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A Lesson on Homelessness for UCLA Luskin Students Students and city leaders weigh policy options regarding homelessness during annual UCLA Luskin Day at L.A. City Hall

By Stan Paul

Just how complex the problem of homelessness is in Los Angeles — and how to combat it — was the focus of a daylong program that brought students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs together with community leaders and providers of homeless services from throughout the region on March 2, 2018, at Los Angeles City Hall.

Homelessness in Los Angeles is a problem with a long history. It’s also a growing and complex issue, with no easy fix for the estimated 50,000-plus people living on streets of the city and throughout greater L.A. County.

Read the summary report by student participants

Specific goals for the annual event include connecting students with City Hall and county leaders, analyzing an important public and social policy issue, and participating in informed discussion and debate with impacted city staff and civic leaders, according to VC Powe, director of career services and leadership, who has directed the program since its founding.

Hosting the students this year was Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who welcomed the students to City Hall and challenged them to research and come up with creative solutions to the question: What services can be provided today?

More than a dozen Luskin public policy, social welfare and urban planning graduate students worked together in teams to explore and brainstorm possible solutions for the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Each team met with and interviewed a wide range of leaders of city and county organizations and agencies focused on the problem. Interviewees ranged from homeless advocates and leaders of charitable organizations to a law enforcement officer and service providers for the homeless.

The students worked together throughout the day to provide Koretz, who represents the 5th Council District, with insights, ideas and policy solutions gathered from their interviews and discussions with program participants.

“I think students are finding out as they are talking to all these different stakeholders that there are some obstacles,” commented Toby Hur, UCLA Luskin Social Welfare field faculty member, who served as the students’ faculty adviser during the event at City Hall. “Building anything in L.A. is a complex process: It’s slow and with Measure H — the county sales tax increase — the money is just beginning to trickle down — finally,” Hur said.

Just a few of the issues discussed across the School’s three professional programs were zoning and land use, social services, law enforcement, jobs and job readiness, child care, NIMBYism and political will.

“For me, it’s a very personal issue,” said Michelle Viorato, a first-year public policy student from El Monte. “I’m really interested in finding solutions to keep people in their homes and prevent homelessness. It’s very frustrating to see.”

Viorato and her teammates, Ashley Mashian, a first-year urban planning student, and Jacob Woocher, a second-year urban planning student, met with Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, president and CEO of L.A. Family Housing; Jessica Duboff, vice president, Center for Business Advocacy, L.A. Chamber; and James Bickhart, a consultant with the office of Councilman Koretz.

“I’m seeing a lot of people who are being evicted — or are one paycheck away — and I want to see what measures we can take as a community at Luskin to work with City Hall trying to prevent homelessness,” said Mashian, who was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Gabriela Solis, a second-year public policy and social welfare student, said her team heard some great ideas during an interview with Gita O’Neill, who serves in a new city post: director of homeless policies and strategies in the office of the Los Angeles City Attorney. One of those ideas was to bring back a homeless court that was cut during the recession, said Solis, a native of East Los Angeles.

“[O’Neill’s] main focus is on legal services, and I think she has a really interesting standpoint.  She is the first that the city has hired as a director of policy, something they don’t do historically,” Solis said. Her team also met with Dominic Choi, homeless coordinator for the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I think that LAPD gets this villain role,” Solis said. “It was interesting talking about his perspective on things because I think it’s important to have them at the table and involved in how we deal with this.”

After a morning of interviews, the students reconvened with Councilmember Koretz to discuss their findings and policy recommendations.

First-year MPP student Iman Nanji reported on her team’s meeting with Ruth Schwartz, co-founder and executive director of Shelter Partnership.

“We talked about how the pendulum may have swung too far on focusing on permanent supportive housing, and how we also need to focus on transitional short-term solutions to the homelessness problem in addition to the image of homelessness,” said Nanji, who serves on a team in the mayor’s office working on data-driven approaches to combating homelessness. “In [Schwartz’s] opinion, there’s still a lot of work to be done to just get a better idea of who actually is homeless. They’re not a monolith. How do we get a better sense of the diversity in the homeless population?”

Christopher Ayala, a second-year social welfare student, grew up in South Los Angeles and has had experience working with young people experiencing homelessness.

“Sometimes they are overlooked in the policy we are creating,” Ayala said. “So we are really trying to focus on them and see how we can adjust to their unique needs and in comparison to the chronically homeless.”

“Ending homelessness is a little ambitious, but combating homelessness is the right middle ground,” said Sam Blake, an MPP/MBA joint-program student. “On one hand, it can seem trivial, but at the end of the day, words are how we communicate and how we get people on board. So it’s important to pay attention to that.”

As part of Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall, the students will submit to Koretz a written policy memorandum summarizing their findings and policy recommendations.

“UCLA is a huge asset to the community and all of you, its students,” Koretz said as he presented certificates to the students at the conclusion of the day.  “So we hope this will help you move toward becoming civic leaders of the future,” he said.

Hur noted that the students’ task is far from over.

“Coming up with solutions is a difficult task, but I think this is a good forum for them to understand the context — the political context, the community aspect and to be able to actually, really, begin to formulate and connect with all these people here,” he said. “The real work begins after today.”

UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall is now in its 14th year and serves to promote and encourage careers in politics and public service, as well as engage UCLA with local government, Powe said. The program is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Office of Community and Government Relations.

Read the transcript of an interview with Koretz conducted by UCLA Advocacy during UCLA Luskin Day at City Hall.

View additional photos from the City Hall visit in a Flickr album:

Luskin Day at City Hall 2018

A Case of Arrested Development UCLA faculty members join the discussion on an upcoming city ballot measure that could block big development projects in Los Angeles for two years

By Zev Hurwitz

The merits of an upcoming ballot initiative, Measure S, that would mean big changes for big development projects in the city brought together a panel of UCLA faculty members.

If passed by voters in March 2017, Measure S would impose a temporary moratorium on development projects that require changes to zoning, land use and building height laws in Los Angeles. In addition, the measure would restrict other changes and impose mandatory review procedures to the Los Angeles General Plan, while preventing project applicants from conducting their own Environmental Impact Reports (EIR).

“If you’re a developer and you want to do some affordable housing … it would be informally discouraged in wealthier areas,” said Joan Ling, a longtime lecturer in the UCLA Luskin Department of Urban Planning. “There’s a lot of talk about reforming land use laws in L.A., but there’s very little desire for actual results because the councilmembers want control of what gets built and that is tied to election campaign fundraising.”

In addition to Ling, the panel, which was produced by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studiesincluded urban planning faculty members Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Manville. Jonathan Zasloff, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, also joined the conversation, which was moderated by Rosslyn “Beth” Hummer, the chair of the Land Use Planning and Environmental Subcommittee of the Real Property Section of the L.A. County Bar Association.

Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning, introduced the panel and gave background on the ballot measure. Most panelists oppose Measure S, he noted, but the goal of the forum was to forecast both electoral scenarios.

“Measure S is something that urban planners should be informed about,” he said to an audience comprised mostly of master’s students in UCLA Luskin’s program. “Our goal here is not to push you in any one direction. We’re hoping to provide you with the best possible projections for what might happen if Measure S is actually passed.”

Ling talked about the housing regulatory infrastructure in the city, the leadership of which includes a planning director designated by the mayor and the 15-member City Council. She described the zoning and development realities for what she referred to as Los Angeles’ three cities, “the rich areas, the very low-income areas and the transitional areas.”

Monkkonen discussed a recent White Paper he authored in which concerns of residential leaders about construction in California were voiced. He identified several major reasons why neighborhoods and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) leaders opposed big development projects.

“Some people have concerns about the built environment of their neighborhoods,” Monkkonen said. “They’re concerned about strains on services, their roads, their schools. They have anger at developers for being rich and seeming to get away with things.”

Zasloff noted that the movement to put Measure S and similar initiatives on the ballot is not uncommon for residents who want to maintain the status quo for housing in their neighborhoods.

“When you consider that the vast majority of wealth for many Americans is tied up in their house … many people are scared for what this is going to do to their property values,” he said. “It’s a real concern for people when they set financial expectations for themselves and aren’t sure where to go with them.”

Opponents of big development projects are often concerned about increases in traffic resulting from new population density. Manville said he thinks Measure S would provide little benefit regarding congestion, however.

“It ends up being a very small and uncertain reduction in traffic, played against a much more certain cost in housing prices,” Manville said.

The measure is opposed by the Los Angeles chapters of both the Democratic and Republican parties —giving it a rare bipartisan opposition.

Asked to name one positive that is coming out of the Measure S movement, Zasloff replied that the threat of ballot items similar to Measure S keeps pressure on local elected officials to be more involved with constituency planning.

“If there were a way to scare the bejesus out of City Council on a regular basis, that would probably be helpful,” he said.

The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and drew more than 50 students, faculty and community members. Additional resources, including a video, case law and information about other Measure S events, can be found here.