Climate Resilience Districts - CivicWell

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A New Tool for Local Governments in the Fight Against Climate Change

by Roger Dickinson, CivicWell Policy Director



December 21, 2022


The state of California has long recognized the threat of global warming. Leading the nation in 2006, AB 32 by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez was signed into law as “The Global Warming Solutions Act,” establishing a cap-and-trade system to require industries and businesses to phase down greenhouse gas emissions. Ten years later, SB 32 by Sen. Fran Pavley set a benchmark of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Over the years, there has been a host of legislation addressing climate change. This year, AB 1279 by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi sets the goal of zero carbon emissions no later than 2045, and SB 1020 by Sen. John Laird sets increasing standards for renewable energy as a percentage of retail electricity sales until reaching 100% by 2045.

However, in all these state legislative efforts, one significant element has been missing. It is local governments—cities, counties, and special districts—that are on the front lines of tackling climate change.

Local governments must devise the methods to safeguard their communities from the ravages of wildfire, the oppression of extreme weather, and the depletion of essential water resources by drought. Yet local governments have had no set framework for taking on these devastating impacts.

SB 852 by Sen. Bill Dodd, which Governor Newsom recently signed into law, fills this gap. The new law will give local communities the option to fashion a comprehensive, unified approach to the greatest challenges of climate change facing their region. For the first time, communities will be able to establish a predictable flow of funding for projects—currently, they must rely on unpredictable grants or loans from public or private sources.

The law:

  • Authorizes cities, counties, or special districts, singly or in combination, to establish climate resilience districts
  • Outlines the process to be used to establish a district, including public notice and hearing requirements
  • Gives districts the flexibility to identify the most important priorities for their own community
  • Requires the districts to develop plans and implement projects to address the impacts of climate change either through mitigation or adaptation
  • Authorizes the districts to undertake and maintain projects related to wildfire, drought, flooding, and extreme heat, cold, rain, or snow
  • Emphasizes the need to use nature-based approaches and to focus on vulnerable populations
  • Allows the districts to be financed by tax increment funds or voter-approved supplemental property taxes, benefit assessments, or fees
  • Allows districts to receive federal, state, local, or private funding to help underwrite projects and programs

Sonoma County has already begun work to establish a Climate Resilience District through the Sonoma County Climate Protection Authority. The Authority has adopted a charter which lays out the process and timeline to develop an expenditure plan addressing adaptation and mitigation projects for transportation, buildings, land, and water. The timeline calls for the implementation of the plan in 2024, with a likely ballot measure to fund the plan.

Climate change presents the most significant social, economic, and environmental challenge of our time. We see the increasing intensity of global warming all around us, from massive wildfires like 2021’s Dixie Fire, to severe drought and heat, to sea level rise. Local governments across the state must confront the impacts of displaced families, lost production, and compromised infrastructure. All of these require greater investment in health, safety, and support services.

SB 852 will allow local communities to work together to generate resources, develop approaches, and set meaningful priorities to meet the growing demands of climate mitigation and adaptation. The need has never been greater.

On February 1, 2023 we held a webinar on Creating a Climate Resilience District: A New Tool for Local Governments. We were joined by California State Senator and SB 852 author Bill Dodd, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, and Deputy Commissioner of the Climate and Sustainability Branch at the California Department of Insurance, Mike Peterson. We heard practical presentations on the financing opportunities under SB 852 from Senior Legislative Advocate at Nielsen Merksamer Geoff Neill and the process for setting up a CRD from Suzanne Smith, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority. You can watch the recording here.