‘Heat Is One of the Greatest Climate Injustices Facing California’

News outlets covering the wilting heat wave now afflicting California called on experts from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, a leading source of research on climate adaptation and resilience. A Los Angeles Times story and editorial about the state’s halting efforts to improve its response to deadly heat waves cited the Center for Innovation’s Colleen Callahan and V. Kelly Turner, along with the center’s report urging a more coordinated approach to California’s climate policies. Turner also spoke with Curbed about soaring temperatures on the nation’s school playgrounds. “Elementary schools tend to be some of the hottest areas in all of the neighborhood,” akin to a parking lot or highway, said Turner, who researches how people experience heat in urban settings. In one study, she clocked a playground slide at 122 degrees on a 93-degree afternoon. Turner also shared her expertise on KPCC’s “Air Talk” and KQED’s “Forum.”


Taking the Measure of L.A.’s ‘Cool Pavement’ Experiment

A CNN story on the climate adaptation strategies used by eight world cities described research conducted by V. Kelly Turner, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The article described Los Angeles’ use of cooling paint on city streets as part of a pilot project to measure the effect on surface and ambient temperatures. Turner, an assistant professor of urban planning, and research partner Ariane Middel of Arizona State University collected data from the project and found that treated street surfaces were cooled by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they also found that heat radiating from the streets elevated temperatures immediately above the surface. Another type of paint could yield different results, and the city is continuing the program to see what methods work best. 


Informing Equitable Stormwater Investments in L.A. County

In a drought-prone area like Los Angeles, rainwater provides tremendous potential to boost local water supply, as well as provide multiple other ecosystem and community benefits. That’s why in 2018, L.A. County voters approved Measure W, a tax that raises about $280 million annually to capture, clean and reuse water runoff. Measure W and the program it created, the Safe Clean Water Program, funds projects to clean and strengthen the local water supply and build community resilience. Research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Stantec is helping to ensure that these investments benefit all Angelenos, especially residents of disadvantaged communities, as the program already calls for. A new report provides advice to the county to strengthen the impacts of the program over time. The study analyzed 116 projects funded by the program — projects like converting open spaces into wetlands and adding rain gardens along transit lines. Researchers explored the program’s selection process and how projects are geographically distributed in disadvantaged communities. The team also conducted workshops with nonprofit, community-based, and public and private sector stakeholders to understand neighborhood needs and anticipated benefits from each project. “It’s crucial that members of disadvantaged communities have the opportunity to identify those benefits for their own communities. It can’t just be a top-down process,” said Jon Christensen, co-author of the report and an affiliated scholar at the Center for Innovation. This project builds upon the center’s research on local water resilienceenvironmental equity and urban greening, as well as L.A.’s voter-approved infrastructure measures

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Turner on the Urgent Work of Chief Heat Officers

V. Kelly Turner, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, co-authored a CalMatters opinion piece offering guidance to chief heat officers, the government officials tasked with coordinating a strategic response to extreme heat. Los Angeles appointed its first chief heat officer in June, and a statewide position is also under consideration. Turner and co-author David Eisenman of the UCLA Center for Healthy Climate Solutions wrote that heat waves are becoming longer and hotter and the most vulnerable people need cooling immediately. They urged policymakers to base their interventions on science, pointing to research that shows the effectiveness of urban cooling tools such as tree canopies and reflective roofs. And they urged heat officers to act with urgency to coordinate heat-action efforts across many agencies. “We cannot wait for extreme heat policies to evolve across bureaucracies over decades,” they wrote. “Chief heat officers must get many pieces moving quickly. They must convene, collaborate and cajole.”


Pierce on Failing Water Systems in California

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke with Courthouse News about a new state audit that found that nearly 1 million Californians lack access to safe water. The audit classified 418 local water systems as “failing,” meaning their water supply exceeds the maximum allowable contaminant levels for safe drinking water. This could expose customers to a range of health dangers, including an increased risk of cancer as well as liver and kidney problems. Complicating efforts to improve water quality is the state’s decentralized patchwork of local agencies composed of roughly 7,400 “drinking water systems,” some private, some public. “Every state has way too many drinking water systems, compared to other utilities,” said Pierce, who leads the UCLA Human Right to Water Solutions Lab. He said the state water board has been trying to consolidate these systems to improve accountability and performance, but “it’s slow going. It takes a long time. And it’s political.”


UCLA Teams Up With LADWP for Equitable Energy Solutions

More than 20 UCLA faculty and researchers have entered into a $2.6 million agreement to conduct research for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to help the city achieve its goal of producing all of its energy from carbon-free and renewable energy sources by 2035 and doing so in ways that benefit all Angelenos equitably. The Luskin Center for Innovation, Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and Latino Policy and Politics Institute are among several UCLA research entities collaborating with the LADWP’s LA100 Equity Strategies, which will guide the department as it creates the first justice-focused, carbon-free energy transition of any major city. The effort builds upon interdisciplinary work already being done across campus, including the Center for Innovation’s research on energy affordability. “It takes careful intent to ensure that the costs associated with the transition to renewable energy get translated equitably through rates, and to protect low-income households in disadvantaged communities from bearing too much of that cost,” said Gregory Pierce, co-director of the center. “Historically, sustainability investments have not been equitable, so in some ways this project is trying to tackle that transition.” Recommendations from Pierce’s team could include enhanced rate discounts, speeding up energy efficiency and solar programs, and adjusting what criteria would trigger the shutoff of a household’s water or energy if it falls behind on payments. The university’s participation was made possible through an existing agreement between the LADWP and the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. — Jonathan Van Dyke

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Preparing for a Future of Rising Heat

News media covering this summer’s record high temperatures have highlighted climate research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Fox40 News spoke to Rae Spriggs, the center’s climate action research manager, about a new heat mapping tool that allows Californians to visualize where and who will be most affected by severe temperatures. The California Healthy Places index was developed by the Center for Innovation and the Public Health Alliance of Southern California. The Hill spoke to center co-director V. Kelly Turner and graduate student researcher Emma French, co-authors of a study showing that major U.S. cities are unprepared to deal with the challenge of extreme heat. “If cities are not painting a complete picture of heat — how chronic it is and its disparate impacts on the ground — we’re not going to be able to fully protect residents, and we could end up exacerbating existing social and environmental injustices,” said French, an urban planning doctoral student.


Guidance for an Effective, Equitable Heat Strategy in California

While California is planning for rising temperatures with its new Extreme Heat Action Plan, the state has not historically treated extreme heat as a social equity and public health crisis — a crisis that requires targeted and robustly funded action to save lives. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has released two policy briefs that can help inform upcoming policy and budget decisions leading to an equitable and effective state strategy:

  • Protecting Californians From Deadly Heat summarizes five recommendations to advance an equitable, evidence-based approach to heat mitigation and adaptation, including an “all-of-government” approach that coordinates California’s current patchwork of regulations and funding sources.
  • Protecting Californians With Heat-Resilient Homes spotlights three recommended actions to protect people at home, including policies and programs to make residential cooling strategies more accessible and expansion of community resilience centers to protect the unhoused and other vulnerable populations.

Read more about the Center for Innovation’s research into climate solutions.


Pierce on New L.A. Water Restrictions

The Los Angeles Times spoke to Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, about new watering restrictions implemented by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Due to worsening drought conditions and reduced water supplies, residents of the city of Los Angeles will be assigned two watering days a week based on their addresses — Monday and Friday for odd addresses and Thursday and Sunday for even ones. “It’s a fine way to go for now, but I would recommend not hesitating to go to one-day [watering] and seeing those plants die if necessary,” said Pierce, who leads the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab housed at the Center for Innovation.

Insights From an Environmental Pioneer Mary Nichols, longtime champion of emission regulation in California, offers a roadmap toward a cleaner transportation future

By Les Dunseith

What comes to mind for Mary Nichols after 50 years as a leader of California’s environmental policy?

“As a lawyer, what I know is how to take laws … and actually make them do something for people,” she said. “If there’s a principle that I have tried to conduct my work by, it is that you don’t get appointed to one of these government jobs to fill the seat. You get appointed to actually do something with the job.”

After four terms as California Air Resources Board chair, Nichols told an in-person crowd of about 75 people and others watching online during the April 4 UCLA Luskin Lecture that getting things done requires dedication, persistence and, perhaps most importantly, good science.

Nichols pointed to her experience in leading the agency to set gasoline efficiency and anti-pollution standards in the automotive area. 

“We had our own engineers who knew just as well as the people inside the car companies that we were regulating what could be made available and what could be made affordable — like the catalytic converter — if you could just get the companies over their reluctance to change and overcome their constant desire to hold onto what they have until they can figure out how to make a profit on it.” 

If policymakers know what needs to be done and have the data to support it, Nichols said, “then you have a pretty good chance of bringing people along with you and moving forward.”

Nichols is an attorney who began working as an environmental regulator in response to the federal Clean Air Act of 1970. She first joined the state’s top environmental agency in 1975 and served as chair between 1979 and 1983, then from 1999 to 2003, and again from 2007 to 2020. She is also a distinguished counsel for the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law and has associations with the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. 

In his introductory remarks, Dean Gary Segura of the Luskin School of Public Affairs said, “If you’re interested in the environment and you’re a longtime resident of California, the first name that would come to your mind in shaping the environmental policy of this state is Mary Nichols.”

Nichols’ appearance was the first Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series event to occur in person in more than two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It took place in the Charles E. Young Grand Salon at Kerckhoff Hall on the UCLA campus. 

Nichols was joined in a discussion about the past and future of clean transportation by Tierra Bills, assistant professor of public policy and civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, and Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

They touched on issues that included air pollution, the future of clean energy and how to overcome resistance from businesses, government officials and the public to new, cleaner technology, including fostering wider acceptance of electric cars.

“We start with the fact that electric vehicles are expensive. There’s no question that they are more expensive than gasoline cars,” Nichols acknowledged. “And new gasoline-powered cars are expensive to begin with.”

She noted that electric vehicles are a growing segment of the used car market, but the reality is that many people are never going to purchase an electric car unless manufacturers — many of which see electric vehicles as their future — receive government incentives to bring costs down. 

“Otherwise, we’ll be looking at nothing but a luxury market,” Nichols said.

In California, a related need is starting to get more attention — making charging stations readily available. 

“If people find a way to afford to buy an electric vehicle, but they don’t have a place to charge it, then it’s not doing any good,” Nichols said. “We still have a long way to go in terms of … providing charging in public places and charging at workplaces.”

Bills pointed out that technological innovation has historically bypassed disadvantaged communities. 

Nichols said greater recognition of the need for equity now exists among decision-makers, but challenges remain. “I think there are ways of attacking the problem,” she said, “but it is going to require much bigger thinking than most of what has been going on up to now.”

Plus, dealing with environmental problems requires widespread buy-in.

Nichols joked, “Just saying that the Air Resources Board thinks you should do something isn’t going to be a winning argument, right?” 

Regulation and innovation are important, she said, but federal and state agencies also must look to build partnerships at the municipal level, enlisting assistance from local businesses and community-based organizations. 

She recalled an instance in which funding became available to advance air pollution goals by replacing old buses. To their surprise, government officials soon found themselves working not so much with school districts and large transit agencies as with religious organizations. 

“That’s who had old buses that they wanted to turn in and get new, clean buses so they could take kids on field trips,” Nichols recalled. “So, sometimes it requires a new way of delivering services.”

Callahan spoke about the increasing alarm among scientists that more must be done — and soon — if humankind is going to persevere in the face of climate change. How does one remain grounded and optimistic when faced with so many dire predictions?

You just have to keep working at it,” Nichols said. “It requires you to stay flexible in the sense that you look for new allies. You look for new resources. You look for new energy, which is one of the reasons why I like hanging around universities.”

Gesturing toward the crowd of environmental advocates, faculty, staff and students, Nichols continued.

“You get to know some of the people who, hopefully, are not just going to do what I did, but who are going to do it more and better.”

The Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series enhances public discourse on topics relevant to the betterment of society, bringing together scholars as well as national and local leaders to address society’s most pressing problems. The event with Mary Nichols was co-hosted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, along with several campus partners: the UCLA Center for Healthy Climate Solutions, UCLA Center for Impact@Anderson, UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, UCLA Samueli Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.

View photos from the event on Flickr.

Watch the lecture on Vimeo.