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Shoup on How to Improve Sidewalk Accessibility

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, authored a Bloomberg CityLab article about the slow progress to repair broken sidewalks in Los Angeles. Roughly 40% of L.A. sidewalks are broken, a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to a 2016 class-action lawsuit won by disability rights advocates. Los Angeles is required to spend $1.4 billion over 30 years to fix its sidewalks, but in the first five years of the program, less than 1% have been repaired. “Fortunately, there’s a simple way to ensure that sidewalks will be accessible,” Shoup wrote. “Cities can require that the sidewalk abutting any property must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act when the property is sold.” Property owners would not have to pay or do anything until they sell their property, and the city can subsidize sidewalk repairs for low-income owners. “A pay-on-exit program may be the fairest and most politically painless way to keep sidewalks accessible,” Shoup concluded.


Wells Fargo Provides $500,000 for LPPI, CNK Research The grant to UCLA research groups will support policy solutions to benefit small business owners of color

A new grant of $500,000 from Wells Fargo will support efforts by researchers affiliated with the Luskin School to determine best practices and policy solutions to benefit businesses operated by persons of color.

The award will go to the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (UCLA LPPI) and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) for research aimed at increasing access to capital, technology and environmentally sustainable practices for these businesses.

“COVID-19’s disparate impact on small business owners of color highlighted the enduring legacy of structural barriers that impede economic opportunity and social mobility for large swaths of working Americans,” said Maria Samaniego, deputy director of UCLA LPPI. “This grant will allow us to develop policy research and resources that are specifically tailored to the needs of communities of color, which have the power to transform small business ownership in ways that will drive our economy for generations.”

UCLA LPPI and CNK will focus on understanding how to broaden access to financial services and technology tools. They will also explore how to best leverage public, private and social partnerships to boost the entrepreneurship potential of small businesses owned by Latinos and other people of color. The findings will lead to more informed decisions about post-COVID economic recovery policy relating to minority-owned businesses. Another goal will be increasing labor force participation in those communities.

“We cannot ignore the bright spotlight the pandemic has put on inequity, nor the responsibility and opportunity we have to close gaps in resources that have existed for far too long,” said Jenny Flores, head of small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “Investing in UCLA LPPI and CNK will offer an in-depth view into how the public and private sectors can better support and accelerate access for business owners of color who will be at the forefront of building an inclusive economy.”

Research Professor Paul Ong, director of CNK, pointed to previous research from UCLA that has identified economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and produced insight into how society’s systems and institutions often work against the interests of people in disadvantaged communities. “With this funding, we will be able to pinpoint the exact systemic barriers and to generate the knowledge to remove them for future generations,” he said. “Equally important, new insights will inform new practices that create greater equity for people of color.”

Support from Wells Fargo will also enable UCLA LPPI and CNK to identify best practices in sustainability that small businesses can adopt to help them meet the challenges presented by climate change.

Callahan on the Future of High-Speed Rail

Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Washington Post about federal funding for new infrastructure projects and the future of rail transit in the United States. President Biden has signed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill into law, and $65 billion is earmarked for rail projects. However, Callahan expressed doubt that the new package will go toward high-speed rail. “This package is not the silver bullet for the bullet,” Callahan said. “We won’t see much of it go to high-speed rail.” Bullet trains are popular around the globe and can unite cities hundreds of miles apart without excessive carbon emissions. However, the federal funding for rail projects is expected to go largely to the federally owned Amtrak. Many transportation experts predict that Amtrak will use the funding to address problems on its traditional lines instead of investing in new high-speed rail projects.


Reber Assesses Federal COVID-19 Aid for Schools

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a new working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research assessing the federal relief bills created for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper, a joint project by Reber and Nora Gordon, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, explored whether federal COVID relief funds for schools were sufficient. Congress responded to the disruptions caused by the pandemic by distributing $200 billion in federal aid for schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. While this amount is about 12 times more than the typical level of funding distributed through Title I, Reber noted that the amount of per-pupil federal aid that schools received varied considerably across districts. For example, some districts in Detroit received $6,000 per pupil while districts like nearby Bloomfield Hills received less than $100 per pupil. The authors pointed out that different districts faced different costs for COVID-19 mitigation and recovery. Reber and Gordon estimated the net fiscal impact of COVID-19 and the federal relief by taking into consideration how much COVID-19 affected costs for schools, how those costs depend on child poverty rates, and the effect of the pandemic on state aid to school districts. Federal aid was distributed based on Title I proportions, sending more money per pupil to higher-poverty districts. “Low-poverty districts are therefore projected to face some budgetary shortfalls, while many higher-poverty districts are projected to have excess funds, which they could direct towards long-standing challenges,” Reber explained. — Zoe Day


Leap on Public Safety After L.A.’s Leadership Transition

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the Los Angeles Times about how to address rising rates of gun violence, one of several issues that the next L.A. mayor will face. While some city leaders have expressed a desire to reform the duties of the Los Angeles Police Department, including moving away from armed responses to certain calls, the city is facing a surge in homicides and gun violence. As of July 3, homicides had increased by nearly 41% compared to the same period in 2019 and the number of shooting victims increased by nearly 40% in the same period. Leap expressed concern that the gun violence could spark a public backlash against community policing programs and partnerships with gang intervention workers. “What terrifies me is that people will say, ‘Crime is increasing, we’ve got to stop this,’” Leap said. “And they’ll go back to the bad old days of command-and-control policing.”


Reservations Need More Federal Funding, Akee Says

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about the federal government’s failure to address the need for clean water and sanitation on Native American reservations. “Federal funding for reservations is not meeting needs,” Akee said. “It’s just woefully underfunded at the federal level, and tribes for a long, long time have not had the resources to fully develop these resources themselves.” Many Native American households lack indoor plumbing, and they often must rely on donations of drinking water when pipes fail. The government has deemed many of the necessary sanitation improvement projects “infeasible” because of the high cost, leaving rural indigenous communities with limited access to clean drinking water. “Frankly, it’s a responsibility of the federal government, a trust responsibility of treaties and hundreds of years of commitments,” Akee said. “There has been a failure to fully live up to those commitments.”


Reber Addresses Inequalities in School Funding

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a commentary in The Hill about the need for more equitable distribution of federal funding for schools. Congress has increased school funding in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with aid distributed using a formula laid out in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which sends more money to high-poverty schools. However, Reber and Nora Gordon of Georgetown University argued that “funding under the program is not a clean proxy for economic disadvantage.” They recommended turning to “simpler and better alternatives for distributing much-needed additional funding for school infrastructure and to address educational inequities.” The Title I formula has created confusion and political pushback; for example, it directs more funding per student to larger districts compared to smaller ones with the same child poverty rate. “It is past time for Congress to address these concerns with additional funding distributed with an eye to equity,” they concluded.


Akee on COVID-19 Outreach to Native American Communities

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke with Marketplace about the importance of prioritizing Native American communities in public health initiatives. The new COVID-19 relief law will give $15 billion in grants to enhance vaccine distribution, with special consideration for underserved populations including Native Americans. The death rate from COVID-19 among Native Americans is nearly twice as high as it is for white Americans, and Native Americans are three times as likely to get the virus as white people. According to Akee, a lot of the public health funding will go beyond vaccines into areas like infrastructure. “One really important aspect is almost a billion dollars in funding that’s allocated for broadband access, which again, in the age of COVID, is incredibly important for education and the access to public health information,” Akee explained. “The vaccine is important, but mitigating the spread of COVID-19 will take more than just two shots to the arm.”


Yaroslavsky on Funding Olympic Games

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Utah’s Deseret News about hosting the Olympic Games in U.S. cities. Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Games in 2002, and Utah is bidding to again play host in 2030 or 2034. Similarly, Los Angeles will host its third Summer Games in 2028. Yaroslavsky said it makes sense to hold future Olympics in places like Utah and Los Angeles because they already have facilities in place. “The cost of putting on the Games is largely in the infrastructure you have to build,” he explained. Yaroslavsky, a former city councilman, worked to prohibit the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles from using general fund money from the city, pushing organizers to find private funding instead. “I am a cheerleader for the Games,” Yaroslavsky said. “But I’m a cheerleader for a Games that doesn’t cost taxpayers money.”


Ong Foresees Rippling Effect of Census Undercount

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to USA Today about low response rates to the census in low-income and minority neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic, lack of internet access and a timeline that was shortened by the U.S. Census Bureau have made it more difficult to get accurate population counts in hard-to-reach neighborhoods. “My biggest fear, and my estimate, is that we’re headed towards an extremely flawed census,” Ong said. While the Census Bureau has assured that it will be able to close the gap on undercounted populations, Ong said he would like to see evidence that confirms the reliability of these efforts. Census results are used to distribute congressional seats and federal funding, so undercounting can take a significant toll on a community. “The large and growing racial and income differences have a rippling effect downstream for other operations, creating more challenges and hurdles,” Ong concluded.