Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville co-authored a StreetsBlog article about the possibility of parking reform with Assembly Bill 1401, which would eliminate minimum parking mandates for buildings near public transit in California. “Eliminating parking requirements is the simplest, most effective step that California can take to reduce carbon emissions, make housing more affordable, and increase production of homes for families across the income spectrum – all at no cost to the public,” wrote Manville and co-authors Anthony Dedousis and Mott Smith. Some opponents of the bill argue that eliminating parking requirements could harm affordable housing production by making California’s density bonus incentives less valuable. However, the authors pointed to the success of parking reform in San Diego, which eliminated parking requirements in 2019 and saw record increases in the amount of new housing built, including over 1,500 affordable homes in 2020. They see AB 1401 as an opportunity to “learn from San Diego’s success and take parking reform statewide.”
Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville was featured on KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” in an episode about the impact of housing supply on rent prices. “It’s important to separate this big question of gentrification with the question of what happens to rent,” Manville said. His research has shown that adding to the housing supply lowers nearby rent, but he explained that the trend is “not always easy to see because developers like to build in places where rents are already rising.” Considering neighborhoods where housing demand is already increasing, Manville asked, “Do you want newer residents moving in and displacing residents in the existing housing, or do you want them to be in brand-new housing where, while they will change the neighborhood by their presence, they don’t put as much pressure on the existing housing stock where a lot of the current people live?”
Professor of Public Policy and Social Welfare Martin Gilens was featured in a New York Times column examining a recent paper published by Yale political scientists Micah English and Joshua Kalla. The scholars contend that, “despite increasing awareness of racial inequities, linking public policies to race is detrimental for support of those policies.” The English-Kalla paper has prompted widespread discussion among Democratic strategists and analysts. “Their findings suggest that, even in this time of heightened public concern with racial inequities, Democrats are not likely to boost public support for progressive policies by framing them as advancing racial equality,” Gilens said. He called the paper “solid work” but also pointed out its limitations. “I would consider the English and Kalla results to be sobering but not, in themselves, a strong argument for Democrats to turn away from appeals to racial justice,” Gilens said.
Daniel Coffee MPP ’20, associate project manager at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an Orange County Register article about new legislation to address plastic pollution. There are a dozen state bills in California proposing reduction of single-use plastics and refilling of returnable beverage bottles, as well as a federal proposal that would place the responsibility for plastic reduction and recycling on companies that make and utilize single-use plastics. “In the past few years, we’ve had a breakthrough in terms of public awareness, but I don’t think we quite have the political will yet,” Coffee said. “The plastics industry and the fossil fuel industry aren’t shy about pouring money into influencing policymakers.” The state proposals, which are more incremental, are more likely to become law than the landmark federal proposal. “If SB 54 passes, then other states could see what’s possible and follow suit,” Coffee said. “California is often the leader in this type of legislation.”
Professor of Public Policy and Social Welfare Martin Gilens was featured in an Atlantic article about the influence of wealth on politics. In his research, Gilens has found notable differences in the policy preferences of affluent Americans compared to the middle class. These differences are not limited to economic matters like taxation, but also include funding for public education, racial equity and environmental protections, which the wealthy are less likely to support. These differences in policy preferences are significant because of the influence the rich have over government officials. In one report, Gilens analyzed thousands of public survey responses and found that, on issues where the views of wealthy voters diverged significantly from those of the rest of the populace, the policies ultimately put in place “strongly reflected the desires of the most affluent respondents.” Gilens concluded that the policies on these controversial issues “bore virtually no relationship to the preferences of poorer Americans.”
New research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has identified how effective certain incentives can be in motivating people to use less energy in their homes.
Electricity providers often need to encourage customers to reduce consumption in order to prevent blackouts or to avoid having to activate additional power plants — often natural gas-powered plants that pollute the environment.
The researchers found that promotional messages about how customers could save money on their electricity bills or earn other financial rewards were effective at motivating them to use less energy.
For the study (PDF), which was funded by a grant from the California Energy Commission, the UCLA researchers assessed data from energy bills for more than 20,000 California households in territories served by Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.
The customers all participate in “demand response programs,” which encourage users to save energy at times of high stress on the electrical grid, like during heat waves; they all also used one of two smartphone apps — Chai Energy or OhmConnect — that help users manage their home energy consumption. Often, the apps offered cash incentives to participants for adjusting their thermostats during times when demand for energy was highest.
The study revealed that offering participants financial rewards, on top of the amount of money they’d save simply for using less energy, had a measurable effect on reducing their energy use — although the amount of the financial incentive made relatively little difference. Collectively, the 20,000 households in the study had received over $1 million in rewards over the previous two years through those incentive programs, in addition to the savings on their electricity bills from using the apps.
Encouraging flexibility in our energy system is especially important as the nation’s infrastructure continues to shift to clean energy. For instance, weather can be unpredictable and impact the amount of electricity generated by solar panels or wind turbines. Demand response programs can be effective at reducing energy use during these times to avoid blackouts.
“In more good news for the environment, our study found that demand response programs result in overall reduction in energy use — not merely a shift of consumption to other hours or days,” said JR DeShazo, the study’s principal investigator and the director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.
That finding is particularly significant because some observers had suspected that demand response programs merely encouraged energy customers to shift their electricity use to other times of day — for example, by waiting to run their dishwashers or clothes dryers during overnight hours, when overall energy demand was lower — but without actually reducing the amount of energy they consumed. But the UCLA report concluded that customers’ energy consumption did not increase in the hours or days surrounding a demand response event, suggesting that the approach resulted in actual reductions in consumption.
The households with the greatest reduction in consumption during demand response events were those with solar panels, plug-in electric vehicles and automation devices — gadgets like smart thermostats that can automatically alter energy usage but can be overridden by the owner. For example, automation devices can delay charging an electric vehicle or turn down an air conditioner until an off-peak time.
“Automation devices make participating in demand response programs effortless, and ultimately rewarding,” said Kelly Trumbull, a co-author of the study and a Luskin Center for Innovation researcher. “They also help secure predictable and reliable energy savings.”
Demand response providers typically reward users based on their energy conservation relative to an energy consumption goal assigned by the utility. Researchers found that households reduce their energy use more when that consumption goal is more ambitious, assuming all other factors are constant.
“This finding underscores the importance of setting baselines and communicating them to customers,” DeShazo said. “If we are asked to do more, we often will.”
The study recommends actions utilities and third-party demand response providers — like the ones that market the energy management apps — can take to maximize both the environmental and economic benefits of residential demand response programs, including:
- Offering financial incentives and emphasizing the economic benefits to participants.
- Supporting the adoption of automation devices like smart thermostats.
- Inducing greater energy savings by setting ambitious conservation targets for customers.
Most Californians, depending on their electricity providers, are eligible to participate in existing demand response services.
Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, joined a conversation with KQED about the role of Latino voters in the 2020 elections. Diaz explained that the “invisibility of Latinos is not simply a political issue but goes across all parts of our institutions in society,” including media, entertainment, academia and philanthropy. She pointed to a general lack of understanding about Latinos as the source of this invisibility. According to Diaz, Latinos are often misconceived as having singular policy preferences, but polls show that they care about bread-and-butter issues such as jobs and health care. The Latino electorate showed up in force in 2020, said Diaz, whose research estimates that 16.6 million Latinos cast a ballot in a pandemic, despite misinformation and widespread voter suppression. These voters will be included in the system moving forward, getting mail and door knocks that will motivate them to show up and vote, she said.
By Bret Weinberger
Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro characterized the seriousness with which American society ought to address the nationwide housing crisis by saying during a recent UCLA virtual event, “All of us have a responsibility to solve this challenge.”
Castro said there is no time to waste in facing this issue, with an eviction crisis looming because of economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The Nov. 5 webinar focused on the future of federal housing policy as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, a joint endeavor of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.
Castro and Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the Lewis Center, spoke amid uncertainty regarding the nation’s political landscape just days before major news outlets called the race for President-elect Joe Biden. They delved into the interconnectedness of multiple ongoing crises and came ready with policy solutions.
Regarding protections for those who struggle to remain housed, Castro said that local governments should be empowered to enact rent control measures, even if it isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy. And the federal government should robustly enforce the Fair Housing Act by working with local governments to put together implementation plans, as was the practice when he served in the Obama administration.
Castro, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2020, also suggested changing the tax code to favor non-homeowners by offering a renters’ tax credit.
When Lens brought up the infusion of racial politics into housing policy, Castro castigated the Trump administration for assuming that racism exists among suburbanites and ignoring the realities of diversifying suburbs. He said their rhetoric translated into policy changes, such as removing protections against housing discrimination and underfunding key programs, that have exacerbated the housing crisis.
Castro raised cause for hope on the topic of homelessness when he said that both parties could agree on tackling veteran homelessness. He shared an experience of visiting Los Angeles’ Skid Row while HUD secretary.
“You can’t tell, just by looking at someone, why they’re there. You can’t stereotype them,” he said.
Lens also joined a second portion of the event that featured a roundtable discussion about topics covered by Castro, joining Cecilia Estolano MA UP ’91, founder and CEO of the urban planning firm Estolano Advisors, and José Loya, assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin.
“We need to be strategic, and we need to work fast,” Estolano said. She argued that incomes need to rise for people to afford high housing costs. Policies helping minority-owned businesses could have a major impact, she said.
Like Castro, Loya focused on how the tax code could be rewritten to help renters and low-income homeowners. This centered on granting tax credits to these groups rather than to wealthier homeowners.
One theme resonated with all the speakers: The new government, whatever its composition, must face housing head on. Americans — whether rural, suburban or city-dwelling — can’t afford otherwise.
View a video of the session on YouTube:
The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has received a $3 million gift from the Berggruen Institute to produce and disseminate the Los Angeles-based think tank’s Berggruen Governance Index, which evaluates countries based on their quality of political and administrative governance.
With the capacity of democratic governance being tested around the world, the index seeks to deepen public understanding of the relationship between democracy, government competence and the provision of public goods.
“The Luskin School is thrilled to partner with the Berggruen Institute on this incredibly important and timely work,” said Dean Gary Segura. “In a period where governments the world over struggle to cope with global crises, including the current pandemic, the effectiveness, transparency and capacity of states to care for the needs of their people is of critical importance. With this gift, the Luskin School can help advance our understanding of what makes government effective.”
For policymakers and policy analysts, the index will serve as a much-needed tool for grasping how governance relates to social and economic progress in various political contexts. A better understanding of these relationships, say UCLA Luskin researchers, is particularly relevant as liberal democracies face increasing threats from autocratic rivals.
“We are excited to deepen our relationships at UCLA through this partnership with the Luskin School,” said Dawn Nakagawa, executive vice president of the Berggruen Institute. “This important collaboration will lead to new insights about how to enhance government capacity in ways that lead to better quality-of-life outcomes.”
“The Berggruen Institute gift allows us to continue exploring the relationship between the quality of democracy and the quality of life — a crucial issue in today’s world.”
— Helmut Anheier
Led by Helmut Anheier, an adjunct professor of social welfare, the team based at UCLA Luskin will curate, advance and disseminate the Berggruen Governance Index over a five-year period, helping to increase awareness of the index’s findings among policymakers, analysts and the general public through various events and media formats.
“The Berggruen Institute gift allows us to continue exploring the relationship between the quality of democracy and the quality of life — a crucial issue in today’s world,” Anheier said. “Governance is about how effectively we address public problems. The index is designed to reveal how different countries are managing in this regard.”
Anheier, who is also a professor of sociology at the Hertie School in Berlin, where the index originated, noted that other governance indices do not focus on the process of governance that is central to the Berggruen Governance Index, which looks closely at how the delivery of public goods contributes to the quality of life of citizens.
The 2019 Berggruen Governance Index analyzed 25 different aspects of the performance of 38 countries over a 14-year period, tracking national differences in three crucial areas of governance: quality of democracy, quality of government and quality of life.
The Berggruen Institute was founded in 2010 by investor and philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen, and editor Nathan Gardels.
By Les Dunseith
A new report that lays out a road map for the transformation of the Los Angeles region built on racial equity is rooted in research from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The report’s co-authors are Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School, and Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute.
The paper, “No Going Back: Together for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles,” was issued Sept. 9 and shared with a UCLA audience Sept. 15 at a virtual salon. At more than 250 pages, the report is a comprehensive examination of the hidden barriers to success that limited many of the city’s residents even before COVID-19, but have been exacerbated since the pandemic began.
A wide swath of the Bruin community contributed to the paper. Numerous faculty and staff members provided new research, offered historical context and analyzed existing data. UCLA alumni serve on the Committee for Greater LA, which developed the report. And a handful of current UCLA students conducted research that fed the recommendations.
Those students, Antonio Elizondo, Dan Flynn, Mariesa Samba and Ellen Schwartz, share a passion for building a new Los Angeles grounded in social justice and racial equity.
Flynn, a second-year graduate student, contributed to the report’s sections on health and homelessness. His experience working with nonprofit agencies has made him acutely aware of the need to think differently about the region’s homelessness crisis.
“You’re looking at 70,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles at any given point,” Flynn said. “There’s no way to look at that issue and describe it as anything other than a failure — and a catastrophic one, with immense human cost. There has been a failure to build systems of accountability and to hold people responsible and accountable.”
Setting forth a strategy to create accountability to end homelessness is among 10 guiding principles (PDF) that underlie the report, which also tackles economic justice, mental and physical health, child and family well-being and other topics.
Samba is pursuing a master’s in social welfare and is a graduate student researcher at the Black Policy Project at UCLA. She contributed to sections of the report that related to children, families, mental health and justice.
“A lot of the work that I do is within the community with folks who are directly impacted by the pandemic,” she said. “Especially with this project, my top-line goal was to uplift those voices and experiences into the research.”
The report builds on the personal insights of the researchers and the people they interviewed to identify social problems, pairing those lived experiences with data to point toward solutions. For example, research findings about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education highlighted the region’s racial disparities. Under Los Angeles’ safer-at-home orders, Black and Latino schoolchildren have been far less likely to be able to engage successfully in remote learning because of a lack of computers and access to high-speed internet connections.
As Segura noted during a Sept. 9 webinar to unveil the report to the general public, public officials are expected to ensure that residents have access to electricity, trash collection and a sewer system — so why not something as vital as the internet?
“The time has come for us to think about the internet as what it has become,” he said. “It is a civil right.”
The opportunity to think about such issues in new ways appealed to the UCLA Luskin students who played a role. Plus, there were practical benefits. For example, Schwartz was happy to work on the transportation section of the report because that’s her area of concentration as an urban planning master’s student. But her biggest takeaway from the experience was the mindset of the project’s leaders.
“What I loved seeing is how the community leaders on the committee really focused on empowerment. That’s something that I want to take with me into my own career,” she said.
“… work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”
Elizondo, a master’s student in urban planning, said during the virtual salon that the most impactful aspect of his involvement in the project came during his review of interviews with people impacted by the health crisis and thinking about the repercussions.
“At the moment, it’s an unfolding crisis, so every policy response is a short-term response,” Elizondo said. “This project helped me realize that there will be long-term effects, and how much work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”
The Committee for Greater LA comprises a diverse group of civic and community leaders and a joint research team from UCLA Luskin and the USC Equity Research Institute. Initially, the committee intended primarily to address the racial disparities exposed by the pandemic, but in the wake of the recent police-involved killings of Black people and the nationwide protests that followed, its focus expanded to encompass a broader understanding of systemic racism.
The UCLA students helped Segura with the policy-related aspects of the report, which cover issues like housing affordability, immigrant rights, alternatives to incarceration, transportation and equitable access to health care, among others. Because of the pandemic, the work had to be coordinated via phone, email and Zoom sessions.
Flynn, who is pursuing a master’s in public policy, said he appreciated the chance to work directly with the dean on a project of such ambition and scope.
“What makes UCLA such a special place is that you have world-class academics and practitioners who are not just interested in generating work but are interested in mentorship and teaching and in giving opportunities to the next generation of policymakers,” he said.
As gratifying as the work was, the students realize the real work is still to come. Schwartz said she’s hopeful that society is ready to adopt the meaningful change advocated in the report.
“We live in a world where people are really isolated and don’t always know what’s going on in the community,” she said. “I hope that this report will just shed some light on issues that people are facing and that it will inspire elected officials to take action and make real, lasting changes to the system.”
Samba said her participation offered a unique opportunity to process her emotions about the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly because of how it coincided with the growing racial justice movement — and she sees cause for hope.
“We’re at a point in time where we are trying new things,” Samba said. “We’re able to experiment with our justice system, with our foster care system, with what social services look like, with what community care looks like. I would like to see some of those social experiments — some of those new ideas and visions — become real, and for us not to revert to the status quo. I would love to see us really, actually reimagine what a more racially equitable future looks like for the people of Los Angeles.”
Among the other UCLA connections to the effort: The Committee for Greater LA is chaired by Miguel Santana, a member of the Luskin School’s advisory board, and the project is funded in part by philanthropists who have also supported UCLA.
The Committee for Greater LA has invited interested parties, including policymakers and candidates for elected office, to join in making the #NoGoingBackLA promise, a commitment to build a more equitable and inclusive Los Angeles. Sign up at nogoingback.la.