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Monkkonen Guides Discussion of L.A.’s Housing Needs Key players who represent state, regional and municipal interests discuss how state law impacts the process of housing allocation in each jurisdiction

By Naveen Agrawal

“Let’s get ready to … RHNA!” That was the rallying cry from UCLA Luskin Associate Professor Paavo Monkkonen during a recent panel discussion on Los Angeles’ housing needs with policy experts familiar with the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) process.

California’s 1967 housing element law — and the RHNA process — is an underemphasized aspect of state policy that matters just as much today as it did half a century ago, the panelists said.

Held May 15, 2019, “Planning for the Housing That Greater L.A. Needs” was the third and final installment for the year in the Housing, Equity and Community Series, a partnership between the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.

The event was moderated by Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Providing the state’s perspective was Melinda Coy, senior policy specialist with the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Providing the regional view was Ma’Ayn Johnson MA UP ’05, who is a senior housing and land use planner at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Representing municipalities was Diana Varat JD/MA UP ’08, who works at Richards, Watson & Gershon, a firm that specializes in public law services.

California’s housing law seeks to ensure that cities zone for enough housing to accommodate population growth. In the RHNA process, state agencies project the population growth of each region. Then, metropolitan planning organizations like SCAG allocate a number of housing units to individual cities based on the projected growth. Cities are then required to demonstrate that they have enough capacity to accommodate these additional housing units, but RHNA does not force cities to build those units. Enforcement is spotty and construction often lags, resulting in housing shortages in many areas.

Recent state legislative actions have sought to reform the RHNA process, with a particular eye on equity. These and other issues related to the RHNA process are detailed in a newly released Lewis Center brief.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently vowed to enforce RHNA targets more strictly, and his office has gone as far as initiating lawsuits against cities that are not meeting their targets, including Huntington Beach.

Coy described the state’s expanding role in promoting and enforcing RHNA targets, including providing technical assistance to help local governments comply. Coy also mentioned that her department’s staff has increased, reflecting the governor’s emphasis that housing planning be taken seriously.

The complexity of regional governance over the 191 cities and six counties represented by SCAG was emphasized by Johnson. She also cited the importance of having a social justice and equity perspective when RHNA targets are allocated to individual cities so that racial and low-income housing segregation is avoided. She also mentioned that RHNA targets will likely increase to reflect unmet need, not just projected growth.

As a contract attorney working on housing compliance with various California cities, Varat characterized the law as requiring cities to “collect research and ignore it.”

Varat pointed out that identifying sites for affordable housing is a burdensome task for cities. And because it is not coupled with a requirement that those sites actually be developed as affordable housing units, the effort is often moot.

Coy described the housing element law as an effort to create a public safety net for what is otherwise an unprotected essential need. Varat, however, countered that the state’s effort to dictate city policy is based on a presumption that cities hold the power to develop new housing — in most cases, developers actually hold that power.

Another tension between local autonomy and regional/state authority involves existing affordable housing units. Varat criticized the housing element’s emphasis on new units, rather than preservation of existing affordable units. Coy acknowledged this shortcoming, saying that individual RHNA targets are supposed to include existing units, but they seldom do.

One lesson was clear — participation matters. Johnson informed the audience that meetings of SCAG are held monthly and are available by webcast. Both Coy and Varat underscored the importance of planning education and community engagement, and they see promise that the upcoming round of RHNA targets will better address previous gaps.

View a Flickr album of photos from the event.

 

Planning for Housing

Lewis Center Director Evelyn Blumenberg at the inaugural InterActions LA event on regional growth and equity. Photo by Amy Tierney

First Conference on Regional Growth and Equity Tackles Transportation and Communities UCLA scholars, nonprofit representatives discuss how to use multibillion-dollar investment to address regional inequities

By Claudia Bustamante

Los Angeles is populous and diverse, but that distinction also produces inequality. There are disparities in housing costs. Amenities vary across neighborhoods. Many low-income families struggle to make ends meet despite impressive gains in employment.

During an inaugural event focusing on regional growth and equity, the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies convened a group of experts to discuss how to leverage a sweeping, taxpayer-supported $120-billion investment in Los Angeles’ transportation system to address decades-old disparities.

Following the 2016 passage of Measure M, Metro committed $52 billion in sales tax revenue for capital investments throughout the county. The agency is looking to accelerate 28 projects by the time Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Summer Olympics. Senate Bill 1 approved in 2017 designated another $54 billion to fix roads, to relieve congestion, and to improve transit and trade corridors throughout California.

“The question is how can we improve the quality of communities by taking advantage of the ongoing and major regional investments in public transit,” said Evelyn Blumenberg MA UP ’90 Ph.D. ’95, director of the Lewis Center and professor of urban planning, at “InterActions LA: Inspiring Quality Transit Neighborhoods,” held April 18, 2019, at The California Endowment.

“It is precisely in these moments of rapid change when there is a window of opportunity to do something different,” Blumenberg said. “Hopefully, it’s to engage in more equitable outcomes that better connect residents to economic opportunities, that protect and expand affordable housing, and that improve the health and robustness of the L.A. region.”

Paul Ong, UCLA Luskin research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, has done extensive research on the role of urban structures on the reproduction of inequality. He said this topic is an important one for discussion.

“We, as a society, make neighborhoods,” Ong said, “and neighborhoods make us. The type of neighborhood we live in determines not only today’s quality of life but the trajectory over generations.”

Multiple approaches to improve neighborhoods were discussed. They include progressive housing and land use policies, stationary design, neighborhood amenities and community engagement.

Key among the discussion was the need to focus on people who use transit and their specific needs. For example, women, older adults and people with disabilities make up about 60 percent of Los Angeles’ transit ridership. Those transit users have specific concerns about safety and security while walking to stations, waiting and riding transit, said Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of the Lewis Center.

“If we’re not planning for specific groups in an intentional way, it’s not likely we’re going to see the shifts we want to see from these investments,” Brozen said.

Julia Stein, project director at the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law, said the city’s Transit Oriented Communities program, which provides incentives to developers to build near major transit stops and include affordable housing units, provides an opportunity to address some issues.

Since the program’s inception in 2017, about 2,400 affordable units have been proposed, of which 42 percent are reserved for extremely low-income households.

Attendees also heard about specific efforts being conducted in the city by nonprofit organizations, including improvements along Avenue 26 near Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park spearheaded by LA-Mas. The nonprofit agency engaged with community members to generate design improvements and creative wayfinding on a quarter-mile stretch near the Metro Gold Line station.

The end result was impressive, but Avital Aboody from LA-Mas said the permitting process was complex, expensive and time-consuming.

“We had the expertise and time to navigate this process, but that may not be the case for community members or grassroots organizations that may want to do this in their community,” she said.

Lessons Learned Outside L.A.

Outside California, the Twin Cities region in Minnesota has a reputation for being progressive. But the community deals with stark racial disparities, which date back to decades of systemic racism, like redlining, according to Owen Duckworth, director of organizing and policy at the Alliance, a Minnesota-based coalition of community-based organizations and advocacy groups.

Now that the region is investing in transit infrastructure such as an expansion of a rail line that connects downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul, there is an opportunity for communities to have greater impact.

“Government agencies want to deliver on equity. That’s the buzzword,” Duckworth said. “We can’t have equitable outcomes by continuing inequitable processes in planning.”

Another theme echoed by many panelists is community engagement — making sure residents’ input is not merely tokenized by developers and government organizations.

Community members provide valuable insights as experts in their own neighborhoods.

“Our partners want to be partners to government agencies in community development, but there’s no compensation for these organizations. They mostly volunteer their time,” said Thomas Yee of LA THRIVES.

“Everything from here on out needs to be collaborative. We need to get away from silos. We need to work together,” Yee added.

Multiple Objectives

Blumenberg ended the event by saying it is clear that multiple objectives must be met to ensure quality transit neighborhoods. To name a few, planners must consider housing, traffic, environmental concerns, access to opportunities, safety and security issues around mobility.

The solutions must be equally diverse — tailored to the different neighborhoods and communities throughout the region, she said.

 

DeShazo on Low-Income Workers and Growing Green Economy

JR DeShazo, Public Policy chair and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in a KCRW broadcast discussing the explosion of the green economy. While there are 500,000 green jobs in California, they mostly benefit upper- and middle-class communities, while individuals from low-income communities are hindered by lack of education, language barriers, immigration status and travel distance from job opportunities. Companies like Grid Alternatives and O&M Solar Services are trying to change that by providing paid training for workers from low-income backgrounds. While California’s green energy policies generated 76,000 jobs in their first three years, DeShazo said that legislators are now reexamining the state’s approach to tackle the issue of equity. “The state has, in what I call the second wave of climate policies, gone back through and integrated a social justice or environmental equity component into almost every single policy,” DeShazo said. 


UnidosUS President Janet Murguía will deliver the keynote address at the June 14 UCLA Luskin Commencement. Photo courtesy of Violetta Markelou Photography

National Civil Rights Leader Named 2019 Commencement Speaker Longtime UnidosUS President Janet Murguía has worked to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy

By Les Dunseith

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, has been named the 2019 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Murguía has led UnidosUS since 2005. She will deliver the keynote address during the UCLA Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 14 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

“Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice,” Luskin School Dean Gary Segura said. “In this very difficult time for the Latino population, I am excited to hear her share her insights and determination — developed and refined over decades of advocacy — with our graduating class.”

‘Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice.’

— Dean Gary Segura

During her tenure at the organization, which changed its name from the National Council of La Raza in 2017, Murguía has sought to strengthen the work of UnidosUS and enhance its record of impact as a vital American institution. Murguía has also sought to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy.

A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Murguía earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish, and a juris doctorate, from the University of Kansas. She has also received honorary degrees from Cal State Dominguez Hills, Wake Forest University and Williams College.

Murguía began her career in Washington, D.C., as legislative counsel to former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery from her home state. She worked with the congressman for seven years before joining the Clinton administration, where she served for six years as a deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton, including deputy director of legislative affairs.

Murguía went on to serve as deputy campaign manager and director of constituency outreach for the 2000 presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore, during which she was the primary liaison between former Vice President Gore and national constituency groups.

In 2001, Murguía returned to the University of Kansas as executive vice chancellor for university relations, where she oversaw KU’s internal and external relations with the public. She is credited with coordinating the university’s strategic planning and marketing efforts at KU’s four campuses.

Over the course of her career, Murguía has been featured in various magazines and newspapers for her work and leadership. This includes being highlighted on Hispanic Business Magazine’s “100 Top Latinas” and “100 Most Influential Hispanics” lists, Washingtonian magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women in Washington,” the NonProfit Times’ list of top 50 leaders of “Power and Influence,” People En Español’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics,” Newsweek’s third annual women and leadership issue, Poder magazine’s “The Poderosos 100,” Latino Leaders magazine’s “101 Top Leaders of the Hispanic Community” and Hispanic magazine’s “Powerful Latinos.”

Murguía was the first Latino to give the keynote speech at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, Alabama. And she received Alpha Phi’s Frances E. Willard Award in 2018.

Murguía is currently a board member of Achieve, an independent and nonpartisan education reform nonprofit organization, and the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility. She also serves as a member of diversity advisory councils for Bank of America, Charter Communications, Comcast/NBC Universal and Wells Fargo.

Learn more about the 2019 Commencement at UCLA Luskin.

 

Manville’s Research on Universal Auto Access Published

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville’s research on “The Poverty of the Carless: Toward Universal Auto Access” was published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Manville and co-authors David King and Michael Smart investigated how vehicle access inequity affects low-income American households. In a society where vehicle access is becoming increasingly necessary, “anyone who can acquire a vehicle will, even if doing so is financially burdensome,” the study explained, noting that “only the most disadvantaged people [are] unable to afford cars.” The research found that “U.S. households without access to a vehicle have steadily lost income, both in absolute terms and compared to those with cars, as the landscapes around them were increasingly shaped to favor the automobile.” Facing objections to universal auto access due to factors such as carbon emissions, the study argued that, “like water and heat, access to cars should be guaranteed and perhaps subsidized for low-income households.” While the long-term goal should be to decrease driving overall, the status quo is comprised of a “small group of people who need vehicles and lack them and a large group who have vehicles and use them needlessly.” Manville and his co-authors recommended treating vehicles as essential infrastructure and working to close gaps in vehicle access for poorer Americans while aiming to decrease overall consumption by the more affluent in the long term. The research was featured a recent Planetizen article and in a Q&A with co-author King. — Zoe Day

Maps Show Gentrification, Displacement Policies

The Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin has updated its website to offer two important online resources: an inventory and map of anti-displacement policies in Los Angeles County, and a map of neighborhood change and gentrification in Southern California. The map of anti-displacement policies utilizes data collected between February and May of 2018, and it reflects CNK’s first step to highlight and better understand the policies that can promote affordability or mitigate displacement of vulnerable populations in gentrifying neighborhoods. Among the findings is the fact that despite a wide range of anti-displacement policies and strategies in Los Angeles County, their coverage is fragmented and implementation is not equitably distributed across jurisdictions. CNK’s urban displacement map reflects an update to a resource first provided in 2016. It focuses on understanding where neighborhood transformations are occurring and helps identify areas that are vulnerable to gentrification and displacement in both transit and non-transit neighborhoods. One of the key findings in this update is that the number of gentrified neighborhoods (based on census tracts) rose by 16 percent in Los Angeles County between 1990 and 2015.

 

Arrest Study Shows Disparities by Employment, Race

Alvin Teng and Estefanía Zavala

Between 2012 and 2017, 43 percent of all people arrested in the city of Los Angeles were unemployed, according to a new study co-authored by Master of Public Policy students at UCLA Luskin. “Policing the Unemployed in Los Angeles: An Analysis of LAPD Data (2012-2017)” highlights disparities in arrests by race and employment, with African Americans (32.6 percent) and Latinos (43.9 percent) representing the majority of arrests of unemployed people. “Working on the report and seeing how unemployed people are arrested on charges like failure to appear made me reflect on how governments invest/disinvest in their most vulnerable communities,” said second-year MPP student Estefanía Zavala, who worked with classmate Alvin Teng , UCLA Professor of History and African American Studies Kelly Lytle Hernandez, and Albert Kocharphum, assistant campus GIS coordinator at UCLA. The Million Dollar Hoods report, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, shows that among African American men and women, the highest percentage of arrests was on failure to appear charges for both groups. Top ZIP codes for number of arrests were in South Los Angeles, a people considered houseless exceeded 18,000. During the five-year period, unemployed people spent the equivalent of 1,402 years in LAPD custody, the authors found. Data came via Public Records Act requests fulfilled by the LAPD in March 2018 and included information on more than 20 categories of detention bookings. — Stan Paul

Examining an Issue from Every Side Urban Planning students enrolled in Community Scholars and Comprehensive Project efforts work together to tackle problems of significant scope and complexity

By Les Dunseith

As the curtain lifts on another academic year at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students enrolled in one of two group efforts begin to tackle a major planning issue from multiple angles.

Listening, learning, analyzing, synthesizing and debating, the students enrolled in the Community Scholars and Comprehensive Project options will unite by graduation time to produce a shared vision of how best to address a challenge of significant scope and scale.

Exactly how comprehensive are these projects? Here’s the tally from last year:

  • 29 Urban Planning students (now alumni)
  • 20-plus weeks of class instruction
  • 545 total pages (256 pages in one report, 289 in the other)
  • 172 charts, tables, illustrations, infographics and complex data maps
  • dozens of photographs (including a few shot by a drone camera high overhead)
  • hundreds of emails, texts, phone calls and face-to-face sessions

Both of these group efforts are popular among students despite the workload, said Alexis Oberlander, graduate adviser in Urban Planning. In fact, an application and acceptance process is necessary to limit enrollment to a manageable number of about 15 for each.

“Comprehensive projects are more realistic to what it’s like in a professional setting,” Oberlander said of the difference between the group efforts and individual client projects pursued by other MURP students. In the professional world, “You don’t really do anything alone most of the time.”

The group efforts are similar in scope, complexity and instructional approach, but Community Scholars and the Comprehensive Project have key differences.

Community Scholars is a joint initiative of UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education that has been tackling issues related to jobs, wages and worker rights since 1991. UCLA’s Department of African American Studies was involved in 2016-17 too, joining an effort on behalf of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center to produce a report that reflects broad social concerns: “Black Liberation in Los Angeles: Building Power Through Women’s Wellness, Cooperative Work, and Transit Equity.”

“The idea is that students actually get to take the class with activists from the communities who are trying to accomplish the same things but need the guidance of an academic program,” Oberlander said. “And the students need the guidance of activists. So they learn from each other.”

Conversely, the annual Comprehensive Project is managed solely within Urban Planning. The 2016-17 team prepared a report for the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which was titled, “Lower LA River Revitalization: An Inclusive Approach to Planning, Implementation, and Community Engagement.”

From concept to completion, a typical Comprehensive Project can stretch over a year or more. Oberlander pointed out that students entering the Luskin School in the fall will decide just six months later whether to register for the next Comprehensive Project, which won’t wrap up until more than a year later.

Thus, now is the time for potential client partners to step forward. “You can come to Luskin and you can get really great research for a third of the cost to hire somebody,” she noted.

The end of an academic year is often a hectic time for Comprehensive Project students. For example, the final presentation to the Community Economics, Health, and Equity Committee of the Lower LA River Working Group was on June 8, 2017. A final (more comprehensive) on-campus presentation took place June 13, 2017, just two days before Commencement.

Public presentations are also typical of Community Scholars. On June 17, 2017, the students gathered at Holman United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles for a rousing public review and reflection on what they had accomplished together.

“It is phenomenal to have the privilege to spend 20 weeks in a room with other organizers and thought leaders who are every day experimenting and making change on the front lines for black workers and black working class families,” said the UCLA Labor Center’s Lola Smallwood Cuevas, the 2016-17 project director.

“We didn’t solve the black jobs crisis in this 20 weeks,” she continued. “But what we did do was create the opportunity for us to get closer, to build the relationships, to build an analysis that will help us shape and continue to hone those definitions and our work together moving forward.”

Their report, which like other student research from UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students can be viewed online, focused on three aspects directly related to African American workers in Los Angeles:

  • a curriculum on trauma-informed self-care for women served by the Black Workers Center;
  • a feasibility study for a cooperatively owned jobs services center;
  • a mobility study of the Slauson Corridor that paid particular attention to the intersection of Slauson and Western avenues, which a collision analysis found to be among L.A.’s most dangerous traffic locations.

Marque Vestal, a PhD student in history who served as a teaching assistant for Community Scholars, noted that the effort was about more than simply doing great research. While studying under Smallwood Cuevas, UCLA Luskin’s Gilda Haas and Gaye Theresa Johnson of UCLA African American Studies, the students examined issues of race, equality and empowerment through the black radical tradition.

“We suspected that something special would be crafted in that room because every week the laughter amid the planning got louder,” Vestal recalled during the presentation. “So we are here today to share that harvest of laughter and planning.”

“And there’s always the people who rise to the top with any group project who end up being the leaders,” Oberlander said. “They are usually the ones who are still working till August after they have graduated, making sure the client has exactly what they need.”

The instructor of the L.A. River project was Diana Varat JD/MA UP ’08, a planner and attorney who was part of the Luskin School’s adjunct faculty for the year. A rotating instructor approach is used for Community Scholars too. In 2015-16, UCLA Luskin’s Goetz Wolff led an analysis of the distribution of goods in Southern California that went on to win a national applied research award.

For the L.A. River project, students looked at gentrification, access and community impacts as part of their detailed analysis of the potential pitfalls of redeveloping the Lower Los Angeles River that runs through 14 cities from Vernon to Long Beach.

“As the potential of the Lower L.A. River becomes more clear, communities along the river are at a critical juncture,” said Alex Linz MURP ’17 during concluding remarks. “By committing to sustained community engagement and empowerment, river-adjacent cities have an excellent opportunity to showcase the Lower L.A. River both as a local and regional reflection of community pride.”

For 2017-18, the Comprehensive Project team will work with Distinguished Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs on the issue of transit-oriented development. Community Scholars will tackle homelessness and housing.

 

Examining the Legacy of Slavery and Racism In an effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students' future careers, the School of Public Affairs hosted a film viewing and discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

By Robin Heffler
As part of a School of Public Affairs effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students’ future careers, some 170 students, faculty, and community members recently viewed a film and engaged in a lively discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

Hosted by Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, participants gathered on Jan. 19 in the screening room of the Acosta Training Complex to see an abridged version of the documentary film, Traces of the Trade.

In the film, which aired on PBS in 2008, producer and director Katrina Browne tells of her shocking discovery that the De Wolfs of Rhode Island, her prominent, Caucasian ancestors, were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Together with nine other De Wolf descendants, Browne retraces the slave-trade triangle — from Bristol, Rhode Island to slave forts in Ghana to a family plantation in Cuba and back to Bristol. Along the way, they struggle with the politics of race, how to “repair” the centuries-long damage of slavery, and their own Yankee culture and privilege.

After the screening, Browne reflected on one cousin’s insistence that he would have gone to Harvard even if he wasn’t from a privileged family. “When the wind is at your back you don’t notice it,” she said. “You don’t realize the forces supporting you as you move forward, but you do when you’re faced with obstacles to success.”

African-American co-producer Juanita Brown noted that “We must recognize that race is complex, and that black and white is only one element. We invite you to see this conversation as the jumping off point for conversations about other people and races.”

Program participants engaged in one-on-one discussions about the film, as well as a question-and-answer session.

“No one wants to associate with the oppressor because of the guilt and shame involved, but we need to acknowledge history and how it plays out in the present,” said Amy Smith, a first-year social welfare graduate student, who had just spent the day discussing white privilege in her class on “Cross-Cultural Awareness.” “And, since racism is a problem that affects everyone, everyone should be part of the solution.”

Associate Professor Laura Abrams, who along with Joy Crumpton and Gerardo Laviña leads the “Cross-Cultural Awareness” class in the Department of Social Welfare, saw the issues raised by the film as important for social workers. “In a helping profession, it’s easy to see clients as having made bad choices rather than seeing their lives as structured by disadvantages and inequalities related to race, class, and gender,” she said.

Gilliam, who served as an early advisor to the film, said the event was the second of a planned series of programs focused on social justice issues. Last year, the UCLA School of Public Affairs had an exchange with the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, with each school hosting conferences on how to talk about race in the context of graduate education in public affairs.

“We want to do a better job of giving students the analytical tools to examine issues of social justice, which they will need to deal with the people they will be helping when they graduate,” he said.

Gilliam said plans include developing a curriculum, research opportunities, and a summer institute related to social justice. Together with Student Affairs, he also would like to hold social-justice dialogues with undergraduates, who then would dialogue with Los Angeles-area high school students.

Heffler is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer and former UCLA editor