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Wachs on the Past, Present and Future of L.A. Traffic

Urban Planning Professor Martin Wachs joined the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy’s Then & Now podcast to discuss the history of traffic congestion in Los Angeles. Wachs was joined by MURP student Yu Hong Hwang and history Ph.D. candidate Peter Chesney. The three described the findings of their recent report, which challenged the myth of Los Angeles’ car culture. Wachs also noted that increasing transit capacity does not necessarily reduce traffic congestion. “Transit is important, but it is not an antidote to congestion,” he said. Instead, he explained that investing in transit means providing people with alternatives to driving so that they can choose to take a bus or train instead of a car. Looking forward, Wachs suggested implementing congestion pricing in Los Angeles. “We will have to learn to live with traffic congestion as long as there is a strong consensus that we would rather sit in traffic than pay a fee to avoid it,” he concluded. The report’s authors also discussed their findings in a recent webinar.


Peterson on Campaigns Reshaped by COVID-19

The Los Angeles Times spoke to Public Policy Professor Mark Peterson for a story about new strategies local candidates are using to get out the vote during a time of pandemic. Many candidates have replaced door-knocking and big rallies with virtual town halls and car caravans with signs and honking. Instead of traditional campaign stops, some have hosted community service projects, such as handing out food, diapers and masks emblazoned with the candidate’s name. Peterson said that it’s unclear how the ongoing pressures of the pandemic will shape decisions about local candidates, including whether voters will hold incumbent politicians accountable for L.A.’s handling of the COVID-19 threat. He also noted that the campaign timetable has been affected by the push toward early voting due to postal delays. People “may vote quite early, before you’ve even had a chance to reach them,” Peterson said.


 

Bruins Play Key Roles in Report Calling for Sweeping Reforms in L.A. Dean Gary Segura and Luskin School students are among the many UCLA contributors to ambitious effort to reimagine life in the region from a racial justice perspective

By Les Dunseith

A new report that lays out a road map for the transformation of the Los Angeles region built on racial equity is rooted in research from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The report’s co-authors are Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School, and Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute.

The paper, “No Going Back: Together for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles,” was issued Sept. 9 and shared with a UCLA audience Sept. 15 at a virtual salon. At more than 250 pages, the report is a comprehensive examination of the hidden barriers to success that limited many of the city’s residents even before COVID-19, but have been exacerbated since the pandemic began.

A wide swath of the Bruin community contributed to the paper. Numerous faculty and staff members provided new research, offered historical context and analyzed existing data. UCLA alumni serve on the Committee for Greater LA, which developed the report. And a handful of current UCLA students conducted research that fed the recommendations.

 

Those students, Antonio Elizondo, Dan Flynn, Mariesa Samba and Ellen Schwartz, share a passion for building a new Los Angeles grounded in social justice and racial equity.

Flynn, a second-year graduate student, contributed to the report’s sections on health and homelessness. His experience working with nonprofit agencies has made him acutely aware of the need to think differently about the region’s homelessness crisis.

“You’re looking at 70,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles at any given point,” Flynn said. “There’s no way to look at that issue and describe it as anything other than a failure — and a catastrophic one, with immense human cost. There has been a failure to build systems of accountability and to hold people responsible and accountable.”

Setting forth a strategy to create accountability to end homelessness is among 10 guiding principles (PDF) that underlie the report, which also tackles economic justice, mental and physical health, child and family well-being and other topics.

Samba is pursuing a master’s in social welfare and is a graduate student researcher at the Black Policy Project at UCLA. She contributed to sections of the report that related to children, families, mental health and justice.

“A lot of the work that I do is within the community with folks who are directly impacted by the pandemic,” she said. “Especially with this project, my top-line goal was to uplift those voices and experiences into the research.”

The report builds on the personal insights of the researchers and the people they interviewed to identify social problems, pairing those lived experiences with data to point toward solutions. For example, research findings about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education highlighted the region’s racial disparities. Under Los Angeles’ safer-at-home orders, Black and Latino schoolchildren have been far less likely to be able to engage successfully in remote learning because of a lack of computers and access to high-speed internet connections.

As Segura noted during a Sept. 9 webinar to unveil the report to the general public, public officials are expected to ensure that residents have access to electricity, trash collection and a sewer system — so why not something as vital as the internet?

“The time has come for us to think about the internet as what it has become,” he said. “It is a civil right.”

The opportunity to think about such issues in new ways appealed to the UCLA Luskin students who played a role. Plus, there were practical benefits. For example, Schwartz was happy to work on the transportation section of the report because that’s her area of concentration as an urban planning master’s student. But her biggest takeaway from the experience was the mindset of the project’s leaders.

“What I loved seeing is how the community leaders on the committee really focused on empowerment. That’s something that I want to take with me into my own career,” she said.

“… work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

—Antonio Elizondo

Elizondo, a master’s student in urban planning, said during the virtual salon that the most impactful aspect of his involvement in the project came during his review of interviews with people impacted by the health crisis and thinking about the repercussions.

“At the moment, it’s an unfolding crisis, so every policy response is a short-term response,” Elizondo said. “This project helped me realize that there will be long-term effects, and how much work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

The Committee for Greater LA comprises a diverse group of civic and community leaders and a joint research team from UCLA Luskin and the USC Equity Research Institute. Initially, the committee intended primarily to address the racial disparities exposed by the pandemic, but in the wake of the recent police-involved killings of Black people and the nationwide protests that followed, its focus expanded to encompass a broader understanding of systemic racism.

The UCLA students helped Segura with the policy-related aspects of the report, which cover issues like housing affordability, immigrant rights, alternatives to incarceration, transportation and equitable access to health care, among others. Because of the pandemic, the work had to be coordinated via phone, email and Zoom sessions.

Flynn, who is pursuing a master’s in public policy, said he appreciated the chance to work directly with the dean on a project of such ambition and scope.

“What makes UCLA such a special place is that you have world-class academics and practitioners who are not just interested in generating work but are interested in mentorship and teaching and in giving opportunities to the next generation of policymakers,” he said.

As gratifying as the work was, the students realize the real work is still to come. Schwartz said she’s hopeful that society is ready to adopt the meaningful change advocated in the report.

“We live in a world where people are really isolated and don’t always know what’s going on in the community,” she said. “I hope that this report will just shed some light on issues that people are facing and that it will inspire elected officials to take action and make real, lasting changes to the system.”

Samba said her participation offered a unique opportunity to process her emotions about the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly because of how it coincided with the growing racial justice movement — and she sees cause for hope.

“We’re at a point in time where we are trying new things,” Samba said. “We’re able to experiment with our justice system, with our foster care system, with what social services look like, with what community care looks like. I would like to see some of those social experiments — some of those new ideas and visions — become real, and for us not to revert to the status quo. I would love to see us really, actually reimagine what a more racially equitable future looks like for the people of Los Angeles.”

Among the other UCLA connections to the effort: The Committee for Greater LA is chaired by Miguel Santana, a member of the Luskin School’s advisory board, and the project is funded in part by philanthropists who have also supported UCLA.

The Committee for Greater LA has invited interested parties, including policymakers and candidates for elected office, to join in making the #NoGoingBackLA promise, a commitment to build a more equitable and inclusive Los Angeles. Sign up at nogoingback.la.

Report Rooted in Pandemic’s Unequal Impacts Proposes Sweeping Reforms to Advance Racial Justice in L.A.

A dramatic agenda for regional change is outlined in a new report that attacks systemic racism and lays out a roadmap for transformation centered in racial equity. “No Going Back: Together for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles” offers 10 guiding principles on issues such as housing, economic justice, mental and physical health, youth and immigration. It includes dozens of policy recommendations that include:

  • establishing high-speed internet as a civil right;
  • equal access to services regardless of immigration status;
  • a housing-for-all strategy to end homelessness in Los Angeles.

“Many of us have spent our careers enabling broken, racist systems, and this moment calls us to create something better,” said Miguel Santana, chair of the Committee for Greater LA, a diverse group of civic and community leaders who joined with a joint USC/UCLA research team, backed by local philanthropy, to address the racial disparities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The report, written by Dean Gary Segura of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and Manuel Pastor of USC’s Equity Research Institute, seeks solutions that will advance racial equity, increase accountability and spark a broad civic conversation about L.A.’s future. “This is uncharted territory,” Segura said. “We can’t use the structures of the past as a basis for the future. We need new systems, better accountability and a clear vision of the Los Angeles that we want to become.”

Loukaitou-Sideris on Making Urban Neighborhoods More Livable

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured on KPPC’s Take Two discussing the lasting impact of racist policies such as redlining in urban neighborhoods. A recent New York Times report found that formerly redlined neighborhoods experience some of the highest temperatures in the summer. Loukaitou-Sideris explained how the now-illegal practice of redlining, which classified some communities as “least desirable for investment,” facilitated segregation as banks refused home loans and insurance to low-income and minority people who lived there. According to Loukaitou-Sideris, “greenery and trees are the best way to protect from the urban heat island effect,” but disinvestment in high-density areas generally means less money to spend on planting, watering and maintenance of trees. “We need to do something to make these neighborhoods more livable,” Loukaitou-Sideris said in the segment beginning at minute 17. She proposed using empty and underutilized lots for green spaces and increasing city funding for tree planting and maintenance.


Yaroslavsky on Vision for a Cultural Hub in Downtown L.A.

A Los Angeles Times commentary arguing for stepped-up investment in a downtown L.A. arts scene as a way to rebound from the economic devastation of COVID-19 sought insights from Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. Envisioning a “democratic gathering place for arts and ideas” centered around the monumental Grand Avenue complex now under construction, the author called for building out the area with new and renovated concert venues, car-free stretches and outdoor cultural events accessible to all. Yaroslavsky, known as a supporter of the arts in his decades as a city councilman and county supervisor, endorsed this vision of Grand Avenue for the future but cautioned that it is too soon to expect governments to invest heavily.

Nothing Uglier Than Redistricting, Yaroslavsky Says

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavksy spoke with KPCC’s Airtalk about the process of redistricting in relation to recent corruption charges against suspended City Council member Jose Huizar. Every 10 years, district lines are redrawn to reflect changes in population based on the census, and some have noted that the shuffling of districts gave Huizar a large swath of Los Angeles’ asset-rich downtown. “There’s nothing uglier or more difficult than the redistricting process every 10 years,” said Yaroslavsky, who described the political and sentimental factors at play. Most elected officials “want to keep as much of their district as they can” and some have close ties to the neighborhoods and constituents they may have represented for a decade or more. When politicians redistrict for themselves, self-interest can play a role, but Yaroslavsky also noted that there are “unintended consequences of so-called independent commissions.” He concluded, “There is no perfect system for redistricting.” 


II&D Research Cited in L.A. Proposal to Forgive Household Debt

News reports about a Los Angeles City Council member’s proposal to forgive the household debt of Angelenos hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic cited a report on the risk of widespread evictions compiled by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D). Councilman David Ryu pointed to the research in making a case for the debt relief proposal, which would be funded through the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility program, part of the federal CARES Act. “If we don’t deal with this crisis now, it will create an avalanche of homelessness and a generation of people buried in debt, and Los Angeles will pay the price for decades to come,” Ryu said. News outlets covering the proposal include the Larchmont Buzz, Los Feliz Ledger and Beverly Press. The II&D report was also recently cited by the Los Angeles Daily News and Pasadena Now.


 

Lens Weighs In on Suit Against L.A. Development

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s decision to sue the city of Los Angeles over real estate developments related to Councilman Jose Huizar, who has been charged with bribery, money laundering and racketeering. The lawsuit aims to block at least four city projects tied to Huizar and former Councilman Mitchell Englander that have allegedly violated California’s Political Reform Act. The AIDS nonprofit has been vocal on housing and development issues in the state. Some critics questioned whether the new lawsuit was an attempt by the foundation to slow or stop local development, regardless of its merits. Lens, who opposed a 2017 ballot measure championed by the foundation to crack down on “mega projects,” told the Los Angeles Times that “this seems to be a convenient excuse for them to say, once again, ‘We need to stop development.’”


Yaroslavsky Remembers L.A. City Council Advisor Ron Deaton

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times in remembrance of his longtime friend Ron Deaton, who died this week at 77 years old. Deaton worked in L.A. government for over 40 years, including serving as the city’s chief legislative analyst from 1993 to 2004. He advised the 15-member City Council on ballot measures, public works projects and the protracted fight over whether the San Fernando Valley should secede from Los Angeles and become its own city. When the mayor and council were at odds, or council members weren’t speaking to each other, Deaton served as a valuable go-between, Yaroslavsky said, adding, “People trusted him because, at the end of the day, he loved the city. He loved governance.” Deaton showed newly elected council members how the city worked and how they could be more effective. “If you wanted to get something done, you went to [Deaton],” Yaroslavsky said.


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