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Informing Policy in Real Time: LPPI in Sacramento Latino Policy and Politics Initiative shares new research on voting, housing and health with stakeholders in the state capital

By Celina Avalos and Sonja Diaz

On May 20, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) hosted its second annual California Latino Legislative Policy Briefing in Sacramento.

Fifty policy advocates, legislative staff members and community leaders attended the briefing at Sacramento’s La Cosecha venue to learn more about LPPI’s latest research findings and discuss policy interventions that improve the lives of California’s residents.

The briefing, co-hosted by the California Latino Legislative Caucus and UCLA Government and Community Relations, featured research presentations by three LPPI faculty expertsGary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Melissa Chinchilla, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and Arturo Vargas Bustamante, associate professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

The briefing covered voting, housing and health, three areas that present critical policy challenges for the California legislature.  Each issue has unique impacts on Latinos, who make up a plurality in the state. LPPI’s legislative briefing provided a unique opportunity for leaders to better understand policy solutions that address the disparities faced by Latinos.

Segura kicked off the policy briefing with his timely research on public opinion trends leading to the 2020 presidential election. LPPI research documented a 77% increase in Latino votes cast in the 2018 midterm election, compared to the 2014 midterm election. Segura explained that the leading public opinion sentiments that influenced Asian American, black and Latino voters were immigration, the #metoo movement, access to affordable health care and support for gun laws. Across the board, voters of color embraced Democratic positions on guns, health care and immigration at higher rates than their white peers. On the whole, the 2018 election illustrated the upward growth of the Latino vote in and beyond California, Segura said.

In her policy presentation on Latino homelessness in Los Angeles County, Chinchilla cited the lack of accurate data on Latinos facing housing insecurity, leading to an undercount of the demographic group. Homelessness is not a one-size-fits-all narrative, Chinchilla said, citing findings from her LPPI report, Stemming the Rise of Latino Homelessness.”

“Many factors contribute to the undercount of Latinos facing housing insecurity, like immigration status, economic vulnerability, and cultural and language barriers,” she said.

Vargas Bustamante concluded the policy briefing with his work on the shortage of Latino physicians in California.

“As California’s plurality, Latinos will represent 44.5% of California’s population by 2050. However, currently only 4.7% of physicians in California are Latino,” said Vargas Bustamante, sharing findings from his report, “Latino Physician Shortage in California: The Provider Perspective.”

Factors contributing to the shortage are lack of financial support and opportunity, academic disadvantages, underrepresentation and citizenship, he said.

LPPI’s briefing provided an opportunity for leading policy stakeholders to hear timely research centered on the needs of the state’s plurality. The briefings build upon LPPI’s legislative portfolio of engaging elected and appointed officials on critical policy issues with data and facts, breeding new research-practice partnerships and accelerating the capacity for evidence-based policy.

‘Because of His Work, We’re Ready for This Fight’ Symposium honors urban planning pioneer Leo Estrada, a lifelong champion of equal representation

By Mary Braswell

The life and work of Leo Estrada, a pioneer in urban planning and a tenacious advocate for equal representation, inspired a daylong symposium at UCLA that examined demography, redistricting and the power of mentorship.

Estrada, associate professor emeritus at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, fought for voting rights, access to health care, and protections for elderly and minority populations until his death in 2018, just months after retirement.

The May 31 symposium and subsequent memorial gathering brought together many of those whose lives were touched by Estrada: fellow scholars, former students, family members, political figures and civic leaders who shared his commitment to social justice.

A keynote address about Census 2020 demonstrated how Estrada’s early strides in population research and his long service as an advisor to the U.S. Census Bureau resonate today.

“The history of the Census runs parallel with the trajectory of the Latino community and Leo’s career,” said Arturo Vargas, president and CEO of the NALEO Educational Fund, a national nonprofit that promotes Latino participation in civic life.

Calling the possible inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form a “virulent challenge to our values and principles as Americans,” Vargas noted that efforts to suppress the count of Latinos are not new.

“This fight began decades ago and with fierce opposition,” he said. “One of our warriors along the way was Leo Estrada.”

Vargas pledged, “We will not be rolled over. We will not be scared away. We will not make our community invisible. …

“Fighting for a fair and accurate census is to continue Leo Estrada’s work and legacy. Because of his work, we’re ready for this fight.”

The symposium, organized by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, explored the power of population studies to effect systemic change and explained the historical roots of today’s fight for minority-majority voting districts.

One panel focused on the importance of mentoring the next generation of leaders. To advance this goal, UCLA Luskin established the Leobardo Estrada Fellowship Fund, which supports Urban Planning students with financial need who are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in graduate education.

Estrada’s 40-year career was marked by innovation and leadership on and off the UCLA campus. He was one of the first scholars to teach courses about diversity and planning, and he helped guide the university as chair of its Academic Senate. In addition to his service with the Census Bureau, he was an advisor to organizations focusing on Latino empowerment, aging, health care, law enforcement and many other issues.

Following the symposium, speakers gave tribute to Estrada as a teacher, colleague, advocate, friend and family man.

Ivelisse Estrada described her husband as selfless, wise and patient with his family and “the ultimate professor” to his students.

“Leo was soft-spoken but the power of his words and his work were a catalyst for change,” she said. “Make him proud.”

Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija harkened back to Estrada’s retirement celebration, saying he wished he had taken the opportunity to touch his colleague’s feet, a sign of respect in the Indian culture.

With this gesture, he said, “You get blessed. And in that blessing, the person who blesses you transmits their knowledge, their experience, their virtues. And I know all of us would love to have a little more of that from Leo.”

 

View photos from the symposium and memorial gathering on Flickr.

Demography, Redistricting & Power

Charting the Rise of Latino Empowerment UCLA Luskin Lecture brings together political forces who forged a path for the next generation of leaders

By Mary Braswell

Leading Los Angeles political figures who paved the way for Latino empowerment over the last half-century took the stage at UCLA to share their strategies and personal stories — and underscore that the work is not finished.

To longtime Angelenos, their names were familiar: Alatorre, Cedillo, Molina, Polanco and Villaraigosa. Collectively, their influence has been felt far beyond Southern California.

The speakers are among 10 L.A.-based pioneers profiled in the book “Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America.” Authors George Pla and David Ayón joined the May 14 conversation in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.

“There are 60 million Latinos in the United States, 15 million in California. And the panelists are right, they continue to be stereotyped, continue to be invisible,” Pla said. “But ‘Power Shift’ is not about one group over another. It’s an American story about a group of individuals who have made contributions to our entire society in California and the United States.”

Blazing trails carries an immense responsibility, the panelists agreed.

“We had to kick open the door in order to really get in there and set the example,” said Gloria Molina, the first Latina to be elected to the California legislature and to Los Angeles City Council and the first woman on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

“Being the first, everybody was watching. It’s really very important to be at your best all of the time,” she said.

Friends since high school, Gil Cedillo and Antonio Villaraigosa became passionate political activists during their years at UCLA in the early 1970s. Cedillo went on to serve in the state legislature and now sits on the L.A. City Council. Villaraigosa spent decades in public service, including as speaker of the California Assembly and mayor of Los Angeles.

Also in the 1970s, Richard Alatorre was elected to the Assembly before becoming, in 1985, only the second Latino to serve on the L.A. City Council in the 20th Century.

Richard Polanco completed Alatorre’s Assembly term, launching a 15-year tenure in the legislature that was hailed for increasing Latino representation.

“Tonight is really important to me personally,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which hosted the event. Segura’s work in Latino politics began in the 1990s, when California was roiled by two ballot initiatives. Proposition 187, which denied public services to undocumented immigrants, was later found unconstitutional. Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in public hiring and university admissions, is still in place.

“I owe my career, and in many ways my current position, to the mobilization of Latino electorates and leaders that resulted in those wars of the mid-1990s that reshaped California and will reshape, eventually, the United States,” Segura said.

Sonja Diaz, the evening’s moderator, noted that the gathered leaders were anything but single-issue politicians. On health care, LGBTQ issues, voting rights and community development, they effected changes felt far beyond the Latino community, said Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which is based at UCLA Luskin.

Villaraigosa concurred. “Across the board, all of us, we were not just Latino leaders, we were leaders for the whole state. We were progressives in our time, focusing on issues across the spectrum,” he said.

While coalition-building is important, Cedillo said, “We should be very clear that our community at this very moment is under attack, under siege” by a Trump Administration that has demonized the Latino community. “We should not pause or be shy about organizing ourselves as a community to defend our interests.”

Inspiring the next generation of Latino leaders is key to that effort and part of the reason “Power Shift” was written. The book also profiles political and labor leaders Miguel Contreras, Maria Elena Durazo, Ed Roybal, Art Torres and Esteban Torres.

The Luskin Lecture audience included two UCLA undergraduates who arrived early enough to receive a free copy of “Power Shift.”

Tatiana Velasquez, a chemistry and materials science major, and Patricia Valdezco, a political science major, said they grew up in California but were not aware of the trailblazing history of the evening’s speakers.

“It always goes back to the state curriculum, and what’s being taught is not this,” Velasquez said.

Molina recounted a conversation with her young niece, who read “Power Shift” and asked her classmates to name leaders in the Latino community.

“These sixth-graders had a hard time coming up with a name, but they finally concluded that it was Cesar Chavez and Pitbull,” Molina said. “The children got very angry. … They said, ‘Why aren’t we learning this? Why don’t we know this?’ ”

She added, “We need young people to understand that this isn’t a history that was, oh, way back then and now is now. We need to continue that kind of leadership today. … We are not finished. Our agenda has just begun.”

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture on Flickr.

Power Shift

Diaz on Increase in Latino Vote as Counting of Ballots Continues

Founding director of Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) Sonja Diaz was recently featured on KPCC’s “Air Talk”  to discuss the ongoing results of the 2018 midterm elections. As provisional, conditional and vote-by-mail ballots were being counted, Diaz analyzed the increase in the Latino vote compared to 2014 midterm elections. Diaz’s research through the UCLA Luskin-affiliated LPPI found that, while Los Angeles County experienced a 52% increase in ballots cast overall, precincts where Latinos constituted 75% or more of registered voters yielded a “77% increase in the number of ballots cast.” Diaz also acknowledged the impact of Latino voters on the success of Spanish surname candidates like Kevin De Leon running for statewide election. Diaz also cited results from Texas’ Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, noting that “exit polls do not capture minority voters as accurately as more traditional or white voters.”


Leap Analyzes Factors in Tight Race Between Underdog Retired Lieutenant and Incumbent Sheriff

Public Policy lecturer Jorja Leap was featured in a Los Angeles Daily News article discussing factors contributing to the unexpectedly tight race for Los Angeles County sheriff. While incumbent sheriffs are traditionally successful at winning re-election, the 2018 midterm elections marked a notable shift, with retired lieutenant Alex Villanueva currently in the lead. Although opponent and incumbent sheriff Jim McDonnell is higher ranked, has more experience and had a better-funded campaign, Villanueva attracted significant support from unions and Latino voters. Leap noted the “collateral damage” of “voters who were primarily interested in other races and voted for Villanueva because of demographics or party support.” Leap and other experts debate whether Villanueva’s success thus far is a result of voters’ placing less value on incumbency, McDonnell’s overestimation of the power of name recognition, or the confusion prompted by Villanueva’s ballot designation as sheriff’s lieutenant, effectively muting the candidates’ different levels of experience.


Policy Academy Offers Tools to Take On Challenges in Latino Communities Three days of workshops at UCLA Luskin teach elected officials from Connecticut to California how to support their constituencies

By Stan Paul

When elected leaders from across the country gathered at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for three days of workshops on housing, transit, criminal justice, education, public safety and immigration, a recurring theme ran through each conversation.

“Every issue, every single issue, is a Latino issue,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a 2010 graduate of UCLA Luskin who got a master’s degree in public policy.

Diaz was speaking to about 60 state legislators, county and municipal officials, school board members and higher education trustees at the first-ever National Education Leadership and Public Policy Academy, held Aug. 3–5.

Organized by LPPI and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, the event was a “master’s course of our policy work … in the hopes that you will take this information and apply it in your communities,” Diaz told participants, who traveled from as far away as Florida, Connecticut and Hawaii.

Discussions led by expert panelists, she said, would be informed by two things: data and facts.

“By shaping policy and making sure this policy is tailored for kids, for immigrants, communities of color and, frankly, all Americans, we’re all better off,” Diaz said. “And we’re going to do it together.”

For Arturo Vargas, chief executive officer of NALEO Educational Fund, one major goal was how to get to the “great unengaged.” Many Latinos have little or no faith in the political system, he said, and “there isn’t any significant investment in Latino voter engagement in the United States.”

Citing the 2016 elections, Vargas continued, “Half of the Latino electorate was not part of the national conversation with the campaigns, and it happens consistently.” He urged officeholders to take up some of this responsibility in their districts.

UCLA Luskin graduate student Gabriela Solis helps lead a real-world policy practicum during the conference. Photo by Tessa McFarland

The weekend series of presentations and workshops was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and by State Farm. It included opportunities to network with peers and while participating in group sessions, attendees developed tools and information to craft policy reforms on issues such as public safety.

Marisa Perez, a member of the board of trustees at Cerritos College, said many Latino students get their start in higher education at a community college.

“Whatever I can take back to my college to better support our students, that’s what I’m looking forward to learning about,” Perez said as the conference got underway.

Citing an achievement gap in his home state, Jon Koznick, a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, said he wanted more hard data on issues related to Latino youth, especially boys.

“I’m excited to learn a little bit more about how we can have some stronger impact” in economic development and employment, he said.

Speakers and panelists at the academy included researchers from UCLA and other universities, as well as from policy institutes, foundations and associations.

Gary Segura, dean of UCLA Luskin, presented a case study on transit-oriented development in Oakland’s Fruitvale Village, that city’s largest Latino community. With co-panelist Chris Iglesias, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Unity Council, he discussed how the city used transit as a means for economic development and how that affected residents’ socioeconomic well-being.

Segura, a faculty co-director of Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, pointed to the initiative’s empirical study comparing Fruitvale residents to those living in similar communities over a 15-year period in the Bay Area and throughout California. The study found that, although the Latino population in Fruitvale changed by only 1 percent, homeownership increased by 8 percent, the bachelor’s degree completion rate climbed by 13 percent, and household income increased by 47 percent.

“So you can change a place without changing a people if you provide a set of economic structures and opportunities and services,” Segura said.

The dean encouraged participants to seek partnerships with local policy schools. “Oftentimes, communities of color think of universities as not invested in their issues, and, by the way, that frequently is true,” Segura said. “But there are places where that is not true and I would encourage you to look.”

Matt Barreto, UCLA professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies, presented demographic data to explain the growth in the country’s Latino population.

“Why is the Latino population growing so quickly? Because we have an extremely young population,” said Barreto, pointing out that the largest population distribution is under age 5; for whites, the largest group is adults in their 50s.

“The population is growing at a rate faster now than most demographers 10 years ago were anticipating or estimating. And it’s almost entirely driven by U.S. births,” said Barreto, also a faculty co-director of LPPI.

Amada Armenta, who joined the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty in July, spoke about the intersections between criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems.

Even in so-called sanctuary cities, contact with the police can have consequences for immigrants because of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s practice of using criminal justice databases to find immigrants and staking out jails and courthouses to take people into custody.

“Interactions with police have important ramifications for the way people feel about local government, democracy and their place in society more generally,” Armenta said. “I want local leaders to understand that … true community policing requires changing police practices so that they align with priorities of neighborhood residents.”

In a keynote lunchtime address, Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, focused on the U.S. Census.

“The census is really only about two things: It’s about power and money: who gets it, who keeps it, and who’s denied it,” he said. “When the numbers are wrong, the allocation of political power is uneven.”

Legal battles over a proposed citizenship question are being waged in court, he said, but the public also must be heard. The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking public input on the 2020 headcount.

“We need your help, people,” Vargas said. “We need to fight this.”

View more photos from the conference in an album on Flickr.

LPPI NALEO conference