Public Policy Again Proves Its Mastery of All Things Trivial

Back under a tent on the Public Affairs Building’s roof after a three-year pandemic-related displacement, the June 1 battle of useless knowledge and quick-wittedness known as Super Quiz Bowl ended with a team from UCLA Luskin Public Policy again on top of the leader board. Just one point separated the top two groups, as five teams representing two graduate departments and the undergraduate program faced off against each other and a sixth team staffed by, um, staff. Here are the highlights from a post-event email sent to participants by organizer Christian Zarate, events and communications coordinator:

And the winners are … (drumroll please):

Team Competition

3rd Place: Street Smarties (Jin Zhang, Purva Kapshikar, Olivia Arena, Nick Stewart-Bloch, Adam Millard-Ball), Urban Planning

2nd Place: Brain Trust (Molly Hunt, Dinan Guan, Raquel Jackson-Stone, Donald Zelaya, Maura O’Neill), Public Policy

1st Place: Doing it for the Clout – for the second year in a row! (Abhilasha Bhola, Connie Kwong, Selene Betancourt, Jesse Ostroff, Mark Peterson), Public Policy

Hien McKnight won the individual competition this year on behalf of the Dean’s Office.

The winning graduate programs will receive funding for their Grad Night. The undergraduate program will receive funding for its Public Affairs Experiential Learning Internship Support scholarship. Again this year, funding was based on participation: 50% of the Super Quiz Bowl proceeds will be divided among the three departments that participated. Urban Planning took Audience Attendance, with Public Policy winning the other categories of Faculty/Staff/Alumni Attendance and Team Participation.

View photos from the event (and get inspired for next year’s competition) in this Flickr album:

Super Quiz Bowl 2023


‘Taking the Raw Edges Off Capitalism’

Dan Mitchell, UCLA Luskin professor emeritus of public policy, wrote an essay for Zocalo Public Square about efforts in 1930s California to build a social safety net for older Americans, with lessons for today’s debates on aging and “entitlements.” The campaigns, which predated the launch of Social Security, included the Townsend Plan, which called for the federal government to give $200 a month to every American over 60, and the Ham and Eggs initiative, which called on the state of California to give $30 to adults over 50 every Thursday. While these efforts failed, their larger ideas would triumph. “Social Security was not inspired by the Townsend Plan, but it was part of the New Deal’s larger idea of taking the raw edges off capitalism through government intervention,” Mitchell wrote. Advocates for the aging population remained a force in California politics for years, fighting battles that foreshadowed today’s struggle over how to divide the economic pie between younger and older generations.


An L.A. Story of Power, Influence and Big Personalities

The Los Angeles Times put a spotlight on the newly released autobiography of Zev Yaroslavsky, a fixture in L.A. civic life for decades and now the director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “Zev’s Los Angeles: From Boyle Heights to the Halls of Power” revisits “the period in which Los Angeles became what we know today: big and complex, multiracial, exciting, divided and far deeper than what meets the eye,” writes UCLA Blueprint editor Jim Newton in his review of the book. “Zev’s Los Angeles” recounts Yaroslavsky’s family history, his UCLA student activism and forceful defense of Soviet Jews, and his election to the L.A. City Council at age 26, which spawned a long and consequential career in politics. Newton calls the memoir “a solid history, an insightful analysis of power and a sincere reflection on a life of service,” with fresh insights and behind-the-scenes details about key turning points in the region’s polity.


Strong Support in California for Black Reparations

A new UCLA report shows that a clear majority of Californians support reparations for Black residents harmed by the nation’s legacy of slavery. The analysis, based on a survey of more than 2,400 adults in California in the spring of 2022, is in contrast to a nationwide poll showing weak support for reparations. “This is a significant shift in public sentiment around reparations,” said Elliot Woods, one of the UCLA report’s authors. “Only two years ago, Americans recognized racial injustice in the U.S., but most did not support reparations. Now, most Californians are focused on how, not if, we enact reparations to address racial harms stemming from slavery and systemic issues of racial injustice and discrimination that continue to harm Black Americans.” UCLA Luskin Professor Michael Stoll, director of the Black Policy Project at the UCLA Bunche Center for African American Studies, co-authored the research with Master of Public Policy students Woods and Tyler Webb. Their survey measured support for 11 types of possible reparation measures, including cash payments, non-cash financial benefits such as business or education grants, and non-monetary remedies such as issuing a formal apology. The report highlights different levels of support among respondent groups sorted by age, gender, race and political affiliation. The survey is an outgrowth of a Black Policy Project research effort commissioned by the state-appointed California Reparations Task Force and published by the state Department of Justice. The new report will be shared with state legislators who will consider the task force’s recommendations about how to atone for the collective trauma caused by slavery.


A Bungled Return of Treasured Artifacts

Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of public policy and social welfare at UCLA Luskin, wrote a Project Syndicate commentary about the legal, political and moral questions surrounding a bungled attempt to repatriate the Benin Bronzes, plundered 125 years ago by colonial powers, to Nigeria. After Germany returned some of the elaborately decorated castings and carvings in December 2022, conflicting declarations about who their rightful owner is stoked confusion and raised fears that the cultural artifacts could wind up on the black market. “While there are lingering doubts about Europe’s and America’s willingness to return treasures that were looted or illicitly obtained during the colonial era, there are also questions about some countries’ readiness to honor the commitments governing such transfers,” Anheier wrote. To prevent narrow national interests from undermining the process of returning stolen national treasures, he urged that UNESCO be designated as the body overseeing such transfers, citing the body’s role as the custodian of world heritage sites.


UCLA Public Policy Community Celebrates Exceptional Alumni and Students Reception highlights the 'incredible, influential, important, world-transforming things our alumni are doing'

The UCLA Luskin Public Policy community came together this spring to connect and reconnect with one another and honor selected students and alumni for their outstanding achievements.

The April 20 reception at the UCLA Faculty Club gave Master of Public Policy students, graduates, faculty and staff the opportunity to network face-to-face for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his welcoming remarks, interim chair and Professor Mark Peterson said that hearing updates about the work of former students leaves him “simply dazzled — not just by the numbers, but by the incredible, influential, important, world-transforming things our alumni are doing.”

During the pandemic, individuals honored as UCLA Luskin Public Policy Alumni of the Year were announced virtually. This year’s reception put a long-awaited public spotlight on award recipients from the past four years:

Regina Wallace-Jones MPP ’99 is Alumna of the Year for 2023. With a background in engineering and policy, Wallace-Jones ascended to several prominent Silicon Valley positions, culminating in her selection this year as CEO and president of ActBlue, the tech nonprofit that facilitates online donations to progressive organizations and candidates. She has also served in public office as a city councilwoman, vice mayor and mayor in East Palo Alto.

Sandeep Prasanna MPP/JD ’15 is Alumnus of the Year for 2022. After serving in staff positions in the U.S. Congress and Department of Justice, Prasanna recently completed work as investigative counsel on the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Working to preserve democracy is quite a good gig for an MPP alum,” Peterson remarked. Prasanna is now a senior associate with the law firm Miller & Chevalier Chartered.

Isaac Bryan MPP ’18 is Alumnus of the Year for 2021. Bryan turned his record of effective advocacy and community leadership in Los Angeles into a successful bid for the California Assembly in 2021. Since taking office, he has authored over 24 bills and co-authored over 300 bills and resolutions. Bryan’s chief of staff is former classmate Caleb Rabinowitz MPP ’18.

Max Gomberg MPP ’07 is Alumnus of the Year for 2020. Gomberg was selected for his work mapping out strategies for climate change mitigation for the California State Water Resources Control Board. He has since resigned the post, publicly accusing the state of being unwilling to adopt transformational policies. Gomberg now works as an independent consultant on water policy. “Max took a bold step when he resigned from his position in protest,” Peterson said. “Sometimes standing out means really standing up.”

Bryan accepted his award in person. Addressing current students and recent graduates at the reception, he said, “The dreams you have about how you can make a difference in the world, the things that you want to do for the community, for society, for your family, for whatever drove you to a program like this, instead of an MBA or something else — you can make that difference and you can make it as quickly as you need to.

“Just stay focused, stay hungry and build the kind of relationships like the ones in this room, to do good work together.”

Also honored at the reception were students who received the Alumni Leadership and Service Fellowships, made possible by donations from MPP alumni. The awards recognize public service, resilience and leadership at UCLA and in the community. The 2022-23 recipients are Lana Zimmerman and Donald Zelaya, and the 2023-24 recipients are Samuel Newman and Sydney Smanpongse.

Peterson reminded those at the reception of the many paths students can take to make an impact after graduation.

“Just take in that range of alumni careers: federal, state and local government. Legislative and executive branches. Appointed and elective offices. Nonprofit organizations on the front edge of the tech revolution. All making a difference,” he said. “That’s what is on your horizons, current MPP students!”

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Public Policy reception on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin Public Policy Alumni Reception

Lens on Mixed Results of Efforts to Combat Housing Segregation

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, co-authored a Health Affairs policy brief about the effectiveness of different programs designed to combat residential segregation. Over more than a century, exclusionary policies embedded in land use and housing codes have kept Americans separated by race, ethnicity and income, leading to significant health disparities. The authors review the historical impact of several interventions, including housing vouchers that allow residents to move to more advantaged neighborhoods; local and state policies to expand the housing stock by increasing density in resource-rich communities or redeveloping public housing; and federal legislation and regulations to compel fair housing practices. “There are many policies, programs, laws and lawsuits that have tried to chip away at segregation in America’s cities and towns,” but many have been underfunded or deprioritized, the authors wrote. While some progress has been made, they conclude that the fight against residential segregation has yet to see consequential gains.


Segura Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Gary M. Segura, professor of public policy, political science and Chicano and Chicana Studies at UCLA, has been elected a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. Segura is one of four UCLA faculty members newly elected to the academy in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The four UCLA scholars will be among 120 U.S. and 23 international members who will be inducted into the Washington, D.C.-based organization in April 2024. “The Luskin School is extremely proud of Gary’s election to the National Academy of Sciences,” said UCLA Luskin Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. “This is a top honor! He is joining a very elite group of the best and the brightest in the United States and the world.” Segura’s work has focused on issues of political representation and social cleavages, the domestic politics of wartime public opinion and the politics of America’s growing Latino minority. During his tenure as dean of the Luskin School from 2017 to 2022, he co-founded the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which later became the Latino Policy & Politics Institute. Segura was recommended for inclusion in the social and political sciences section, one of the organization’s 31 disciplinary areas, said Susan R. Wessler, home secretary of the academy, which was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Wessler said the new inductees will join in the work of the academy. “We are an active, working academy that addresses important matters in science and advises the nation on problems where scientific insights are critical,” she said.

Read the full story.


Advocate for Ending Poverty Named UCLA Luskin Commencement Speaker Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, first elected at age 26, now champions reforms to battle income inequality

Michael D. Tubbs, who made history in 2016 when he was elected the first Black mayor of Stockton, California, at age 26, then used the platform to plant the seeds of a nationwide campaign to end poverty, has been named 2023 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Tubbs is a champion of social and economic reforms that have earned him a reputation as a rising star in progressive politics. On Friday, June 16, he will deliver two Commencement addresses: At 9 a.m., he will speak to students graduating with master’s and doctoral degrees in public policy, social welfare and urban planning at UCLA’s Royce Hall. At 3 p.m., he will address students earning the bachelor’s in public affairs on the Kerckhoff Hall patio.

“Michael Tubbs has shown us all that a clear vision and strong resolve can uplift the lives of people across our state and nation,” said UCLA Luskin Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. “His leadership, innovative spirit and ability to turn bold concepts into real action are exceptional, and as a School committed to improving the human condition at all levels, we look forward to hearing his inspiring message.” 

Tubbs is widely known for his work advocating for a guaranteed basic income to provide stability to American households. As mayor, he created a pilot program providing direct, recurring cash payments to Stockton residents and founded the nonprofit Mayors for a Guaranteed Income to support similar efforts across the country. He also raised more than $20 million to launch the Stockton Scholars, a universal scholarship and mentorship program for the city’s students.

Under Tubbs’ leadership, Stockton was recognized as one of California’s most fiscally healthy cities; saw a 40% drop in homicides in 2018 and 2019; and led the state in the decline of officer-involved shootings in 2019. The National Civic League named Stockton an “All-America City” in 2017 and 2018.

After he left office in 2021, Tubbs joined the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom as special advisor for economic mobility and opportunity. Last year, he founded End Poverty in California, a nonprofit devoted to breaking the cycle of income inequality.

Tubbs’ 2021 autobiography, “The Deeper The Roots: A Memoir of Hope and Home,” relates how hardship in his early years shaped his vision for leadership and policies that are responsive to those who are struggling. Tubbs writes about his father’s incarceration, the strong women who raised him, his scholarship to attend Stanford University, the opportunity to intern in the Obama White House, and his calling to return to his hometown to improve the quality of life. 

Tubbs served as a high school educator and city council member before running for mayor. His experiences advocating for reform in the city’s top job are chronicled in the 2020 HBO documentary “Stockton on My Mind.”

Tubbs is a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. He was named to Fortune magazine’s 40 under 40 list and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 All-Star Alumni, as well as The Nation’s Progressive Honor Roll, which recognized him as the “Most Valuable Mayor” of 2018. He earned the 2019 New Frontier Award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and the 2021 Civic Leadership Award from The King Center.

Learn more about UCLA Luskin’s 2023 Commencement.

Investments in Campus Climate Paying Off

The Los Angeles Times, EdSource and KTVU News are among media outlets sharing research by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor showing a marked decline in day-to-day violence on school campuses over the last two decades. Astor attributed the findings to investments in resources to improve campus climate and access to mental health services. Nationwide, billions of dollars have been spent on social-emotional programs for students; educating teachers and staff about how to create more caring, welcoming settings; and bringing more social workers, counselors, psychologists and other “people personnel” onto campuses. “I think there’s a deep sense of disillusion that every time there’s a shooting, there’s almost a feeling that we invested all this time and energy and nothing works, that our schools are getting worse,” Astor said. But the data do not bear that out, with students reporting that they are feeling more connected and safer, he said.



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