Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Curbed LA about a proposal to eliminate fares for public transportation in Los Angeles County. Offering free rides on buses and trains would get cars off the road, build ridership and reduce carbon emissions, proponents say. Taylor noted that it would be difficult to predict how the program would impact the whole system — particularly its capacity to handle increased rush-hour ridership — without trying it out. Curbed LA also cited research on free fares conducted by urban planning doctoral student Teo Wickland, who worked on the California Statewide Transit Strategic Plan. Wickland noted that eliminating fares would speed up bus service, where the boarding process is slowed every time riders struggle to find their fare card or come up with exact change.
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Wave about the upcoming race to succeed county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Term limits will force Ridley-Thomas to give up his 2nd District seat on the powerful Board of Supervisors. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in a March primary, the top two vote-getters will face off in November. Of the eight candidates who have emerged so far, the three with the highest chance of winning the election are Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, state Sen. Holly Mitchell and former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, according to Yaroslavsky. Perry, who has already raised more than $500,000 for the campaign, has “surprised some people with the amount of money she’s raised,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a horse race.”
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the L.A. Times about the county’s election chief, who is spearheading an overhaul of the voting system. Since Dean Logan became the registrar-recorder and clerk for Los Angeles County in 2008, he has advocated for replacing an antiquated balloting system. The new $300-million system known as Voting Solutions for All People will face its first test in March, when it is introduced countywide for the presidential primary election. Voters will use the new machines at a smaller number of multipurpose “vote centers” that will replace the roughly 5,000 traditional polling places. Yaroslavsky, who served on the county Board of Supervisors from 1994 to 2014, expressed confidence in Logan. “He’s got an engineer’s mind with an artist’s vision,” Yaroslavsky said. “If you’re in an airplane that has a problem in midair, he’s the kind of guy you would want as the pilot.”
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to KPCC about the proposed creation of an independent commission to oversee the Los Angeles County Probation Department. The plan would give commissioners wide latitude to investigate policies and practices of the department, whose juvenile detention system has come under scrutiny after reports of sexual assaults and excessive use of pepper spray, as well as attacks on detention officers. The commission, which must be approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, would include a former juvenile detainee and the parent of a detainee. Leap commented, “They have an expertise — and I do mean an expertise, I am not using that word lightly — and a perspective in terms of the system that absolutely no one else has.” She pointed to past difficulties in getting information and clarification about the department’s practices. If approved as proposed, the new oversight body would be given the power to subpoena information.
Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the legal dispute between Los Angeles County and Sheriff Alex Villanueva over the new sheriff’s reinstatement of Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan. Mandoyan was fired by former Sheriff Jim McDonnell in 2016 over allegations of domestic abuse, but was recently rehired by Villanueva, who argued that the termination was unfair. The county identified the reinstatement as unlawful and has instructed Mandoyan to return his badge and gun, but Mandoyan has refused to comply. The legal conflict “threatens what is normally a more collaborative relationship between officials,” Leap said. “This is not where the energy should be expended,” she added, noting that Villanueva should “admit his mistake and move forward.” Leap also spoke to KNX1070 radio, commenting that the case is seen as a battle of wills but should focus on whether an individual is fit for employment.
As California’s general elections rapidly approach, much of the local media focus has turned to the Los Angeles County’s sheriff’s race. The incumbent, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, is generally favored to win. However, retired sheriff’s lieutenant Alex Villanueva managed to force a runoff with strong Latino support in the June primaries, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. If elected, Villanueva would be the county’s first Democratic sheriff in 138 years. The article noted that the current political and social climate could benefit Villanueva, who aligns himself with progressive ideologies. Voter turnout will undoubtedly be a major factor, UCLA Luskin’s Jorja Leap told the Daily News. “Will the ethnic and racial groups subjected to disparity, will they get out and vote?” said Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare. “Will law and order, and people who believe in a more conservative, badge-heavy approach, get out and vote? [The outcome] depends on that.”
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was quoted in recent news stories on a proposed temporary measure by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — approved in September 2018 — that would cap rent increases in unincorporated county areas. A Los Angeles Times story cited research by Ong that indicated no significant difference in rental housing in cities that have adopted some form of rent control as compared with the rest of the county. “The short-term solution is protecting those who are most vulnerable,” said Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning, social welfare and Asian American studies. “It needs to be complemented in the long term by strategic planning about increasing the supply of affordable housing.” Ong also spoke to LAist for a story on the proposal. “What we’re seeing is rents are increasing faster than inflation, and faster than people’s incomes,” he said. “We have reached a point now where many households are unable to pay their rents. … They quite often have to decide between paying the rent and paying for other daily necessities.”
Luskin students listen to Gita O'Neill, Director of Homeless Policies and Strategies for the Los Angeles City Attorney. Photo by Stan Paul
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:
One example of smart park technology is the ball wall, an interactive soccer wall, containing impact-sensitive panels which measure and react to ball impact. It has a built-in internet connection and features a variety of games. Photo by Yalp Interactive
By George Foulsham
The burgeoning world of smart technology includes everything from phones and televisions to thermostats and voice-activated home assistants. Now, thanks to the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, you can add neighborhood parks to the “smart” category.
The Luskin Center has just released “SMART Parks: A Toolkit” to highlight how technology can enhance the efficiency of — and more comfortable access to — public spaces.
What makes a park smart?
“A smart park uses technology to achieve equitable access, enhanced health, safety, resilience, water and energy efficiency, and effective operations and maintenance,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate dean at UCLA Luskin, who led a small team of researchers and UCLA students on the SMART Parks project.
The toolkit, which is intended for park managers, designers, landscape architects, advocates and anyone who wishes to learn how technology can be incorporated into parks, is a compilation of technologies that cities and counties can use to make parks smarter.
The 275-page guide is organized by pertinent chapters — activity spaces, digital landscapes, hardscapes, lighting, irrigation, softscapes, stormwater management and urban furniture.
The kit includes a wide range of technologies that can be utilized in parks to provide benefits:
- Interactive play sets that increase park accessibility for children with physical and mental disabilities by providing language, game and noise settings that can be adjusted by park management to meet community needs.
- Path pavement materials that are more comfortable for older adults, making them feel welcome in parks and encouraging them to walk, thus improving their health.
- Energy-generating exercise equipment that charges cellphones while providing users with free access to physical activity.
- Irrigation controllers that conserve water by optimizing watering patterns in each park area depending on microclimate and soil type.
- Soils that improve groundwater infiltration and remove pollutants from stormwater runoff, thus improving local water quality.
- Self-healing concrete that reduces maintenance and replacement needs by preventing and healing cracks in park infrastructure, thus reducing park management costs.
The toolkit also includes guidance on how to navigate the challenges associated with the park management process, such as staff training and cost constraints, and provides an overview of potential funding strategies to help create SMART Parks.
“The toolkit’s aim is to address concerns about park underutilization, high maintenance costs, and water and energy waste by rethinking the neighborhood park so that it becomes ‘smart.’ Parks represent assets for cities, but in an era of limited municipal resources and concerns about energy and water usage, they have also been viewed as liabilities,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.
The researchers emphasize that the toolkit is a starting point for park managers, landscape professionals, local government, nonprofits and interested community members to gain information on technological innovations and their potential benefits for parks.
More research is needed, they add, to ensure that the technologies and their benefits are appropriate for specific parks.
A downloadable copy of the SMART Parks toolkit is now online.
Diana Adams, installation supervisor at GRID Alternatives, instructs trainees and residents of LINC Housing’s City Gardens property in Santa Ana on how to properly set and secure solar panels. Photo by GRID Alternatives
By Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10
Karina Guzman is both property manager and resident of a low-income housing complex for working families in Southern California. Even with the job and relatively affordable rent, Guzman worries about paying her electricity bills. But relief is coming from what she found to be a surprising source: solar panels recently installed on 17 of the 27 buildings in her complex.
The solar panel system will offset the cost of powering lights and other needs in common areas as well as help residents lower their electricity bills. “I can’t wait for the solar panel to help me pay a credit card bill, and maybe even save for a vacation,” Guzman said.
Low-income households typically spend higher percentages of their incomes on energy costs and thus stand to benefit most from utility bill savings due to solar power generated on their homes. Yet, while Los Angeles County is a national leader in the adoption of residential solar, the homes of low-income households account for less than 1 percent of residential solar capacity across the county, according to new research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the nonprofit organization GRID Alternatives. This may change.
The study found that cities in Los Angeles County could soon unlock millions of dollars annually in state incentives for residential solar on affordable housing.
Starting in 2018, California will offer a solar rebate program targeted at putting solar panels on the roofs of affordable housing developments. With an annual budget of up to $100 million, the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program “could make a big difference toward reversing the current inequity in the distribution of residential solar systems,” said Michael Kadish, executive director of GRID Alternatives Los Angeles, which makes renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities.
The program, along with smaller existing state solar rebate programs such as the Low-Income Weatherization Program available for large multifamily residences located in disadvantaged communities across the state, will encourage the installation of solar systems that help affordable housing residents’ reduce their utility bills.
But there is a catch.
Residents of affordable housing and other multifamily dwellings can only take advantage of state solar incentive programs if their utility offers a virtual net metering policy allowing residents to receive credits from the system. Virtual net metering is a common billing mechanism that allows multiple parties to share the financial benefits of a single solar power system.
Southern California Edison offers virtual net metering, but that’s not the case with municipally owned utilities in cities such as Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale and others in the county. Without virtual net metering, there is no real mechanism for residents of multifamily dwellings, including affordable housing, to access the financial benefits of solar.
“Now is a good time for the City of Los Angeles ― which we identified as having the largest share of rooftop solar potential (62 megawatts) and rebate-eligible rooftop solar potential in the region ― to consider removing the policy barrier that is currently preventing myriad residents of multifamily dwellings from realizing the benefits of residential solar,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and chair of UCLA Public Policy.
Researchers calculated the potential of 115 MW of rooftop solar power throughout Los Angeles County on the more than 1,100 affordable housing properties that would qualify for a solar rebate. Researchers quantified the potential benefits if this physical capacity for solar on affordable housing was realized in Los Angeles County:
- $11.6 million annually in utility bill savings for affordable housing residents
- $4.9 million annually in savings for affordable housing property owners
- $220.6 million in funding from state programs to spur local economic development
- 1,800 job years (one year of full-time work or the equivalent) created
- More than 3,800 job training opportunities and nearly 31,000 job training hours that can be strategically targeted to encourage an equitable clean energy workforce
The report includes recommendations for designing a virtual net metering tariff in Los Angeles to help maximize these types of benefits. Findings also highlight the opportunity to target solar workforce development benefits to residents of affordable housing who are more likely to live in communities with higher unemployment rates than the county at large.
The report can be found online.