reaching effects on millions of Americans and businesses. Is the Environmental Protection Agency ─ the federal agency whose mission is to protect public health and the environment ─ using the best available economic science when designing and proposing these policies? The newly created External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC) will convene nationally recognized environmental economists to ensure that the EPA has access to the most advanced research.
“Our mission is to provide independent, state-of-the-science advice with regard to the benefits, costs and design of the EPA’s environmental programs,” said JR DeShazo, professor in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who co-chairs the new research organization.
The E-EEAC formed following the dissolution in 2018 of the original Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, which had operated for more than 25 years within the EPA’s science advisory board structure. Like its predecessor, the E-EEAC consists of economists who apply their expertise to analyze the impact of environmental policies.
“The members believe that, despite the retirement of the internal committee, advances in economic research remain crucial to achieving welfare-enhancing environmental policies,” said Mary Evans, professor at Claremont McKenna College and E-EEAC co-chair. “The E-EEAC is especially needed now given the large number of regulatory modifications that EPA has, and will shortly, propose related to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act.”
These policy changes will impact millions of Americans and firms, along with our ecosystems. The E-EEAC’s intent is to operate until the EPA reconstitutes an internal environmental economics advisory committee composed of independent economists. Many of the members of the original committee are now part of E-EEAC, including the co-chairs.
The EPA must comply with statutes and executive orders that explicitly require the agency to assess the costs, benefits and impacts of regulations. Economic expertise and analysis guide this compliance and enhance the quality of public debate about new regulations.
The E-EEAC is structured to provide independent advice from experts in the field of environmental economics. Functioning as a nonpartisan research organization, the E-EEAC intends to make all of its deliberations and findings easily accessible to the EPA and the public.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation have contributed funding to support this endeavor. The Sloan Foundation is a nonprofit philanthropic organization that makes grants primarily to support original research and education related to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is a policy-oriented research center uniting UCLA scholars with civic leaders to solve environmental challenges confronting our community, nation and world.
Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, was quoted in an article from CityLab on a speculative proposal for sustainable living in the face of our rapidly changing climate. The futuristic solution involves high-tech cities that float atop the surface of the ocean and are aimed at total self-sufficiency in terms of food and energy production. The floating city is designed to provide permanent communities for those displaced by rising sea levels. Goh encouraged bold, utopian thinking but said this idea was unrealistic, mainly because these cities — while certainly a beautiful vision — could never provide enough homes for the several million people threatened with displacement. According to Goh, ideas like the floating city “are oftentimes posed as solving some big problem, when in many ways [they’re] an attempt to get away from the kinds of social and political realities of other places,” she said.
By Stan Paul
Since graduating its first class of 17 students in 1998, the Master of Public Policy program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has equipped nearly 900 more for careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
The highly competitive MPP program that now admits about 70 students each year celebrated its second decade with alumni, faculty, staff, friends and family Sept. 22, 2018, at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center.
As part of the MPP program’s milestone anniversary, Jaime Nack MPP ’02 was named Alumna of the Year.
An entrepreneur and environmental consultant, Nack was a Luskin School Public Policy minor before pursuing her graduate degree. She credits UCLA with helping her meld her interests and foster her career.
“I always knew I wanted to focus on ‘impact’ and figuring out a way to effect change around the landscape around me, and public policy felt like the best place where I could actually explore those interests,” Nack said. “Whether it be transportation or housing or social welfare, all of the pieces that I was interested in my impact puzzle I found at Luskin, I found in public policy.”
Also during the celebration, five current students were given the UCLA Luskin MPP Alumni Fellowship Awards for outstanding leadership and service. The students, nominated by their classmates, were: Marissa Ayala, Robert Gamboa, Gabriela Solis, Caio Velasco and Erica Webster.
“A lot’s happened since many of you graduated,” Dean Gary Segura told the crowd, citing a list of accomplishments that included 19 new UCLA Luskin faculty hires, nine of whom are in Public Policy; the addition of new research centers; the launch of an undergraduate major in Public Affairs this fall; and, “more importantly, the training of a generation of MPPs who’ve gone off and made the world a better, cleaner, more just place to live.”
“We have impact on things that we care about,” such as climate change, water pollution, public education, health care, civil society and social inequality, Segura said. “All of these things are things that faculty at Luskin Public Policy work with students every day to understand, to explain, to search for solutions.”
On hand to celebrate two decades of growth and success was Public Policy chair JR DeShazo, who recalled his more than 20 years on the School’s faculty.
Despite the growth of the Public Policy community, “we need all the MPPs we can get in this day and age,” said DeShazo, who is also director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
“We share a common goal of creating a more just society and opportunities for all of its members,” he added. “We gather today because we are part of a community committed to strengthening our civil society, and we gather here today because we all know that our future depends on us investing in staying connected and supporting one another.”
“We have all watched the department and program grow from the excitement of the founding moment to become an institution of considerable reputation and influence,” Peterson said prior to the event. “You can see it in our graduates, where they go and what they do.”
Peterson added, “There is no better embodiment of that impact than Jaime Nack.”
Nurit Katz MPP ’08, who currently serves as UCLA’s chief sustainability officer and executive officer of facilities management, presented the Alumna of the Year Award to Nack, crediting her leadership in sustainability and climate issues nationally and internationally.
Nack’s accomplishments as an entrepreneur include founding Three Squares Inc., an environmental consulting firm, and serving as director of sustainability and greening operations for the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions, marking the first time the DNC took measures to reduce the events’ environmental impact on host cities. She also has served as a member of the National Women’s Business Council — an Obama Administration appointment — and is on UCLA’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. In 2011, Nack was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Nack described her career journey as “non-linear” but said she found a path to environmental consulting because it was a “perfect blend of policy, business and impact.”
“So the last 20 years have take me through the Arctic to the White House,” said Nack, who returned recently from an Arctic expedition sponsored by FutureTalks, and more recently served as head of sustainability for the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.
“It’s been great to be a part of and play a role in some of those, but I definitely think that a big part of who I am comes from my experiences on campus with professors, with staff. I owe a debt of gratitude. … I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings for Luskin.”
View a Flickr album from the event.