UCLA Luskin’s Gary Segura spoke to the L.A. Times about a proposal to expand the Los Angeles City Council in an effort to boost representation and discourage unethical behavior. Nearly a century has passed since L.A. residents approved the current number of council districts, 15. New proposals would increase that number to somewhere between 21 and 31. “Los Angeles is a complex city, far more diverse than most cities in the United States,” said Segura, a professor of public policy. “With huge numbers of ethnic and racial populations, it has become increasingly difficult to give different communities a voice.” Any change would require voter approval. Opponents of council expansion often cite concerns about higher costs, but “the truth of the matter is we spend very little on governance in Los Angeles,” Segura said. Even if the council more than doubles in size, the cost of staff, office space, cars and other needs would represent less than 1% of Los Angeles’ annual $13-billion budget.
As Southern California braces for more heat waves this summer, the city of Los Angeles has launched its most comprehensive and equitable response ever, thanks in part to partnerships with student, faculty and staff researchers from UCLA Luskin.
Interactive mapping tools co-developed by Luskin School-affiliated scholars and the Public Health Alliance of Southern California, for instance, are helping government officials and social services providers better visualize the neighborhoods most in danger from extreme heat. And research has helped ensure that city resources like cooling centers are being deployed in areas with high numbers of low-income residents and communities of color — groups that tend to be disproportionately affected by hot weather but whom previous heat-mitigation efforts often failed to reach.
Heat as an Equity Issue
While California has not historically viewed hot weather in the context of social equity, heat’s disparate impact on the state’s various populations has been a central focus of Luskin School and other UCLA research.
“Heat is an equity issue. Neighborhood by neighborhood, we’re going to be experiencing heat differently,” said Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and co-author of the center’s three-part series on California’s Extreme Heat Action Plan. “That’s why it’s important to identify where protections are most needed and where they’ll have the biggest impact.”
Among those equitable protections is providing shade from the heat, said V. Kelly Turner, an associate professor of urban planning and point person for the Luskin Center for Innovation’s climate adaptation and resilience research. In a July 2023 commentary in the journal Nature, Turner detailed how a lack of shade affects urban residents — particularly those from low-income and marginalized communities, who tend to live in heat-prone areas that lack air-conditioning and tree cover — and stressed the need for cities to remove regulatory restrictions that make it difficult to build shade infrastructure.
“It’s going to take a setting-by-setting approach, whole of government approach, where we look at all the regulations that make it really hard to do the right thing,” she recently told LAist.
A related recent capstone effort at the Luskin School involved graduate students in public policy. Their research (PDF) explored historical inequities in Los Angeles and included a survey to assess how the city can create an equitable heat policy with long-term resilience for vulnerable communities.
It’s the hope of Callahan, Turner and many other UCLA scholars that their research will spur the city of Los Angeles and its Climate Emergency Mobilization Office to continue to implement equitable and forward-thinking responses to extreme heat.
These and other UCLA contributions are informing the city’s equity-based approach to the threat posed by climate change and rising temperatures, said Marta Segura, Los Angeles’ first chief heat officer and director of the city’s Climate Emergency Mobilization Office. Launched in 2021, CEMO is responsible for coordinating across agencies to create a cohesive response to extreme heat.
“It’s my belief that in focusing on equitable climate solutions and investing first and foremost in the historically disinvested communities, we will accelerate climate solutions for everybody,” Segura, a UCLA Public Health alumna, said during a May panel discussion at UCLA organized by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
Using data gathered in partnership with UCLA scholars, CEMO was able to identify which cooling centers received a lot of use in previous years, which didn’t and where the need was greatest. This summer, the number of city-coordinated facilities offering heat relief — including air-conditioned recreation centers and public libraries that stay open beyond regular hours — has expanded significantly.
The students focused on three areas — cooling centers, emergency response and bus shelters. Their final report (PDF), released in June, commended Los Angeles for being at the forefront of government efforts on extreme heat but noted room for improvement to ensure public safety and equitable distribution of resources.
Corinne Odom was among the students who looked at cooling centers. She and her classmates spoke with staff members at libraries who were eager to help but frustrated that people in danger didn’t seem to know these facilities were available.
“Visitor counts at cooling center locations last summer were low,” Odom said. “So, really informing people that they’re available is important, and that’s something that CEMO is prioritizing.”
Odom and her classmates were supportive of the city’s efforts to create “resiliency centers” by offering a broader range of social services programs and heat-related amenities at locations like recreation centers and public libraries that traditionally serve as cooling centers. They also noted that CEMO’s communication efforts also recommend informal locations where residents can duck in quickly to escape extreme heat.
“A mall could be a cooling center,” Odom said, “or a movie theater.”
A particularly difficult challenge for city officials is reaching the people in the most danger — the unhoused population.
Michelle Gallarza, a Comprehensive Project participant who contributed to Luskin Center for Innovation research on heat and housing insecurity, noted that the unhoused population’s lack of shelter makes them particularly vulnerable during heat waves.
“These people are more likely to suffer from the extreme aspects of heat and a really increased likelihood for illness and, unfortunately, death,” she said.
In Los Angeles County, unhoused people accounted for 42% of heat-related deaths in 2022, even though they make up less than 1% of the population. Beyond having less access to indoor cooling than the general population and facing challenges getting information about emergency resources, they may not always feel comfortable in city-provided facilities, said Gallarza, who spoke with an unhoused person who said cooling centers have not felt very welcoming.
“In our sensitivity and vulnerability analysis,” Odom said, “we thought that there should be more specific solutions catered to that community, especially in collaboration with organizations that are trusted and knowingly support unhoused communities.”
Generally speaking, Segura said, a person in danger doesn’t need to be out of the heat for long to benefit, and this is where resilience centers, particularly smaller ones, can help. She and other city officials hope to persuade, for example, local fast-food restaurants to serve as centers for unhoused people and others on hot days.
“With just three or four hours of refuge and recovery, you can make it to the next day,” she said. “People don’t need to stay there 24 hours.”
Waiting for the bus: The need for transit shelters
Other Comprehensive Project students focused on Los Angeles’ Sidewalk and Transit Amenities Program, recently established to support the expansion of transit shelters in a city where only 26% of Metro bus stops currently offer shade.
Project participant Miguel Miguel said he was surprised to discover that the city’s shelter placement decisions were often related more to political and commercial considerations, like advertising potential, than protecting people from heat. “We never suspected that would be such a driving factor,” he said. “We finally realized that the contract explicitly said that [shelter providers] needed to maintain advertising revenue to support the operations of the program.”In the end, the students recommended prioritizing bus shelter development on geographic equity, with a focus on the Harbor Gateway area near San Pedro and parts of the San Fernando Valley area that have high ridership and where historically underserved populations frequently experience extreme temperatures. The final report of the Comprehensive Project class recommended revising criteria for heat emergencies and heat warnings, setting lower thresholds than previous city policy. And their emergency response analysis found a statistically significant correlation between 911 call volumes and heat across the city but no similar spike in calls to the 311 system, which connects residents to city services, including heat mitigation. More outreach is thus needed to ensure that people seek help before it’s too late.
“This information that the UCLA researchers are bringing to us is going to be part of the consideration and the development of those plans,” she said. “So, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Read more about UCLA’s efforts to combat the effects of extreme heat
News organizations including the Los Angeles Times, Daily News and Associated Press covered a package of recommendations issued by the Los Angeles Governance Reform Project, co-chaired by UCLA Luskin Professor Gary Segura. The advisory group, created in response to a series of corruption scandals that have plagued L.A. City Hall, called for 10 additional seats on the City Council for a total of 25; two independent redistricting commissions; and a more powerful ethics commission. “As we speak today, there are 260,000 souls in every City Council district in Los Angeles. To say that this stretches the definition of local representation as it was understood by our founders would be an understatement,” Segura said. He called the proposals in the group’s interim report a “starting point, intended to spark a meaningful and actionable conversation that will drive reform forward.”
An investigation by ABC7 in Los Angeles regarding long waitlists for government-subsidized housing in the form of Section 8 vouchers reported an average wait of five and a half years. And two of the largest housing agencies recently closed their Section 8 lists due to high demand. “The fact that we have to open the waiting list is an indicator that it’s really crazy, right?” Michael Lens, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin, said in an on-camera interview. “We just don’t have the public housing stock, the voucher availability and other forms of HUD-subsidized housing to meet that need, or anything close to it.” Housing affordability data show local rents up 30% in five years. The solution? “More of everything,” Lens said. “We need more vouchers, we need more public-private partnerships to provide … housing choices.”
An analysis by UCLA Luskin’s Helmut K. Anheier of Germany’s new national-security plan applauds the strategy but finds it too vague to be effective. Anheier’s article, distributed through Project Syndicate, notes that in modern times Germany has historically relied on the United States and NATO for protection, projecting itself as a champion of military restraint. “This illusion was shattered after Russia attacked Ukraine, and China, eager to exploit any perceived Western vulnerability, adopted a more assertive foreign policy,” writes Anheier, an adjunct professor of social welfare and public policy who oversees the Berggruen Governance Index. The plan recently issued by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not sufficiently address the institutional mechanisms — nor budgetary resources — needed to implement it. “The strategy will most likely remain on the shelf — a well-written account of what could have been,” concludes Anheier, who is also a professor of sociology at the Hertie School in Berlin.
UCLA Luskin lecturer Brad Rowe recently commented on a decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to create a moratorium through 2028 on new applications for retail cannabis licenses in the city, describing it as “old-school protectionism” of retail license holders. California’s entire cannabis industry is struggling to stay profitable and this action could help retailers, but Rowe told SF Gate it is likely to increase prices. “There is a way to build value by restricting access,” Rowe said. “The problem is who is going to pay for it? Consumers are the ones who are going to pay with higher prices.”
A new policy briefing from the White House cites research by Robert Fairlie, professor of policy and economics. On June 26, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the first small-business grants in a program to provide $73 million in first-ever funding directly to tribal governments. The support for tribal enterprises and small businesses is part of Biden’s Investing in America agenda, which includes funding for manufacturing and infrastructure, plus cost-saving investments in communities across the country. Research relating to racial inequality in business by Fairlie, the incoming chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, is widely recognized as insightful by policymakers. The White House fact sheet cites his calculation that the number of Native-owned small businesses declined 40% in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grant awardees include several tribes in California.
A new political memoir by Zev Yaroslavsky, who helped shape Los Angeles as a member of the City Council and County Board of Supervisors for four decades, has drawn widespread attention from news outlets around the country. The New York Times called “Zev’s Los Angeles: From Boyle Heights to the Halls of Power” a “history of the people and policies that have shaped the city,” delving into tax revolts, police culture, immigration, the arts, the environment and more. A review in the Jewish Journal said the book’s glimpses of behind-the-scenes deal-making “may even give the reader a new appreciation for the work of a politician.” Yaroslavsky, now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, has appeared on “L.A. Times Today” on Spectrum News 1 and “Air Talk” on LAist, and he discussed the book at length in a two-part interview on “Then & Now,” the podcast of the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy.
This one-and-a-half-day symposium at the world-class UCLA Luskin Conference Center features prominent Latina scholars, attorneys, policy leaders and law students from across the country to foster a multi-generational leadership pipeline that spotlights today’s 21st-century legal challenges and opportunities with a Latina lens.
Taking place during a consequential year in U.S. politics and anchored by the significant contributions of the nation’s Latina attorneys, the symposium will light the way to achieve economic, social and political parity for all Americans.
The need for Latina leadership in law and policy is acute. By 2050, Latinas are expected to make up 13% of the U.S. population, account for 11% of the labor force, and have a median age of 11 years younger than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Yet Latinas comprise only 2.5% of all U.S. lawyers, account for less than 1% of all partners in U.S. law firms, and have never served on the highest court in 44 states. Weaving together oral histories, legal research and the practice of law, the symposium will create the interest convergence across sectors and generations to increase the power and influence of Latina lawyers now and well into the future.
- General Admission: $125
- Student Admission: $55
- Convene a diverse cadre of Latina leaders to detail their unique experiences in American jurisprudence and share personal insights with the generations of Latina lawyers and law students following in their path.
- Shine a light on the economic, political and social status of Latinas in the U.S. through substantive Continuing Legal Education panels that center the Latina experience in the context of today’s most pressing law and policy debates, from reproductive justice to affirmative action to economic justice, paving the way for informed discussions in the landscape of the 2024 election and beyond.
- Cultivate a multi-generational, cross-sector and geographically diverse cadre of Latina leaders to foster a dynamic pipeline that will promote the success of Latinas across important democratic institutions from state capitols to the ivory tower and corporate boardrooms.
Latina Futures, 2050 Lab envisions a society where Latinas lead and everyone thrives. The 2050 Lab aims to accelerate full inclusion through rigorous research, community partnerships, and leadership development.