climate SMART steps
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Zoe Siegel

Climate Smart Steps for Bay Area Cities

In the past few years, there has been a change in our understanding of the need for climate protection and equity, alongside widespread awareness of rapidly increasing economic inequality. This new understanding and awareness also include recognition of the growing threat of natural resource scarcity and depletion, influenced by the climate crisis and driven by natural limits alongside a growing population. One of the most important ways to make an impact on climate policies is to get involved in the General Plan and Climate Action Plan process in your city.

Greenbelt Alliance has been leading a coalition of grassroots and nonprofit environmental organizations and leaders in Contra Costa County to come together to advocate around the General Plan and Climate Action Plan updates. 

This vision was developed as part of a broad coalition of environmental advocates including Contra Costa Climate Leaders, Save the Bay, Sunrise Movement, Sustainable Contra Costa, Save Mt Diablo, Sierra Club, Concord Community Alliance, Indivisible ReSisters, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, 350 Contra Costa, Elders Climate Action Network, Contra Costa MoveOn, Urban Habitat, TransForm, and others.

The following General Plan policy suggestions were written as part of the Contra Costa County General Plan process but can and should be applied to General Plan updates in the Bay Area and beyond.

Our Vision for a Climate Resilient Future

In order for communities to adapt and thrive in the face of the climate crisis, every city and county General Plan needs to set goals that are not just incremental, but ambitious and transformative.

We envision a resilient future, where individual residents, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a community are able to survive, adapt and grow in the face of natural, man-made, and environmental disasters guaranteed by the climate crisis. A resilient community is one that has developed capacities and emergency planning to ensure its social, economic and technical systems, and infrastructures are able to maintain essentially the same functions, structures, systems, and identity in the face of these challenges.

We envision a future that is ready to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis, where all growth, development, or redevelopment plans and accounts for these impacts, and vulnerability reduction is prioritized.

We envision an equitable future that prioritizes the needs of those who have long been systematically disadvantaged and accounts for historical inequities and ongoing institutional barriers.

To achieve this vision, cities and counties must:

  1. Protect and preserve our natural spaces: open space, waterways, shorelines, and green infrastructure.
  2. Plan for more equitable outcomes for residents, prioritizing the needs of disadvantaged and historically marginalized communities.
  3. Take bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon, and transition to a carbon-free economy.
  4. Strengthen community and natural environment resiliency through climate adaptation efforts.
  5. Protect and improve our agricultural lands and associated economy.
  6. Ensure transit-oriented development, focus economic development near housing or transit, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and promote equitable access to jobs and services, especially for disadvantaged communities.
  7. Prioritize efficient land use and house every resident ethically and affordably through new housing production, tenant protections, and existing housing preservation.
  8. Ensure accountability to the goals and priorities laid out in the General Plan.

In order to achieve these goals, the General Plan must:

  1. Name and address climate action explicitly, and incorporate Climate Action Plan goals and strategies within the General Plan. Incorporate climate adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency strategies into every section.
  2. Strengthen the urban limit line, and preserve lands along the line.
  3. Identify disadvantaged communities, and include clear implementation policies with measurable metrics that will improve outcomes that shift towards clean industry, affordable housing, effective public transit, and overall healthy places.
  4. Create a jurisdiction-wide program for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled that incentivizes carbon sequestration, zero-emission buildings and vehicles, soil building agricultural activities, and natural-based shoreline adaptation measures and social resilience.
  5. Create conditions and incentives for affordable housing close to employment and transit services.
  6. Promote equitable smart growth principles in both urban and rural regions, focusing density in existing communities;
  7. Provide for systematic reviews of General Plan progress and associated metrics that are transparent, engage the community, and demonstrate measurable equitable outcomes consistent with the Plan’s intent.

Check out this example of policy suggestions we’ve compiled for Contra Costa County’s General Plan update.

Questions about these climate SMART steps? Contact us today!

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