After Years of Study, Parking Reform Gaining Ground

A Wall Street Journal piece on the growing number of U.S. cities rethinking the amount of space set aside for parking cited several UCLA Luskin experts. The article highlighted research by Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, that found that a 1999 ordinance exempting builders from adding new parking spots in downtown Los Angeles allowed them to add more residential units at a lower cost. Another study by Gregory Pierce, now co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, and C.J. Gabbe, currently a visiting scholar at the center, found that costs associated with parking mandates are often passed on to consumers through higher rents or retail prices, even as many of the spots go unused. Donald Shoup, the urban planning scholar who pioneered the field of parking research, summed up the efforts to reform parking policies: “The Dutch have reclaimed land from the sea, and I think we can reclaim land from parking.”


Pierce on Growing Threats to Clean Water

Gregory Pierce, director of the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to media outlets across the country about vulnerable infrastructure threatening access to clean water. A CalMatters article on questionable state oversight of mobile home parks in California cited Pierce’s research showing a high level of dirty drinking water, particularly at parks that run their own water systems. “I can tell you, especially from talking to people who are supposed to be overseeing and trying to fix issues where people don’t have clean water in the state, mobile home park-run water systems stand out,” he said. Pierce also spoke with WHYY in Philadelphia about the impact of climate change, including drought and sea level rise, on water safety. “I think every utility is going to have to make adaptations to climate impacts,” he said. “Precipitation patterns … are changing, and they’re changing even faster than we expected.”


Pierce on Long-Term Impact of State’s Wet Winter

As California’s wet winter continues, Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, has helped news outlets make sense of the long-term impact on the state’s water woes. Pierce told the Los Angeles Times that, while water conservation measures should continue indefinitely, some of the most extreme restrictions could be lifted. “We bought ourselves some more time so we don’t need to be in that hyper-emergency, but we’re always in a drought,” he said. Pierce, director of the center’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab, also appeared on the podcast Water Talk to share information about green infrastructure, wastewater equity and the intersection of two of the state’s most pressing needs: clean water and adequate housing. “The biggest issue in the water-housing nexus is how can we build more affordable housing supply in California, which we absolutely need, but do it in places that have enough water and also don’t have too much fire,” he said.


Pierce on Climate Change, Drought and L.A.’s Epic Storm

London’s Guardian newspaper carried news of blizzard conditions that sparked wonder and delight among Southern Californians unaccustomed to winter weather — along with vast power outages, closed highways and other hazards. Greg Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, put the extreme weather event in context, noting that more research is required to determine the role of the climate crisis in setting the stage for the storm. California’s wet winter has created a robust snowpack and higher reservoir levels that will relieve some drought pressures, but “we can’t let up,” Pierce said. “This storm is helping us stay ahead of pace — way ahead of pace than in recent years — but I still think we really need to see more,” he said. “We were in a really extreme place and this [storm] just gets us back to buying a little more time as we make other major investments and continue to harden conservation.”


Callahan on Cleaning Up Polluting Port Traffic

Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Bloomberg News about new business models that could speed the transition to zero-emission freight trucks at California’s ports. Callahan co-authored a study of the heavy-duty diesel trucks that serve Southern California ports, which contribute to dangerous air quality in surrounding low-income communities. “A lot of experts call it the diesel death zone,” Callahan said. “You have these kids going to school adjacent to rail yards and freeways where all these diesel trucks are transporting goods from the ports.” As one result, rates of asthma among children living near the ports are particularly high. New policies are expected to phase out diesel trucks and replace them with electric vehicles, but there are challenges involving cost, charging infrastructure, and a complicated landscape of rebates and incentives. Startup companies are now emerging to provide electric trucks to small businesses on a subscription or leasing plan.


Pierce on End to Water, Power Shutoffs for Low-Income Angelenos

A Los Angeles Times story on the decision by local utility officials to halt shutoffs of water and power for low-income customers who can’t pay their bills cited Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The story cited research from the center showing that Los Angeles’ communities of color were disproportionately affected by utility debt and shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Protection from utility shutoffs for those enrolled in low-income discount programs will help lessen the debt burden for [L.A. Department of Water and Power’s] most vulnerable customers,” said Pierce, who leads UCLA’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. Pierce comments frequently on issues of water access and equity, including in a USA Today fact-checking article on false claims that water scarcity is an illusion. Climate change has created weather extremes, he said, but excess water in one place doesn’t help another place that’s parched by drought.

Pierce on Misconceptions About Prop. 30

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Vice about Proposition 30, the measure to fight climate change by taxing the rich, which was defeated at the polls. The California initiative, which would have added a 1.75% tax to income over $2 million to fund the transition to electric vehicles and fight wildfires, was opposed by a coalition that called Prop. 30 a scheme by the ride-hailing company Lyft to secure a huge taxpayer subsidy. Pierce said that characterization was inaccurate. “There’s nothing about Lyft drivers or Lyft, or anything in particular benefiting them except that Lyft drivers have vehicles like other folks who might benefit from a lot more money for EVs,” he said. Pierce noted, however, that the measure’s lack of clarity on how revenues would be spent was a legitimate concern. The need to reduce emissions is urgent, but money spent on the wrong programs would not help the crisis.

At the Intersection of Extreme Heat, Urban Planning and Public Policy

News outlets covering the effects of extreme heat on California communities have put a spotlight on UCLA Luskin’s wide-ranging research on climate change. CapRadio and the Sacramento Bee spoke with V. Kelly Turner, who studies the intersection of extreme heat and urban planning and has witnessed the inequitable impact of dangerously high temperatures on low-income communities. The Los Angeles Times spoke to Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, about the lack of shade provided at thousands of bus stops across Los Angeles County. He urged officials to follow the lead of desert cities that use trees, street furniture and shade canopies to protect transit riders from the harsh climate. And the Southern California Association of Governments shared a live demonstration of the California Healthy Places Index: Extreme Heat Edition, developed through a partnership including the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation to teach communities about heat vulnerability and resources available to them.


Megan Mullin Becomes an Endowed Chair and Faculty Director at UCLA Luskin Environmental politics scholar joins Luskin Center for Innovation leadership team as urgent climate change challenges face California and the country

By Stan Paul and Michelle Einstein

Megan Mullin an award-winning scholar of American political institutions and behavior, focusing on environmental politics —  has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, filling two endowed roles. 

In January, she joined the faculty of UCLA Public Policy as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Endowed Professor of Innovation and Sustainability. Mullin, currently a professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has also been appointed the new faculty director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. Meyer and Renee Luskin recently endowed both the professorship and faculty director roles.

“Megan Mullin is a unique scholar whose work, at the intersection of environmental protection and the policy process, is perfectly suited to take the Center for Innovation to the next level,” said Gary Segura, former dean of the Luskin School.

Mullin’s appointment comes amid challenges facing California and the country relating to heat, drought and wildfires related to climate change. The path to solutions is steeped in politics from the level of local communities to the nation’s capital.

“I explore environmental policies that are just, effective and environmentally sustainable. Governance research can help ensure that policies are successfully implemented,” Mullin said.

Her areas of research include the governance and finance of urban water services, public opinion about climate change and the local politics of climate adaptation. 

“Megan understands the factors necessary for action – from the role of public opinion and elections, to how environmental policy is affected by the complex layers of American federalism,” said Public Policy chair Mark A. Peterson. “My colleagues and I are thrilled that Megan will be joining our department as she also takes on the faculty director role at the Luskin Center for Innovation.”

As faculty director, Mullin plans to build upon the center’s work solving environmental challenges through collaborative, actionable research.

“I’m delighted to help advance the Luskins’ vision of bringing UCLA’s expertise to confront our biggest public challenges. The center is bringing that vision to life by collaborating with decision-makers and community members to make on-the-ground impact in environmental policy,” Mullin said. “I look forward to joining that important work and furthering it.”  

Mullin brings a breadth of qualifications for the position. In addition to her role at the Nicholas School, she also held appointments at Duke’s Department of Political Science and Sanford School of Public Policy. Mullin is a 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow and serves on the leadership team for C-CoAST, a National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary initiative to study human-natural interactions in coastal systems. Recipient of five awards from the American Political Science Association, she earned a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley.

“Megan is one of the nation’s most esteemed social scientists addressing the local politics of inequitable access to clean water and climate adaptation,” said Gregory Pierce, formerly the acting co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “She will increase our local and national impact through her scholarly and community-engaged understanding of how to affect change at a critical time.”

In a recent article in Nature, Mullin explained why Americans have been slow to respond to the climate crisis and argued that “it is time to bring political knowledge to bear on decisions about protecting people from its consequences.”

Mullin envisions expanding upon the center’s work with a governance lens. Her research aims to understand political feasibility. Specifically, Mullin wants to increase the Luskin Center’s influence on environmental policies in California and more recent work on the national stage. 

“There are so many lessons learned from California’s environmental innovations that can be applied elsewhere,” Mullin said. “That’s not just about helping California learn, but also understanding what’s transportable to different contexts.” 

“She will bring an integrated set of research skills, teaching experience and policy impact that’s a fantastic fit,” said Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law at UCLA. 

Mullin plans to start teaching courses in the spring quarter and said she believes that students are an important bridge for research and practice. 

“And yes, I really love teaching and mentoring students,” Mullin said. “That’s an excitement about Luskin – the extent to which the center is integrating students into so many different parts of its activities.” 

She also welcomes the Luskin School’s focus on the intersection of policy, planning and social welfare. “That intersection is a powerful combination to understand environmental policy at the local level,” Mullin said. “For instance, confronting climate change also requires thinking about housing and social services. And considering how communities have enormously different risks and capacities. This is a unique opportunity to bring all of those pieces together.” 

Mullin is the recipient of a Duke University award for excellence in graduate student mentoring. She teaches and advises students in the areas of environmental politics, local politics and water governance in the United States.

“So many of my former students are now out working in environmental professions, and that’s how I understand what challenges they’re confronting. That informs my research agenda. It’s an ongoing conversation,” said Mullin, whose research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Carnegie Corporation, the JEHT Foundation, and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation. 

Mullin’s appointment completed the Luskin Center for Innovation’s leadership transition following the departure of JR DeShazo, the founding faculty director, who was appointed dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in 2021.

As the faculty director of the center, Mullin joined an existing executive team with Pierce,  V. Kelly Turner and Colleen Callahan. Pierce and Callahan continue to serve in executive leadership roles, and Turner is taking on a new leadership role furthering her research on climate action.

Pierce on Heat’s Impact on Quantity, Quality of California’s Water

A Los Angeles Times story about Central Californians who are bearing the brunt of the state’s dwindling water supply cited Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Drought, heat, agriculture and overpumping have parched communities and contaminated water sources. Few anticipated the dire impact of heat on water quality, and some residents are at risk of running out of water entirely, said Pierce, who directs the Center for Innovation’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. On KCRW’s “Press Play” and Minnesota Public Radio, Pierce weighed in on how the state is bracing for an expected 10% loss in water supplies over the next two decades. Radical proposals include a giant pipeline ferrying Mississippi River water across the Rockies, but that would be prohibitively expensive and politically untenable, he said. More feasible approaches include calling on consumers to step up conservation, expanding stormwater capture and wastewater recycling, and cleaning up contaminated groundwater.