An Agence France-Presse story featured comments by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, and Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, on the status of California’s high-speed rail project. The original plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco was revised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in February to link Merced and Bakersfield instead, a distance only a third of the originally planned route. Construction delays and unexpected budget increases have prompted criticism of the “train to nowhere.” Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the curtailed route. “It absolutely does not make sense,” she said. “Any transit project needs big [urban] centers as origins and destinations, and so to have something like that … all but kills the project.” Wachs agreed, arguing that “California should have capitalized on its existing rail network, including that currently dedicated to freight.” The AFP story was picked up by several news outlets, including Yahoo! News and Daily Mail.
By Les Dunseith
Elected officials, scholars, civic leaders, and difference-makers in the nonprofit and philanthropic spheres came together April 24 to learn the results of the annual Quality of Life Index and discuss policy issues during a half-day conference put together by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Congresswoman Karen Bass provided the morning’s keynote address for “Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.,” an event that also kicked off the 25th anniversary celebration at the Luskin School.
Bass opened the conference by jokingly telling more than 300 people in attendance at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center that she “wanted to tell you about what we are doing in D.C. because, if you watch some TV news, you have no idea what we are doing in D.C.”
Bass has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011. She said that “Democrats and Republicans actually do work together” in the nation’s capital.
“We don’t hate each other,” Bass said, smiling broadly. “Our accomplishments unfortunately don’t sustain media attention. So you might hear that we passed legislation on something like gun control … and then somebody tweets, and that’s all you hear about for the next several hours.”
The congresswoman’s remarks set a cooperative tone for the inaugural Luskin Summit, which focused on finding solutions through research and policy change. The conference emphasized a Los Angeles perspective during breakout sessions moderated by UCLA faculty members that focused on issues such as public mobility, climate change, housing and criminal justice.
Providing a framework for those discussions was the unveiling of the fourth Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment under the direction of longtime Los Angeles political stalwart Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. 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.
“The cost of living, and particularly the cost of housing, is the single biggest drag on the rating that residents ultimately give to their quality of life in Los Angeles,” Yaroslavsky told Luskin Summit attendees. “The unmistakable takeaway from this project continues to be the crippling impact of the cost of living in Los Angeles County, punctuated by the extraordinary cost of housing.”
The housing affordability crisis was echoed throughout the event and in the days that followed as Yaroslavsky explained details of the survey in coverage by news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, local radio news programs, and broadcast television reports by the local affiliates for NBC and ABC.
The coverage by KABC (also known as ABC7 Los Angeles) included segments on daily news broadcasts and a follow-up discussion with Yaroslavsky scheduled to air May 26 on the station’s weekly public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.” That program is hosted by Adrienne Alpert, a general assignment reporter at ABC7 who served as the moderator for the Luskin Summit.
Alpert also hosted a panel discussion that closed the conference, during which mayors of four cities in Los Angeles County — Emily Gabel-Luddy of Burbank, Thomas Small of Culver City, James Butts of Inglewood and Tim Sandoval of Pomona — spoke frankly about the challenges their cities face in dealing with issues such as the rising cost of housing and its potential to lead to displacement of low-income residents.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a former colleague of Yaroslavsky on the Los Angeles City Council, was also in attendance at the conference. Padilla engaged in a lively exchange about election security and voter registration efforts with UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura during a lunch meeting of panelists, faculty members and sponsors that took place immediately after the summit.
Segura also provided remarks during the morning session, introducing Bass and giving attendees a preview of the day to follow.
“Today you will hear from a series of dedicated public officials who understand that as great as our nation is, it can be better,” Segura said. “And they are taking action to make our country and our city more effective, more innovative, more fair and more inclusive.”
During her remarks, Bass offered her perspective on the recently released investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“One thing that is a responsibility by the Constitution for Congress — we are supposed to provide oversight and investigation of the administration,” Bass said. “Most of the time it’s not that controversial, and you don’t really hear about it. But it’s made to be super-controversial now because we are in a hyper-partisan situation.”
The bitter partisanship prevalent in Washington today does have a positive aspect, she said, in that Americans seem to be paying closer attention to government and political issues.
“I am hoping that this trauma that we have collectively gone through will lead to a change in our American culture,” Bass said, “because as a culture we tend not to be involved politically.”
Bass said that more people seem to have a deeper understanding of political actions related to “immigration, the Muslim ban, the environment — all the kind of negative things that this administration has done,” said Bass, a Democrat who has been critical of many Trump administration policies. “I think he has sparked a new level of awareness and involvement, where we are working across our silos. I think, ultimately, we can take advantage of this period and bring about transformative change.”
The idea of initiating transformative change was a popular notion among many attendees at the Luskin Summit, as was the focus on making Los Angeles a more livable place.
“I can’t think of a better topic than how to make our city more livable and touch on all of these different aspects of life and the built environment and our environment in Los Angeles,” said Nurit Katz MPP/MBA ’08, the chief sustainability officer at UCLA.
Wendy Greuel BA ’83 is a former Los Angeles city controller and past president of the Los Angeles City Council. She noted that the research presented during the Luskin Summit was timely and focused “on issues that matter to Los Angeles, but also to this country and this world.”
Greuel served as the chair of the UCLA Luskin Advisory Board committee that helped plan the Luskin Summit. “I think that UCLA Luskin is at the forefront of really focusing on issues that matter and being able to give us real-life solutions and address the challenges,” she said.
Another UCLA Luskin Advisory Board member is Stephen Cheung BA ’00 MSW ’07, who is president of the World Trade Center Los Angeles and executive vice president at the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation.
“I think anything that has to do with sustainability and the growth of Los Angeles as a whole is very important to the economic vitality of this region,” Cheung said as the event got underway. “So this summit and all the information that’s going to be provided will really set a roadmap in terms of what we need to do, addressing public policies in terms of creating new opportunities for our companies here.”
Jackie Guevarra, executive director of the Quality and Productivity Commission of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, said she attended the Luskin Summit because of her interest in the issues under discussion, including housing affordability.
“Homelessness is a big issue that L.A. County is tackling right now,” Guevarra said. “That is an issue that touches all of us. … The more that we have that conversation, the more people we can get to the same way of thinking about how to address the need — so that maybe we can all say, ‘Yes, we need affordable housing, and it’s OK for it to be here in my community.’”
Misch Anderson is a community activist with the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, a volunteer organization created in 2013 after a series of fatal crashes involving cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
“I was feeling like my activism put me in touch with such a small, kind of silo-ized community mindset, and I really want to break out of that and connect with people on a larger level,” said Anderson about her reason for attending the summit. “I just wanted to get some inspiration.”
Her takeaway from the summit?
“The idea that we need cultural change, essentially. I think the realities of globalism should be forcing us as individuals to think more widely, more as a larger group, and not be so xenophobic,” Anderson said. “I keep hearing about cultural change [at the summit] and thinking about what can I do — what can each of us do.”
Among the UCLA students in attendance was Tam Guy, a second-year Urban Planning Ph.D. candidate who is studying equity in the city, which encompasses housing, transportation and environmental design.
“One thing that interested me about this summit in particular is that they’re bringing in people from outside academia to talk about the issues, people who are actually on the ground dealing with policy day-to-day,” Guy noted.
The Luskin Summit drew a large crowd to the UCLA campus, and several hundred people watched a live stream of selected presentations. It drew interest near and far. A prime example was a group seated together near the back of the vast ballroom during the opening session — high school students from New Zealand!
The youths had been traveling up and down the West Coast with Joanna Speed, international coordinator with Crimson Education, a college admissions consulting service that exposes teens to potential careers and educational opportunities abroad. Coincidentally, the group scheduled its campus tour of UCLA for April 24. When they saw that the summit was happening that day, they asked to attend.
“It’s been an incredible experience for them,” Speed said.
Mary Braswell and Stan Paul also contributed to this story.
View additional photos from the UCLA Luskin Summit
Watch videos recorded during the event:
- Opening remarks by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, plus an overview of the Quality of Life Index by Zev Yaroslavsky and other presentations
- Breakout session titled “Dealing With Disruption: From Public Transit to Public Mobility”
- Breakout session titled “A Housing-Oriented Look at Understanding Rising L.A. Inequality”
- Closing discussion moderated by Adrienne Alpert of ABC7 and featuring Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy of Burbank, Mayor Thomas Small or Culver City, Mayor James Butts of Inglewood and Mayor Tim Sandoval of Pomona
Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the recently released UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index. Poll respondents in Los Angeles County expressed satisfaction with health care, the economy and community relations. However, cost of living, particularly for housing, ranked lowest on the index. “This survey is important to our region and its communities in that it helps capture at a point in time what county residents consider most important to them, personally,” Yaroslavsky said. The study was also featured on media outlets including KABC7, NBC Los Angeles, The Patriot LA 1150, AM870 and LAist. In a KNX In Depth radio interview, Yaroslavsky said the rising cost of living is spurring residents to leave Los Angeles. “People who are economically on the margins and can’t afford to rent an apartment or buy a home are going to places where the costs are cheaper,” he said.
Jim Newton, public policy lecturer and editor of Blueprint magazine, wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed on L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has faced heavy criticism from the County Board of Supervisors and other observers who believe he is abusing his power. “The trouble, as boards of yore long ago discovered, is that the supervisors have an intense interest in the conduct of the sheriff, but they can’t do much about it,” Newton wrote. Supervisors are having difficulty controlling Villanueva because they can merely limit his budget, he explained. Newton urged the board to continue to seek creative ways to rein in a sheriff whose judgment they do not trust. “It would be a tragedy if the sheriff’s department, so long hampered by misconduct and sloppy management, were to backslide on the progress of recent years because yet another sheriff was allowed to slip the reins of authority,” Newton wrote.
In a National Geographic article exploring transit-oriented development in cities across the globe, Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville commented on the challenges facing Los Angeles. The article focused on architect Peter Calthorpe, who highlights the negative effects of car-oriented urban environments on climate, air quality and congestion, in addition to time and money wasted by drivers. Urban planners look to transit-oriented development to remake healthy urban spaces and reverse the damage caused by dependence on automobiles. Calthorpe imagines an urban utopia where cities would stop expanding, pave less and heat the air and the planet around them less. He recommends dense clusters of walkable communities around a web of rapid transit to support a growing population. Manville weighed in on the urban environment of Los Angeles, where residents continue to rely on cars despite efforts to improve public transit. The conundrum, Manville said, is that “driving’s too cheap [and] housing’s too expensive.”
Author, attorney and activist Randy Shaw visited UCLA Luskin on April 15, 2019, to discuss his latest book, “Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.” As the working and middle classes find themselves priced out by skyrocketing rents and home values, Shaw dissected the causes and consequences of the national housing crisis. Shaw is a housing policy influencer and advocate for people experiencing homelessness. In 1980, he co-founded the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, San Francisco’s leading provider of housing for homeless single adults. At the talk hosted by Urban Planning, Shaw said he decided to write “Generation Priced Out,” his sixth book on activism, after the 2016 Ghost Ship tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 36 people when a fire broke out in a former warehouse in Oakland. Shaw initially planned to focus on Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland but ended up broadening the scope of his book to include other progressive cities that claim to support inclusion, including Austin, Denver and Portland. Shaw said the book highlights the hypocritical rhetoric of progressive cities whose policies price out working-class people. Many books about gentrification are misleading, he added. The absence of affordable housing policy and opposition to new construction contribute to the gentrification of urban spaces, he said. While discussions about gentrification often villainize developers, Shaw argued that “the real profiteers of gentrification are homeowners.” To solve the national housing crisis, Shaw advocates for a combination of rent control and housing construction. — Zoe Day
Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, commented on the prospect of congestion pricing in Los Angeles on KPCC’s Airtalk. To reduce traffic, New York passed a proposal to implement congestion pricing in the form of tolls on vehicles entering Manhattan, prompting speculation about the prospect of congestion pricing in other big cities like Los Angeles. In Stockholm, Wachs explained, citizens voted to implement congestion pricing after a seven-month trial period because “they valued the reduction of congestion more highly than they were worried about the cost of entering the congested area.” Wachs predicts that “the Manhattan experiment will reveal how Americans feel about congestion pricing.” While some critics argue that congestion pricing is regressive taxation, Wachs responded that “congestion itself is regressive. Congestion pricing provides an alternative, but it doesn’t require the low-income person to pay the fee if there is an alternative,” such as public transit.
Amada Armenta, an assistant professor of urban planning, co-authored the research article “Beyond the Fear of Deportation: Understanding Unauthorized Immigrants’ Ambivalence Toward the Police,” which was recently published in American Behavioral Scientist. Armenta and co-author Rocío Rosales examined unauthorized Mexican immigrants’ perceptions of and experiences with police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. While much of the existing research focuses on undocumented immigrants’ negative attitudes toward police as a result of fear of deportation, Armada and Rosales used in-depth interviews and ethnography to gain a better understanding of the immigrants’ perceptions of police. Their research article found that most undocumented immigrants are ambivalent about American police, “believing them to be both trustworthy and overly punitive.” Interviews indicated that “compared with police forces in Mexico, [many undocumented immigrants] believe that U.S. police are honest, hardworking and trustworthy.” Even those who do not hold the police in high regard may choose to trust them under certain circumstances. “Positive interactions with the police can shape immigrants’ legal attitudes such that they feel empowered to call the police for help,” the article noted. The study is a valuable addition to research on minorities’ relationships with police, which is mostly focused on the experiences of African American citizens. Armenta is the author of an award-winning book on immigration enforcement in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently working on a second book examining the legal attitudes of undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia.
In an LAist article, Urban Planning Professor Martin Wachs commented on the history behind the lack of one-way streets in Los Angeles compared to East Coast cities. Los Angeles built wide roads to accommodate the automobiles and streetcars popular in the first half of the 20th century, Wachs said. The wide streets and long blocks characteristic of Los Angeles would make one-way streets difficult, he added. Los Angeles experimented by converting Pico and Olympic to one-way streets to ease traffic for the 1984 Olympics, but complaints from residents and business owners resulted in the restoration of two-way traffic. “One-way streets tend to work best when blocks are short and streets are narrow, so cars can easily loop around to reach their destination. When there are five or six lanes of traffic, like Venice Boulevard, cars have to merge over too many lanes to make a turn and the flow of traffic gets messy,” Wachs explained.
In a Los Angeles Times article about the prospect of congestion pricing in West Los Angeles, Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor commented on public opposition to the proposed fees. The article explained the findings of the Southern California Association of Governments’ recently published study, which modeled the effects of a $4 fee to enter a 4.3-square-mile area of West Los Angeles and Santa Monica during weekday rush hour. According to the model, such a fee would immediately reduce traffic delays and miles driven within the area by 20%, leading to increases in transit ridership, biking, walking and carpooling. Despite the predicted successes of congestion pricing, many residents of the area expressed their opposition to the proposal. Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, said that “people typically oppose the system before they’ve seen it work, [but] they tend to go majority opposition to majority support when they see it in practice.”
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