An Equity-Focused Transition to Clean Energy in L.A.

Media coverage of UCLA’s LA100 Equity Strategies report, which will help the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power meet its goal of prioritizing equity as it transitions to renewable energy sources, featured several members of the UCLA Luskin community. Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, which produced the report’s chapter on energy affordability, addressed the DWP’s goal of transitioning to 100% carbon-neutral power by 2035 on KCRW’s Greater L.A. “I’m fairly optimistic that the city will get there, but it needs to move really quickly,” Pierce said. The report, which featured research from across the UCLA campus, was also highlighted in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times. Their stories cited Stephanie Pincetl UP PhD ’85, a professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and Cynthia McClain-Hill, president of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners and a member of the UCLA Luskin Board of Advisors.


Turner on Schools’ Potential to Provide an Oasis From Heat

An LAist article on efforts to increase green spaces on Los Angeles school campuses to provide cool relief in a warming world cited V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. By 2050, parts of L.A. that are prone to extreme heat could see at least 30 additional days with temperatures above 90 degrees. Turner said it’s important to think about schools as community resources, especially for kids who come from historically disinvested and disadvantaged communities. “If kids live in a home without air conditioning or a cool place to go on hot days, then come to school, which also lacks cooling inside and shade outside, their core body temperatures are never getting down to safe levels,” said Turner, an associate professor of urban planning. “That’s going to cause them to have difficulty concentrating … and it’s going to be very, very hard for a child to learn in that context.”


Pierce on Water Safety Near Tustin Hangar Fire

An LAist story on contaminated debris from a massive fire at a World War II-era hangar in Tustin cited Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Lead, arsenic and asbestos have been detected in some ash and debris tested in the air and on the ground. While some groundwater has been contaminated, toxins are unlikely to make their way into drinking water systems, the story noted. Pierce, who directs the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab, said he has confidence in local water suppliers and official monitoring bodies to manage any potentially toxic effects from the fire on the water system. He added that the volume of toxic sediment that could reach waterways is likely small and diffuse and therefore unlikely to have a big impact on surface water quality.


L.A. Asks How to Equitably Achieve 100% Clean Energy by 2035 — and UCLA Answers Luskin School research centers join cross-campus effort to guide LADWP strategies centered on equity and justice

By Mara Elana Burstein

In 2021, after the LA100 analysis laid out pathways for the city of Los Angeles to produce 100% renewable electricity, the City Council and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power committed to pursuing the most ambitious — and expensive — scenario: achieving the goal by 2035 at a cost of nearly $40 billion.

But cost is far from the only challenge. Facing a legacy of inequity within the city’s energy system, the LADWP turned to UCLA researchers to develop strategies for pursuing clean energy without perpetuating social, racial and economic injustices.

Five teams convened by the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge answered the call, bringing together more than 20 UCLA faculty and researchers with expertise in engineering, environmental science, law, labor studies, public health and urban policy. Working with researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which offered computing power and technical capacity, these scholars provided a deep local context, as well as behavioral, social and political expertise, to help Los Angeles ensure a more just transition.

The release of their two-year study, the LA100 Equity Strategies report, was announced today at a press conference at LADWP headquarters downtown, where Mayor Karen Bass’ “Powered by Equity” initiative, based on the report’s findings, was also unveiled.

“We have an opportunity to be innovative and bold,” Bass said in a press release. “We have an opportunity to shape our clean energy future in a manner that delivers benefits to community residents and our LADWP customers in the neighborhoods where they live. We’re making a conscious decision to take intentional clean energy actions that are ‘Powered by Equity,’ as recommended by the newly released LA100 Equity Strategies research study.”

Stephanie Pincetl, a co-author of the report and director of the UCLA California Center for Sustainable Communities, welcomed the initiative, which will kick off with a LADWP project to build, operate and maintain a network of electric vehicle charging stations in underserved communities.

“No other utility in the United States has made a commitment to not only 100% renewable but making sure it’s implemented equitably,” said Pincetl, who earned a PhD in urban planning from UCLA in 1985. “This is the power of a municipal utility, a utility owned by and for its customers.”

The UCLA authors of LA100 Equity Strategies found that significant changes will be necessary to prevent the energy system’s injustices from increasing both during and after the transition, particularly for underserved communities of color, which currently bear the brunt of bad air quality, extreme heat and electrical outages. Without mitigation, these communities are projected to pay more for energy and experience fewer benefits over time.

To that end, UCLA’s approach has been justice-centered, providing community-informed, evidence-driven strategies and recommendations on affordability and policy solutions, air quality and public health, green jobs and workforce development, and housing and buildings.

The cost of electricity will rise with the transition to clean energy, with average electricity bills predicted to increase by nearly 80% for households overall and by more than 130% for low-income households by 2035. Addressing those rate hikes has been a key goal for UCLA researchers.

The work of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, supported by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, provides specific recommendations for robust, long-term structural solutions to improve LADWP customers’ ability to pay their energy bills. These include addressing regulations that constrain rate affordability and continuing to explore and scale up innovative approaches to support affordability for ratepayers.

“Affordability is a key equity concern for all LADWP stakeholders, and protections for lower-income customers must be expanded,” said Gregory Pierce, a report co-author and research director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “And as exposure to extreme heat increases, universal access to residential cooling is essential.”

The UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute analyzed aspects of energy affordability for small ethnic-owned businesses. They recommended that the LADWP partner with community-based organizations to better engage with these businesses.

Other projects, led by teams from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and UCLA California Center for Sustainable Cities, focused on improving air quality, promoting green jobs abd equitable workforce development, and proving energy upgrades to housing and other buildings, many of them in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Achieving the city’s carbon-neutral goal equitably requires intentional, community-informed, bold decisions adapted over time, and UCLA will continue to work with the LADWP and local communities on these efforts.

Importantly, the researchers say, UCLA’s methods, tools, insights and strategies not only support the LADWP’s efforts but can be used other cities seeking a just energy transition.

In addition to Pincetl and Pierce, the UCLA teams were led by Paul Ong, director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge; Yifang Zhu, professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of North America Integration and Development Center at UCLA; and Abel Valenzuela Jr., interim dean of social sciences and professor at the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Read the full story.

Learn more about the Luskin Center for Innovation’s recommendations for how to expand protections for low-income customers.

Turner on Cities’ Strategies for Staying Cool

V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Spectrum News about the importance of shade in providing relief from rising temperatures. “Shade is the most effective way we have to keep people cool outside,” said Turner, an associate professor of urban planning. “All else equal, someone standing in shade can be 20 to 40 degrees Celsius cooler than somebody standing in the full sun. And so we need to think of ways that include trees and non-tree shade structures to keep people cool.” Turner also spoke to CalMatters about artificial turf as a replacement for lawns, noting that the synthetic material can trap heat, at times making it hotter than asphalt. And she spoke to Grist about one downside of the use of cool-pavement technology: When the sun is at its highest, heat reflected off its surface can actually be absorbed by the people and structures nearby.


Mullin on the Contradictions of Central California’s Climate Emergency

Megan Mullin, faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the San Joaquin Valley, where flagging resilience to drought, floods and heat have made it one of the front lines of climate change in America. The region is also the center of oil and gas production in California and skews conservative, creating many internal contradictions, said Mullin, co-author of a recent paper that found that climate change is projected to disproportionately affect Republican voters. The valley’s residents are “getting messages that action on climate is jeopardizing their well-being, jeopardizing their livelihoods,” she said, yet at the same time they face dried-up wells, dreadful air quality, huge flood risks and other perils. Mullin did point to Fresno as one area that is making climate gains through the state’s Transformative Climate Communities program, which funds hyper-local projects in places that have been disproportionately affected by legacy pollution and other environmental hazards.


Researchers Equip Policymakers to Protect Students From Extreme Heat

Extreme heat is a growing problem for California’s schools. Classroom and schoolyard temperatures can reach unhealthy levels and prevent students from learning, playing and thriving on hot days — especially in certain school districts, as illustrated in a heat mapping tool created by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) and the Public Health Alliance of Southern California. To present a simple starting point for policymakers and the public to understand the problem and potential solutions, researchers at LCI put together a resource kit that includes accessible fact sheets and infographics. In addition, the kit highlights five recommended actions for the state:

  1. Collect data to track how schools experience extreme heat and the status of cooling interventions to understand needs.
  2. Establish a statewide indoor temperature limit for schools based on children’s risk and effects on learning.
  3. Mitigate heat exposure in schoolyards through evidence-based engineered and nature-based solutions.
  4. Manage heat exposure in schools through informed behavioral interventions.
  5. Identify funding gaps and inconsistencies that should be addressed for effective, targeted heat mitigation.

Read LCI’s policy brief about how extreme heat affects students, and find related research on the center’s Heat Equity page.


On Palm Trees and Climate Resiliency

A Los Angeles Times article on cities reconsidering the value of Southern California’s iconic palm trees checked in with V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Planting trees is a key element of many climate resiliency plans, but the towering palms don’t provide much shade or sequester carbon well. “A pole on the side of the street isn’t providing much shade. And a palm tree is kind of similar,” said Turner, whose work focuses on how cities adapt to hotter conditions. The article pointed to Center for Innovation research showing that shade can reduce heat stress in the human body from 25% to 30% throughout the day. Turner also spoke to Resources Radio about how heat impacts U.S. schools. The conversation touched on architectural and landscape design choices that can mitigate hot temperatures, funding sources for improving infrastructure and issues of equity in allocating such resources to schools. 


‘A Ticking Time Bomb’ for California’s Water Systems

Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about failing water systems in California, which raise the risk of serious health issues for about 1 million residents. Concern over the availability of clean drinking water has grown as drought and climate change threaten traditional sources. “It’s a bit of a ticking time bomb,” said Pierce, who directs the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. Many water systems must take urgent steps or “they’ll be out of compliance and be failing” under new regulations that will soon be in place. The article also cited Max Gomberg MPP ’07, a consultant working with environmental justice advocates. “I think with enough resources, money, people and political will, the human right to water is absolutely achievable in California,” Gomberg said. “But it’s going to take all of that to a degree that has not been provided in the 11 years since the Human Right to Water Act was passed.”


Mullin on ‘Glimmers of Possibility’ on Climate Action

News outlets including Ethnic Media Services, The Hill, La Opinión and Peninsula 360 Press covered research by UCLA Luskin’s Megan Mullin about the entrenched political divide that has impeded action on climate change — as well as signals that the logjam is starting to break. “I am seeing glimmers of possibility that climate action may yet be underway even as American climate politics remains firmly in the grip of polarization,” said Mullin, professor of public policy and faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, at a briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services. Not only are Republican-led states seeing growing levels of clean-energy production, she said, but many heavily Republican areas of the country are at high risk for the worst effects of climate change. Mullin also cited the climate change literacy of younger generations, which is “leaps and bounds beyond the literacy of older generations, and that translates into smaller divides, even among young Republicans.”