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Shackling the Leviathan Balancing the citizenry’s wants with the state’s needs is critical for a successful society, says 2018 Perloff lecturer Daron Acemoglu

By Zev Hurwitz

Governments with too much or too little power can be problematic. Just ask Daron Acemoglu, the 2018 Perloff lecturer at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In his remarks on May 8, 2018, at the Luskin School, Acemoglu reviewed some of his most recent work about institutions and societal outcomes. The event shared a title with his upcoming book, “The Narrow Corridor to Liberty: The Red Queen and the Struggle of State Against Society,” which he is co-authoring with James A. Robinson.

When it comes to issues of authority, Acemoglu said, striking the right balance is key. Too much or too little state power can lead to catastrophic violence and warfare.

“A lot of social and political theory is built around avoiding these sorts of scare scenarios,” he said.

At one extreme, a society where the government loses its means to govern can lead to chaos. Acemoglu shared a picture of the decimated city of Mosul, Iraq, following an ISIS takeover in 2014.

“This is an iconic case of what happens when a government’s law enforcement function collapses and anarchy prevails,” Acemoglu said.

On the flip side, governments with too much power can perpetrate the chaos directly. Such is the case with the state-led persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

“What’s remarkable about this is that it wasn’t caused by the collapse of the state but was actually perpetrated by the state,” he said.

Another example of a government’s unchecked power, Acemoglu said, is China’s use of mass-pooled data to maintain social order.

Acemoglu’s upcoming book discusses the notion of “Shackling the Leviathan.” The Leviathan, as he describes it, is a large-scale controlling state entity, either a governmental institution or a ruler. “Shackling” the Leviathan is the process by which the state’s non-elite public obtains control of the Leviathan’s operations by instituting checks and balances. Acemoglu cites the United States and United Kingdom as nations that have successfully tamed the Leviathan.

“Once you create an environment in a society where its citizens shackle the Leviathan, not only does this pave the way for the emergence of liberty, but it fundamentally changes the nature of politics,” he said.

Even in modern times, some societies have managed to exist largely in peace with either extreme or absent governing structures. The Tiv in Nigeria operate without any centralized government, Acemoglu noted.

For states that successfully shackle the Leviathan, Acemoglu says, the challenge becomes maintaining the status quo. The “Red Queen” refers to a line in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” in which the monarchic leader notes, “It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.” Maintaining such a balance between state and citizen control is often a work in progress, and a painful one at that.

“You have to keep on running,” he said.

Acemoglu is an economics professor at MIT focusing on political economy. His prior work includes research on the role of institutions in economic outcomes for various countries.

The Harvey S. Perloff Lecture Series is named for the founding dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, which has since evolved, in part, into the Luskin School. The event was sponsored by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Public Policy and by Global Public Affairs.

Urban Planning Professor Michael Storper introduced the speaker by noting similarities between Acemoglu’s lecture and Perloff’s own work in regional economics.

“There’s a kind of interesting continuity over time with the themes of this lecture,” Storper said. “Institutions are the foundations of economic and social work.”

Nearly 75 students and faculty members were in attendance at the evening lecture, which was followed by a reception.

Major News: UCLA Luskin Launches Undergraduate Degree The B.A. in Public Affairs combines rigorous methodology with community engagement, connecting the dots between theory and action

By Mary Braswell

The Luskin School’s world-class resources in public policy, social welfare and urban planning will soon be available to a much wider circle of UCLA students.

Beginning in the fall of 2018, the School will offer a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs, a major that is unique in the University of California system. A clear public service ethos lies at the heart of the program, which combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community.

The major will connect the dots between theory and action, said Meredith Phillips, newly named chair of the undergraduate program. Phillips is an associate professor of public policy and sociology who has taught at UCLA for two decades.

“Every class will be focused on societal problems, issues that students care about, and how we can develop reasonable solutions,” Phillips said. “In our classes, we’ll discuss competing values, empirical data and evidence, and different conceptual frameworks for understanding the world. Our students will be developing skills in the service of solving problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others.”

The impetus for the new program is simple, said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura: “It’s part of our mission.

“This is a land-grant university that was created to serve the public, to serve California,” Segura said. The program, he said, will attract students “who wanted to come to a prestige institution and take that degree back to the communities they came from and create change there.”

We hope to play a great role in the community service learning opportunities for undergraduates because we already have a lot of experience … with  community-based organizations.”

— Laura Abrams,

Social Welfare chair

 

The B.A. in Public Affairs will provide a wide-ranging education, Phillips said. Students will delve into power politics, microeconomics and human development. They will look at competing social science theories with a critical eye, and master tools for collecting and analyzing data. And they will learn to make written and oral arguments with clarity and conviction.

Unique to the program, she said, is a yearlong capstone project that will immerse seniors in a field and research setting where they can apply their scholarship in the real world.

“The students will be embedded in these organizations, learning from staff and clients about what’s going well, what’s not, and thinking about how to do things even better,” said Phillips, who has co-founded two educational nonprofits.

“They will apply the skills they’ve learned in our classes to those experiences. And what they’re learning on the ground will undoubtedly turn out to be quite informative and will change how they think about what they’re learning in the classroom,” she said.

The emphasis on service learning is what drew UCLA freshman Leyla Solis to explore the Public Affairs B.A.

“All throughout high school, I did a lot of field work in areas I was passionate about,” said Solis, who attended a Northeast Los Angeles charter school that encouraged political engagement. Before coming to UCLA, Solis advocated at the United Nations for the rights of indigenous people, and developed a keen interest in effective governance and environmental law.

A political science major, Solis had been considering the Luskin School’s minor offerings and even looking ahead to a graduate degree. Now she is mulling whether to go for a double major.

“What the people in the Public Affairs Department are doing is not just studying it but going out and experiencing it firsthand,” said Solis, who mentors students from her charter school and tutors low-income children at Santa Monica’s Virginia Avenue Park.

“This is a real opportunity for us to give back to the undergraduate community, to include them in our mission as a school to improve the performance of government and nonprofits.”

— J.R. DeShazo,

Public Policy chair

 

No other campus in the UC system offers a public affairs bachelor’s degree that draws from the three fields UCLA Luskin is known for: public policy, social welfare and urban planning. Faculty from each department were instrumental in developing the major, making it a true multidisciplinary partnership, Phillips said.

Creation of the major had been in the works for several years, in response to rising student demand. The Luskin School’s current undergraduate courses draw around 1,500 students a year, and its minor programs are among the most popular at UCLA, said the School’s undergraduate advisor, Stan Paul.

Last year, UCLA Luskin faculty voted unanimously to proceed with the undergraduate major. Jocelyn Guihama MPP ’03, deputy director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, helped turn this aspiration into reality, shepherding the effort through every stage. UCLA’s Academic Senate gave final approval on April 19, 2018, and the first of an expected 600 students will enter the major this fall, though many more are expected to take courses offered as part of the major.

Students interested in learning more about the major can visit the UCLA Luskin site or email the department at undergraduateinfo@luskin.ucla.edu.

The creation of an undergraduate major at a UCLA professional school is a rare occurrence, Segura said. “It represents a substantial addition to the undergraduate offerings at UCLA, and we think it’s going to be broadly attractive to a whole swath of incoming young people,” he said.

The B.A. in Public Affairs is just one sign of “a new infusion of energy” under Segura, said Meyer Luskin, who, along with his wife, Renee, is the School’s major benefactor and namesake. “I think he’s going to do a lot of outstanding projects for the community and the School, and I’m very enthused about our future.”

“I expect so much energy and commitment coming from our students in the undergrad major. That is going to have tremendous ripple effects in what we teach in our graduate programs.”

— Vinit Mukhija,

Urban Planning chair

 

The new major comes at a time when a growing number of students are seeking the scholarship and training to effect social change.

“These young people are not simply resisting political and social forces with which they disagree — they’re also resisting knowledge-free policymaking,” Segura said of the spreading youth movement on such issues as gun violence, Black Lives Matter and immigration reform.

“They want to be informed by facts. What we do at Luskin is provide them with the infrastructure to think analytically, with enough training so that they can solve the problems they’ve identified as important to their generation,” he said.

Creation of the major greatly expands undergraduate access to UCLA Luskin’s faculty and resources, and it will also benefit the entire School, Segura said.

“There will certainly be an infusion of energy that only undergraduates can bring. All of a sudden we’re going to have 600 change agents running around the building who are youthful and energized,” Segura said.

In addition, the hiring of new faculty members to support the expansion of class offerings has also opened up avenues for graduate research, he said, and master’s and Ph.D. students in UCLA Luskin’s other degree programs will gain access to teaching assistantships and other leadership roles.

“I think from a scholarly perspective, from a resources perspective, from an experience perspective, it’s a big, big win for the School,” Segura said.

Reimagining CO2: UCLA Team Advances to Carbon XPRIZE Finals Carbon Upcycling team, which developed eco-friendly concrete, is sharing in the $5 million prize

Working to upend one of the most stalwart of construction materials, a team of UCLA engineers, scientists and policy experts has advanced to the finals of the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE by successfully creating a version of concrete that is nearly carbon-dioxide-neutral.

The international competition, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to conclude in 2020, challenged teams to develop carbon technologies that convert carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into viable products. The eco-friendly building material, called CO2NCRETE, was developed by the UCLA Carbon Upcycling team and offers similar strengths and functionality as traditional concrete.

Ten finalists have been selected from a field of 27 semifinalists by an independent judging panel of eight international energy, sustainability and carbon dioxide experts. The teams have been awarded an equal share of a $5 million milestone prize.

“As the son and grandson of civil engineers, I have always been fascinated by construction, and reaching the XPRIZE finals by doing what I am most passionate about is perfectly aligned with what I value,” said Gaurav Sant, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “The concrete and construction industries are ripe for disruption and the ability to make a positive impact in these sectors, while lessening our carbon dioxide footprint, is a worthy cause for the entire UCLA team.”

Sant is the head of the team, whose leadership also includes J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Richard Kaner, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College and of materials science; and Mathieu Bauchy, professor of civil engineering. Additional team members include Gabriel Falzone, a doctoral student in materials science; Iman Mehdipour and Hyukmin Kweon, post-doctoral scholars in civil and environmental engineering; and Bu Wang, a project scientist in civil and environmental engineering, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

To secure a place in the finals, the UCLA team had to demonstrate that their technology consumed 200 kg of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. During a 10-month period, they were challenged to meet minimum technical requirements and were audited by independent verification partner Southern Research. The team was then evaluated by the judges based on the amount of carbon dioxide converted into CO2NCRETE, as well as the economic value, market size and carbon dioxide uptake potential of the construction material.

“The competition provides an opportunity for UCLA’s cutting-edge academic research to be applied in the real world,” Sant said. “The performance-based measures of CO2NCRETE have been useful in showing that this effort is not only viable, but scalable. And, of course, the support provided by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Foundation has been foundational to our success.”

Traditional forms of cement are formed from anhydrous calcium silicate, while CO2NCRETE is composed from hydrated lime that is able to absorb carbon dioxide quickly into its composition. As a result, producing CO2NCRETE generates between 50 to 70 percent less carbon dioxide than its traditional counterpart.

The unique “lime mortar-like” composition also helps reduce the nearly 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emitted from the production of ordinary portland cement, the binding agent used in traditional concrete.

The most compelling advantage CO2NCRETE offers when compared to other carbon capture and utilization technologies, Sant said, is that the carbon dioxide stream used in its production does not have to be processed before use. The manufacturing process allows for carbon dioxide borne in the flue gas of power and industrial plants to be captured and converted at its source. This advantage creates a cost-competitive business model that avoids the expense of a carbon dioxide enrichment or treatment facility.

“These teams are showing us amazing examples of carbon conversion and literally reimagining carbon. The diversity of technologies on display is an inspiring vision of a new carbon economy,” said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE senior director of energy and resources and prize lead. “We are trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by converting them into useful materials, and do so in an economically sustainable way.”

In the final and most ambitious stage of the competition, teams must demonstrate carbon dioxide utilization at a scale of two tons per day — a scale that is 10 times greater than the semifinals requirements — at an industrial test site. The UCLA team will compete at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, a carbon research facility in Gillette, Wyoming, co-located with the Dry Fork Station coal power plant. This final stage of the competition will start in June 2019 and conclude in early 2020.

Sant is also the director of the Institute for Carbon Management at UCLA, which draws on UCLA’s campus-wide expertise to create innovative solutions to the climate change challenge. Launched this spring, the institute is developing advanced technology and market-driven strategies for mitigating the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 

 

 

‘Your Day Is Coming,’ Gray Davis Tells Future Policymakers at UCLA Luskin The former governor shares political wisdom from his decades of public service at ‘Today’s Los Angeles,’ an advanced seminar in public policy

By Mary Braswell

Two dozen UCLA Luskin Public Policy students spent just one afternoon with former Gov. Gray Davis, but they came away with nearly half a century’s worth of wisdom and insights gained during his service to California.

The wide-ranging conversation touched on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), cannabis, teacher strikes and those decades — long ago — when California was a red state. To students worried about the role of policymakers in an era when facts are disrespected, Davis had words of encouragement:

“Your day is coming,” he said.

“Every presidential election is a referendum on the incumbent,” he said. Richard Nixon led to Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush led to Barack Obama. And in 2020, Davis predicted, Donald Trump would lead to the anti-Trump — “a more cerebral, more humble and more thoughtful candidate,” quite possibly from the public policy ranks.

“Following Trump, I’m convinced, is one of you sitting in a law library; you’re so modest you don’t even use the word ‘I.’ It’s always ‘we,’ and you’re wearing some cardigan sweater or something,” he said.

Davis’ appearance on April 4, 2018, kicked off “Today’s Los Angeles and the Institutions and Leaders that Make It Work,” an advanced seminar taught by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs lecturer Zev Yaroslavsky — himself a fixture in Southern California politics. The longtime city councilman and county supervisor is now director of UCLA Luskin’s Los Angeles Initiative, which focuses on the intersection of policy, politics and history in the region.

“You have the opportunity to talk to a governor of California, and there have only been 39 of them,” Yaroslavsky told the class. “He’s had the benefit of governing both in good times and bad times.”

The students took full advantage. One of the budding policymakers sought out Davis’ views on how government can be most effective.

“I believe that the government has to discharge the basic responsibilities of the constitution. They have to keep us safe, they have to keep us together in one union, they have to provide the rules,” Davis said. “But, basically, the dynamism, the excitement, the energy and the money comes from people outside of government.

“Everything that’s ever happened in this country that’s exciting, new, had a big private-sector role.”

With the governor’s race in full swing, one student asked about the most pressing issue California’s next leader will face. Davis’ answer had national scope.

“The biggest problem facing America is disparity of wealth and disparity of opportunity,” he said.

The conundrum that California faces is how to remain at the forefront of innovation without worsening unemployment. The downside of artificial intelligence, robots and other advanced technology is that jobs are put in peril, Davis said.

“What are we going to do with these people who used to have jobs? We need people working,” he said.

“I’m a great believer that we’re all God’s children, we’re all made in his image, and we need to help people reach their potential,” he said. “Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to rise to the same level, but everyone is going to do better.”

Davis posed a challenge to higher education, including the UC system: “Why can’t we take courses online? … This would create more opportunity for people who can’t afford to be in a classroom.”

Davis stepped into the political arena nearly 50 years ago, after a tour in Vietnam. On his journey to the governor’s office, he helped Tom Bradley win election as Los Angeles’ first black mayor in 1973, served as Jerry Brown’s chief of staff during his first term as governor, and was elected state assemblyman, controller and lieutenant governor.

He remains active in the public sphere. As one of four California governors to found the Southern California Leadership Council, Davis advocates for policies focusing on economic vitality, job growth and quality of life in the region.

Davis listed several points of friction between the state and President Trump: “He wants offshore drilling off the California coast. He’s fighting the notion that we’re a sanctuary state. He doesn’t seem to be that enthralled with Dreamers — some days he is, some days he’s not.  He’s very much against the emissions standards and mileage requirements. He wants to build a wall [along the Mexico border].”

Halting offshore drilling in federal waters will be an uphill fight, he said, but he was confident the state’s gasoline emissions standards are bulletproof.

As for the young immigrants who came out of the shadows and registered with DACA, Davis was confident they would be protected. “America has to keep its promises,” he said.

Davis also told the UCLA Luskin students “how proud I am of you for pursuing a career in public policy,” and he urged them to embrace the California promise.

“I want you to know how fortunate you are to live in this state. This is a state of second chances, this is a state where we don’t care who your parents are, we don’t care if they were billionaires or homeless, we don’t care if you were born in this country or some other country. All we care about is whether you can make a contribution to our society,” he said.

“You live in this state; it’s your state now. We’re counting on you to keep it dynamic, keep it vibrant, keep it innovative, keep it open to new ideas. Keep it at the forefront of change.”

Early Childhood Incarceration Linked to High Rates of Physical, Mental Health Issues Half of those admitted to juvenile justice facilities before their teen years reported suicidal thoughts as adults

By Ryan Hatoum

Elizabeth Barnert, left, and Laura Abrams. Photo by George Foulsham

When children are placed in juvenile detention centers, jails or prisons before their teenage years, they are much more likely to experience serious physical and mental health issues as adults, according to a new study by UCLA researchers.

The UCLA researchers reported that more than 21 percent of people who had been incarcerated as children reported poor general health in adulthood, compared with 13 percent for those incarcerated later in life and 8 percent for those never incarcerated. The study appears in the International Journal of Prisoner Health.

“Those at risk for imprisonment during childhood need special attention from the health care sector,” said Elizabeth Barnert, principal investigator of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “The rates of poor health outcomes among people who’ve been incarcerated tell us there’s a huge need for us to take better care of them — both as kids and as adults.”

There has been a growing international movement to find alternatives to juvenile incarceration — or the detainment of minors in juvenile halls, probation camps and other juvenile justice facilities — for the youngest offenders. Many countries are raising the minimum age at which adolescents can be incarcerated and are deferring children to other programs for rehabilitation.

Researchers from the Geffen School, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital analyzed data from 14,689 adult participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Their analysis considered three groups: adults who had been incarcerated during the ages of 7 to 13; adults who had been incarcerated during the ages of 14 to 32; and adults who had never been incarcerated.

“From the data we have available, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why those who enter the juvenile justice system at a young age face greater health challenges,” said Laura Abrams, also a principal investigator of the study and a professor and chair of Social Welfare at the Luskin School. “It’s likely a combination of trauma, which can lead to troubled behavior and long-term health problems, and the lasting effects of the conditions of early imprisonment.”

A key study finding were the differences among the groups’ mental health symptoms. Thirty-eight percent of the people who had been incarcerated before age 14 experienced symptoms of depression in adulthood, contrasted with 24 percent of those who were incarcerated at age 14 to 32 and 15 percent of the never-incarcerated group.

In other findings, more than one in four of those incarcerated before age 14 reported suicidal thoughts as adults, contrasted with about one in 10 of the group incarcerated at later ages and one in 15 of the group who had never been incarcerated.

Among the respondents who had been incarcerated at the youngest ages — seven to 12 — the rate was even higher; half experienced suicidal thoughts and ideation in adulthood.

“Incarceration has human costs at all ages, but with children, it’s particularly problematic,” Abrams said. “Children need spaces to grow and thrive — not to be confined in jail-like settings.”

While this new analysis does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between early incarceration and poor health later in life, mounting research gives experts a sense of the factors involved.

One such factor is who gets incarcerated in the first place — for which research has shown there is bias. A study in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior found that of children with psychiatric disorders, those of a racial or ethnic minority are more likely than those who are white to be incarcerated rather than diverted to the community for treatment. As such children are placed into juvenile justice facilities, their health issues may be left untreated or worsen.

The UCLA study found disproportionate racial, ethnic and socioeconomic patterns in those incarcerated as young children. People incarcerated at the youngest ages were significantly more likely to be male, black or Hispanic than those incarcerated at older ages and those never incarcerated. They were also much more likely to have been raised in the lowest income group and in a single-parent household.

“We’re only now starting to understand the full effects of juvenile incarceration on the person, and from a health perspective, the needs of this population are largely going unmet,” Barnert said. “We need a system that effectively addresses their health challenges as early as possible — ideally preventing adolescents from ever reaching juvenile hall.”

Gearing Up for an Urban Planning Education More than a hundred high school students visit UCLA Luskin to learn about transforming their communities

By Mary Braswell

When 105 high school sophomores came together with urban planning students, professors and professionals at the UCLA Luskin School, everyone in the room stood to benefit.

The students came from two Central Los Angeles schools as part of Gear Up 4 LA, a federally funded program to put underserved students on the road to college.

The adults were there to support this mission but also to address the vexing lack of diversity in their field.

Many young people aren’t familiar with urban planning as a major or career path, said Rodrigo Garcia, MURP ’15, a transportation specialist with Alta Planning + Design. As part of the firm’s pro bono work, Garcia collaborates with schools across Los Angeles with the aim of diversifying the field.

“We want to urge these kids to have an impact, to make changes in their community”­ regardless of which career they choose, Garcia said.

Alta Planning hosted the March 22, 2018, event with the Luskin School’s Planners of Color for Social Equity and Urban Planning Womxn of Color Collective. UCLA Luskin professors Kian Goh, Chris Tilly and Goetz Wolff shared their expertise on the opportunities and challenges that planners face.

Two hours into the program, one student asked a question that many were likely thinking: “What is the exact definition of ‘urban planning’?”

“I get the same question from my mom,” said Mayra Torres, a fourth-year student majoring in sociology and minoring in urban and regional studies.

“If this were a class, I could spend the next 45 minutes having a discussion about this,” Goh said. The best way to think about the mission of urban planners, she said, is to “envision a better city, a better society, and how to get there from here.”

Sixteen-year-old Paola Flores was unfamiliar with the field before the event but left wanting to know more. She was impressed by a workshop led by Alta Planning’s Kevin Johnson, MURP ’17, who asked the students to chew over a planning issue, then create a meme, gif or Instagram story to communicate their ideas — all in an hour’s time.

“It taught me something new,” Paola said. “I didn’t realize how improving public transportation could actually make rent go up.”

Paola attends West Adams Preparatory High in the largely Latino and immigrant community of Pico-Union. Students from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown were also at the event.

“We want to build a college-going culture in our community,” said David Gantt, the RFK site coordinator for Gear Up, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

Beginning in middle school, Gear Up guides low-income, first-generation and minority students through each step on the path to a higher education, Gantt said. Counselors work one-on-one with each student, and workshops show families how to read high school transcripts, interpret PSAT results and apply for financial aid, among other services. In some cases, the support extends through the freshman year of college.

Gear Up “makes you feel like you’re family, with arms wide open,” Paola said. Earlier this year, counselors detected that her grades were flagging, she said. They called her in, gave her a pep talk and “now I have all As except for one B.”

Gear Up students visit college campuses across Southern California, West Adams site coordinator Danny Tran said, but he believed this was the first group to visit an urban planning program.

“Students who want to build bridges or design roads might think they need an engineering degree, especially with the current emphasis on STEM,” Tran said.

The UCLA Luskin session introduced them to another path.

Greg Maher, a principal at Alta Planning who volunteered at the event, said he hoped the diverse group of students would get hooked on urban planning.

“This field is very white and very male. It drives me crazy,” said Maher, who received a BFA in design and certificate in landscape architecture from UCLA.

“We need to recruit and retain more planners of color,” agreed MURP candidate Raisa Ma, one of several UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students on hand to mentor the high schoolers. They included Marlene Salazar, who moderated a panel that included the three faculty members, undergrad Torres and MURP candidates Jacob Woocher and Jesus Peraza.

“I want you to know you can get an education, you can get a degree and change the world you live in,” Torres told the students.

Tilly noted that, as high school sophomores, “it’s early to decide, ‘Yes, I definitely want to be an urban planner.’ ” But he encouraged all the students to embrace both big ideas and on-the-ground issues in their communities. “That will be great for being an urban planner but also for being a responsible citizen in a society that needs a lot more responsible citizens stepping up.”

How Safer Drug Consumption Programs Can Help HIV Prevention Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center releases policy brief showing the impact of safer drug consumption sites

Ian Holloway

A policy brief published by the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center confirms that safer drug consumption sites can reduce the risk and incidence of HIV and Hepatitis C infection.

The Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center is a partnership between the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, APLA Health and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Ian Holloway, assistant professor of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, is the center’s principal investigator.

Proposed legislation in California Assembly Bill 186 seeks to implement safer drug consumption sites in locations throughout California. These sites provide supervision by trained personnel, offer safe and sterilized equipment, and link people to medical care and substance use treatment.

Given that the risk factors presented by the opioid epidemic and increased intravenous drug use overlap substantially with risk factors associated with higher rates of HIV transmission, the policy brief clarifies the state of research pertaining to both epidemics. It identifies Californians that are impacted by and at greater risk of both intravenous drug use and HIV infection, and reviews research evidence for how safer drug consumption sites may be a key HIV prevention tool.

“Evidence shows that the HIV and opioid epidemics dangerously intersect,” said lead author Robert Gamboa, a Master of Public Policy (MPP) student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Because of this relationship, the evolving frontier of HIV prevention must consider implementing safer drug consumption sites as an effective strategy. This intervention has the potential to prevent the further spread of HIV and other blood borne diseases while also saving lives from opioid overdose.”

Key findings of the report:

  • In 2015, California saw more than 4,700 new cases of HIV, was third in the nation for HIV transmissions via injection drug use and first in the national among men who have sex with men who inject drugs.
  • Other key groups impacted by both epidemics include women, people of color, those who are homeless and youth. Research has found that people who inject drugs from these subgroups are 4-29 times more likely to have an HIV-positive diagnosis.
  • Safer drug consumption sites offer supervision by trained personnel, safe and sterilized equipment, and link people to medical care and substance use treatment thereby reducing risk of HIV and Hepatitis C infection.
  • Safer drug consumption sites can help to facilitate continuity of care for both addiction and HIV among people living with HIV who use drugs.
  • In California, researchers have estimated that a single safe injection site in San Francisco could prevent 3.3 new HIV transmissions per year and would save the State of California roughly $3.5 million per year in expenses related to health care, emergency services and crime.

San Francisco recently joined Seattle and Philadelphia in implementing safer drug consumption sites in their jurisdiction. Prior research has provided evidence for leveraging safer drug consumption sites as an effective HIV prevention strategy.

Should state legislation clear the way for California to implement the strategy statewide, research supports the inclusion of broad HIV prevention and treatment services at local sites. To access the full report, visit www.chprc.org.

 

Tapping Twitter to Understand Crowd Behavior and Protests UCLA Luskin Public Policy scholar Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld authors a how-to guide on cutting-edge research using social media data

By Stan Paul

Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld has long been fascinated by crowd dynamics, especially among those drawn to mass demonstrations. As a Ph.D. candidate in political science, Steinert-Threlkeld knew that social media generated at protests were a rich source of data — but he could find few tools to help him analyze it.

Now, in a world awash with popular uprisings and social movements — from Tahrir Square in 2011 to the Women’s March following the 2017 presidential inauguration — the assistant professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has used data generated by millions of posts on Twitter to learn more about crowd behavior and mass motivation.

Steinert-Threlkeld created a guide for acquiring and working with data sets culled from Twitter, which has more than 320 million global accounts generating more than half a billion messages every day.

His efforts culminated this year with the publication of “Twitter as Data,” the first guide in Cambridge University Press’ new Elements series on Quantitative and Computational Methods for Social Science. The series provides short introductions and hands-on tutorials to new and innovative research methodologies that may not yet appear in textbooks.

“When I was learning this as a graduate student, there was a lot of piecing together this information,” said Steinert-Threlkeld, who said he relied on sources such as Twitter documentation and online Q&A forums such as Stack Overflow. “I was able to do it, but it would have been a lot nicer if I had a textbook to show me the lay of the land.”

Steinert-Threlkeld, whose work combines his interest in computational social science and social networks with his research on protest and subnational conflict, said the book includes an interactive online version that allows users to click on links to download information and even sample data.

“It is differently comprehensive than a book,” Steinert-Threlkeld said. He described it as a “more interactive book experience — the first in social science that does this.”

In the book, Steinert-Threlkeld writes: “The increasing prevalence of digital communications technology — the internet and mobile phones — provides the possibility of analyzing human behavior at a level of detail previously unimaginable.” He compares this to the development of the microscope, which “facilitated the development of the germ theory of disease.”

He adds: “These tools are no more difficult to learn and use than other qualitative and quantitative methods, but they are not commonly taught to social scientists.”

To remedy this, Steinert-Threlkeld provides a systematic introduction to data sources and tools needed to benefit from them.

For example, people always want to know who’s protesting and how that influences others who might protest, Steinert-Threlkeld said. Most information has been restricted to surveys, which have limitations. “And so the researcher either gets lucky and happens to have scheduled a survey that occurs during a protest, but usually it’s after the fact.”

That is what’s exciting about using big data to study crowd behavior. “It’s like people always answering surveys,” he said. “Basically, every second you’re giving me survey data. Now we can tell in real time who’s protesting.”

One application of Twitter data is estimating crowd size, Steinert-Threlkeld said. In the past, he has had to rely on reports from organizers, police and the media to gauge the size of protests. “But I’m collecting tweets with GPS coordinates so I can say, ‘Oh, there are these many tweets or these many users from L.A. at this time or Pershing Square at this time, and explain whether that’s a reliable estimate or not of actual protesters.”

Twitter information can also be used to create data based on images shared from protests, Steinert-Threlkeld said. “The work I did before was all text based: What are people saying? Who’s saying it? When are they saying it? That sort of thing. But people share a lot of images online. They share more than they did three or four years ago. It’s really where the space is moving.”

Steinert-Threlkeld said that getting data into a form that a researcher can use requires a different skill set than designing and administering a survey. “But it’s still in some ways survey-like at the end of the day,” he said.

And “it’s fun,” he said. “Now we can tell in real time who’s protesting. We don’t know where the person lives, or their income, or their name. It’s still anonymous. We don’t know if the person who shares the image was there so we’re not incriminating anyone, but we can get a lot of information about protesters that we couldn’t before.”

In the final section of his guide, Steinert-Threlkeld writes: “These data are not a ‘revolution.’ Instead, they represent the next stage in the constant increase in data available to researchers. To stay at the forefront of data analysis, one needs to know some programming in order to interface with websites and data services, download data automatically, algorithmically clean and analyze data, and present these data in low-dimension environments. The skills are modern; the change is eternal.”

Chelsea Manning Discusses Values, Secrets and Whistleblowers at Luskin Lecture The former military analyst who was jailed for sharing classified documents with Wikileaks speaks in front of a crowd of 1,000 at Royce Hall

By Zev Hurwitz

Chelsea Manning, a transgender activist and former U.S. Department of Defense intelligence analyst who was convicted of espionage, spoke at Royce Hall on March 5, 2018. Her Luskin Lecture, “A Conversation with Chelsea Manning,” focused on topics including ethics in public service, transgender rights activism and resistance in light of advancing technologies.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing over to WikiLeaks sensitive documents that demonstrated human rights abuses related to American military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. While serving her sentence, Manning began her medical transition from male to female after having publicly announced her gender identity.

Her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017, after she had served seven years of her sentence. Since her release, Manning has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, as well as government transparency. In 2018, she announced her run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland.

Manning spoke with reporters at a press conference prior to the Luskin Lecture. Asked if she had any advice for UCLA students, Manning said: “Think on your own. Don’t read a book and think you know everything. Question yourself and debate other people.”

Manning noted the significance of speaking to a crowd largely made up of students. “I like to speak to students who are going to be in positions of making decisions, or being in media or working with technology,” she said.

Manning said that when she works with students she focuses on topics beyond technology — like civic engagement.

“Not just showing up to a ballot box and casting a vote, but being actually engaged,” she said. “Sometimes that means protesting; sometimes that means resisting, fighting institutional power and authority.”

Manning continued her student outreach the day after the lecture at a workshop sponsored by the Luskin Pride student group. She led about 60 Luskin School students in a wide-ranging dialogue about military tactics in law enforcement, communities abandoned by the left and whether universities are complicit in government surveillance.

“A system is legitimate because you give it legitimacy,” she cautioned the students.

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura introduced Manning at the Royce Hall lecture and acknowledged the controversial nature of her appearance.

“There are some in this room who think Ms. Manning is a traitor,” Segura said. “A number of UCLA students asked me to rescind her invitation and reminded me that her actions may well have cost the lives of American servicemen and women. For the record, the Luskin School is opposed to treason.

“Others,” he added, “will argue that her actions, laying bare war crimes, acts of torture and the extent of civilian casualties, might well have saved the lives of some of those non-combatants. For the record, the Luskin School is opposed to war crimes.”

Moderator Jim Newton, UCLA Luskin Public Policy lecturer and Blueprint magazine editor, began with a conversation about Manning’s conviction. Manning said she feels her actions reflect her true self.

“I have the same values I’ve always had,” she said. “I acted on those values with the information I had.”

As an intelligence analyst deployed in Iraq, Manning took a data-based approach to the American presence in the country. Over time, she came to understand the humanity behind the data. “It was a slow realization that what I was working with is real,” she told the audience.

At one point, Newton asked Manning if she thought the government had a right to keep secrets.

“Ten years ago I would have said, ‘of course,’ ” Manning said. “But who even makes these classifications?”

Manning went on to discuss what she sees as the political nature of classified information. She spoke at length about the process for data classification and her skepticism about its role in protecting national security.

Newton asked Manning if she sees herself as a role model. Manning said no, and then described the role model she would like to have had, adding she has aspired to be that person, though it has been challenging.

“I went from being homeless to being in college to being in the military to being at war to being in prison,” she said. “I haven’t had the time to do the things people are expected to do.”

Following the lecture, Manning held a question and answer session with Ian Holloway, professor and assistant chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. The fireside chat, which focused largely on Manning’s identity as a gay man and later a transgender woman in the military, was held in front of a small group of UCLA Luskin board members and friends of the School.

Holloway asked Manning about her being a whistleblower. Manning said she didn’t agree with the term.

“I’ve never used the word whistleblower to describe myself,” she said. “I’ve never really related to it because it’s hard to reconcile.”

She added that she felt her actions, regardless of their classification, were just.

“Institutions do fail, and when they do, you can’t rely on them, you have to go around them,” she said.

View a video recorded during Manning’s lecture:

View a video recorded during the fireside chat that followed Manning’s lecture:

Searching for Stability Amid California’s Rent Crisis Housing costs have become unmanageable, and UCLA Luskin panelists discuss how policy could help ease the burden for renters

By Zev Hurwitz

Though housing prices in Los Angeles are seemingly out of control, it may be control that can start to ease the burden for struggling renters.

At a panel conversation held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on Feb. 26, 2018, a trio of experts discussed the housing crisis in the area and the potential for new rent control and eviction protections to help stabilize living situations in Los Angeles.

Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, opened the event, “Protecting Renters: Discussions of Rent Control, Stabilization and Evictions,” and alluded to the growing homeless issue as “an indicator of the housing issue in Los Angeles.”

“Here in Los Angeles, renters are spending enormous sums of money on basic shelter,” Lens said. “For an alarming number of Angelenos, even basic shelter is out of reach.”

Lens noted that the most recent homeless data shows 57,000 individuals on a given night are without shelter — a 23 percent increase over the year prior.

“The homeless crisis is an indicator of the housing issue in Los Angeles,” he said.

Tony Samara, program director of land use and housing at Urban Habitat in the Bay Area, explained some of the major issues facing renters in California. The two most critical issues are lack of rent control policies and so-called just cause eviction protections.

“Just cause evictions mean that to evict a tenant, you have to have a reason,” Samara explained. “In the state of California, unless the city has a just cause ordinance, you can be evicted at the end of your lease or within 60 days on a month-to-month basis for no reason. It’s called no-fault eviction.”

Most cities in California do not have such protections for renters, weakening the ability for tenants to plan ahead. Samara noted growth in advocacy campaigns by tenants’ rights groups aiming to broaden the scope of just cause protections and rent control.

“These policies won’t solve all our problems but will at least provide more stability,” he said.

Doug Smith, a staff attorney at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel, is a 2013 alumnus of UCLA’s Urban Planning department and the UCLA School of Law. Smith spoke about how the effects on a community without tenant protections might force families into overcrowded, substandard living conditions — or even homelessness.

“The consequences are really traumatic, and we’re seeing that played out in communities without these policies,” Smith said.

Smith noted that four Los Angeles County cities — Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Los Angeles — do have some protections, but the other 84 regional cities do not.

“If you live in one of those cities, those protections are really important,” he said. “They can help stabilize your situation, allow you to continue to live in your home and invest in your community.”

Joan Ling MA UP ’82, a longtime lecturer in Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin, noted the cost of housing for moderate-income Angelenos has risen tremendously in the past 20 years.

“In 1998, 96 percent of units were affordable to moderate level incomes,” she said. “Today, only 15 percent are affordable to that group.”

One big obstacle to the spreading of tenant protections is the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which blocked major rent control policies and allowed landlords to dramatically raise rents on units that become available. A repeal effort has stalled in the state government, though some Californians are working to place a measure on a statewide ballot to repeal the law.

Beyond a full Costa-Hawkins repeal, Ling explained that rent control laws may be a disincentive to developers of new projects because they would be limited in their revenue generating. However, she said that compromise is possible.

“You don’t have to say that all housing units will fall under rent control,” Ling said. For instance, housing 10 years old or older would be subject to it.

Ling also noted that data show renters in areas with protections are more civically engaged and tend to remain invested in the community for longer than do tenants in unprotected neighborhoods.

The event was the second in the Housing Equity and Community Series hosted by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. It drew more than 60 students, faculty and community members.

Video of the event can be found here.