Storper Research Points to Roots of L.A.’s Problems

A Zocalo Public Square column on the urgency of fixing Los Angeles’ longstanding economic and equity problems cited research by Michael Storper, distinguished professor of urban planning. Storper studied the different trajectories of the Bay Area and Los Angeles, two big regional economies that were at parity in 1970, with similar education levels and numbers of engineers. The Bay Area’s leading institutions in education, business and government became highly networked and planned collaboratively. The Los Angeles region remained a collection of separate, siloed communities that competed with one another. Today, the Bay Area is 30% richer than the L.A. region, Storper found. Noting that COVID-19 made the depths of Los Angeles’ problems undeniable, the column called on leaders to build real foundations that allow people to find stability and health in the short term, while reducing inequality to spread prosperity in the long term. 


Diaz on Ensuring Equitable Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccines

Director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Sonja Diaz was featured in the Sacramento Bee, CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle discussing the importance of prioritizing Latino and other disadvantaged communities’ access to vaccines. Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a new plan to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines reach California’s most disadvantaged communities by targeting neighborhoods in the bottom quartile of the “Healthy Places Index.” Diaz explained that minority communities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and that California has a responsibility to get them help first and fast. “Communities of color are keeping the economy afloat, and prioritizing them is not only the right thing to do, but an economic imperative,” she said. “The state’s new approach is the right step to stop the bleeding and affirm that Californians of color are not collateral damage but the catalysts to recovery.”

Ong on COVID-19 Relief for Vulnerable Businesses

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Marketplace about new rules guiding the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Since its inception, the COVID-19 relief program has distributed more than $600 billion in business loans, but those funds have disproportionately gone to larger, more established companies that are better able to navigate the application process. So for two weeks, the PPP will be open only to the smallest companies, ones that employ fewer than 20 people. While the change is an attempt to level the playing field, Ong said that prioritizing according to company size alone won’t address all disparities. He recommended targeting businesses in vulnerable neighborhoods, as previous rounds of PPP funding favored majority-white neighborhoods in California over communities of color. “I would like to see much more fine-tuning in terms of, how do we prioritize?” Ong said.

UCLA Helps Civic Leaders Address ‘Vexing Issues’ During Annual Mayoral Summit

The setting was virtual this time, but UCLA again figured prominently when the Los Angeles Business Council convened a who’s who of California elected officials and civic leaders for its annual Mayoral Summit on Housing, Transportation and Jobs, an event that UCLA has co-hosted for 18 of its 19 years. “This event is near and dear to our hearts,” Chancellor Gene Block said in welcoming remarks. “As a public institution with a deeply rooted service mission, we view it as our obligation to help address the vexing issues facing our city.” Academic research figured prominently in the daylong event presented in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation directed by JR DeShazo, professor of public policy. He moderated a panel focusing on how to promote zero-emission vehicles in an equitable manner, noting that California’s policy investments have brought low-emission vehicles to 10% of sales, a notable accomplishment. “But we have failed miserably to make those policies beneficial to our low-income communities and communities of color,” DeShazo said. Richard Ziman, who is founding chair of the Los Angeles Business Council, opened the virtual summit, and Stuart Gabriel, professor of finance and director of the Ziman Center, led a session on economic recovery efforts. Jacqueline Waggoner, Miguel A. Santana and Michael Mahdesian of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Board of Advisors also spoke, as did public officials that included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.


Luskin Summit Illuminates Pathway to Park Equity

A Landmark Opportunity for Park Equity,” the fourth webinar in the 2021 Luskin Summit series, focused on the importance of public parks and other outdoor spaces for the physical, mental and environmental well-being of communities. The Feb. 17 panel was moderated by Jon Christensen, an affiliate faculty member of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Angela Barranco, undersecretary at the California Natural Resources Agency, explained that the “COVID-19 pandemic has elevated and revealed the importance of access to the outdoors for all.” She noted that 1 in 4 Californians has zero access to parks within walking distance, and 6 in 10 Californians live in park-poor neighborhoods. These inequities can lead to severe health consequences and in some cases could be the difference between life and death, she said. California voters have approved multiple statewide environmental bonds recently, making this a “watershed moment for park access,” said Alfredo Gonzalez, Southern California director of the Resources Legacy Fund. Norma García-Gonzalez BA ’95 MA UP ’99, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, highlighted the important role that the public park system has taken on during the pandemic, including serving as winter shelters and vaccination sites, and providing 40,000 households with food through a partnership with Los Angeles Food Bank. “Investing in parks for Black and brown youth is justice reform,” García-Gonzalez said. “This is a call to action that we must work with local and state leaders to make critical investments to support Black and brown students and their futures.” — Zoe Day

Reber Points to Racial Inequity in Vaccine Distribution

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber was featured in a ProPublica article about how to make the COVID-19 vaccine rollout more racially equitable. In some locations, people 75 and older have been prioritized in the vaccine distribution, a strategy that ignores the fact that Black Americans have a shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts and are therefore less likely to receive the vaccine. Research has also shown that Black people who die from COVID-19 are, on average, about 10 years younger than white victims. “If you [allocate the vaccine] strictly by age, you’re going to vaccinate white people who have lower risks before you vaccinate Black people with higher risks,” Reber explained. “If you’re trying to avert deaths, you would want to vaccinate Blacks who are about 10 years younger than whites.” The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black Americans is expected to further exacerbate the life expectancy gap between Black and white Americans.

Transit Funding as a Racial Equity Issue

A Washington Post article arguing that federal transportation policies have fostered racial inequity for generations cited research by Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. The article said that newly confirmed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg may not be fully aware of the complexities of allocating federal transit funding that historically have cemented existing inequities, especially in majority-Black communities. State and local transit agencies rarely make it a priority to help low-income or minority riders, the article noted, pointing to research by Taylor, a professor of urban planning. Transit spending has focused on commuter-oriented rail lines rather than bus service in deference to “the wealthier general voting public, although most members of this group rarely if ever ride transit,” Taylor’s study found. In many cases, it concluded, transit policy had failed to focus on the needs of transit riders themselves, particularly the poor and transit-dependent.


Experts Reimagine Wildfire Preparedness at Luskin Summit Session

Over 500 participants joined the Luskin Summit 2021 webinar “Preparing for Even Wilder Wildfires” on Feb. 4 to learn about the impacts of wildfires on health, housing and infrastructure, particularly in low-income communities. The webinar was moderated by JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, and featured a panel of experts from government, nonprofits and academia. Calling 2020 a year of disastrous wildfires, Professor Michael Jerrett of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health pointed to an indelible human fingerprint on forest mismanagement. He identified wildfires as an environmental justice issue due to the disproportionate impact on people of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to the destruction of housing and infrastructure, wildfires emit complicated mixtures of pollutants that can have negative health consequences on human populations, he said. DeShazo explained that even in an ideal wildfire management scenario, we will still face small wildfires, reinforcing the importance of developing policies to mitigate their impact on our health and environment. Gregory Pierce, associate director of the Center for Innovation, spoke about the housing affordability crisis that has led to a pattern of building homes in fire-prone areas. He suggested increasing the supply of affordable housing in areas that are not prone to wildfires, updating zoning and urban design standards, and implementing policies to increase the fire resistance of buildings. Justin Knighten, advisor to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, highlighted the importance of infusing equity into the conversation and reimagining what it means to be prepared for wildfires while working with vulnerable communities. — Zoe Day



‘It’s Not a Food Desert, It’s Food Apartheid,’ Wolff Says

Urban Planning lecturer Goetz Wolff joined a panel of activists and scholars to discuss injustice in the food system during a UCLA Semel Healthy Campus Initiative webinar. Black, poor and marginalized communities have been systematically denied access to nutritious foods, contributing to health inequities. Farmer and activist Karen Washington described the food system as “a caste system based on race, color of skin, where one lives and how much money they have” and argued that “it doesn’t need to be fixed, it needs to change.” Chef Roy Choi highlighted the importance of starting a conversation about the established power structure in order to get to the root of the problem. Wolff argued that the condition under which poor communities are left out is the result of conscious policies and that “food desert” is a characterization that asks us to accept it as a natural process. “It’s not a food desert, it’s food apartheid,” he said.

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro on Future of Federal Housing Webinar with the former Democratic presidential candidate includes UCLA Luskin housing experts in a discussion of urgent policy priorities

By Bret Weinberger

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro characterized the seriousness with which American society ought to address the nationwide housing crisis by saying during a recent UCLA virtual event, “All of us have a responsibility to solve this challenge.”

Castro said there is no time to waste in facing this issue, with an eviction crisis looming because of economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The Nov. 5 webinar focused on the future of federal housing policy as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, a joint endeavor of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.

Castro and Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the Lewis Center, spoke amid uncertainty regarding the nation’s political landscape just days before major news outlets called the race for President-elect Joe Biden. They delved into the interconnectedness of multiple ongoing crises and came ready with policy solutions.

Regarding protections for those who struggle to remain housed, Castro said that local governments should be empowered to enact rent control measures, even if it isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy. And the federal government should robustly enforce the Fair Housing Act by working with local governments to put together implementation plans, as was the practice when he served in the Obama administration.

Castro, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2020, also suggested changing the tax code to favor non-homeowners by offering a renters’ tax credit.

When Lens brought up the infusion of racial politics into housing policy, Castro castigated the Trump administration for assuming that racism exists among suburbanites and ignoring the realities of diversifying suburbs. He said their rhetoric translated into policy changes, such as removing protections against housing discrimination and underfunding key programs, that have exacerbated the housing crisis.

Castro raised cause for hope on the topic of homelessness when he said that both parties could agree on tackling veteran homelessness. He shared an experience of visiting Los Angeles’ Skid Row while HUD secretary.

“You can’t tell, just by looking at someone, why they’re there. You can’t stereotype them,” he said.

Lens also joined a second portion of the event that featured a roundtable discussion about topics covered by Castro, joining Cecilia Estolano MA UP ’91, founder and CEO of the urban planning firm Estolano Advisors, and José Loya, assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin.

“We need to be strategic, and we need to work fast,” Estolano said. She argued that incomes need to rise for people to afford high housing costs. Policies helping minority-owned businesses could have a major impact, she said.

Like Castro, Loya focused on how the tax code could be rewritten to help renters and low-income homeowners. This centered on granting tax credits to these groups rather than to wealthier homeowners.

One theme resonated with all the speakers: The new government, whatever its composition, must face housing head on. Americans — whether rural, suburban or city-dwelling — can’t afford otherwise.

View a video of the session on YouTube: