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Luskin Center for Innovation investigates California’s response to extreme heat

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation released a report that said Los Angeles and California are not well-equipped to handle extreme heat. The report outlined shortcomings in statewide policies and funding that would help address the increasing temperatures. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)

By Victoria Ke Li and Christine Tran

Nov. 7, 2021 11:33 p.m.

California is unprepared to confront increasingly extreme heat, according to a UCLA report published Oct. 27.

The report from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation outlined a lack of coordinated policy and funding efforts at the state level to address extreme heat exposure, said Gregory Pierce, co-director of the center and a contributing editor of the report.

JR DeShazo, one of the report’s authors and former director of the center, said their research was guided by three questions: which populations are the most vulnerable, which locations face the most consequences when exposed to heat and which agencies are responsible for regulating such exposures.

He added that the authors also investigated where vulnerable populations, such as older adults, low-income individuals, youth and people with disabilities, spend the majority of their time and are more likely to experience extreme heat.

“The home is where most of these populations that are vulnerable spend most of their time,” DeShazo said. “Certain populations occupy other locations like the workplace. … Children are at preschool and day care facilities.”

[Related: California heat waves break records, set dangerous precedent]

The state has no standards in place for regulating heat exposure in important places like homes and schools, according to the report. The settings that do have standards, such as day care centers and assisted living facilities for older adults, do not have clear, consistent inspection methods to ensure they comply.

Additionally, the state does not have standards for cooling buildings despite having standards for heating, said Phoebe Seaton, co-founder of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. She added many families will face extreme heat 24 hours a day because of a lack of cooling instruments in their homes.

Older, energy-inefficient buildings also contribute to excessive heat exposure, Seaton said. According to the report, nearly 60% of housing units in California were constructed in 1979 or earlier and do not have the necessary infrastructure to withstand extreme heat, such as cool roofs, adequate insulation and air conditioning.

“As we’re looking at building out our clean energy, infrastructure and resilience, we also need to look at existing buildings – which understandably is harder – but is critically, critically important, especially for lower-income households,” she said.

Pierce added that although California plans to spend millions of dollars in the next few years to address extreme heat, the state must do more.

“In many ways, we’re playing catch-up compared to our efforts and ways of addressing other kinds of hazards, including fire, flood and drought,” he said.

California does not have a central agency dedicated to creating heat regulations and enforcing them, DeShazo said.

According to the report, several existing state authorities, such as the Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Department of Public Health, currently share responsibility in responding to extreme heat, but the scope of each agency’s work is limited.

He added that the researchers identified 26 potential programs across 10 agencies in California that make investments in exposure studies, but none of them explicitly try to allocate funding to parts of the state impacted by extreme heat.

The biggest policy gaps are in indoor workplaces and homes, DeShazo said, adding that the state should prioritize developing rules to regulate temperatures in these settings.

The center’s co-director V. Kelly Turner said she hopes the report is a starting point for the state to improve its efforts in combating extreme heat. The researchers are also working to map heat exposure in California, she added.

Seaton said she appreciated the report raising awareness about how heat affects vulnerable populations.

“Extreme heat is really hitting some of the communities that don’t have the political power at the statewide and national level,” she said.

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Victoria Ke Li | Editor in chief
Li is the 2022-2023 editor in chief. She was previously the 2021-2022 assistant News editor on the Science and Health beat and a contributor for News, Illustrations, Design and Photo. They are also a fourth-year human biology and society student from San Diego, CA minoring in public health and professional writing.
Li is the 2022-2023 editor in chief. She was previously the 2021-2022 assistant News editor on the Science and Health beat and a contributor for News, Illustrations, Design and Photo. They are also a fourth-year human biology and society student from San Diego, CA minoring in public health and professional writing.
Christine Tran | Alumnus
Tran was the 2021-2022 national news and higher education editor in addition to being a contributor for Enterprise. She was also a fourth-year political science student at UCLA.
Tran was the 2021-2022 national news and higher education editor in addition to being a contributor for Enterprise. She was also a fourth-year political science student at UCLA.
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