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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.


 

Congestion Pricing Is Good for Drivers, Manville Says

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, was featured in a Government Technology article about Los Angeles’ plan to study congestion pricing to reduce traffic. City officials and LA Metro, the region’s public transit agency, plan to complete the feasibility study within the next two years. Manville said that, while the public should be informed of environmental benefits, such as cutting back emissions and reducing transportation’s total footprint, people should also be aware that congestion pricing would also make driving easier. “If you have a region full of drivers, it’s real important to frame congestion pricing as a policy that is good for drivers,” said Manville, who was speaking at CoMotion, a recent conference on urban mobility.


 

Summit Highlights Local Transitions to 100% Clean Energy

The Summit on State and Local Progress Toward 100% Clean Energy, which brought experts from 30 states to UCLA to discuss different community approaches to environmental goals, was covered by media outlets including Forbes and Greentech Media. The summit was hosted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), which issued a report finding that more than 200 cities and counties have committed to a 100% clean electricity target — and dozens have already hit it. The report highlights differences in how and when communities plan to achieve their targets. “We’re going to look back on this moment as the moment when local action and state commitments began to push the entire nation toward this goal,” LCI Director JR DeShazo said. Senior analyst and policymaker-in-residence Kevin de León added, “The lack of leadership at the national level has forced states, cities and counties to take the lead and fight for their own public health.”


Monkkonen Research Informs New Model for Affordable Housing

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.


Waging a Battle Against Environmental Injustice

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

An advocate from Namati speaks with members of a community in Mozambique about their rights. Photo courtesy of Namati

Visiting Scholar Has His Eyes on the Road — Literally — in Search of Wildfire Impacts Climate adaption expert Mikhail Chester focuses on infrastructure vulnerabilities in a changing environment

LUSKIN UP-CLOSE

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.”

Callahan on Small-Scale ‘Green New Deal’ Debate

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.