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.

Mayoral Roundtable Highlights Launch of Luskin Summit 2022 With a theme of “Research in Action,” the fourth annual series resumed Jan. 19 with five webinars spotlighting UCLA’s role in understanding and solving issues of current public concern 

By Les Dunseith

A roundtable discussion about the upcoming election of a new mayor in Los Angeles and four other sessions focusing on current policy issues made up the agenda on Jan. 19 when the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs launched its fourth annual Luskin Summit.

The Luskin Summit opened virtually because of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, and it will continue as a series of online discussions in February, March and April. The Summit series is scheduled to wrap up April 22 with the release of the seventh annual Quality of Life Index at an event that may include an in-person component, depending on pandemic conditions at that time.

This year’s theme is “Research in Action.”

The mayoral panel was moderated by UCLA Luskin faculty member Jim Newton, the editor of UCLA Blueprint magazine. It focused on topical issues of importance to the L.A. mayor’s race, including rising crime, homelessness and electability. 

Joining Newton were former mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Steve Soboroff, longtime officeholder and current UCLA faculty member Zev Yaroslavsky, and Antonia Hernandez, the president and CEO of the California Community Foundation.

That session followed four webinars moderated by faculty members at the Luskin School that focused on housing policy, climate change, transportation, and class and racial inequality. Recordings of all five sessions can be viewed here.

The Luskin Summit series began in 2019 as a half-day conference held on the UCLA campus. Because of the pandemic, organizers shifted to an online method of presentation taking place over several months during subsequent years. Past speakers have included prominent local and state officials, business leaders and community activists, as well as scholars from UCLA and other academic institutions. Participation from people in the nonprofit and philanthropic spheres is also common, both as panelists and as attendees. 

This year’s Luskin Summit series will continue through April with sessions that examine other policy issues, many from a global perspective. Additional information about this year’s sessions can be found online, and interested parties may register using this link. 

The final event of Luskin Summit 2022 will be an examination of the Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment and Meyer and Renee Luskin under the direction of Yaroslavsky, a longtime former county supervisor and city councilman who is now the director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA. The survey asks county residents to rate their quality of life in a range of categories and to answer questions about important issues facing them and the region. 

This year’s sponsors include the Weingart Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the David Bohnett Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the Los Angeles Rams. The media partner again this year is ABC7 in Los Angeles.

Wasserman Imagines Possibilities for Fareless Transit

Jacob Wasserman, research project manager at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, joined KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” to discuss the possibility of a fareless Metro. After nearly two years of free bus rides during the pandemic, LA Metro has resumed fare collection, stating that they cannot afford to continue the policy. According to Wasserman, bus and train fares make up 15-20% of Metro’s annual operating funds. “[That] is not nothing, but is also a sum that they could make up through other sources of revenue,” he said. Ridership trends in Los Angeles had declined for years, but ridership during the pandemic was actually much higher than in other cities. Wasserman explained that essential workers, low-income riders and riders of color rely on the bus system to get around. He believes that there is a path to fareless transit “if Metro thinks outside of the box and looks at ways to make transit more accessible for all.”

Matute on the Resurgence of E-Scooters

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Spectrum News about the changing landscape of e-scooter technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic, fears of sharing space with strangers on mass transit appears to have resulted in increased reliance on e-scooters. For example, the company Bird reported that the average e-scooter ride length is 58% longer compared to pre-pandemic levels. “Maybe what would have been a three-mile Uber ride pre-pandemic is now a three-mile scooter ride,” Matute said. At the beginning of the pandemic, many scooter companies suspended operations, but technology and safety improvements are contributing to a resurgence in e-scooter popularity. “Customer expectations are changing,” Matute said. “Getting on one of these more advanced scooters is a safer experience than some of these early-generation scooters that are still out in the wild.” He noted that the newer vehicles are sturdier, have a longer range and feel more comfortable over a longer ride.

Leap Weighs In on COVID, Crime in Watts

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the rise in homicides during the pandemic and the way that it has affected neighborhoods like Watts in South Los Angeles. Of the 22 men and women killed in Watts in the first 11 months of 2021, 64% of the victims were Black. “Young Black men and families are the hardest hit by the pandemic,” Leap said. “If you’re starving and you feel out of control, you’re more likely to be the victim or the perpetrator of violence.” She pointed out that the COVID case rate in Watts is nearly 30% higher than the overall rate for Los Angeles, and 117 residents have died. After spending over 40 years working in Watts, Leap hopes to see more economic investment to support the community. “We have plenty of investment in social programs in Watts,” Leap said. “Where is the economic structure to give people jobs?”

Matute on Democratizing Parking Data and Access

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a Dot.LA article about taking advantage of Los Angeles’ hidden parking spaces. According to Matute, the most straightforward way to cut down on congestion is by ensuring fewer cars are on the road in the first place. Still, new apps such as Metropolis can play an important role in “eliminating some of the most obvious and wasteful impracticalities associated with parking.” Even in dense areas like downtown Los Angeles, where a parking spot seems impossible to locate, there is abundant parking concealed in parking garages. The Metropolis app allows drivers to access parking facilities that are registered in the database without obtaining a ticket or paying at a booth; instead, the owner’s credit card is charged automatically. “These apps are addressing the issue where you only know about parking you can see,” Matute said.

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?”


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.”


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.



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.’ ”

Yaroslavsky, Newton on the L.A. Riots and Police Chief Gates

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky and Blueprint editor Jim Newton joined the Slate podcast “Slow Burn” to discuss the aftermath of the Rodney King beating in March 1991. A tape of the beating exposed brutality within the Los Angeles Police Department, prompting many to call for Chief Daryl Gates to step down. At the time, the LAPD “saw itself as a paramilitary organization, primarily white and male, and viewed its fundamental charge as maintaining the peace,” Newton said. Yaroslavsky pointed out that the police commission could fire Gates only for a case of moral turpitude. “It was never an issue of whether he would be fired; the issue was whether he could be persuaded to leave,” Yaroslavsky said. The Christopher Commission, launched by former Mayor Tom Bradley and chaired by Warren Christopher, recommended that Gates step down; he did not retire until June 1992.

Leap on Factors Fueling Spike in Violent Crime in L.A.

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to KPCC’s AirTalk about factors fueling a rise in violent crime in Los Angeles. In the wake of COVID-19, the killing of George Floyd and economic uncertainty that has put food and shelter at risk for many, “the bottom line is people feel out of control,” Leap said. “And some people who feel out of control act out of control.” A sense of hopelessness, combined with the proliferation of lethal weapons in the United States, has led to a high death count that has had a devastating impact on women and children in particular, with trauma reverberating through years, if not decades, she said. Leap said she hopes the upcoming Los Angeles mayor’s race puts pressure on leaders to come up with innovative approaches to public safety, such as expanding gang intervention and community outreach. “This is really an all-hands-on-deck problem,” she said.