Public Policy Institute-Santa Monica College



In January, 2010, a new public policy institute was created at Santa Monica College and I am privileged to serve as its Founding Director.  The Institute presents an exciting opportunity for specialized undergraduate education, civic engagement and collaboration.

The mission of the Institute is to engage educational, government, service sector and business leaders, students, faculty and policy makers in programs and endeavors related to issues relevant to the communities of Los Angeles County, and beyond. The Institute continuously explores and analyzes social, environmental, political and economic issues in local communities and create a center for civic engagement, community education and collaboration providing educational opportunities, public programming and continuing education. Through the Institute, students may earn an AA in Public Policy.

Benefactors, Sponsors and Supporters

• You are invited to become a Benefactor of the Institute at the $500 level, a Sponsor at $250 or a Supporter at the $100 level with preferred seating at all events and receptions.  Please email me at to support this innovative institute.  Thank you!

The Institute has three areas of emphasis:

One: Community Education and Engagement.  I call this “critical thinking for voters”.  In order to engage community members, the Institute produces a number of community fora which bring prestigious and compelling panelists to address the community and give the participants opportunities for feedback, discussion and education.  The sections on undergraduate education and executive training appear following our list of community programs.


"How Public Policy Affects Arts and Culture"

May 15, 2014

As part of the Public Policy Institute's Spring Symposium, which, this year, will concentrate on the Arts, this program will present a discussion of how governmental decisions on funding, public art, public facilities and selection of leadership affect the public's access to the differing varieties of arts and culture.  A distinguished panel, comprised of Danielle Brazell, Executive Director, Arts For LA, Los Angeles County, Olga Garay-English, former Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Keith McNutt, Director of the Actors Fund for the Western Region, will explore these questions.  

"Cap and Trade: A Solution for Global Warming or a Right to Pollute?" 

April 3, 2014

This program presented a detailed explanation of how "cap and trade" is being utilized to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by selling a limited number of permits to emit.  Each year the cap will be reduced and the purchasers of the permits are allowed to sell them to other polluters, as they reduce.  The panel explored problems with this approach, as well as alternative ways to reduce emissions.

"The Death of Redevelopment, Two: What's Next For Cities?" 

January 16, 2014

This program presented a panel comprised of three people deeply engaged in the current fight over redevelopment funds and properties.  The panel led a spirited discussion on the ongoing struggle between the State Department of Finance and Cities over the sale of redevelopment properties and the return of monies to the state. The panel explored the lack of expertise in the state to expeditiously conduct the sales, the chaotic conditions as litigation abounds, the fragile state of affordable housing funds, and several possible outcomes.

"Cities vs. Banks: Is It Appropriate to Use Eminent Domain to Take Over Mortgages and Save Underwater Homeowners?" 

October 28, 2013

A panel of experts led a robust discussion on the pros and cons of using eminent domain to take over mortgages from banks.  If the use of eminent domain must be done only for a public purpose, how does saving individual homeowners from losing their homes fit that purpose?  The panel presented various ideas of public purpose, the character of a city as a whole and engaged in discussion with the audience.

"Public Policy On Broadway, Three"

August 6, 2013

This wide ranging community forum featured the students of the Musical Theatre Workshop at SMC.  The students performed "Skid Row" from Little Shop of Horrors, and "It's A Hard-Knock Life" from Annie, each followed by a robust audience discussion of the public policy implications buried in each number: poverty, homelessness, foster youth, aging and long-term care issues, and much more.

2nd Annual Public Policy Institute Spring Symposium

Urban Youth: Fostering Success through GRIT

May 13-16th, 2013

Roundtable & Performance: A Triumph!

Mon, May 13 The Broad Theatre

The opening event of this year's symposium showcased our 21 2013 graduates at a reception in the College's beautiful gallery.  Following the reception, this first program kicked off the week's thematic policy issues related to urban youth through a performance brought to the college by leaders from The Children’s Partnership and First Place for Youth.  The sold-out audience at the Broad sat enthralled as young adults from The Possibility Project who had transitioned out of foster care presented their own stories through original book and music.  Our primary partners for this event were The Children’s Partnership, First Place for Youth, The Possibility Project, and The Broad Theatre.


Campus Lecture

Tue, May 14 | 11:15am-12:35pm | free | SMC HSS 165

This campus lecture featured the symposium’s keynote speaker, author Paul Tough. Mr. Tough is the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which enjoyed 12 weeks on the New York Times best seller list.  Mr. Tough is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, where he has written extensively about educating, parenting, poverty, and politics.  His work is the basis of Santa Monica College’s GRIT Initiative


Keynote Luncheon

Tue, May 14 | 12:45-2pm | by invitation | SMC HSS 301

After the campus lecture, Mr. Tough joined invited campus administrators and faculty leaders, Associated Students, and PPI donors for a luncheon conversation on urban youth and the college’s GRIT Initiative.


Keynote Seminar

Tue, May 14 | 3-5pm | by invitation | SMC HSS 301                              

This small group seminar featured Mr. Tough and is designed for the benefit of campus leaders engaged in the development and implementation of the college’s GRIT Initiative. Dr. Eric Oifer, SMC GRIT Initiative faculty leader, will facilitate the seminar.


Community Keynote Address

Tue, May 14 | 7-9pm | free | John Adams Middle School Auditorium

2425 16th St., Santa Monica CA 90405 at Pearl Street 

This community lecture was delivered by Mr. Tough as the symposium’s premier town-gown event. Mr. Tough’s talk focused on his work and our community’s commitment to public policies that address the needs of urban youth. Our primary partners in the community lecture are the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, the SMMUSD Parent Teacher Association, the City of Santa Monica and its Cradle to Career Initiative, and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce


Film Night and Roundtable

Wed, May 15 | screenings 4:30pm and 8:00pm; Singleton LIVE 6:30pm | free |

Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica 90401

The symposium’s film night screening of award winning director, John Singleton’s 1991 Boyz ‘N the Hood was followed by a roundtable retrospective on urban youth and violence led by Mr. Singleton. Our primary partners for this event are the SMC Associated Students, the City of Santa Monica, and SMMUSD.


Roundtable: Hearing, Reflecting & Advocating: Municipalities and Youth Services

Thu, May 16 | 11:15am-12:35 pm | free | SMC HSS 165

This roundtable discussion featured community leaders from the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council, the City of Santa Monica, local non-profits, and young people living in our community. The goal is to identify and discuss the needs of our community’s youth and possible public policy responses.


Roundtable Luncheon

Thu, May 16 | 12:45-2:00pm | by invitation | SMC HSS 301

After the campus roundtable, presenters joined invited guests in luncheon “Table Talk” facilitated by the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council to map out possible policy improvements in support of our community’s needs surrounding youth services.


Community Forum on Foster Youth

Thu, May 16 | 7-9pm | free | Bundy Campus

How public policy decisions made at the local level affect the lives of foster youth—for better or for worse.  

Panelists : CA Assembly Member Holly Mitchell, chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Foster Youth, 

USC Assoc. Dean Wendy Smith, author of Youth Leaving Foster Care: A Developmental, Relationship-Based Approach to Practiceand 

James Williams, former foster youth and spokesperson for the California Youth Connection.  

This one-hour panel discussion was riveting, and was followed by a robust, one-hour audience discussion. Moderated by SMC Policy Institute Founding Director, Sheila Kuehl.



This popular program presented a first-look, hot-off-the-press preview of the upcoming policy discussions on whether—and how—to change California’s Prop. 13, featuring a trio of stellar panelists:

Lenny Goldberg, Executive Director of the California Tax Reform Association

Michele Prichard, Director, Common Agenda at the Liberty Hill Foundation and Senior Advisor to California Calls, a voter education and organizing nonprofit; and 

Jennifer Ito, Project Manager at USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity.   

Founding SMC PPI Director Sheila Kuehl moderated the panel.

You can see a recording of this program at



The California Environmental Quality Act is currently at the center of a struggle over environmental regulation.  What is CEQA? What was it meant to do?  Is it protecting the environment or simply being used to block development?  What is the real scoop on this groundbreaking California law?  Join our stellar panel:

Mike Woo, Dean, College of Environmental Design, Cal Poly, Pomona

                  Former City Councilmember, City of Los Angeles

Bill Craven, Chief Counsel, CA Senate Comm. on Resources & Water

 Gail Goldberg, Executive Director, Urban Land Institute, Los Angeles

               Former planning director, cities of L.A. & San Diego



In one stunning two-week period, and only in California, the cities of San Bernardino, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes plunged into bankruptcy.  Join our stellar panel to consider cause and effect--why some cities go bankrupt and some do not--what it means when a city enters bankruptcy--and what happens to those who rely on the cities for services, not only residents and employees, but also non-profits and others who provide services under city contracts.  Our up-to-the-minute panel presentation will be followed by a robust audience discussion. 

Rick Cole, City Manager, Ventura; former City Manager, Azusa; former Mayor of Pasadena.

Sonia Caravalho, Partner, Best, Best and Krieger LLP; City Attorney for the cities of Santa Ana and Claremont

Kafi Blumenfield, President and CEO of the Liberty Hill Foundation 


"PORTS! Should California's Ports be Responsible for Their Impact on the Environment?"

A panel discussion on the conflicting roles of our Los Angeles Ports in the basic delivery of goods and the subsequent effects on the environment.  Who should be held responsible for clean-up and preventative measures?  With a great panel:

Cindy Miscikowski, President, Board of Harbor Commissioners, Port of L.A.

Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza, V.P., L.A. Board of Public Works and former V.P. Board of Harbor Commissioners

Chris Cannon, Director of Environmental Management, Port of L.A.

Academic Symposium: May 15-17 2012: "HAPPINESS AND EDUCATION"

• Tuesday, May 15 “Implementing the California Dream Act.” 

A panel discussion – led by Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition 

for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles – includes students sharing their 

personal experiences. 

 • Tuesday, May 15  “What is Happiness? A Roundtable Kickoff.” 

A thought-provoking discussion with SMC professors and other educational leaders 

on the nature of happiness. 

 • Wednesday, May 16   A screening of the film Walkout

followed by audience discussion.

 • Thursday, May 17  “Learning Outside the Lines: 

Finding Happiness through an Inclusive Education Movement.” 

Author/activist Jonathan Mooney, a leader in the field of disabilities and

alternative education.

  • Thursday, May 17 Community Program: “Looking for Happiness in the Constitution?” 

Erwin Chemerinsky – founding dean of the UC Irvine School of Law – joins 

UCLA Law Professor and Vice Provost Christine Littleton and UCLA Law Professor 

and Civil Rights expert, Cheryl Harris, in a discussion on whether it is possible to claim

the Constitution was established to protect the happiness of Americans. 

First Program of 2012:

"The End of Redevelopment?" (February 23rd, 7-9 pm, Bundy 123), presented information on the termination 

of Redevelopment in California and what this will mean to cities, counties, schools and other state programs.

Panelists: Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D, Santa Monica); Cliff Graves, Senior Economic 

Development Officer, City of Carson; and Murray Kane, Senior Principal in the law firm of 

Kane, Ballmer and Barkman.  to rsvp for this event, please email

First Program of 2011: 

"Public Policy In The Movies" presented clips from four movies:

Chinatown, Inherit the Wind, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Wizard of Oz

to stimulate audience discussion on the public policy issues embedded in each of the clips.

Second Program of 2011:

"What's Goin' On?" presented current information on the California budget stalemate,

possibilities for an all-cuts budget, versus taxes approved by voters, and ways in which

commercial property tax levels may be adjusted.  

Panelists:  Assemblymember Julia Brownley and Lenny Goldberg, Executive Director

of the California Tax Reform Association.

Third Program of 2011:

"Public Policy on Broadway, Two" presented selected numbers from the student

production of "Urinetown, the Musical" to stimulate audience discussion on public

utilities, private ownership and legislative mandates.

Fourth Program of 2011:

"Food Equals Life" presented an exploration of hunger, food availability, local

food growing options, school nutrition and education on food.

Panelists: Matthew Sharp, Senior Advocate, California Food Policy Advocates; 

Paula Daniels, Senior Advisor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Sustainable Food Systems;

Abby Leibman, CEO of Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger; and Louisa Cardenas, Master Gardener

Fifth Program of 2011:

"Realignment: It's Not Just For Chiropractors Any More" presented information about

California's new plan to devolve supervision and funding for public safety (prisoners and

probation), health and human services from the state to the counties.

Panelists: Diane Cummins, Senior Advisor to Governor Brown on Realignment; Dr. Mitchell Katz,

Director, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services; Phil Ansell, Director, Los Angeles

County Department of Social Services; Sheila Williams, Deputy CEO for Public Safety Realignment,

Los Angeles County.

Programs in 2010:

Inaugural Gala October 4, 2010 "Eavesdropping on Leadership"

• On October 4,  an exciting and engaging program at the beautiful Broad Theatre officially introduced the Public Policy Institute to the community.  The program featured a wide-ranging discussion between Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass, moderated by Sheila Kuehl.  

"Public Policy on Broadway" June 16th:

•     On June 16th, from 7-9 p.m., the Public Policy Institute presented "Public Policy on Broadway", in collaboration with the amazing students and faculty of the Musical Theatre Workshop at the college.  The 18-student company performed three songs, "The Farmer and the Cowboy", "You Have To Be Carefully Taught" and "Seven and a Half Cents".  Following each song, I engaged the near-to-capacity audience in a socratic discussion about the policy issues raised by each song and what they thought about them.  The discussions were lively and the Edye, the small theatre behind the Broad Stage, was the perfect venue.

Premier Program: April 29th

• Our first, sold-out, community education forum took place on April 29th.  A distinguished panel of presenters presented on the impacts of the state and federal budget wars on local entities and the steps local governments and others are taking in order to maintain services and programs.  The  panel presentations were followed by a lively audience discussion.

    The Panel: 

    On Education: Assemblymember Julia Brownley 
        Chair of the Assembly Education Committee and former President of the SM-Malibu School Board
    On Social Services: Councilmember Abbe Land
        Co-CEO of the Saban Free Clinic in Los Angeles and West Hollywood City Council Member
    On Transportation: Richard Katz
        Member MTA Board, former member California State Assembly, transportation policy consultant
    On Local Government: P. Lamont Ewell
        Former City Manager, City of Santa Monica

Area of Emphasis Number Two: The Academics: Student ParticipationThis area of emphasis has seen growth in a number of important areas: Beginning in 2011, Santa Monica College became the only community college in California granting an AA degree in Public Policy, as well as a Certificate in Public Policy.  Students at SMC must fulfill 18 units in public policy and specific related topics to receive the certificate, and greater specified requirements for the AA.  For information about the AA and Certificate programs, please email Professor Richard Tahvaldaran at

Opportunities for students, also created by the Institute, include independent study, community internships, and participation, for credit, in programs, campaigns, municipal and county offices, and non-profit local projects, all with an eye to giving students insight into the many actions that go into the formation of public policy. 

Three:  Service to Local Government Officials.  This will involve initial research as to the options currently available to local electeds to develop and improve the skills they need in order to effectively govern.  In some cases, local governments, regional organizations and individuals may identify ways in which the Institute can be of use to them.
There are many possibilities for collaboration, as well, with regional entities, other local government institutes, and other academic institutions.