A Guardian story on the harmful impact of extreme heat on communities of color cited research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park. Data from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that U.S. counties with large Black and Latino populations experience a disproportionately high number of days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the article said. Research by Park, an environmental economist at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, focuses on the effect of extreme heat on students’ ability to learn. His analysis of data from 10 million U.S. students over 15 years found that minority and low-income students who attend schools that lack air conditioning are particularly vulnerable. “Adapting to climate change is a matter of racial and economic justice, especially in schools,” said Park, who also discussed his research in an interview with America Adapts, beginning at minute 3:18.
When it comes to beating the Southern California heat, small-scale interventions can have a big impact. If you’ve ever waited for the bus on a hot summer day, you’ve felt how a shady tree or a covered bus shelter can help keep you cool. Despite these tangible benefits, few studies have focused on micro-scale, or street-level, interventions to reduce heat for pedestrians and transit riders. A new grant from the California Strategic Growth Council will fund a UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analysis of these micro-scale cooling strategies to mitigate heat at bus stops and other streetscapes. V. Kelly Turner, assistant professor of urban planning and associate director of the Center for Innovation, will lead the project, which aims to empower communities, particularly disadvantaged and heat-vulnerable communities, to cost-effectively design cooling solutions for pedestrians and transit riders. This focus on active transportation can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution while creating climate-resilient neighborhoods. Community-engaged research will center on four historically disadvantaged areas that are vulnerable to extreme heat — Pacoima, Watts/South Los Angeles, Ontario/Inland Valley and Oasis/Coachella Valley. These communities represent a range of climate zones and built environment forms in Southern California. The project, part of the Center for Innovation’s large body of climate adaptation and resiliency research, will also leverage ongoing partnerships among UCLA, Kounkuey Design Initiative and the state’s Transformative Climate Communities program. — Michelle Einstein
By Mary Braswell
Los Angeles’ ambitious plan to cool the city as the planet grows warmer is getting a boost from two university professors and a street-smart robot named MaRTy.
The researchers, from UCLA and Arizona State University, have completed the first on-site evaluation of the city’s Cool Streets program, one of several sustainability strategies outlined in Los Angeles’ 2019 Green New Deal.
By covering several blocks of road with a solar-reflective coating engineered to reduce surface temperatures, the city’s pilot program aims to test the cooling effects on an entire neighborhood. The researchers broadened the body of knowledge by collecting a sophisticated suite of measurements that simulate the experience of a pedestrian walking on the surface.
“Once you take things down to the street level, arguably you have to start thinking about the thermal load on people,” said V. Kelly Turner of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who collaborated with Ariane Middel of ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering.
The reflective coating aims to prevent asphalt from retaining heat, which contributes to the “urban heat island effect” that keeps cities from cooling down, even in the evening. But the study by Turner and Middel, newly published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, reveals an unintended, ground-level effect: The paint’s highly reflective properties can actually elevate pedestrians’ exposure to heat.
Imagine a scene that has become increasingly common as Angelenos shelter in place: families taking neighborhood walks, often with a dog in tow. On a coated road, the dog might appreciate the cooler surface beneath its paws. But the dog walkers might feel an uptick in heat reflected off the ground.
“From an urban planning perspective, this idea of cool pavements is really innovative. Cool streets may be great for mitigating the urban heat island, if that’s the goal,” said Turner, who noted that the widespread use of the reflective paint on roofs, roads and other surfaces can reduce the amount of heat absorbed in the built environment.
However, she added, “If the goal is framed in terms of a public health benefit, we need to know a bit more, since the reflected radiation increases the heat load on a pedestrian walking over the surface.”
Turner and Middel hope their initial findings will open the door to further research that will help the public and private sectors fine-tune their green initiatives. In addition to gathering more information about cooling paint’s impact on human comfort and health, future studies could answer questions about cost-effectiveness, maintenance needs and the tradeoff between daytime glare and nighttime visibility, they said.
Putting MaRTy into action
To collect their cool pavement data, Turner and Middel took MaRTy for a spin on the streets of two Los Angeles neighborhoods chosen for the pilot project.
The robot is “essentially a garden cart that has a lot of meteorological sensors attached to it,” said Middel, who created the tool at ASU’s SHaDE Lab to calculate “mean radiant temperature” — the data set that gives MaRTy his name.
In addition to measuring surface and air temperature, wind speed and humidity, the robot collects information on long- and short-wave radiation to determine mean radiant temperature, which is a reliable predictor of thermal comfort for humans. MaRTy is also nimble enough to trundle along sidewalks, ravines or other locations where a pedestrian might wander, setting him apart from measurement tools mounted on street vehicles.
On a day in July 2019 when air temperatures hit the high 80s, the research team walked the blocks of the two neighborhoods, in Pacoima and Sun Valley, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. They found that the coated roadways were cooler to the touch, by as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with nearby untreated asphalt — meaning the paint successfully lowered surface temperature, as it was designed to.
However, Turner and Middel also discovered that mean radiant temperatures at midday were more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in a five-foot–high area above the cool surfaces, compared with asphalt. In the midafternoon, that number fell to about 3 degrees.
While Los Angeles’ Cool Streets program targets roads designed for cars rather than people, the study provides useful data for agencies considering the cooling paint for playgrounds or other pedestrian areas.
Turner and Middel say the findings will also inform their separate, ongoing study supporting California’s Transformative Climate Communities program, which invests in climate action at the local level. Both of the researchers’ projects were underwritten by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, where Turner is associate director of urban environment research.
Greg Spotts, chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services, said he welcomes the on-the-ground findings produced by Turner, Middel and MaRTy and called for further study.
“By being the first municipality in California, and possibly the country, to deploy a cool pavement coating on a public street, we now have physical sites where researchers can do some of their work. Before, most of the research was based on computer modeling,” he said.
Spotts, who earned his master’s in public policy at UCLA Luskin in 2008, spearheaded the cool pavement project as one part of a multipronged strategy to combat climate change at the neighborhood level. To date, the Bureau of Street Services has planted trees, built shade structures and installed hydration stations, among other interventions.
Future research could explore how cool pavement works in combination with these complementary measures to reduce the overall heat island effect on a community scale while also increasing pedestrian thermal comfort at the street level.
Turner and Middel concurred that climate change must be tackled from multiple directions.
“There is not just one solution that’s going to solve all our problems,” Middel said. “We have to look at the benefits and tradeoffs of all the solutions we’re considering to come up with the best way to cool our cities.”
By Colleen Callahan
The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) has supported the launch of California’s innovative Transformative Climate Communities Program (TCC), one of the world’s most comprehensive sets of investments in local climate action. This includes developing the evaluation plan to track progress and evaluate outcomes from investments that could serve as a global model for community-scale climate action.
Now, inaugural progress reports for the first communities awarded TCC grants — Fresno, Ontario and Watts in Los Angeles — are authored by LCI researchers. These reports, and other resources related to LCI’s tracking of the groundbreaking efforts in local climate action, are centralized on a new TCC resource page. Policymakers, community stakeholders, researchers and others interested in local strategies to combat climate change can use this page to monitor progress, best practices and lessons learned over the five-year TCC grant implementation period that began in the spring of 2019.
The program to fund the development and implementation of neighborhood-level transformative plans that include multiple projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was authorized by Assembly Bill 2722 in 2016. In addition to fighting climate change, the program empowers disadvantaged communities impacted by poverty and pollution to support projects that advance their local economic, environmental and health goals.
“TCC may be the most holistic investment in neighborhood-scale and community-driven climate action anywhere on the planet,” said Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project manager of UCLA’s TCC evaluation. “Lessons learned from this new program could have potentially broad implications for climate action elsewhere.”
The California Strategic Growth Council serves as the lead administrator of TCC and awarded the first round of grants to Fresno ($66.5 million), Ontario ($33.25 million) and the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles ($33.25 million).
Communities are empowered to customize their projects and plans based on their priorities and partnerships. The program includes mechanisms for accountability, including oversight from community members as well as third-party evaluation from academic researchers.
The team at the Luskin Center for Innovation and a similar group from the UC Berkeley Center for Resource Efficient Communities comprised the evaluation team for round 1 of TCC grants. UCLA researchers will take on a fourth TCC site for evaluation, Northeast Valley Los Angeles, during round 2 of TCC implementation.
The evaluation team worked with Fresno, Ontario and Watts stakeholders to create the Transformative Climate Communities Evaluation Plan, which UCLA published in late 2018. This research roadmap is being used to track and assess progress and results over a five-year period in those communities.
Now, UCLA has released the first annual report spanning the initial months of grant implementation.These reports highlight a wealth of data, including community conditions that could change during the five years of TCC implementation. Baseline trends relate to demographic, economic, energy, environmental, health, housing and transportation conditions.
“This first set of reports also documents progress on TCC implementation to date, including project milestones and personal stories of how TCC investments are affecting the lives of people who live and work in the pilot communities,” Karpman said. “This includes the voices of resident leaders in Ontario working to implement the site’s community engagement plan, a job trainee in Fresno learning how to install solar panels, and a high school student in Watts helping to expand a community garden.”
The first set of annual reports focuses on the period following the initial announcement of the TCC awards in 2018 through June 2019, which includes the first few months of project implementation. Common milestones across the three sites include laying the foundation for grant success, establishing partnerships and a governance structure, and launching new local initiatives around health, economic development and the environment.
UCLA’s page includes a number of other resources. Photos of residents and project staff show them working to bring their communities’ vision to reality. Supplemental methodological documentation such as open source code is available for those seeking to replicate findings. And staff bios show the evaluators involved with the project.
TCC is part of a suite of efforts, known as California Climate Investments, funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program. It unifies many of the California Climate Investments project types into a single, place-based initiative. Specifically, TCC funds the following project types:
- construction of affordable housing near transit;
- installation of rooftop solar and energy efficiency improvements for homes;
- purchase of electric vehicles, including buses, that can run on clean energy instead of fossil fuels;
- expansion of bus service coverage or frequency;
- improvement and expansion of bike lanes and sidewalks;
- planting of trees along bike and pedestrian routes and near buildings;
- implementation of waste diversion programs, such as the collection and reuse of food waste and neighborhood-scale composting.
To maximize the benefits of these types of projects, grantees also must develop and implement the following transformative plans:
- a community engagement plan to ensure TCC investments reflect the vision and goals of community members;
- a workforce development plan to bring economic opportunities to disadvantaged and low-income communities;
- a displacement avoidance plan to minimize the risk of gentrification and displacement of residents and businesses following neighborhood improvements.
By Colleen Callahan
A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) found significant disparities in the quality, affordability and accessibility of water across Los Angeles County. However, the number of health-related water-quality violations in the county is quite low compared to other parts of Southern California, the researchers concluded.
The study evaluated the county’s more than 200 water systems and compared current data to findings published in LCI’s 2015 water atlas. The progress report flags interventions that may be necessary to continue improvements and address persistent problems. Los Angeles County is working with state and federal agencies to respond to several systems that incurred repeated water-quality violations.
A 2012 state law (Assembly Bill 685) establishes that all Californians have the right to safe, affordable and accessible water – referred to as the “human right to water.” Yet this right is not a reality for everyone in L.A. County, due primarily to differences in community water systems that directly provide water to residents and businesses.
“The goal is to give systems operators, regulators and residents the most current and comprehensive picture of water system performance in order to identify what systems are in need of interventions,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of LCI and lead author on the report. “Despite momentum, urgent attention is needed to address water system problems.” Pierce also teaches urban planning at UCLA Luskin.
System performance overview
While most systems in L.A. County provide sufficient levels of safe and affordable water to their customers, many small systems – particularly mobile home parks, RV parks and mutual water systems – are most at risk for having technical, managerial and financial challenges that lead to poor outcomes related to quality, affordability and accessibility.
There are fewer active community water systems today than five years ago. The reduction of apparently 10% of systems in L.A. County suggests that some have consolidated, which reflects progress in reducing water system sprawl that results in many small, low-capacity systems at higher risk of underperformance.
Compared to other counties in Southern California, the number of health-related water-quality violations in L.A. County is low, particularly on a per capita basis.
The report found great disparity in how much residents pay for water across systems. For an amount of water sufficient for a family of four, rates today range from $26 to $134 per month.
Few systems report producing less than the standard set in the “human right to water” legislation — 55 gallons per person per day. However, systems in Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley were most likely to face declining groundwater levels. Increasing population, changing precipitation patterns under climate change and other factors pose challenges.
“In addition to the state’s efforts, more regional, local and system-level work will be necessary to ensure the human right to water for all,” said Kyra Gmoser-Daskalakis, a researcher at LCI and co-author of the report.
Nicholas Chow, a project manager with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, shared how he found a career path combining STEM fields and policy during a panel for students from USC Hybrid High School in downtown Los Angeles. The event was sponsored by the nonprofit Pacific Council on International Policy as part of an educational outreach aimed at cultivating the next generation of global leaders. Freshman and sophomores from the school, which serves a predominantly minority population, heard from five speakers who explained the broad policy impact of their work in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Chow talked about his lifelong love of water, which spurred him to travel all over the world and ultimately led him to the Center for Innovation, where he manages water engineering projects. He earned his master’s in civil and environmental engineering at UCLA in 2016. The council’s report on the career panel noted that the students “heard and saw how people who look like them, have the same hair as them, or even grew up in the same kinds of neighborhoods as they did can succeed and thrive in STEM fields.”
By Colleen Callahan
California is the only state to legally recognize a human right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. But this right is not yet a reality in all communities. About 400 water systems in California are currently known to be noncompliant, with many others suspected of being at high risk of violating quality or affordability standards.
Through a $3 million contract with the California State Water Resources Board, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) will conduct a statewide drinking water needs analysis to identify risks and solutions for water systems and private wells throughout the state.
LCI, which unites UCLA scholars and civic leaders to solve environmental challenges, will analyze the technical, managerial and financial capacity of hundreds of systems that provide drinking water to Californians, which has never been done comprehensively before. The center will start with the state’s existing database of noncompliant water systems and will also identify systems at risk of future violations.
“About 90% of California’s public water system violations occur in systems serving less than 500 service connections, underscoring the inherent risk of small size and lack of capacity,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and lead researcher on the analysis.
The center will develop a method for assessing different types of drinking water risks, then evaluate solutions for those risks. Recommendations will be tailored for each water system and private well in violation or at risk of violation. Interventions could include:
- Using enhanced treatment technologies.
- Consolidating with a system that has more capacity.
- Providing emergency water during an interim period.
In addition, the center will analyze the costs of interim and long-term strategies, identify the appropriate funding source and determine whether additional funding is needed.
Recognizing that advancing the human right to water must be a collaboration, the LuskinCenter for Innovation will partner with several entities to conduct the analysis. Subcontractors include the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center, Corona Environmental Consulting, Cal State Sacramento’s Office of Water Programs and the nonprofit Pacific Institute. The work is expected to conclude in 2021.
“This work recognizes that California needs to further address the drinking water quality and affordability issues faced by a number of small and medium-sized water systems and private well owners in a more strategic and better-funded way,” Pierce said.
This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 200, which established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to help finance the effort to bring adequate water supplies to disadvantaged communities.
The LCI analysis will help inform the spending plan for SB 200 and other associated funding streams by prioritizing which water systems and wells get funding and determining the best solutions for each community.
For the smallest systems, water safety is a primary concern; for larger systems, the center will focus on affordability. LCI’s previous research identified wide disparities in the cost of water. In Los Angeles County, different rates charged by water providers can lead to average annual water bills that are up to $2,000 higher in some households.
In the years since California enshrined a human right to water in 2012, LCI has supported its implementation. This work includes the design of a statewide water rate assistance program for low-income households, as required by Assembly Bill 401, which then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2015. The center’s report will be released later this year.
In another example of support for sustainable water systems in L.A. County, JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, is serving on an oversight committee for Measure W, which will raise hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes to capture and treat stormwater runoff.
PBS NewsHour took an in-depth look at Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research linking extreme heat and students’ ability to learn. Every 1-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average outdoor temperature over a school year reduces student learning by 1 percent, a team of researchers led by Park found. The team’s analysis of weather data, test scores for 10 million students, and access to air conditioning in classrooms across the country point to a “Dixie divide”: In hotter counties in Florida, Texas and other Southern states, test scores were lower than those in the North, even after controlling for factors such as family income, a county’s economic status or local pollution. “The causal effect of any given 90-degree day was much larger for lower-income students and racial minorities,” added Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation. The study puts a spotlight on the nuanced ways that developed nations will be influenced by global warming.
R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy, spoke with KPCC’s “Take Two” about his research linking extreme heat with the racial education achievement gap. Students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams, Park and his colleagues found. In addition, black and Hispanic students are 9 percent less likely than white students to attend schools with functioning air conditioning, they found. “We know that that can have effects on the economic opportunities that these students can have access to,” Park told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 23:40. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy. “In the meantime,” he said, “we need to protect the most disadvantaged communities from the effects of climate change that are already coming down the pike.” Park’s research was also highlighted in USA Today and the Washington Post.
Policies on air pollution, climate change and water have far-reaching effects on millions of Americans and businesses. Is the Environmental Protection Agency ─ the federal agency whose mission is to protect public health and the environment ─ using the best available economic science when designing and proposing these policies? The newly created External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC) will convene nationally recognized environmental economists to ensure that the EPA has access to the most advanced research.
“Our mission is to provide independent, state-of-the-science advice with regard to the benefits, costs and design of the EPA’s environmental programs,” said JR DeShazo, professor in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who co-chairs the new research organization.
The E-EEAC formed following the dissolution in 2018 of the original Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, which had operated for more than 25 years within the EPA’s science advisory board structure. Like its predecessor, the E-EEAC consists of economists who apply their expertise to analyze the impact of environmental policies.
“The members believe that, despite the retirement of the internal committee, advances in economic research remain crucial to achieving welfare-enhancing environmental policies,” said Mary Evans, professor at Claremont McKenna College and E-EEAC co-chair. “The E-EEAC is especially needed now given the large number of regulatory modifications that EPA has, and will shortly, propose related to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act.”
These policy changes will impact millions of Americans and firms, along with our ecosystems. The E-EEAC’s intent is to operate until the EPA reconstitutes an internal environmental economics advisory committee composed of independent economists. Many of the members of the original committee are now part of E-EEAC, including the co-chairs.
The EPA must comply with statutes and executive orders that explicitly require the agency to assess the costs, benefits and impacts of regulations. Economic expertise and analysis guide this compliance and enhance the quality of public debate about new regulations.
The E-EEAC is structured to provide independent advice from experts in the field of environmental economics. Functioning as a nonpartisan research organization, the E-EEAC intends to make all of its deliberations and findings easily accessible to the EPA and the public.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation have contributed funding to support this endeavor. The Sloan Foundation is a nonprofit philanthropic organization that makes grants primarily to support original research and education related to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is a policy-oriented research center uniting UCLA scholars with civic leaders to solve environmental challenges confronting our community, nation and world.
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