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Government Leaders, Scholars Discuss Policy Solutions During UCLA Luskin Summit Congresswoman Karen Bass opens the inaugural convening of a research-informed, cross-sector conference about issues facing the region

By Les Dunseith

Elected officials, scholars, civic leaders, and difference-makers in the nonprofit and philanthropic spheres came together April 24 to learn the results of the annual Quality of Life Index and discuss policy issues during a half-day conference put together by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Congresswoman Karen Bass provided the morning’s keynote address for “Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.,” an event that also kicked off the 25th anniversary celebration at the Luskin School.

Bass opened the conference by jokingly telling more than 300 people in attendance at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center that she “wanted to tell you about what we are doing in D.C. because, if you watch some TV news, you have no idea what we are doing in D.C.”

Bass has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011. She said that “Democrats and Republicans actually do work together” in the nation’s capital.

“We don’t hate each other,” Bass said, smiling broadly. “Our accomplishments unfortunately don’t sustain media attention. So you might hear that we passed legislation on something like gun control … and then somebody tweets, and that’s all you hear about for the next several hours.”

The congresswoman’s remarks set a cooperative tone for the inaugural Luskin Summit, which focused on finding solutions through research and policy change. The conference emphasized a Los Angeles perspective during breakout sessions moderated by UCLA faculty members that focused on issues such as public mobility, climate change, housing and criminal justice.

Providing a framework for those discussions was the unveiling of the fourth Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment under the direction of longtime Los Angeles political stalwart Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. The survey asks county residents to rate their quality of life in a range of categories and to answer questions about important issues facing them and the region.

“The cost of living, and particularly the cost of housing, is the single biggest drag on the rating that residents ultimately give to their quality of life in Los Angeles,” Yaroslavsky told Luskin Summit attendees. “The unmistakable takeaway from this project continues to be the crippling impact of the cost of living in Los Angeles County, punctuated by the extraordinary cost of housing.”

The housing affordability crisis was echoed throughout the event and in the days that followed as Yaroslavsky explained details of the survey in coverage by news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, local radio news programs, and broadcast television reports by the local affiliates for NBC and ABC.

The coverage by KABC (also known as ABC7 Los Angeles) included segments on daily news broadcasts and a follow-up discussion with Yaroslavsky scheduled to air May 26 on the station’s weekly public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.” That program is hosted by Adrienne Alpert, a general assignment reporter at ABC7 who served as the moderator for the Luskin Summit.

Alpert also hosted a panel discussion that closed the conference, during which mayors of four cities in Los Angeles County — Emily Gabel-Luddy of Burbank, Thomas Small of Culver City, James Butts of Inglewood and Tim Sandoval of Pomona — spoke frankly about the challenges their cities face in dealing with issues such as the rising cost of housing and its potential to lead to displacement of low-income residents.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a former colleague of Yaroslavsky on the Los Angeles City Council, was also in attendance at the conference. Padilla engaged in a lively exchange about election security and voter registration efforts with UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura during a lunch meeting of panelists, faculty members and sponsors that took place immediately after the summit.

Segura also provided remarks during the morning session, introducing Bass and giving attendees a preview of the day to follow.

“Today you will hear from a series of dedicated public officials who understand that as great as our nation is, it can be better,” Segura said. “And they are taking action to make our country and our city more effective, more innovative, more fair and more inclusive.”

During her remarks, Bass offered her perspective on the recently released investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“One thing that is a responsibility by the Constitution for Congress — we are supposed to provide oversight and investigation of the administration,” Bass said. “Most of the time it’s not that controversial, and you don’t really hear about it. But it’s made to be super-controversial now because we are in a hyper-partisan situation.”

The bitter partisanship prevalent in Washington today does have a positive aspect, she said, in that Americans seem to be paying closer attention to government and political issues.

“I am hoping that this trauma that we have collectively gone through will lead to a change in our American culture,” Bass said, “because as a culture we tend not to be involved politically.”

Bass said that more people seem to have a deeper understanding of political actions related to “immigration, the Muslim ban, the environment — all the kind of negative things that this administration has done,” said Bass, a Democrat who has been critical of many Trump administration policies. “I think he has sparked a new level of awareness and involvement, where we are working across our silos. I think, ultimately, we can take advantage of this period and bring about transformative change.”

The idea of initiating transformative change was a popular notion among many attendees at the Luskin Summit, as was the focus on making Los Angeles a more livable place.

“I can’t think of a better topic than how to make our city more livable and touch on all of these different aspects of life and the built environment and our environment in Los Angeles,” said Nurit Katz MPP/MBA ’08, the chief sustainability officer at UCLA.

Wendy Greuel BA ’83 is a former Los Angeles city controller and past president of the Los Angeles City Council. She noted that the research presented during the Luskin Summit was timely and focused “on issues that matter to Los Angeles, but also to this country and this world.”

Greuel served as the chair of the UCLA Luskin Advisory Board committee that helped plan the Luskin Summit. “I think that UCLA Luskin is at the forefront of really focusing on issues that matter and being able to give us real-life solutions and address the challenges,” she said.

Another UCLA Luskin Advisory Board member is Stephen Cheung BA ’00 MSW ’07, who is president of the World Trade Center Los Angeles and executive vice president at the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation.

“I think anything that has to do with sustainability and the growth of Los Angeles as a whole is very important to the economic vitality of this region,” Cheung said as the event got underway. “So this summit and all the information that’s going to be provided will really set a roadmap in terms of what we need to do, addressing public policies in terms of creating new opportunities for our companies here.”

Jackie Guevarra, executive director of the Quality and Productivity Commission of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, said she attended the Luskin Summit because of her interest in the issues under discussion, including housing affordability.

“Homelessness is a big issue that L.A. County is tackling right now,” Guevarra said. “That is an issue that touches all of us. … The more that we have that conversation, the more people we can get to the same way of thinking about how to address the need — so that maybe we can all say, ‘Yes, we need affordable housing, and it’s OK for it to be here in my community.’”

Misch Anderson is a community activist with the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, a volunteer organization created in 2013 after a series of fatal crashes involving cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

“I was feeling like my activism put me in touch with such a small, kind of silo-ized community mindset, and I really want to break out of that and connect with people on a larger level,” said Anderson about her reason for attending the summit. “I just wanted to get some inspiration.”

Her takeaway from the summit?

“The idea that we need cultural change, essentially. I think the realities of globalism should be forcing us as individuals to think more widely, more as a larger group, and not be so xenophobic,” Anderson said. “I keep hearing about cultural change [at the summit] and thinking about what can I do — what can each of us do.”

Among the UCLA students in attendance was Tam Guy, a second-year Urban Planning Ph.D. candidate who is studying equity in the city, which encompasses housing, transportation and environmental design.

“One thing that interested me about this summit in particular is that they’re bringing in people from outside academia to talk about the issues, people who are actually on the ground dealing with policy day-to-day,” Guy noted.

The Luskin Summit drew a large crowd to the UCLA campus, and several hundred people watched a live stream of selected presentations. It drew interest near and far. A prime example was a group seated together near the back of the vast ballroom during the opening session — high school students from New Zealand!

The youths had been traveling up and down the West Coast with Joanna Speed, international coordinator with Crimson Education, a college admissions consulting service that exposes teens to potential careers and educational opportunities abroad. Coincidentally, the group scheduled its campus tour of UCLA for April 24. When they saw that the summit was happening that day, they asked to attend.

“It’s been an incredible experience for them,” Speed said.

Mary Braswell and Stan Paul also contributed to this story. 

View additional photos from the UCLA Luskin Summit

UCLA Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.

Watch videos recorded during the event:

Decriminalizing Latinos Is Focus of Criminal Justice Gathering Latino Policy & Politics Initiative brings together scholars, policymakers and nationally known advocates for the Latino community for a day of presentations, discussions and workshops

A recent gathering at UCLA Luskin included a full-day of programming related to efforts to advance visibility on the experience of Latinos in the criminal justice system across the United States.

Dozens of experts and scholars on Latino issues at the local, state and national levels gathered on campus May 31, 2018, for a day of presentations and workshops organized by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Attendees included a number of nationally known advocates for Latinos, including LatinoJustice President Juan Cartagena.

“It is so reaffirming seeing Latinx people talking about these issues,” Cartagena told a packed classroom of workshop participants, including several UCLA Luskin students. “Everyone in this room should be listed as experts.”

The sessions began with an introduction from Dean Gary Segura, who was also one of the participants in a high-level strategy workshop focusing on Latino civil rights and the U.S. criminal justice system.

He told attendees that he helped found LPPI in part to address a shortfall in research about issues of importance to Latinos, including inequalities in the criminal justice system.

“People across the ideological divide agree that this is an issue for the Latino community,” said Segura, who said he hoped the day would provide an opportunity for attendees to “think constructively about the things that have to happen” in order to bring about change.

Matt Barreto answers a question during the opening panel, which was streamed live over social media. Photo by Les Dunseith

A discussion hosted by LPPI’s founding director, Sonja Diaz, followed with Cartagena and Matt A. Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA and the other co-founder of LPPI. They zeroed in on the fact that national discussions have historically downplayed the impact on Latinos of criminal justice policies related to policing, mass incarceration or unequal rates of prosecution.

“Why are Latinos invisible in this discussion?” Barreto asked. “It’s because we are invisible in the data.”

For example, the U.S. Census has historically grouped Latinos with whites in its tabulations based on ethnicity. And this shortcoming has been replicated in much of the research at the state and local levels.

“So many people don’t count Latinos,” Barreto said. “This makes advocacy impossible.”

Today, some states still do not count Latinos as a separate group, he said. Even when Latinos are specified in the data, “some counties have better data than others.”

Discussions like this one continued for several hours, and participants had an opportunity to hear from wide range of people — scholars, policymakers and community advocates. That evening, the participants viewed a sneak peek of the in-progress documentary, “Bad Hombres,” by award-winning filmmaker Carlos Sandoval, and then heard from the director, Cartagena, UCLA lecturer Virginia Espino, and from some of the people featured in the film.

Noting an “insurmountable amount of knowledge of Latino criminal justice knowledge on the stage,” second-year UCLA Luskin student Gabriela Solis Torres participated in the gathering and shared her impressions via social media, saying, “I am so honored to be in the same of the room as such inspiring leaders.”

View additional photos in an album on Flickr

 

 

 

A Call to Action Two-day UCLA Luskin Lecture event champions academic research to help community activists promote societal change to address issues such as inequality, urban displacement and California’s ongoing housing affordability crisis

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

In Los Angeles during a time that is so rife with political conflict, it’s hard to find a topic upon which everyone seems to agree. But UCLA Luskin’s Ananya Roy quickly honed in on just such an issue during her opening remarks at a two-day event convened by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, speaks during the recent Luskin Lecture “Black, Brown, and Powerful: Freedom Dreams in Unequal Cities.” Photo by Les Dunseith

“Rent is too damn high,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who also serves as director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) at UCLA Luskin.

Her declaration generated rousing applause from the crowd of about 250 students, scholars, community organizers, local residents and other stakeholders who gathered on April 26-27, 2018, at L.A. Trade Technical College near downtown Los Angeles to ponder the lack of affordable housing and other issues that are of special importance to residents in lower-income areas such as South L.A.

Participants in the event, “Black, Brown, and Powerful: Freedom Dreams in Unequal Cities,” also learned of recent research and discussed solutions to problems such as urban displacement, racialized policing, criminal justice debt, forced labor, and the mass supervision and control of youth.

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura welcomed the crowd, telling them that the event was part of the Luskin Lecture Series, which is intended to enhance public discourse for the betterment of society.

“The Luskin School is home to three public-facing departments. I want to emphasize that — public facing,” Segura said. “I like to say that the Luskin School of Public Affairs puts the public back in public higher education research institution.”

Roy said one of the goals of the institute she directs is to share “freedom dreams” through research and teaching. “We borrow this beautiful phrase, freedom dreams, from our rock at UCLA, Robin D.G. Kelley,” said Roy, referring to writings by the esteemed UCLA distinguished professor of U.S. history.Freedom, Robin notes, is an integral part of the black radical tradition and its global imagination.”

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy is certain that “university-based theory and research has a role to play in transforming unequal cities,” Roy said. “But II&D is also certain that this role can only be meaningful when it is in humble partnership with social movements and community-based organizations that are on the frontlines of struggle.”

Photos from the event:

Freedom Dreams

Holding the event at L.A Trade Tech rather than on the UCLA campus was about more than geography.

“Here in South L.A., there are fierce struggles for self-determination, for black and brown power, for resistance in defiance of banishment,” Roy said.

Over the course of one evening and almost a full day of programming that followed, attendees heard from a variety of speakers and engaged in discussions during workshops that included representatives not only from UCLA and L.A. Trade Tech, but also from the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, Urban Habitat, Right to the City Alliance, and a wide variety of community-based organizations such as the Watts Leadership Institute and Loving Hands Community Care.

Attendees also were treated to music and dance from “Lockdown Unplugged” by Bryonn Bain & the Lyrics Crew. Funmilola Fagbamila, a founding member of Black Lives Matter LA, also presented a stirring spoken-word performance derived from her recent play, “Woke Black Folk.”

In addition to Roy and Segura, speakers from UCLA included:

  • Paul M. Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning, social welfare and Asian American students and the director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who spoke about recent research that found little progress in improving the lives of residents in South L.A since the Kerner Commission report in the 1960s.
  • Manuel Criollo, activist-in-residence at II&D, who talked about his research into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline that often results when school police officers focus primarily on punishing youthful offenders rather than dealing with the underlying societal issues that lead many youth to commit antisocial acts.
  • Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and director of the Watts Leadership Institute, who was joined on-stage by Kathy Wooten of Loving Hands Community Care for a discussion of that nonprofit organization’s efforts to serve families of murder victims, specifically mothers who have lost a child to violence.
  • Lola Smallwood Cuevas, project director at the UCLA Labor Center and director of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, who noted that 50 percent of black workers in South L.A. are either unemployed or earning subminimum wage.

The second day of the event focused heavily on problem-solving strategies and advice for organizing to promote solutions. Three separate workshops took place, producing discussions about the shared vision of many attendees to use research and analysis as a foundation to build proposals that will result in meaningful societal change.

A wrap-up session was moderated by Roy and Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

The event was an opportunity “to be and think together,” Roy said, “in what is often a divided city with dispersed urban life. Now at II&D we take up some new mandates of research and action that emerged from this convening.”

Additional participants at the event included T.R.U.S.T. South LA, Union de Vecinos, Time for Change, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action, L.A. Coop Lab, Long Beach Residents Empowered, THRIVE Santa Ana, Right to the City Alliance, CD Tech, A New Way of Life Re-entry Project, Back on the Road Coalition, East Bay Community Law Center, Debt Collective, Million Dollar Hoods, Journey House, Social Justice Advocate, Urban Youth Collaborative, #cut50, Underground Scholars Initiative, Black Organizing Project and InsideOut Writers.

Visit the II&D website for workshop reports.

On-camera interviews:

Recordings of the live streaming that took place each day:

Day 1

Day 2