California’s Fight Against Climate Change: Moving Forward Amid Setbacks

California’s Fight Against Climate Change:
Moving Forward Amid Setbacks

The thing that is going to make a difference is not just somebody that’s in a leadership role saying we need to do this. It is people on the ground, putting programs in place, changing minds one by one, so that nobody can ignore that the next time there’s a vote like the one we had last week.

– From Natural Resources Secretary John Laird’s address to the first CivicSpark program graduates on Sept 14, 2015


Last week, the world watched while a well-funded lobbying blitz from Big Oil weakened new legislation that would have made the Governor’s climate goals – currently in place via executive order – a permanent part of California code and reaffirmed the ambitious pollution-reduction targets that define California’s international leadership in fighting climate change.

In addition to watering down SB 350, legislative leaders were also unable to secure enough votes to pass SB 32 (Pavley), which would have strengthened California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) by requiring the state to cut carbon emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% below those levels by 2050.

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images

We watched in frustration as our legislators were unable to stand their ground on arguably the most critical issue of our era – and did so in the midst of a triple-digit heat wave, with a Capitol Lawn brown from lack of water and wildfire smoke filling the Valley basin.

The Legislature also failed to act on two other critical decisions: the expenditure of additional cap-and-trade revenue (beyond the 60% already assigned – 25% to high-speed rail and 35% for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grants) and transportation funding that was expected to yield between $3.6-$6 billion annually in new revenue to address California’s growing infrastructure needs.

Despite these setbacks, there were still several significant victories on the climate front to celebrate. A number of bills supported by the Local Government Commission have passed through the Legislature and are now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Major Climate Successes In This Legislative Session

  • SB 350 (De Leon and Leno) will spur innovation and investment in a sustainable California and improve public health by setting targets of 50% utility power provided by renewable energy sources and a 50% increase in energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030. (A third target, the 50% reduction in petroleum use, was stripped from the bill after lobbying by the oil companies.)
  • SB 246 (Wieckowski) establishes the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program (within the Office of Planning and Research) to coordinate regional and local efforts with state adaptation strategies to address climate-change impacts. Consistent with the recommendation for “a more unified approach to adaptation” in the Little Hoover Commission’s report on “Governing California through Climate Change,” it also establishes a central hub for information and tools to help avoid duplication of efforts as we fight extreme climate events.
  • SB 379 (Jackson) requires cities and counties to include climate adaptation and resiliency strategies in the safety elements of their general plans to enhance community safety and climate protections.
  • AB 1482 (Gordon) requires state agencies to promote the use of climate-adaptation strategies to inform planning decisions and ensures that state investments consider climate change impacts when developing infrastructure to address adaptation.
  • AB 744 (Chau and Quirk) will help implement SB 375 initiatives by lowering parking maximums and encouraging infill development.

“The climate isn’t willing to compromise with California,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in its editorial on the proposed bills, “These are ambitious goals, and the state Legislature will have to refine them as technology and conditions change. But there’s no reason to believe that California can’t adapt to high standards.”

With the passage of these climate-smart bills, California continues to lead the nation in fighting climate change. Taken as a whole, the legislative package will help stimulate employment, generating thousands of green jobs, and further invigorate California’s clean economy.
The LGC will continue to keep our members informed and support implementation of these landmark policies through key programs and initiatives:

Local Leaders Are Taking The Reins

Meanwhile, local champions and a new generation of leaders aren’t waiting around for a legislative fix or mandate.

Just two days after the legislative session ended, we celebrated the graduation of the inaugural cohort of CivicSpark, Governor Brown’s AmeriCorps Initiative for climate change. Nearly three-dozen CivicSpark fellows provided more than 60,000 hours of service to California communities ­- helping local governments throughout the state build capacity to tackle climate-change impacts at the local level.

John Laird
Natural Resources Secretary John Laird addresses the first CivicSpark Fellow graduates

“I was talking to some fellows about the projects they did and this is exactly what makes a difference with the issue of our time,” said Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, who delivered the keynote address. “We appreciate everything you did – it made a fundamental difference.”

CivicSpark fellows implemented 37 projects, including projects on climate adaptation, sustainable transportation, energy efficiency, solar procurement, urban forestry and sea-level rise, in support of 88 local government agencies – half of which are determined “high need.”

“CivicSpark members have dedicated almost a year to helping communities address air pollution, extreme heat, water threats, and rising energy and transportation costs,” said Kate Meis, the LGC’s executive director. “Individually, they have made lasting contributions in the communities they’ve served – from developing programs to help businesses and residents reduce energy use, to increasing the use of public transit. Collectively, these young leaders have made a significant statewide impact.”

CivicSpark Gets Things Done Now

The first team of CivicSpark Fellows at the State Capitol on graduation day, September 14, 2015

Each year, CivicSpark teams work with a wide range of local and regional project partners, such as cities, counties, regional agencies, school districts, MPOs and NGOs, to help implement local climate-smart projects, including greenhouse gas inventories, complete-streets plans and water-conservation campaigns. By completing targeted research, planning and implementation projects, supporting volunteer engagement, and providing valuable outside resources, CivicSpark provides the local support needed to develop new programs, enhance staff expertise, and engage stakeholders to respond to climate change more quickly, effectively and equitably.

This service year, the fellows supported a wide range of climate actions. They developed eight climate or energy action plans, 17 climate-action policies and 10 vulnerability assessments; conducted eight greenhouse gas inventories and four benchmark analyses for cities; organized 12 community workshops; and got more than 1,000 residents and business owners engaged in local climate-smart efforts.

In every region, CivicSpark teams have contributed to a number of important initiatives that will have lasting benefits for communities throughout California. Some of the highlights:

NORTH COAST: On the North Coast, members supported the expansion of alternative transportation and alternative fuels options, and developed Climate Change curriculum for the Humboldt Bay Region.

SIERRA NEVADA: The Sierra Nevada team worked on seven Energy Action Plans for cities which, when implemented, will result in substantial energy and greenhouse gas emission reductions in the region.

SACRAMENTO: In the Sacramento region, CivicSpark members helped the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) write a plan to assess climate change threats to the region’s transportation infrastructure and recommend strategies to make the region’s transportation infrastructure more adaptable to climate risks. The SACOG board voted to include their Sacramento Region Transportation Climate Adaptation Plan in their second Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Community Strategy (SCS), establishing the first model for addressing adaptation in the SCS.

BAY AREA: One CivicSpark members supported the City of Benicia’s Business Resource Incentive Program, completing 19 business assessments and recommended measures that would reduce CO2 emissions by 188 MT annually. The Bay Area team also supported adaptation efforts, including the Resilient Shorelines Bay Area project to assess shoreline vulnerabilities and implement adaptation strategies.

SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY: CivicSpark’s team in the Central Valley helped the region deal with extreme heat through urban greening and energy-upgrade initiatives. Members provided outreach and education to business owners, engaged the public in rebate and incentive programs, and followed up after upgrades for the Business Energy Tune Up program in Fresno County. They have also provided educational forums and technical support to increase urban forestry expansion and management capacity in the San Joaquin Valley and to help jurisdictions prepare for urban greening funding available through cap and trade revenue.

CENTRAL COAST: The Central Coast team helped streamline solar permitting and conducted community outreach on energy-efficiency measures. They reached more than 1,600 residents, created four publications, delivered 11 presentations, and attended 50 community events to help implement Climate Action Plans for seven communities in the San Luis Obispo region.

LOS ANGELES: CivicSpark members have developed a water-savings calculator to help the LA County Office of Sustainability identify opportunities to help reduce the county’s water and carbon footprint. The tool provides comprehensive cost/benefit analysis for potential water-efficiency projects at County facilities, and quantifies the avoided greenhouse gas emissions associated with water savings from the embedded energy in water transport, treatment, delivery and heating. The project’s tools and methodology provide analysis and recommendations for County facilities to achieve their conservation targets under the Governor’s April 1 Executive Order – they’ve already identified $3 million in annual water and energy savings potential for county buildings.

SAN GABRIEL VALLEY: CivicSpark members worked with the San Gabriel Council of Governments to develop the Energy Assessment Screening for Your Home (EASY) program, developing marketing and outreach materials and conducting home and business assessments.

SAN DIEGO: In the San Diego region, CivicSpark implemented an iCommute outreach program to encourage alternative transportation among residents in the north coastal county corridor. As a result, 28% of the residents contacted said they had changed the way they commute to work, and another 52% said they would change the way they get to work in the future.

Administered by the Local Government Commission in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, CivicSpark provides the next generation of climate leaders with an opportunity to gain professional experience, build important skills and create meaningful, lasting results. CivicSpark fellows work on projects that provide local governments with the support they need in their climate and sustainability initiatives.

As the nation watches California lawmakers, local leaders are continuing to advance ambitious climate initiatives and programs – like CivicSpark – around the state to energize and sustain the momentum that will keep California at the cutting edge of climate responses.