Policy Corner Year-End Review - CivicWell

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December 27, 2022

Policy Corner’s Year-End Review

Somewhat surprisingly, 2022 turned out to be a year of landmark achievements around the Capitol for climate change and sustainable growth legislation and policy. The legislative session closed with a flurry of significant climate bills, including AB 1279 by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, AB 1757 by Assemblymember Christina Garcia, SB 1020 by Senator John Laird, and SB 1137 by Senator Lena Gonzalez. The bills set ambitious new targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and protecting public health.

Major housing legislation, including AB 2011 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, AB 2097 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, and SB 6 by Senator Anna Caballero became law. These bills will facilitate the construction of housing, including affordable housing, on underutilized commercial and office sites, bringing both smarter community development and environmental benefits.

The year also closed out with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopting an updated Scoping Plan and the California Energy Commission (CEC) approving $2.9 billion in funding to expand the zero emission charging infrastructure for both light duty and heavy duty zero emission vehicles (ZEVs).

While these milestones are impressive, they will only become truly meaningful with the continuing work to reach the aspirational but essential goals they embody. In short, 2023 will test whether the Legislature and Governor are committed to the next steps of actualizing the promise of the accomplishments of 2022 and previous years.

To meet this challenge, the Legislature returns to the Capitol with 35 new members, with approximately 24 of 62 Democrats in the Assembly considered to be moderates, and with an oil and gas industry that appears willing to spend whatever it costs to defend its current business. Moreover, looming over all other issues is a projected $25 billion deficit in the state budget. The Assembly Budget Committee Chair, Assemblymember Phil Ting, has already indicated that one response to the deficit may be to stretch out prior year financial commitments for climate, energy, water, and wildfire prevention investments. The first look at what Governor Gavin Newsom proposes to address the deficit will come in early January when he unveils his 2023-24 state budget.

With the Legislature and the Governor grappling with the downturn in state revenue, the emphasis will shift to put state agencies, local governments, and community organizations in a more crucial role than ever. Becoming more efficient, effective, and resourceful will, of necessity, become the substitute for more state funding.

One opportunity to combine all three of these requirements may be found by local governments implementing climate resilience districts (CRDs) now authorized by SB 852, authored by Senator Bill Dodd and sponsored by CivicWell. CRDs can allow local governments to combine their efforts, designate regional climate priorities, and generate funds to meet the most significant community and environmental needs.

Local governments and communities will also be more prominently on the frontline than ever in expanding the supply of housing, particularly affordable housing, by promoting the conversion of unused or underutilized commercial and office space to residential uses; lowering GHG emissions by increasing the availability of charging facilities for ZEVs in both public and private locations, and by planning for development that reduces the need for vehicle trips and increases active transportation.

So, what will 2023 bring? With the state in less of a position to make financial investments than in the last few years, local governments will be presented with a greater opportunity than ever to be the leaders in taking on climate change and creating stronger, more sustainable communities. Creativity, innovation, flexibility, and commitment to find solutions define the best attributes of local government. For all Californians and the planet, applying those attributes will make the difference.

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