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Nelson Esparza MPP ’15 Named Public Policy Alumnus of the Year New member of the Fresno City Council is honored at alumni reception and luncheon

Public Policy hosted its 21st annual alumni reception and luncheon on May 18, part of UCLA’s campuswide Centennial Launch. Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, who recently won election to Fresno’s City Council, was honored as 2019 Alumnus of the Year. Esparza thanked his UCLA Luskin professors, staff and peers, adding, “When one of us gets elected to office or serves in a position and does good in the community … that reflects greatly upon all of us.” Two first-year students were awarded fellowships made possible by an alumni fund. Irma Castaneda was recognized as “an extremely driven, organized and selfless person who is often looking for ways to help others, especially first-generation students and those who are not well-represented and advocated for in both the MPP and higher education overall.” Devon Schechinger was honored for bringing together classmates in social gatherings aimed at “making our communities and our environment healthier and safer. … She has the quiet determination of an effective change maker.”

UCLA Luskin has followed Esparza’s journey as a public servant:

 

‘My experience at the Luskin School was just invaluable. It wasn’t just the nitty-gritty of the public policy that we got into in the classroom. It was the leadership aspects that I was able to engage in with my peers inside and outside of the classroom.’ — Esparza after winning election to the Fresno City Council in 2018

Read more: UCLA Luskin Alumni Emerge as Local Leaders With Election Wins

‘The Board of Education is especially personal because I am the students of my district. I faced the same barriers and obstacles that students in my district are battling every day.’ — Esparza after winning a seat on the Fresno County School Board in 2016

Read more: A Crash Course in Politics

View photos from Public Policy’s alumni reception on Flickr.

Public Policy Alumni Reception and Luncheon

Shah on Benefits of Decriminalizing Sex Work

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox “Consider It” episode discussing the issue of sex work in the United States. “For the most part, sex workers are women who are making the choice to do [sex work] as a source of livelihood. We can argue about how good or bad of a source of livelihood this is, but ultimately, sex work is work,” Shah said. “The sex market is often characterized as one of moral repugnance because of moral beliefs that we shouldn’t put a price on sex.” Nevertheless, public policy experts have found numerous benefits associated with the decriminalization of sex work. Shah explained that during the six years that indoor prostitution was decriminalized in Rhode Island, there was a decrease in gonorrhea incidents and reported rape offenses. “Based on current research, decriminalization of sex work is overall better for women,” Shah concluded.


Lens, Manville Shape Discussion of How Housing Can Be Coupled to Transit L.A.’s future must accommodate a shift in housing concentrated not where transit lines used to run but where they go today — or will be soon

By Naveen Agrawal

With Metro spending billions of dollars in Los Angeles over the next few years and transit-oriented development seen as key to denser building, encouraging ridership and mitigating environmental issues, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies hosted a panel on Feb. 20, 2019, around the topic of coupling more housing to transit.

Held in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, the event focused on some of the latest local and statewide developments. It featured a panel of professional and practicing experts moderated by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin and associate director of the Lewis Center.

Framing the discussion was UCLA Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville, who shared results from a recently released Lewis Center report on what a transit-oriented future might look like, focusing on five current — and two planned — Metro rail and bus stations. The report emphasized the impact that land use patterns can have on transit ridership and neighborhood quality, and it offered recommendations for future zoning scenarios.

Manville spoke of framing a narrative around two different transit and housing systems: what we have and what we want. Among the discrepancies between the visions is that much of the city’s housing is concentrated around where train stations used to be — not where they are today.

Arthi Varma, deputy director of the city’s planning department, shared some of the early results of its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Created in November 2016 by voter approval of Measure JJJ, the TOC program is a local-density program available within one-half mile of major transit stops.

In 2018, its first full year of implementation, half of all applications for new dwelling units were filed under the TOC program, Varma said. Of the applications received since the program has been active, 18 percent (2,377 out of 13,305) are affordable units. The Planning Department issues quarterly housing reports.

Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance for Community Transit, shared her perspective on the development of the TOC program. In particular, she emphasized that many low-income communities surveyed by her organization expressed strong preference for increased density.

From a community organizing perspective, this issue is one that spans transit and housing, Raymond stressed, but discussion is also needed around labor markets and the types of jobs created near transit — as well as environmental justice.

Elizabeth Machado, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb, LLP, provided an overview of the factors that make it difficult to build in Los Angeles, which include the high price of land, zoning limitations and political challenges. The state has delegated most planning and zoning issues to localities, Machado said, but she noted the introduction of SB 50 as a move by Sacramento to accelerate local governance or force action from the top down.

Visiting Professor Steven Nemerovski

Visiting Professors Encourage Careers in Government With a dysfunctional government and Election 2020 firing up interest in politics, faculty stress importance of getting involved

By Stan Paul

“If government is so dysfunctional, why should I work there?”

That question guided a noontime discussion hosted by Visiting Professor of Public Policy Steven Nemerovski on Feb. 20, 2019, at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

One answer, Nemerovski said, is that when nothing is getting done — at the federal level in particular — “that’s the time when you need talented people the most.”

Nemerovski is one of three visiting professors — all with decades of experience — at UCLA Luskin in the winter quarter. Citing his own unique career path, which has spanned politics, government, business and law, the adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs encouraged the gathered students to consider government as a starting point for developing a successful and multifaceted career.

“There is no right way” into politics, said Nemerovski, who is teaching an undergraduate and graduate-level course in advocacy and legislation. He said government experience should be looked at as an extension of education, an early step in a student’s career process. “You have to go into it thinking that way,” he said.

Another teaching visitor this quarter is Gary Orren, the V.O. Key, Jr., Professor of Politics and Leadership at Harvard University, who is again teaching a graduate course “Persuasion: Science and Art of Effective Influence,” which he says “lies at the heart of our personal and professional lives.”

Orren, who has taught at the East Coast institution for nearly half a century, is also able to share his experience as a political advisor in local, state, national and international election campaigns.

Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, has also returned to campus this winter, as he has for more than two decades. Dukakis is co-teaching a course on California policy issues in the School’s new undergraduate major as well as his graduate course on institutional leadership.

In January, Dukakis led a Learn-at-Lunch discussion with UCLA undergrad students on the 2020 campaign. He noted that, since the 2016 election, young people’s interest in politics has increased dramatically and current events have only fired them up.

“They are streaming into my office asking about public service,” he said.

That sentiment was heard at the lunchtime conversation with Nemerovski, who offered a number of career lessons and insider tips.

Nemerovski, who has served as an attorney in government service, a campaign manager and lobbyist, and now president of a consulting firm specializing in advocacy at the state and federal levels, explained that his own career path did not start in a straightforward way or as early as he recommends to students.

He highlighted the importance of “picking a team” and “finding a cause” — of connecting passion with expertise. Admittedly, he said, he did not have a particular calling from the start in his home state of Illinois, but by becoming involved in lobbying, he developed a true career-long passion for health care issues.

He cautioned that becoming an expert can only get a person so far and stressed the importance of establishing relationships. He said he still has important connections from more than four decades of work in his various roles, and he has invited many in his network to speak to his classes. This quarter, Nemerovski’s students had the opportunity to hear from several current and former legislators from Illinois and California.

One of the many benefits of maintaining relationships with people throughout a career, he said, is that “you will grow with them.”

Nemerovski also shared a few enduring political rules of thumb: “In the world of government and politics, you have to be from somewhere” and “We don’t want anybody that nobody sent.”

And in launching and nurturing a career involving work in and out of government, Nemerovski said, “There’s nothing wrong with a little luck.”

Students Tackle Climate Change in Visit to L.A. City Hall

Climate change — and what Los Angeles leaders and planners can do about it — was the topic of this year’s UCLA Luskin Day at City Hall held Feb. 15, 2019. Now in its 15th year, the event sees UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Public Policy students traveling to the iconic City Hall to discuss and debate a current policy issue with policymakers, officials from government agencies and community leaders. This year’s topic, “How Can Planning Combat Climate Change?” came from Councilmember Paul Koretz of District 5. Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10, deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), served as program adviser for group of 18 students. Koretz wanted “outside-the-box ideas for addressing climate change through planning and policy solutions,” Callahan said, “and how to leverage what the city is already doing and build on new opportunities.” First-year MPP student Noreen Ahmed said, “I thought it was really valuable because the people we interviewed went straight into talking about what the issues were, what they cared about, how climate change is involved in what they are doing.” Ahmed also had the opportunity to interview Los Angeles city planners. Koretz will receive a written memorandum of findings and policy recommendations from the students, according to organizer VC Powe, executive director of external programs and career services. “What happens here in Los Angeles doesn’t stay in Los Angeles,” Koretz told the visiting group. “We are one of the most watched cities in the world. We take action and it spreads statewide — sometimes nationally, sometimes globally. We hope that what we do here in Los Angeles can literally help save the world in terms of dealing with climate change.” The annual trip is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Office of Government and Community Relations—Stan Paul

View photos from the day on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin Day at LA City Hall


 

UCLA Report Provides Strategies for Making Covered California More Affordable Public Policy's Wes Yin helps develop policy options to keep insurance costs down

By Mary Braswell

With California taking steps to revamp its health care system, research by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is guiding the conversation.

The report, published Feb. 1, details strategies to improve the affordability of Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. It was co-authored by economist Wes Yin, associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

Affordability is “the top challenge for individuals who are insured as well as those who remain uninsured,” according to the report (PDF), which lays out a wide array of proposals to meet that challenge, including:

  • capping out-of-pocket premiums for all eligible Californians;
  • offering expanded cost-sharing benefits, which would lower deductibles and the cost of office visits; and
  • creating a California-only penalty for those who opt out of coverage, to replace the penalty that was phased out by the federal government.

“This will help push the conversation forward, now with policy options that we know will improve affordability and market stability,” said Yin, who wrote the report with economist Nicholas Tilipman of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Covered California’s policy and research division.

Commissioned under a state law, the report was presented to the governor’s office and state Legislature. It was developed amid a shifting landscape for health care in California.

On Jan. 30, Covered California reported mixed figures for 2019 enrollment. Although the number of Californians held steady from 2018 to 2019, the number of new enrollees dropped by 23.7 percent. In addition, on the first day of his term, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his own far-reaching health care plan, calling for increased premium subsidies and Medicaid coverage for undocumented youths up to age 26, among other reforms.

“Our analysis gives policymakers a sense for how different approaches benefit Californians and at what cost,” Yin said. “So this report bolsters the governor’s effort to improve health care access.”

The dialogue, he said, will include a debate over the state’s funding priorities.

“From a wider lens, it’s helpful to think about how we can best spend that next public dollar,” Yin said. “It could be health care, it could be pre-K programs, it could be public education or parental leave benefits. These are all important. And there is a strong argument for improving the affordability of health care coverage and reducing cost-sharing burdens. Coverage improves health — especially mental health — it improves chronic disease management and it drastically reduces the risk of catastrophic spending and debt incurred by consumers.”

The report includes proposals to address the divisive issue of penalties for Californians who choose not to buy health insurance. Covered California attributes the decline in new enrollments to removal of the federal individual mandate penalty beginning this year. A statewide penalty would create a fresh incentive to opt in.

“The penalty appears to be quite impactful,” Yin said. “What we’re seeing in Covered California the past year shows that, and our modeling also shows that. Zeroing out the penalty has directly caused premiums to increase and enrollment to drop. Including a penalty while making plans more affordable can be both an effective and fair way of expanding coverage and lowering premiums.”

The report also notes that premium costs can vary widely for consumers based on their age and geographic location. “For consumers nearing retirement age living in high-cost regions, premium costs can exceed 30 percent of income for the most common benefit package,” it said.

To make health insurance more affordable for those consumers, California could use subsidies to cap all premium payments at 15 percent of annual income. Currently, subsidies are offered only to people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $103,000 for a family of four. Consumers who earn just over the 400 percent threshold would not qualify for federal premium subsidies, Yin said. A 15 percent cap would also eliminate this so-called tax-credit cliff.

The report’s policy options are based on a model developed by Yin and Tilipman that shows the potential effects that various policy proposals would have on health care enrollment, consumer health spending and public spending.

As elected officials and consumers debate competing visions of health care reform — from repealing the federal Affordable Care Act to moving to a state-run single-payer system — Yin said the proposals are aimed at expanding coverage and increasing affordability as much as possible.

“Let’s find ways to build on the successes of the Affordable Care Act and make it work better,” Yin said. “These are models for improvement.”

Shah Publishes on Sanitation Practice Improvement

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah’s research on improving sanitation practices in Indonesia has been published in the Journal of Development Economics. Shah and two co-authors measured the effects of scaling up both the construction of toilets and the education of communities about the negative health consequences of open defecation. Poor sanitation habits can have dire consequences: Worldwide, an estimated 1.7 million people die each year because of unsafe water, hygiene and sanitation practices, according to the World Bank. The researchers studied Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), a program active in 60 countries, to determine its effectiveness when scaled up over large sections of rural Indonesia. Among their findings:

  • CLTS led to modest increases in toilet construction and decreased community tolerance of open defecation.
  • Roundworm infestations in children declined, but there was no impact on anemia, height or weight.
  • When the program was implemented by local governments instead of agency teams, its effectiveness declined.
  • The poorest households chose not to build toilets, highlighting the potential advantages of offering financing or subsidies through the program.

As Shah’s research illustrates, interventions that work on a small scale face challenges when implemented on a large scale. “Currently, there are very few studies that explicitly examine the scale-up process through the lens of a rigorous quantitative evaluation,” wrote Shah and co-authors Lisa Cameron and Susan Olivia. Their findings are designed to increase the chances of success of these programs by reducing dependence on trial and error.


 

Gilens Argues for Increasing Democratic Representation Through Public Policy

In an episode of the P.S. You’re Interesting podcast, UCLA Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens discusses economic and political inequalities within democracies. Gilens’ research has found that “how much political influence a person has depends highly on how much income or assets they own. … Once you take into account the preferences of interest groups and the well-to-do, what middle-class Americans want bears almost no relationship to what the government actually does.” Despite levels of economic inequality that are the “highest in our history,” Gilens argues that Americans “shouldn’t accept the current degree of inequality and lack of responsiveness of the government to its citizens as something inevitable or out of our control.” Gilens’ solution of “more democracy” consists of facilitating engagement of citizens in the democratic process, including Election Day holidays and automatic voting registration, and forcing government decision-makers to respond to the preferences of citizens.


UCLA Luskin Alumni Emerge as Local Leaders With Election Wins Former students credit policy lessons learned on campus with helping them garner votes during 2018 midterm races

By Stan Paul and Zoe Day

The November 2018 midterm elections provided an opportunity for several alumni to follow previous officeholders from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and put their educational experience and training to the test in local California races, with three Master of Public Policy graduates winning election battles.

Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, an economics instructor at Fresno City College, won a grass-roots bid for Fresno’s city council. His latest win follows a successful campaign in 2016 for a spot on the Fresno County Board of Education in which he unseated a longtime incumbent.

“I attribute my success to the variety of different variables, but my experience at the Luskin School was just invaluable,” said Esparza, who will serve out his school board term until he takes the oath of office for his new role in January. “It wasn’t just the nitty-gritty of the public policy that we got into in the classroom. It was the leadership aspects that I was able to engage in with my peers inside and outside of the classroom and through the different supplemental programs that Luskin offered.”

Esparza said he is excited about the opportunity to impact public policy in Fresno. He cited independent study with Luskin Public Policy Professor Mark A. Peterson and “instrumental” advice from Michael Dukakis, visiting professor of public policy and the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, as elements contributing to his win.

“And now we have a majority Democrat city council and a majority Latino city council, which is a lot more reflective of what our city looks like,” said Esparza, who has already started assembling his team and policy agenda. “We’re doing the best we possibly can to minimize the learning curve.”

Regina Wallace-Jones MPP ’99 was victorious in her run in East Palo Alto’s city council race.

“I cannot wait to get started with the policymaking. That’s where I am most enthusiastic,” said the chief of staff and head of product operations at eBay. She has also held posts at Yahoo and Facebook.

Wallace-Jones, who focused on technology policy as a student at Luskin, also said that classes such as Dukakis’ course were particularly “useful in sizing up the political opportunity.”

She is the founding board president of StreetCode Academy, a patron of Black Girls Code, a board member for Women Who Code and a partner of the Lean In Foundation.

Jacque Casillas MPP ’14, a nonprofit manager and healthcare advocate with Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, also won a city council seat in her hometown of Corona.

“I feel like the hard work paid off. We knocked on 10,000 doors in our election and … we fundraised like crazy,” said Casillas, noting that a majority of contributions came from individual donors.

“It’s OK to be outspent but don’t be outworked. You’ve got to be able to do the work,” Casillas said. Early in her campaign, she posted a small number of signs compared to her competition. “Everyone thought it was all over, but, you know, yard signs don’t vote, people vote,” said Casillas, whose goal was to knock on every door twice.

“My Luskin family were among the first folks to donate to my campaign; they were the folks that I called that I didn’t have to explain why the heck I thought this was important or what the heck I thought I was doing,” said Casillas. She noted the generosity and time of local and some out-of-state Luskin alumni — “cohorts past and present”— who phone-banked for her remotely. “It’s Luskin, you know, it’s our network.”

Talking about her first run for office, “Luskin also showed me the value of really diving in to difficult policy questions, and that’s how I really outperformed the competitors,” Casillas said. “My candidate peers had a lot of platitudes to share about decisions that were being made. But during candidate forums, I had more substance and could provide a more thorough perspective on things.”

She also benefited from “the tools of the trade” like cost-benefit analysis and being able to speak in policy terms. “I acquired those skills at Luskin,” she said.

For Casillas, who previously served as a field deputy director for a congressional campaign, serving at the local level is important.

“That’s where decisions are made that impact your everyday life. I’m more of a practitioner. I wanted to make decisions, impact change and see it within five years in my community. That’s why I went back to school and got a master’s in public policy,” she said.

Like her colleagues were for her, Casillas said, “I’m always there for Luskin.”

Peterson, who also holds UCLA appointments in political science and law, congratulated the efforts of former policy students. “There are many valuable ways to be effective change agents, our coin of the realm,” he said. “Few, however, are as potent as becoming one of the actual decision-makers chosen by the voters.”

Two other MPP graduates who threw their hats in the ring this election season garnered second-place finishes in their respective races.

Shana Alex Charles MPP ’01, a professor in Cal State Fullerton’s Department of Public Health, ran for her local school board in Fullerton. Her research focuses on equal access to affordable healthcare in California, health insurance for low-income children and public health policies. At Luskin, she was a teaching assistant for Dukakis.

Mark Anthony Paredes MPP ’02 ran for a seat on Garden Grove’s city council. He is a teacher, health care advocate and former planning commissioner. He also serves as an associate board member for the Boys and Girls Club of Garden Grove.

About these candidates and others before them, Peterson said, “It takes guts, confidence, energy, optimism, hard work, a measure of luck and a thick skin, but there is no better way to become infused in one’s community and, if granted victory, to apply directly the MPP ethos and skills to improve policymaking.”

He continued, “Hats off to our dedicated MPP graduates who took the plunge in the past, in 2018, and who will in the future!”

Public Policy Celebrates 20th Anniversary, Alumna of the Year Honored Jaime Nack ’02 is recognized for entrepreneurship, leadership and impact at UCLA and beyond

By Stan Paul

Since graduating its first class of 17 students in 1998, the Master of Public Policy program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has equipped nearly 900 more for careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The highly competitive MPP program that now admits about 70 students each year celebrated its second decade with alumni, faculty, staff, friends and family Sept. 22, 2018, at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center.

As part of the MPP program’s milestone anniversary, Jaime Nack MPP ’02 was named Alumna of the Year.

An entrepreneur and environmental consultant, Nack was a Luskin School Public Policy minor before pursuing her graduate degree. She credits UCLA with helping her meld her interests and foster her career.

“I always knew I wanted to focus on ‘impact’ and figuring out a way to effect change around the landscape around me, and public policy felt like the best place where I could actually explore those interests,” Nack said. “Whether it be transportation or housing or social welfare, all of the pieces that I was interested in my impact puzzle I found at Luskin, I found in public policy.”

Also during the celebration, five current students were given the UCLA Luskin MPP Alumni Fellowship Awards for outstanding leadership and service. The students, nominated by their classmates, were: Marissa Ayala, Robert Gamboa, Gabriela Solis, Caio Velasco and Erica Webster.

“A lot’s happened since many of you graduated,” Dean Gary Segura told the crowd, citing a list of accomplishments that included 19 new UCLA Luskin faculty hires, nine of whom are in Public Policy; the addition of new research centers; the launch of an undergraduate major in Public Affairs this fall; and, “more importantly, the training of a generation of MPPs who’ve gone off and made the world a better, cleaner, more just place to live.”

“We have impact on things that we care about,” such as climate change, water pollution, public education, health care, civil society and social inequality, Segura said. “All of these things are things that faculty at Luskin Public Policy work with students every day to understand, to explain, to search for solutions.”

On hand to celebrate two decades of growth and success was Public Policy chair JR DeShazo, who recalled his more than 20 years on the School’s faculty.

Despite the growth of the Public Policy community, “we need all the MPPs we can get in this day and age,” said DeShazo, who is also director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

“We share a common goal of creating a more just society and opportunities for all of its members,” he added. “We gather today because we are part of a community committed to strengthening our civil society, and we gather here today because we all know that our future depends on us investing in staying connected and supporting one another.”

Former Public Policy chairs including Mark Peterson and Michael Stoll attended the anniversary celebration.

“We have all watched the department and program grow from the excitement of the founding moment to become an institution of considerable reputation and influence,” Peterson said prior to the event. “You can see it in our graduates, where they go and what they do.”

Peterson added, “There is no better embodiment of that impact than Jaime Nack.”

Nurit Katz MPP ’08, who currently serves as UCLA’s chief sustainability officer and executive officer of facilities management, presented the Alumna of the Year Award to Nack, crediting her leadership in sustainability and climate issues nationally and internationally.

Nack’s accomplishments as an entrepreneur include founding Three Squares Inc., an environmental consulting firm, and serving as director of sustainability and greening operations for the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions, marking the first time the DNC took measures to reduce the events’ environmental impact on host cities. She also has served as a member of the National Women’s Business Council — an Obama Administration appointment — and is on UCLA’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. In 2011, Nack was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Nack described her career journey as “non-linear” but said she found a path to environmental consulting because it was a “perfect blend of policy, business and impact.”

“So the last 20 years have take me through the Arctic to the White House,” said Nack, who returned recently from an Arctic expedition sponsored by FutureTalks, and more recently served as head of sustainability for the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

“It’s been great to be a part of and play a role in some of those, but I definitely think that a big part of who I am comes from my experiences on campus with professors, with staff. I owe a debt of gratitude. … I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings for Luskin.”

View a Flickr album from the event.

 

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