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Downsizing Local News Contributes to Crumbling Infrastructure

Reading strong local journalism is tied to greater support for funding dams, sewers and other basic infrastructure vital to climate resilience, according to new research from UCLA and Duke University. The study, published this month in the journal Political Behavior, found that reading fictionalized samples of news coverage with specific local details about infrastructure maintenance requirements led to as much as 10% more electoral support for infrastructure spending compared to reading bare-bones reporting. Just a few extra paragraphs of context in the mock news stories not only increased support for spending, but also increased voters’ willingness to hold politicians accountable for infrastructure neglect by voting them out of office. “Heat, floods, drought and fire are putting new stress on aging and deteriorating infrastructure, which must be maintained to protect communities against these growing climate risks,” said Megan Mullin, faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and co-author of the study. “Our study shows that investing in facilities that improve our resilience to climate hazards requires investing in the health of local news.” Deep cuts to local news staffs nationwide have led to reduced original reporting and local political stories in favor of national news that can be centrally produced and shared in many newspapers within the same ownership structure, the study’s authors noted. “Empty newsrooms and AI reporting don’t provide communities with the information they need to make investments for their own health and security,” said Mullin, a UCLA Luskin professor of public policy whose research focuses on environmental politics. — Alison Hewitt

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Akee on Increased Voter Participation, Civic Engagement

A voter guide posted by the Indiana Citizen mentions research by UCLA Luskin’s Randall Akee on voter participation. Individuals in higher-income households are more likely to vote than those in poorer households, and the article cites Akee’s speculation that having a larger income may afford families resources like time and transportation to make voting easier. He collaborated on a 2018 study on the effect of a permanent increase in household incomes among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Although increased income did not change the voting behavior of parents, their children subsequently went to the polls at a higher rate. This could relate to educational attainment. “This suggests that income augmentation programs that help children may have other indirect (and long-term) benefits to society in the form of increased political participation and civic engagement as adults,” Akee wrote in the study.


 

L.A. Mayor Focuses on the Need for Housing Solutions During UCLA Luskin Summit Karen Bass visits campus to join discussions on the value of research about issues like homelessness, climate resilience, governance and equity in transportation

By Les Dunseith

On April 17, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass was the featured speaker as scholars, civic leaders and the philanthropic community came together to discuss policy issues during the sixth annual UCLA Luskin Summit.

What was on her mind? Housing.

Bass, who declared homelessness a state of emergency immediately upon taking office as mayor in December 2022, told the more than 300 people in attendance at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center that her office is now turning more attention to longer-term solutions after initially emphasizing urgency in getting unhoused people off the streets.

“It is not reasonable for somebody [needing shelter] to be able to stay around while we get housing built,” she said of the challenge to provide shelter for people in need amid an ongoing affordable housing crisis.

The mayor’s remarks were delivered during a discussion with Jacqueline Waggoner MA UP ’96, the current chair of the Luskin School’s Board of Advisors. Waggoner, who is the president of the Solutions Division for Enterprise Community Partners, said she was heartened by the mayor’s intense focus on homelessness, given the magnitude of the problem in Los Angeles.

Bass, a former congresswoman who now chairs the Homelessness Task Force for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that meeting with mayors around the country presents an opportunity to learn from others, and for other cities in the United States to benefit from what is being done in Southern California. She had announced a new housing initiative based on a program in Atlanta two days before speaking at the Luskin Summit.

“I feel good in terms of what we can do and how we should move forward,” said Bass, who then emphasized, “the biggest question is scale.”

two men in ties sit on stage as one speaks

During an on-stage interview by ABC7’s Josh Haskell, left, the results of the ninth Quality of Life Index were unveiled by UCLA’s Zev Yaroslavsky. Photo by Stan Paul

Concerns over housing affordability was also a key takeaway from the ninth annual Quality of Life Index, which was publicly unveiled in the opening session of the 2024 Luskin Summit. The project at UCLA Luskin is directed by former Los Angeles public official Zev Yaroslavsky, now an adjunct faculty member at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Concerns over the high cost of living pushed the satisfaction of Los Angeles County residents back to its lowest-ever level, according to the annual survey, which received coverage as breaking news by media outlets that included the Los Angeles Times, area radio stations and the local affiliates of all four major U.S. broadcast TV networks.

More than half of respondents, or 59%, cited housing as the most important factor in their rating. During a Q&A moderated by reporter Josh Haskell of ABC7 in Los Angeles, Yaroslavsky pointed out that renters are feeling especially pessimistic about their futures.

“In our survey, we found that 75% of renters do not think they will ever be able to afford to buy a home in a place they’d like to live in Los Angeles County. Think about that — more and more people in our region see the American dream of homeownership slipping away,” Yaroslavsky said.

Yaroslavsky’s remarks were followed by six breakout sessions that examined timely policy issues from the perspective of scholarly research originating at the Luskin School and its affiliated research centers.

Summit attendees heard about studies and policy proposals in climate resilience, governance and equity in transportation. Panels made up of UCLA Luskin scholars and experts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors took on pressing issues affecting Los Angeles and beyond:

  • What strategies can governments adopt now to help communities withstand rising temperatures?
  • How is the Southland voter pool changing in this election year, and how can Los Angeles better provide representation for its 3.8 million people
  • How are government agencies and nonprofits meeting the transportation needs of the region’s most disadvantaged people?

Much of the conversation was guided by research conducted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, the Institute of Transportation Studies, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Latino Policy and Politics Institute.

The session with the mayor was the final session of this year’s Luskin Summit. For about an hour, Bass answered questions and engaged in conversation with Waggoner, a native Angeleno with a longtime connection to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

Since Bass took office, Waggoner said she has noticed visible change in the homeless population. In the past, she would see people leave the streets, only to return soon after.

“I haven’t seen those same people in a year, and what I would say to you is that you are on the path to permanent solutions,” Waggoner said to Bass.

“But I’m never satisfied,” replied Bass, a former social worker. She understands that people experiencing homelessness need not just roofs over their heads, but social services.

“I come at it with a bias because my background is in health care, and I just think we need to do much, much more,” Bass said.

She noted that mental health is something that people often talk about in connection to the unhoused population, but treatment for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer are also important and deserve attention.

“I feel that health needs to be at the center,” Bass said.

Waggoner said that with homelessness spreading “in every neighborhood, people want to do something about it.”

Noting UCLA Luskin’s public-private partnerships with organizations like Hilton Foundation, a Summit sponsor, Waggoner asked Bass about the role of businesses and other groups in helping to get people into permanent housing.

“We are a state of unbelievable wealth. We have many, many, many billionaires that live in the city, tons of multi-millionaires who do phenomenal charitable work,” Bass responded. “I feel good that we’ve been able to align the public sector. But now we need the private sector, we need private money … to expedite the building” of more affordable housing.

Relying on public money can be a slow process because of regulations, construction approvals and the need to juggle multiple funding streams.

“A private developer comes in and can get the development going,” Bass explained. “So, we are hoping that we can do a capital campaign. Everybody knows capital campaigns — buildings get built.”

During her discussion with Waggoner and the 25-minute audience Q&A that followed, Bass also talked about the city’s LA4LA plan to partner with private donors and business to purchase existing properties, including major hotels, to develop its system of long-term interim and permanent housing.

Noting the scale of the problem and an audience consisting of scholars, philanthropic leaders and community organizations, Waggoner pointed out that many people will need to play a part for Bass to realize her vision of a housing solution in Los Angeles.

“Everyone needs to have skin in this game,” Bass said.

The annual event is organized by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs under the guidance of its Board of Advisors, and naming benefactors Meyer and Renee Luskin were among those in attendance. The event was supported by gifts from 12 local charitable organizations and businesses, many of which have been sponsors since the first Luskin Summit in 2019. This year’s theme was “Transformative Action.”

Mary Braswell and Stan Paul also contributed to this story. 

See additional photos on Flickr:

UCLA Luskin Summit 2024

Watch a recording of the mayor’s discussion with Waggoner and the audience Q&A on our Vimeo channel:

 

 

Fairlie Discusses Economic Impact of High Unemployment in California

Robert Fairlie, a professor of economics and public policy, recently discussed the long-term implications should the state’s job growth continue to lag behind the national average. Joblessness reduces overall earnings, said Fairlie, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, and that lowers consumer demand and hinders investment. “There is a negative multiplier effect on the state economy from the higher unemployment rates we are seeing,” he said. The story in the New York Times, which was picked up by other news outlets, focuses on the impacts of California’s high unemployment rate — 5.1% in January, which exceeded the national rate of 3.7% and was behind only Nevada’s rate of 5.4%. Among the contributing factors explored in the story are layoffs in the technology sector, a slow rebound in Southern California from prolonged strikes in the entertainment industry and varying demand for agricultural workers.


 

Stalled Momentum in Reforming L.A. Governance

UCLA Luskin Public Policy Professor Gary Segura spoke to LAist about a delay in the decision to move forward with reforms at L.A. City Hall. Segura is co-chair of the L.A. Governance Reform Project, a coalition of scholars who came together in response to a series of corruption scandals that have plagued the city. Their recommendations for better governance include increasing the number of seats on the L.A. City Council, currently made up of 15 members representing 4 million Angelenos. “One of the advantages of a larger council is that it makes it possible for smaller communities to maintain a voice,” Segura said. Council members are debating the anticipated impact of the proposed change on the delivery of city services, as well as on the balance of power between the council and the mayor. The decision to delay action and possibly hand the question over to a yet-to-be-created charter reform commission has stalled momentum and is deeply concerning, Segura said.


 

Mullin on the Contradictions of Central California’s Climate Emergency

Megan Mullin, faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the San Joaquin Valley, where flagging resilience to drought, floods and heat have made it one of the front lines of climate change in America. The region is also the center of oil and gas production in California and skews conservative, creating many internal contradictions, said Mullin, co-author of a recent paper that found that climate change is projected to disproportionately affect Republican voters. The valley’s residents are “getting messages that action on climate is jeopardizing their well-being, jeopardizing their livelihoods,” she said, yet at the same time they face dried-up wells, dreadful air quality, huge flood risks and other perils. Mullin did point to Fresno as one area that is making climate gains through the state’s Transformative Climate Communities program, which funds hyper-local projects in places that have been disproportionately affected by legacy pollution and other environmental hazards.


 

Reforming the L.A. City Council to Give Diverse Communities a Voice

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.


 

Yaroslavsky on California’s ‘Formidable’ Pick for U.S. Senate

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to CBS Los Angeles about the appointment of Laphonza Butler as California’s next senator. Butler, who has deep experience in Democratic politics as a campaign strategist and labor organizer, was selected by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the seat of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “Laphonza Butler is a very serious and formidable individual in whatever position she takes,” said Yaroslavsky, who worked closely with Butler when she was a Los Angeles labor leader and he a county supervisor. Her work in the labor, nonprofit and private sectors demonstrated her “tremendous leadership qualities,” he said. The appointment fulfill’s Newsom’s vow that his next Senate appointment would be a Black woman. Said Yaroslavsky, “I don’t look at her just as an African American woman, I look at her as a formidable human being who has paid a lot of dues so far in her young life.” 


 

Advancing Climate Policy in an Era of Deeply Partisan Politics

In a deeply polarized political environment, Americans are more divided on climate change than ever before. Yet three recent developments could advance climate policy, despite partisan politics, according to a new article in the journal Political Science & Politics co-authored by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation faculty director Megan Mullin and Patrick J. Egan of New York University:

  • Partisan cohesion and Democratic initiative. The Republican and Democratic parties have become more unified internally. While Republicans are less concerned about climate change than ever before, growing cohesion among Democrats, both among elected officials and members of the public, has elevated climate change as a party priority and increased their willingness to take electoral risks to address it.
  • Clean-energy expansion in Republican states. Even though decision-makers in Republican-led states have backpedaled on support for clean energy, those states are leaders in clean-energy production. Nearly 40% of U.S. renewable energy is situated in the Republican-led states of Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, suggesting that markets can overcome politics in the transition to a clean-energy economy.
  • Partisan distribution of climate impacts. Heavily Republican areas may suffer disproportionately from the worst effects of climate change. Mullin and Egan bring together maps of climate risk with county voting records to show that Republican counties have higher percentages of properties at severe or extreme risk from flooding and fire over the next 30 years. This may inspire partisan voters to demand political action by their elected officials.

Read the full story, and find related research on the Center for Innovation’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience webpage.


 

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