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Yaroslavsky on the Importance of County Government

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” about the race for Los Angeles County supervisor. The Los Angeles mayoral primary is getting most of the attention from voters and the media, but the race to represent L.A. County’s Third Supervisorial District, stretching from the Westside to the far northern San Fernando Valley, is consequential. “The County Board of Supervisors is a place where virtually every issue that matters to the general public crosses your desk every day,” said Yaroslavsky, who served as an L.A. County supervisor from 1994 to 2014. “Historically, a lot of people, especially middle-class voters, haven’t grasped the importance of county government and its services to millions of people — services that can literally mean the difference between life and death.” The Board of Supervisors oversees a $40 billion budget that acts as the human service arm of society, focusing on people who are economically marginalized, he said. 


Connecting the Dots on Climate Change Environmental scholar Robert Bullard charts a path to a more equitable future — if America can avoid repeating past mistakes  

By Les Dunseith

Robert Bullard has been called professor, dean, author, policy influencer, important thinker, movement starter and the father of environmental justice. But that’s not how he chose to describe himself during a May 12 talk at UCLA.

“I do what’s scientifically called kick-ass sociology,” Bullard said playfully in his opening remarks to a roomful of students, faculty, staff and other interested parties, plus an online audience. “And what I’ve tried to do is to make it simple, make it plain, make it real and connect the dots.”

The renowned scholar from Texas Southern University has written 17 books. “But it’s really just one book — don’t tell anybody,” Bullard said slyly. “The central glue that connects all of those volumes? Fairness, justice and equity.”

He often blended humor into his discussion of serious topics such as America’s history of racial discrimination and the growing global climate crisis. Titled “The Quest for Environmental and Climate Justice,” Bullard spoke and took audience questions for more than an hour in the Bruin Viewpoint Room of Ackerman Union as part of the UCLA Luskin Lecture series. It was presented in conjunction with the Harvey S. Perloff Environmental Thinkers Series and UCLA Urban Planning’s 50th anniversary celebration.

In his introductory remarks, Dean Gary Segura of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs said, “At the Luskin School, we try to have conversations about things that actually matter — climate degradation, environmental degradation and its impact on working class and poor people of color — and for which there is a desperate need for solutions.”

Bullard is known for his courage and “his insights into how questions of race figure into environmental justice,” said the evening’s emcee, Susanna Hecht, a geographer and professor of urban planning who also serves as director of the Brazilian Studies Center at UCLA.

“He is a person who has a broad perspective and broad horizons,” Hecht said. “His work has expanded to embrace a range of topics that evolved at the center of environmental, civil rights, human rights and the question of race and vulnerability under climate change, as well as patterns of pollution in both urban and industrial landscapes.”

So, what is environmental justice?

Bullard sees it as an essential notion that all people and communities are entitled to equal protection to ensure they have adequate housing, quality health care, and access to the energy and transportation they need in their daily lives. Civil rights and human rights.

The reality rarely matches the ideal, however. He cited as an example a study that showed government relief after a natural disaster going primarily to wealthier, predominantly white communities rather than to poorer, predominantly Black areas.

“We know that all communities are not created equal,” Bullard said. “There are some that are more equal than others.”

Without action, disparities are likely to grow as industrial pollution further degrades our planet, he said.

“Climate change will make it worse on the populations that are already suffering,” Bullard said. “Those who have contributed the least to the problem will suffer the most. That’s the inequity that we’re talking about. You can’t have your basic human rights if even the right to breathe has been taken away from you.”

Despite decades of experience documenting human nature at its worst, Bullard has not given in to despair.

“I’m hopeful and optimistic that we can get this right. I’ve been working on this for 40 years, but we don’t have another 40 years. We only have, maybe, a dozen to get this right,” Bullard said.

He cited California as a leader in environmental equity and climate change responses and noted the state’s history of finding out-of-the-box solutions in technology and government, as well as its highly regarded universities.

“Let California be California. That’s my answer. Push the envelope as far as you can,” Bullard said.

“And so, I’m looking to young people. I’m looking at your faces,” he told his audience of mostly young scholars. “You are the majority now. I’m a boomer and proud of it. But millennials, zoomers, Gen X, Y and Z — you outnumber my generation. Take the power.”

View photos from the event on Flickr.

Robert Bullard Luskin Lecture

Steinert-Threlkeld on Chinese Censorship of COVID Frustrations

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld spoke to Al Jazeera about the Chinese government’s censorship of Shanghai residents’ expressions of frustration over an extended COVID-19 lockdown. “Shanghainese must realize that other countries have adopted looser approaches to COVID, especially in 2022, and probably feel there are less severe policy options available,” Steinert-Threlkeld said. Millions of people were confined to their homes in April as part of China’s “zero COVID” strategy in response to the Omicron outbreak, an approach reminiscent of the Wuhan lockdown in 2020. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has clamped down on social media posts that challenged the harsh lockdown. “The primary goal of CCP censorship is to prevent large-scale collective action,” Steinert-Threlkeld explained. “The censoring is counterproductive if one thinks the goal is to prevent disgruntlement about the lockdown from spreading, but it is productive if it prevents upset individuals from coordinating action outside of their homes.”


Much at Stake in State Attorney General’s Race, Diaz Says

Founding Director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Sonja Diaz was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about the California attorney general’s race. In the June primary, voters will choose from the liberal incumbent, Rob Bonta, who was appointed to the job last year, and four other candidates, all with differing views on crime and criminal justice reform. The election will be held as voters are expressing heightened fears about public safety. Diaz explained that the attorney general’s job expands far beyond crime; the Department of Justice oversees the enforcement of environmental and housing laws and runs a civil rights division. “Crime is part of the job, not all of the job,” Diaz said. “The other part of the job is really defending and upholding not only our state Constitution but California’s values at a really important time in our nation’s history.”


Former Governors Wilson, Davis Discuss Housing, Crime and More at Luskin Summit The two leaders, a Republican and a Democrat, express their differing perspectives on 'The State of California'

By Les Dunseith

Former California governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis headlined the closing session of Luskin Summit 2022: Research in Action on April 22, often tackling political issues from starkly different perspectives.

In a session moderated by UCLA Blueprint Editor-in-Chief Jim Newton and titled “The State of California,” the former governors explored topics such as the economy and inflation, housing, environmental issues and rising crime during a discussion that mostly reflected a tone of respectful disagreement.

The governors spoke during a half-day event at the Luskin Conference Center at UCLA to close out this year’s Luskin Summit, which is a series of research-informed, cross-sector explorations of the major issues facing Los Angeles and California. The day’s agenda also included the unveiling of the annual Quality of Life Index led by Zev Yaroslavsky, a well-known former elected official in Los Angeles who, like Newton, is now a faculty member associated with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Yaroslavsky’s session, which was moderated by news anchor Phillip Palmer of ABC7, explained why the rating in his survey of Los Angeles County residents fell to its lowest point in seven years of existence. A majority of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives as reflected in nine categories, including cost of living, education, the environment and public safety. And those topics were also front of mind during the governors’ discussion.

Wilson, a Republican who was California governor from 1991 to 1999, took note of the current $80 billion revenue surplus in California, saying that if current lawmakers can’t solve the state’s shortcomings, it won’t be for lack of funds.

“The state is rolling in money. That’s not the problem,” he said when asked by Newton to speculate on the public’s downbeat mood. “The way it is spent is what’s causing a lot of the dissatisfaction. There are people who are very much concerned about crime because they’ve seen a dramatic shift, a really discernible shift. And they’re concerned about their children’s education, and they should be.”

Davis, a Democrat who was governor of California from 1999 to 2003, took a different tack on Californians’ current mood in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of good news globally, nationally and in California as it relates to people working again, and lower unemployment rates,” he said. “The bad news is that people have been through a very tough time. This has been two-and-a-half years where we’ve been told we can’t do this, we can’t do that. … People don’t like to be told what they can’t do.”

Solving society’s problems will require innovation, Davis said, and California is the right place. The number of U.S. patents that originated in California in recent years, he said, is roughly four times the number originating in the state that comes in second, Texas.

“If you want to invent something, this is the place to do it, in California,” he said. “We invent, we design, we create.”

Davis took note of the setting, a public research university in a state that is widely respected for its institutions of higher education. Mentioning that UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was in attendance, Davis continued, “There is nothing better about California than its 10 UC campuses. Nobody in the country has anything close to this.”

Block provided the introduction for the session, noting that Los Angeles faces substantial challenges relating to public safety, the ongoing pandemic and a shortage of affordable housing.

“These issues are bearing down on people all across the state. We’re not alone,” Block said. “Addressing them is going to require scholars, businesspeople, community leaders to really work together and devise and enact solutions.”

Noting the presence of the two former governors, Block continued. “Wisdom is gained by experience, and we have a vast amount of that here.”

Newton, a former reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times whose books include a recent biography of two-time governor Jerry Brown, asked Wilson and Davis to talk about their approaches to public safety.

Davis acknowledged crime rates are on the rise, although not to “where they were in the ’90s when Pete Wilson and I were a governor.”

One solution, he said, lies in effective law enforcement.

“Police have to be part of the equation,” said Davis, acknowledging past abuses by some officers. “Anyone who saw the video of the George Floyd murder knows it was appalling, not acceptable, and should never happen again. But there are some common-sense reforms that I think most law enforcement agree with.”

He called for a balanced approach. “The police have to behave in a respectful way, treat people with dignity, in a way that commands respect.”

Wilson echoed the sentiment. “It’s called community policing. And it makes great sense, as does treating people respectfully when you stop them as a police officer.”

In his view, however, effective law enforcement is too often undermined by a lenient criminal justice system, especially regarding violent crime.

“I think I was the first governor in the country to sign — what was also subsequently in the same year, an initiative measure — that was called three strikes. And what it did was to focus on recidivism, on the people who were career violent criminals. … It’s not fair to play with people’s lives by letting people out on the street who are known violent criminals.”

Davis countered by pointing to a shortcoming of taking a hard-line approach to crime — overcrowded prisons that tend to perpetuate societal and racial inequities. Incarceration without rehabilitation doesn’t work either.

“Getting people to transition from prison back to productive life requires an extraordinary amount of help,” he said.

Perhaps no public policy issue better represents the divide between the haves and have-nots in California than the housing crisis. At a time when many homeowners are sitting on a fortune in housing equity, millions of people in the state struggle to pay rent. Some end up homeless.

“The California legislature has to get serious about making housing more affordable,” Davis said.

He pointed to legislation pending in Sacramento that would allocate $25 billion to an agency that could help potential homebuyers with a down payment and closing costs. Another effort in the private sector is offering 10% of a home’s down payment in exchange for 25% of the homeowner’s future equity.

“I’m not saying it’s perfect, but that’s on the right track,” Davis said.

Wilson pointed to the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, passed in 1970 and signed by then-governor Ronald Reagan, as a major hurdle to building more affordable housing in the state.

“The best single thing that could happen is for CEQA to be reformed because that has held up the construction of homes,” said Wilson, who decried the long wait that developers often face to clear the environmental protection review process. “It has hugely added to the delay in providing housing. And that has cost a fortune in terms of the ultimate buyer.”

But the legislation still has value, Newton said. “It is protective of the environment. No?”

Davis jumped into the discussion.

“Look, the original idea was: If Caltrans was building a freeway, the public should comment on it, and it should be thoroughly debated before it occurs,” he said.

Today, circumstances have changed, and the focus has turned to building homes for the state’s large population. Environmental reviews and public hearings about land use take time, but there are ways to shorten the process.

“The good news is we are making some progress,” Davis said. “When it comes to the homeless — anything for the building of shelter for the homeless and for all the services attended to in mental health and social services — all those buildings should be exempt [from CEQA].”

Newton also asked the governors to weigh in on another hot button topic, giving some of the state’s budget surplus back to Californians.

“Absolutely. I mean, gas prices are near a record high,” Davis said.

“Well, I think that it’s not bad, but it’s like dipping into [the country’s] petroleum reserve, it’s not the answer,” Wilson said.

Newton pressed forward, seeking to clarify that both former governors think the current governor, Gavin Newsom, should send a portion of the California surplus back to the state’s residents.

“We have a big surplus. It should be used for one-time expenditures like this,” Davis said.

“If it’s a one-time, modest solution, that will help,” Wilson said.

“You do agree,” Newton said, smiling. “I was surprised.”

Soon after, Newton thanked the former elected officials for their years of government service and their willingness to participate in a public discussion of political issues seen from their different vantage points.

“We all will disagree on things,” Newton said to the in-person audience and those watching online. “I think it’s too commonplace these days to assume that disagreement is [just cause] to be enemies. And it’s heartening to have the both of you here to show otherwise.”

Watch a recording of the session:

See additional photos from both April 22 sessions on Flickr:

Luskin Summit 2022 Closing Sessions

Annual Survey of Los Angeles County Residents Finds Lowest Satisfaction Ever Anger over fast-rising costs and worries about crime and the quality of education are among key factors driving down the latest Quality of Life Index

By Les Dunseith

Los Angeles County residents are not happy.

They don’t like paying more for gasoline, fresh eggs or electricity. They’re worried about their family’s health and their children’s education. They don’t like hearing that homelessness and crime are up, and their confidence in public officials to solve such problems is down. And COVID-19? They just want to be done with it. 

Those are some of the key takeaways from the latest Quality of Life Index, or QLI, a project of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs that measures county residents’ satisfaction levels in nine categories. The overall rating fell sharply, from 58 last year to 53 on a scale from 10 to 100, marking the first time it fell below the survey’s 55-point midpoint since the index launched in 2016. That means a majority of respondents are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives.

“For the first time since the inception of this survey, respondents’ ratings dropped in each of the nine categories, and eight of the nine fell to their lowest rating ever,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative, who oversees the index. 

Researchers noted that overall satisfaction had remained relatively stable, between 56 and 59, throughout the survey’s first six years, despite drought, fires and the profound societal changes of the pandemic. But that changed as prices of food, gasoline and public utilities spiked in recent months — a trend that accelerated in the weeks after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in late February.

“What the pandemic couldn’t do over the last two years, inflation and increases in violent and property crime succeeded in doing,” Yaroslavsky said. “It appears that the dam has burst this year.” 

This year’s QLI is based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with 1,400 county residents over 30 days beginning on March 5. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%.

Scores declined in all nine of the survey categories, but the issues that were most responsible for the overall decline were cost of living, education and public safety.

“These three issues contributed heavily to the overall drop in our respondents’ satisfaction,” Yaroslavsky said. “Clearly, they are driving the political debate in this year’s city and county elections.”

Among the other results:

  • The largest decline was the cost-of-living score, which dropped to 39 from 45 last year.
  • The public safety score declined to 56 from 60 last year (and 64 in 2020), shaped largely by growing concerns over property crime and violent crime.
  • The score for transportation and traffic fell to 51, from 56 last year.
  • The score for jobs and the economy dropped to 56, from 60 in 2021.
  • The score for education dropped to 46, a new low, from 48 last year.

Most respondents, 69%, said life has been fundamentally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 28% said that life would return to the way it was before. 

“COVID has taken its toll on our society in profound ways,” Yaroslavsky said. “This finding — that life has been permanently altered — may be the most profound.”

Of survey respondents who are employed, 55% said they always leave home to go to their workplace, 18% always work at home and 25% have a hybrid schedule.

Many respondents said their income declined during the pandemic, with 15% saying it went down a lot and 16% saying it went down a little. Among those whose income declined, 33% said they fell behind on their rent or home mortgage, and 7% said they had to move for financial reasons.

One potentially lasting consequence of the pandemic relates to education. Seventy-one percent of parents of school-age children said they feel their kids have been substantially hurt either academically or socially by having to learn remotely. That figure was only slightly lower than it was in the 2021 survey, even though most students had returned to in-person instruction by the time the 2022 study was conducted. The parents who were most concerned were those who leave home to work (79%) and those with incomes under $60,000 (76%).

chart shows info also found in story

The survey also examined approval ratings for local elected officials. Mayor Eric Garcetti was viewed favorably by 45% of respondents, down from 62% in 2020.  

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva received mixed ratings: 37% very or somewhat favorable and 33% very or somewhat unfavorable, with 30% having no opinion or being unfamiliar with Villanueva. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s perception declined markedly from 2021. He was viewed very or somewhat favorably by 22% of respondents this year, down from 31% in 2021; 44% viewed Gascón very or somewhat unfavorably in the latest survey.

The Quality of Life Index is funded by Meyer and Renee Luskin through the Los Angeles Initiative. The report was released as part of the closing event in this year’s UCLA’s Luskin Summit, held April 22 at the Luskin Conference Center at UCLA. Phillip Palmer of ABC7 in Los Angeles moderated a discussion with Yaroslavsky, followed by a Q&A in which former California governors Gray Davis and Pete Wilson discussed the “State of California” with Jim Newton, editor in chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine.

The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm FM3 Research.

View the full report and other information about this year’s study, plus previous Quality of Life Indexes, on the website of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

Watch a recording of the session on Vimeo.

See additional photos from both April 22 sessions on Flickr:

Luskin Summit 2022 Closing Sessions

Anheier Reflects on Germany’s Three-Party Coalition Government

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Helmut Anheier authored a Project Syndicate article about the first 100 days of Germany’s three-party coalition government. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Ampelkoalition (“traffic light coalition”), which comprises the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats and the Greens, is Germany’s first three-party government since the 1950s. “To make it work, each party has had to bend on sacred principles and adopt policy positions that previously would have seemed unthinkable,” Anheier wrote. “For a country that prefers consensual, deliberative decision-making and no-surprises, many of the recent, sudden policy shifts have been profound and will alter Germany’s domestic and foreign-policy trajectory for decades to come.” Anheier warned that radical policy changes could backfire, especially when they lack clear public consent, and that the three parties must remain united. “If uncertain times demand novel policies and political flexibility, the Ampelkoalition has so far shown itself to be up to the challenge,” he concluded.


Yin on Burden on U.S. Medical Debt

Associate Professor of Public Policy Wesley Yin’s research into the soaring cost of medical debt in the United States was featured in the UCLA Anderson Review. A study co-authored by Yin and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that medical bills sent to collection agencies totaled an estimated $140 billion as of June 2020. That sum, which is bigger than all other sources of debt in collection combined, was tallied even before the pandemic saddled COVID-19 sufferers with unpaid doctor and hospital bills. Medical debt is concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, in the South and in states that refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. “Communities that had been most burdened by medical debt have become even worse off, in absolute and relative terms, due to their leaders choosing not to expand Medicaid,” Yin said. “The results are important because they indicate that these problems are within the control of public policy.”

Mike Dukakis Taught Here The renowned statesman has retired from teaching at UCLA Luskin, where his impact was immeasurable

By Stan Paul

For a quarter of a century, prospective Bruins, their parents and other visitors passing UCLA’s Public Affairs Building heard a familiar refrain that was an enduring highlight of any campus guided tour: “Mike Dukakis teaches here.”

Dukakis, now 88, has officially retired from his role as a visiting professor of public policy at UCLA. He is no longer making the annual cross-country trek with his wife, Kitty, from the East Coast to Westwood for each winter quarter. But his years of dedication and service remain a living legacy.

“Michael Dukakis is a foundational figure in the history of the Luskin School — a giant in the history of public policy leadership in the U.S.,” said Dean Gary Segura about the former three-term Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee.

“Mike has never stopped working to solve problems at the state and local level in Massachusetts and beyond,” Segura added. “All the while, Mike has been a dedicated teacher and mentor, particularly to our undergraduates. We will miss his sage wisdom and kindness in the halls of UCLA Luskin.”

And every winter quarter for more than two decades, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dukakis could be found in those halls early, specifically in his sixth-floor office, before most people arrived on campus — already at work, his office door open, preparing for class, answering emails, engaging in a phone conversation with media or on behalf of a student, or already chatting with a colleague or student.

Dukakis recalled being surprised when he first came to UCLA that the public affairs school was brand new.

“I kind of assumed that a place like UCLA would be deeply into this stuff, and they obviously weren’t,” he said during a recent interview. “That happily changed and changed dramatically.”

When he first arrived, UCLA was entering into a period of growth and development. “It’s really been remarkable in so many ways, and it was great to be a part of that,” Dukakis said.

“My experience here was very special, no question about it,” he said. “And you know, we’ve made wonderful friendships and great colleagues, and I hear from my former students all the time.”

March 2018: UCLA Chancellor Emeritus Albert Carnesale comments during a lunch gathering with Michael and Kitty Dukakis.

“I’ve never seen anybody, any faculty member anywhere, spend more time out of class meeting with students.” —Albert Carnesale, speaking about Dukakis

UCLA Chancellor Emeritus Albert Carnesale has shared office space near Dukakis on the sixth floor of the building since stepping down from UCLA’s top leadership post in 2006.

“I’ve never seen anybody, any faculty member anywhere, spend more time out of class meeting with students.” Carnesale said. “When I came in in the morning, there were always one or more students meeting with him.”

Their longtime friendship and professional relationship go back to the 1970s when Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts and Carnesale was at Harvard.

“My friendship with Mike Dukakis long predates either of us coming to UCLA and then continued when we were at UCLA,” said Carnesale, who was appointed UCLA Chancellor in 1997, the year after Dukakis arrived on campus.

Dukakis’ most-lasting impact on students may have been his ability to show why it is important and satisfying to serve the public good.

“And the best way to do that was — not the only way, but the best way to do that, the most direct way — was through public service,” Carnesale said. “He really does exemplify that.”

March 2018: Michael and Kitty Dukakis pose with Zev Yaroslavsky, their longtime friend and faculty colleague.

“He’s a decent honorable man who never compromised his integrity as as a public official…” —Zev Yaroslavsky

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA, also has been a sixth-floor hall mate of the former governor. The former five-term Los Angeles County supervisor said he visited Dukakis’ classes on a number of occasions while still in office and then later as a colleague at UCLA.

“He’s a decent honorable man who never compromised his integrity as a public official and he teaches the same way, and I think it’s a loss to us not to have him here,” Yaroslavsky said.

People who know Dukakis are quick to point out his honesty despite his political celebrity and his innate ability to connect with people. He possesses a down-to-earth, unassuming nature. Dukakis’ preferred modes of transportation are public transit and walking, and many staff, faculty and students recall seeing him traverse campus in his iconic khakis and flannel shirt, perhaps stopping to pick up some errant litter and deposit it in a recycling bin before resuming his determined pace.

1975: Former UCLA Luskin lecturer and staff member Bill Parent, standing, talks with then-governor Michael Dukakis, right, during a meeting with University of Massachusetts students in Dukakis’ first year as governor. Photo from the UMass Daily Collegian

“I’ve loved the experience. I’ve loved the fact that these kids were interested in getting deeply and actively involved in public affairs.” —Michael Dukakis

Bill Parent, former longtime staff member and lecturer at Luskin, recalled Dukakis’ preference for public transportation. He once offered to drive him downtown to the annual UCLA Luskin Day at City Hall event.

“ ‘Let’s take the bus,’ ” he said, which I thought was insane,” Parent said. “But there we were on the 720, headed for the Red Line, bouncing along in the very back seat.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning and former chair of Urban Planning, recalls her first encounter with Dukakis.

“The elections were over and he was a huge name and I had never met him personally. I remember going to make a Xerox copy, and I bumped into Mike, who was making his own copies. For me, this was amazing.”

Dukakis also is well-known for his ability to quickly find a common link and bond with anyone after asking just a few questions. Loukaitou-Sideris said their initial conversation quickly turned into a discussion of their common Greek origins followed by an invitation for the Dukakises to join her family and friends for dinner.

“His answer was immediately ‘yes,’” said Loukaitou-Sideris, adding, “the guests of honor” were the first to arrive. “There’s Mike and Kitty holding a bread that Mike had baked.” Loukaitou-Sideris describes him as the “most accessible person on Earth.”

“You know, the fame and what he has done— amazing things as governor — never went into his head. He connects to people and to anyone,” she said including undergraduate students clamoring to take his class because he has a unique ability to connect some of the larger theoretical ideas to things in practice.

“His contribution to a public policy school all these years has been immense because students wanted to come to study policy because Mike Dukakis was there.”

When not at UCLA, he also taught at Northeastern University, not far from his home in Brookline, Mass., for many years.

“People came often because of his reputation, but he was much more than that,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “He is a person always trying to find ways to help. And he had a tremendous amount of contacts. And if he knew that you were trying to do something, he would always find the right person to connect you to as well.”

Students definitely made connections and launched careers, recalled Michael Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning and also a former chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

“The generosity of his support for students included writing more letters of recommendation and securing more internships for students than anyone could ever imagine.”

In addition, Dukakis spearheaded an internship program to provide UCLA Luskin master’s students with first-hand public service experience in government with a specific focus on California.

Michael Fleming, a longtime lecturer in Social Welfare at Luskin and executive director of the Los Angeles-based David Bohnett Foundation, recalls that Dukakis also was instrumental in making a direct connection for UCLA Luskin students to Los Angeles City Hall and the mayor’s office.

At a meeting at Bohnett’s home in the early 2000s that included Fleming, then-Dean Barbara Nelson and others, the idea for connecting UCLA Luskin students with Los Angeles City Hall and the mayor’s office was conceived. Dukakis astutely sized up the opportunity to bring students, and backing, together to address a need, Fleming said.

The David Bohnett Fellowship program was launched in 2007 as a hands-on working experience in the mayor’s office for exceptionally promising UCLA Luskin public policy, social welfare and urban planning graduate students.

April 2003: Michael Dukakis was a visiting professor at UCLA Luskin for over two decades.

“He was full of stories about his experiences and lessons learned and was never shy about sharing his wisdom.” —Nelson Esparza MPP ’15

Numerous former students were inspired by Dukakis to pursue public service or seek public office — from local city boards to state elected posts to the U.S. Congress. Among those alumni are Nanette Barragán ’00, who represents the 44th Congressional district in South Los Angeles, and Jimmy Gomez ’99, who represents the 34th Congressional district in Los Angeles.

Another former Dukakis student is Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, who has won elections to the Fresno County School Board and the Fresno City Council in his hometown.

“By the time I was in the MPP program, I was strongly considering returning home to represent my local community,” the former Dukakis internship fellow recalled. “Naturally, the governor and I engaged in many conversations about the practical side of leadership, policymaking and the sacred responsibility of representing a community at any level of government.”

Esparza continued: “He was full of stories about his experiences and lessons learned and was never shy about sharing his wisdom.”

Dukakis sometimes recited the names of elected officials who passed through his classroom over the years. “I’ve always thought it was kind of cool to have joined that group,” Esparza said. “In some ways, you might say that I learned more from the governor outside of the classroom.”

March 2018: Professor Emeritus Dan Mitchell co-taught a course at UCLA Luskin with Michael Dukakis for many years.

“As a professor, Mike was one of the most conscientious instructors our undergraduates were likely to encounter.” —Dan Mitchell

Co-teaching with Dukakis during his entire tenure at UCLA in the often-filled-to-capacity undergraduate course California Policy Issues was Dan Mitchell, emeritus professor of public policy and management.

“As a professor, Mike was one of the most conscientious instructors our undergraduates were likely to encounter. All student work was read and evaluated by the instructors, not the TA. Even in a large class, there were always separate meetings with small groups of students.”

Mitchell said Dukakis was a tough evaluator. “At the end of the day, either the final product met the standard, or it didn’t,” he said. Each year, Dukakis delivered a short lecture that came to be known as the excellent writer statement, emphasizing the need to develop that ability.

March 2017: Renee Luskin and Mark Peterson enjoy a laugh with Michael Dukakis

“He wasn’t just any experienced government official. We hit the jackpot.” —Mark Peterson

Longtime Luskin faculty and staff mirrored those comments.

“Mike, there from close to the beginning of the School, for many years was the only actual practitioner — real policymaker — on the faculty of a program whose mission is to train policymaking professionals,” said UCLA Professor of Public Policy, Political Science and Law Mark Peterson. “But he wasn’t just any experienced government official. We hit the jackpot,” said the former chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

“Moreover, he dove into his teaching full bore, excelled at it, and added significantly to the curricula of both the MPP graduate program and the then-undergraduate minor, now a major at UCLA.”

January 2019: Visiting Professor Michael Dukakis speaks with a group of undergraduate students at UCLA.

“When we invited him to speak to the first students of the new public affairs B.A. in 2019, he told all of them to run for office or get involved in politics — it was a call to action.” —Jocelyn Guihama

Jocelyn Guihama, a 2003 MPP graduate and former student of Dukakis, agrees. She now serves as director of administration and experiential learning for the School’s public affairs major.

“Prof. Dukakis’ tireless advocacy for public service has inspired generations of Luskin students, Guihama said. “When I was an MPP student in the early days of the program, I told him that I was planning to work in the nonprofit sector, and he immediately told me that I needed to channel that energy into the public sector.

“That message hasn’t changed,” she said.

“When we invited him to speak to the first students of the new public affairs B.A. in 2019, he told all of them to run for office or get involved in politics — it was a call to action.”

Guihama said that Dukakis’ former students in the major are already getting involved and connecting with elected officials.

Longtime UCLA Luskin faculty colleague Fernando Torres-Gil said Dukakis has exemplified life after politics, building a memorable post-politician career as an educator.

Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, is also director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging. He said he knew Dukakis from his time serving as his deputy issues director in the 1988 campaign.

“I saw first-hand his deep integrity and commitment to public service and a focus on doing so honorably, a term rarely seen among most political players,” Torres-Gil said. “It was such a thrill to know that he and I would be at UCLA and the Luskin School and to maintain our friendship and continued participation in civic life.

“Professor Dukakis, by all measures, has been a master teacher and one of the most popular and effective instructors,” Torres-Gil said.
He noted that Dukakis also represented UCLA to donors and stakeholders, connecting the Luskin School with the wider policy and political arenas.

“We will miss Professor Dukakis greatly, but he has set the gold standard for professional practice faculty and for honorable contributions after public service.”

March 2010: Michael Dukakis often spoke with community groups and UCLA supporters during his time on campus.

“We will miss Professor Dukakis greatly, but he has set the gold standard for professional practice faculty and for honorable contributions after public service.” —Fernando Torres-Gil

Outside of teaching, Dukakis was often a speaker at events in Southern California during the winter quarter. Some events were linked to UCLA and others not, Mitchell said, adding that he preferred not to say “no” when an invitation occurred, even the times and places were less than convenient.

Kitty Dukakis also traveled each year to Westwood, and she was involved and active in speaking engagements with the former governor, who said she “was no passive spectator … wouldn’t have been any other way.”

“And because of her interest in mental health and related kinds of things, she had an opportunity to do some good things herself,” Dukakis said.

Public Policy lecturer Jim Newton, an award-winning journalist and former editor of the editorial page of the LA Times, also shared the sixth floor of the Public Affairs Building with Dukakis for the past several years. Newton knows a bit about governors, having written historical books on two of them — Jerry Brown and Earl Warren.

“It’s sort of my stock in trade,” said Newton, now editor of UCLA Blueprint magazine, which has included profiles and interviews with Dukakis.

“I know we had a number of conversations about UCLA and its engagement in the community, and so my interest and the governor’s overlapped in a lot of ways,” which included a common interest in government and politics, Newton said.

“One of the things that has impressed me throughout my acquaintance or friendship with the governor is how available he is and how much of an integrated part of the overall UCLA community here.  There’s nothing aloof or unapproachable about him,” Newton said.

“I’ve spent my life with people in politics. There’s a lot of people I admire as a result of that. I got to know and admire and have respect for a lot of them who are not super-nice people. They’re ambitious, and they’re smart, and they’re interesting,” Newton said. But they sometimes can be “kind of difficult or prickly.”

“[Dukakis] is not that person. Not here, he is the opposite of that. Just as warm and as modest, and as humble and approachable as a person can be,” Newton said.

“So, I have a world of respect for him. Both in terms of his achievement, but also just in terms of the way he holds himself out and makes himself available and helps people to learn and understand.”

March 2015: Friends and family were on hand when UCLA Luskin celebrated the Michael S. Dukakis Internship program and his 20 years of teaching at UCLA.

“You know, the fame and what he has done— amazing things as governor — never went into his head. He connects to people and to anyone.” —Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Dukakis finished his 25th and final winter quarter at UCLA Luskin in 2020 by, what else, grading papers. His return home to Massachusetts was then delayed a few weeks by a bout of pneumonia, and his travel options then and now have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

When asked what his impact has been, he responded in his typical way, humble and redirecting toward students: “I’m hoping it’s positive. I’ve loved the experience. I’ve loved the fact that these kids were interested in getting deeply and actively involved in public affairs.”

Dukakis said he can’t count how many students he convinced to take advantage of UCLA’s program in Washington, D.C., which he said could lead to internships at the municipal level, the state level and other career opportunities.

Any regrets about relocating from coast to coast every year for more than two decades?

“No, never regretted it for a minute. It’s really been remarkable in so many ways, and it was great to be a part of that.” He elaborated, “I’ve worked both with a great faculty and with a wonderful group of students, so you know, for me and for us — for Kitty and I — it was a great experience and I’m sorry it had to end.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than being in a position where you can introduce and convince young people to go into the public sector, surely, and then to see them thrive,” he said, reflecting on his decades-long experience at UCLA. “Luskin is doing it all the time.”

Growing Influence L.A.'s new curb on plastic utensils is one example of how UCLA Luskin research impacts policy

By Mary Braswell

Los Angeles County is restricting use of the plastic tableware that clogs our landfills and waterways.

The L.A. City Council launched a coordinated effort to deter harassment on the city’s streets and transit systems.

And the LAPD created a new bureau to elevate the community’s voice in places where law enforcement has a rocky history.

Each of these actions, taken with the intention of improving the lives of Angelenos, relied on research produced by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. And they are just three recent examples that underscore the School’s growing influence as it turns incisive scholarship into real policies aimed at building a more just and equitable world.

This calling is not new. The work done by UCLA Luskin’s public policy, social welfare and urban planning programs and more than a dozen affiliated centers and institutes has long been a source of data-driven guidance for decision-makers in the public and private sectors. The School’s impact has been felt across the region, nation and world.

“We must always ask ourselves, ‘What’s the benefit of this work?’’’ said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, the School’s associate dean of academic affairs. “Our research is meant to be applied, not just read by other academics, or what, really, is the use?”

CHALLENGING THE THROWAWAY CULTURE

L.A. County had identified a problem. In search of solutions, it looked to the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. 

The problem was the harmful environmental impact of disposable forks, knives, spoons and other plasticware, used once then tossed in the trash by 10 million county residents. 

The county had pledged to phase out these single-use plastics, and needed a strong base of knowledge to craft an effective ordinance. The Center for Innovation was contracted to study what the products are made of, how they impact the environment and economy, why they cannot be easily recycled, what alternatives are available, and more.

Momentum grew in January 2020, when the Center for Innovation delivered a high-profile report identifying prime targets for policy action. Then, COVID-19 struck.

“The county had decided that it really wanted to take firm action,” said Daniel Coffee MPP ’20, a Center for Innovation project manager who has worked on each phase of the plastics study.

“But the pandemic created a really significant resource crunch for the county, as it did for many municipal governments, and understandably they prioritized public health and services.”

In 2021, the legislative effort to curb plastic waste got back on track. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate single-use plastics in county-run facilities, though it stopped short of broadening the new rules to restaurants still affected by the pandemic. Other local governments also stepped up, including the L.A. City Council, which unanimously voted to make disposable foodware at restaurants available only if requested by customers.

“Only upon request” rules are relatively simple to implement, Coffee said. “Those sorts of policies don’t require the business to retool work areas or install new equipment or secure new types of products. They can take effect almost immediately.”

Crafting longer-term strategies is more complex. One significant reason is that alternatives to plastic — paper, bamboo and bioplastic, for example — have hidden carbon footprints of their own. 

“Replacing a plastic item with a non-plastic version that is still disposable and single-use is not always the better move,” Coffee said, saying the real game-changer comes “the moment you stop throwing something away right after you’re done with it.”

“That’s why we can so confidently say that reusable products are the way to go, wherever possible, in any context. It’s really important to get this right.”

Coffee’s research into the most effective ways to tackle plastic waste began during an internship with the L.A. County Chief Sustainability Office. He later joined the Center for Innovation staff, which recently produced an addendum to the county report. This time, the focus was on the impacts of the COVID-19 era on the plastic waste stream.

“Long story short, it’s not good. You have a massive, massive uptick in medical waste,” including packaging for sterile products as well as disposable masks that degrade into harmful microplastics, he said. Consumer behavior has also shifted during the pandemic, with more goods, groceries and take-out food encased in plastic.

“It just adds to the need for prompt action. And it underscores the importance for institutions like the Luskin Center to have these strong relationships with both municipal and state-level government institutions,” Coffee said. “They know they can reach out to us to stay apprised of things that are dynamically changing.”

SAFEGUARDING L.A.S PUBLIC SPACES

When members of the L.A. City Council decided it was time to deal head-on with an increase in harassment on the streets of Los Angeles, they knew where to turn.

Loukaitou-Sideris, a distinguished professor of urban planning as well as the Luskin School’s associate dean, had shared her extensive research into harassing behavior many times, in high-level government and academic settings and through a book published
in 2020.

She had also lived it.

As a young university student in Athens, Greece, Loukaitou-Sideris chose to walk half an hour to attend class rather than risk being groped on the bus — an experience familiar to women around the world and across generations.

“It is, sadly, a global phenomenon,” she said. “And I am sorry to say, it is very prominent in Los Angeles.”

Loukaitou-Sideris’ statement is backed up by numbers, collected through an extensive survey of transit riders from local campuses. The survey asked 400 students from UCLA, 650 from Cal State Los Angeles and 250 from Cal State Northridge whether they had experienced any of 16 types of harassment in the previous three years in a public transit environment. Of the women who responded, more than 80% said yes.

“These are very, very high numbers,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, whose research was published by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA.

In the fall of 2020, her work came to the attention of a legislative deputy in the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino. The aide had personally witnessed street harassment and reached out to Loukaitou-Sideris for help in crafting a motion urging city leaders to act.

“I was more than happy to be approached by Councilman Buscaino’s office, and I was even more thrilled that this motion first passed the committee unanimously and then the City Council,” she said. 

The motion, adopted in March 2021, mobilized several city departments to work together to respond to street harassment, which disproportionately affects not just women but people of color, people with disabilities, those in the LGBTQ community, older adults and adolescents. 

“As the second most populous city in the nation,” the motion stated, “the City of Los Angeles has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable residents from harassment in public spaces.”

In addition to measuring the scope of the problem, Loukaitou-Sideris’ study recommended strategies for increasing safety in public spaces. Smart urban design, such as providing adequate lighting, is critical. New technologies can provide real-time arrival information at transit stops, as well as apps and hotlines that make it easier to report harassment. Educational campaigns can embolden bystanders to intervene to protect one another.

Loukaitou-Sideris stressed that restoring confidence in the safety of public spaces is likely to encourage the use of transit — key to the sustainability goals of many urban centers.

 

VISION FOR COMMUNITY-ENGAGED POLICING

Researchers do acknowledge one frustrating reality: Compelling evidence does not always lead to decisive action. 

“Oftentimes, research is exploited as a way to avoid doing something,” said Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and an expert on criminal justice and community empowerment.

“To be blunt, that is what happens with a lot of research and evaluation. It’s carefully designed, it’s rigorously carried out, everybody says, ‘Thank you very much,’ and it goes onto a shelf, usually with several other reports.”

So Leap was stunned and heartened when the Los Angeles Police Department created a new bureau for community-engaged policing, led by a person of color who reports directly to the police chief — recommendations her team had put forward in a report commissioned by outside interests.

Leap and her colleagues spent more than a year studying the effectiveness of the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP), a strategy instituted years earlier to build trust between police and residents of the city’s most troubled public housing developments. 

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice was the driving force behind the evaluation. For decades, Rice had sparred with the LAPD before deciding to join forces with the department to work for change. 

It was she who steered the vision for community policing, and who brought in Leap to guide the way with authentic academic research. The UCLA team was given a budget, access to CSP sites, and assurances of independence from both Rice and the LAPD.

“We were the rigorous scientific vessel for the thoughts and feelings and beliefs and experiences of the residents,” Leap said.

Working with Social Welfare Professor Todd Franke and a team of field researchers and analysts from across UCLA, Leap launched a study that involved 425 hours of observation, 110 interviews, 28 focus groups, and nearly 800 surveys to capture the views of police officers and residents in Watts and Boyle Heights.

“It is not a lovely report,” Leap said. “Many of the residents had a horrendous history with police.” 

Distrust of police rightfully persists, but most survey respondents reported feeling decidedly safer under the CSP program, which assigned specially trained officers to work side-by-side with residents to understand the community’s assets as well as its dangers.

The final report endorsed the Community Safety Partnership as a model to be integrated throughout the city, offering 45 recommendations to make it work, including the establishment of a full-scale LAPD bureau.

“I was shocked by the response on the part of the LAPD. We made some major, major recommendations, and some of the most difficult have been or are in the process of being carried out,” Leap said.

In this case, the grave events of 2020 may have served as an accelerator instead of a brake. The CSP report was unveiled in March of that year. Two months later, the killing of George Floyd sparked a worldwide uprising against police brutality. And in July 2020, the LAPD unveiled its new Community Safety Partnership Bureau, led by Emada Tingirides, the department’s second Black female deputy chief.

Leap’s work with the program continues. With the input of community residents, she is designing new tools to ensure that CSP officers are fully trained, that residents continue to have a seat at the table and that the dozens of recommendations her team put forward are heeded.

“As researchers,” she said, “we’ve got to hold public agencies and institutions accountable and say, ‘Don’t pass the buck.’ ”

Events

Refusing Austerity in Higher Education: A How-To Webinar

There is no alternative has been the refrain of austerity politics since Margaret Thatcher first uttered the phrase in the 1980s. In U.S. public higher education this has meant the withdrawal of state funding, skyrocketing tuition and student debt burdens, the adjunctification of faculty and increasing precarity of labor, and bond-financed prestige construction projects.

Today, COVID-19 saps more money from privatized university budgets: canceled housing and dining contracts, normally lucrative medical centers on pause for all but emergencies. And so, the refrain comes back. There is no alternative to drastic budget cuts, massive firing, furloughing, and hiring freezes.

But COVID-19 does not merely reproduce the rhetoric and fact of a budget crisis. From rent strikes to student debt moratoria, from decarceration to free healthcare, the pandemic shows us that there are, and always have been, immanent alternatives. What are these alternatives for the financing of public higher education, both during and after the COVID-19 crisis?

Join us to discuss salary caste systems and university endowments, student debt and institutional debt service payments, federal funding, Modern Monetary theory, and beyond. Let’s organize to refuse austerity now, and enact other worlds together.

This online discussion will be co-presented by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and the UCI School of Social Sciences. Hosted by Bill Maurer and moderated by Hannah Appel, with panelists Raúl Carrillo, Alexis Goldstein, Nick Mitchell and Christopher Newfield.

Luskin Summit: Former Gov. Jerry Brown

In his new book, “Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown,” award-winning journalist and bestselling author Jim Newton explores the unconventional arc of former California Gov. Jerry Brown’s career. Newton, the editor-in-chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine, reveals the complex and often contradictory nature of Brown’s personality and politics–and how his leadership stood up to the Trump White House on policies related to climate change, immigration and more. Newton and Brown will discuss Brown’s career, his impact on national politics and his take on the future.

This event is being organized and sponsored by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall in coordination with Writers Bloc, Los Angeles. Registration is being handled by those organizations.