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.”


Holloway on HIV Prevention Among People Who Inject Drugs

Ian Holloway, professor of social welfare, spoke to TheBodyPro about a cross-sectional survey of over 1,000 participants aimed at determining whether people who inject drugs would take an injectable medication to prevent HIV infection. The medication, known as LA-PrEP, or long-acting pre-exposure prophylaxis, is given by injection at three-month intervals. While the medication is very effective at preventing HIV infection, less than 2% of people who inject drugs have received a prescription. Holloway’s study showed that over 25% of participants did not have access to health insurance or other government benefits, further restricting their access to PrEP. The survey was conducted right before the COVID-19 pandemic, and Holloway recommended that more research be done to understand the effects of the pandemic on HIV prevention. “We think it will be important to assess what attitudes, perceptions and behaviors have remained unchanged,” as well as identify interventions that promote use of effective treatments among high-risk populations, he said. 


Matute Shares Insight on the Feasibility of a Hyperloop

A New York Times article about the feasibility of a hyperloop transit system cited Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. For decades, hyperloop technology has captivated many with the possibility of transporting people at speeds close to air travel. In recent years, many companies have attempted to create a hyperloop, but the technical obstacles of creating such an infrastructure have prevented it from coming to fruition. “Time and again you see technological innovations attracting a lot of investment, and you can make a lot of money during the hype cycle,” Matute said. Companies like TransPod and Virgin Hyperloop have faced obstacles in funding as well as safety issues that come with transporting people at such high speeds. Matute said that, even if the hyperloop charges passengers rates that are less than air travel, the airline industry will likely lower their fees to stay competitive.


Pierce Provides Cost-Effective Options to Ocean Desalination

Gregory Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, wrote an article for The Conversation to discuss how desalination may not be the most viable option for creating a more sustainable water supply. In an effort to combat California’s record-setting drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced an $8 billion plan to increase the state’s water supply. The plan includes methods like water conservation, storage, recycling and ocean desalination. Pierce explains how desalination creates more consequences than solutions as it kills aquatic life, pollutes ecosystems with brine and wastewater that can end up in the ocean, and poses a very high cost. He instead suggests conserving water, reusing treated wastewater which is cheaper than desalination, and increasing storage capacity even in places with infrequent rain to capture stormwater. “Even cleaning up polluted local groundwater supplies and purchasing water from nearby agricultural users, although these are costly and politically difficult strategies, may be prudent to consider before ocean desalination,” said Pierce.


‘Transit Has to Bear the Burden of Other Social Policy Failures’

A Washington Post story about businesses departing Union Station in Washington, D.C., over safety concerns cited Jacob Wasserman, a research project manager at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. The presence of homeless people and those suffering mental health crises has become more pronounced at the station, even as officials report that serious crime is down. Meanwhile, rail traffic has struggled to reach pre-pandemic levels. Union Station’s situation is not unique. Public transportation was one of the few climate-controlled options that stayed opened as the pandemic emerged, a time when public libraries closed and shelters implemented capacity restrictions, Wasserman said. “Transit has to bear the burden of other social policy failures, from housing to public safety,” he said. “And that’s hard for transit hubs because they were not designed for housing people … but it has become their issue, their responsibility by necessity.”


Policy Solutions from the Newest UCLA Luskin MPPs

To earn a master of public policy degree at UCLA Luskin, students must demonstrate their command of the analytical and communication skills needed to develop real-world policy solutions. This year, 15 teams completed the rite of passage, presenting the results of their yearlong Applied Policy Project investigations into specific problems faced by a broad array of government agencies, nonprofits and other firms working in the public interest. Clients included several city and county offices; large nonprofits including the United Way and World Vision International; a nursing home in Tianjin, China; and local advocacy groups such as Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles. Students are encouraged to grapple with the challenges of policy implementation amid often conflicting social, political, economic and technical interests. During three virtual sessions in May, the teams described the policy issues they tackled, reviewed their research, presented a course of action, then fielded questions from peers and professors. They also produced full reports documenting their findings, made available to clients as well as future MPP students. This year, honors were granted to four APP projects:

Segura on Broad Support for Immigration Reform

The Mexican-American Cultural Education Foundation shared Dean Gary Segura’s insights about political support for immigration reform as part of a series of video highlights from the organization’s conversations with “Mexican-American History Makers.” Segura cited data showing that two-thirds of American voters — including 58% of Republican registered voters — favor comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. “It is not a divisive issue. We can agree on immigration policy,” said Segura, noting that polls show less disagreement on immigration than on 20 other issues at the national level. “But there is a loud chorus of anger that doesn’t agree.” Standing in the way of immigration reform is a hard-line right-wing movement that does not represent majority opinion, he said. This “last screaming vestige of the dying confederacy … is not not going to go easily,” Segura said. The full interview with Segura, conducted in January 2020, is available here.

Institute on Inequality and Democracy Highlighted for Debt Relief Activism

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin was featured in a Public Seminar essay that highlighted the institute’s continuing collaborative efforts to support “organizations that conduct critical work on behalf of the dispossessed, including debtors, those displaced by gentrification and the formerly incarcerated.” Student debt and the prospect of tuition-free public universities have lately moved from fringe debate to a mainstream topic of discussion among Democratic presidential candidates. The institute has served as a model for creating reciprocal relationships between academia and debt relief organizations, often giving voice to academics who argue that “educational institutions that run on debt are in conflict with those who critique such models or who are working to concretely transform them.” This is “all the more reason for activists … to work in collaboration with those who may have access to resources but whose institutional affiliations may limit them in other ways,” the essay said.


Newton on Conflicts Between Sheriff and Supervisors

Jim Newton, public policy lecturer and editor of Blueprint magazine, wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed on L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has faced heavy criticism from the County Board of Supervisors and other observers who believe he is abusing his power. “The trouble, as boards of yore long ago discovered, is that the supervisors have an intense interest in the conduct of the sheriff, but they can’t do much about it,” Newton wrote. Supervisors are having difficulty controlling Villanueva because they can merely limit his budget, he explained. Newton urged the board to continue to seek creative ways to rein in a sheriff  whose judgment they do not trust. “It would be a tragedy if the sheriff’s department, so long hampered by misconduct and sloppy management, were to backslide on the progress of recent years because yet another sheriff was allowed to slip the reins of authority,” Newton wrote.


Segura on LGBTQ Forum and the 2020 Campaign

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura spoke on SiriusXM radio’s Michaelangelo Signorile Show about the 2020 elections and the upcoming Democratic presidential forum centered around LGBTQ issues, which will be hosted by the Luskin School and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in October. Politicians have a history of shying away from LGBTQ issues so it is beneficial to “have their feet held to the fire” early in the campaign, Segura said. He also discussed immigration, healthcare, the impact of earlier primary dates in California and Texas, and the Trump presidency’s effect on the mindset of the American populace. “The Democratic coalition will be most successful when it finds a way to knit together the minority populations and the coastal educated populations with the blue-collar, working-class people who are getting a crappy deal in American society,” Segura said. “If you could pull both of those together you’d have a huge majority.”



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