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Regional Interests

The Newsom Budget’s Counterintuitive Idea: Communities Can Thrive and Address Climate Change at Sa

Hidden within Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $100 billion revised budget proposal, released last Friday, is an idea about climate change that is extremely counterintuitive:

“It’s about happiness and letting people thrive,” said Alexandria McBride, chief resilience officer for the city of Oakland. 

Newsom wants to spend more than $11 billion to “soften the edges” of the impacts of climate change, helping people adapt their lives to wildfires, sea level rise, drought, heat and more.

His plan includes money to slow both the immediate and long-term threats of a warming world, potentially spending on everything from drought preparedness to additional firefighters to accelerating progress toward the state’s goal of putting 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030.

Newsom is also seeking community partnerships through grants to cities, counties and schools to address issues like lack of trees and heat islands — urban setting that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. 

Along with helping the state attain climate goals like reaching carbon neutrality by 2045, some of the funding is also meant to help communities develop solutions to meet local needs.

“It’s the communities that are going to know best how to resolve their problems,” said Jessica Buendia, acting executive director for the California Strategic Growth Council.

Newsom’s proposal includes a $420 million investment over three years in the state’s Transformative Climate Communities Program, or TCC, a significant expenditure after the program received zero funding last year, when many key climate proposals were stripped from the budget because of the pandemic’s economic toll.

The state program is designed to empower the communities hardest hit by warming temperatures by allowing them to choose their own solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Already, since 2018, agencies and groups within Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Ontario, Riverside, Sacramento, Stockton and the San Fernando Valley have won $227 million to start community-level climate adaptation work funded by the program. An additional $3 million has been awarded to 18 communities for planning grants under the program.

“Residents are actually making the decisions about affordable housing developments in their communities, urban green spaces, food access, clean energy options,” Buendia said.

Last year, Oakland was awarded a $28.2 million grant for the Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors program in East Oakland. (Courtesy of the City of Oakland.)

‘Access to the Happiness’

Last year, Oakland was awarded a $28.2 million grant for the Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors program in East Oakland. Residents, community organizations and the city came up with a plan to advance climate solutions and neighborhood development without displacing residents.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said the project envisions safe and accessible transportation, green neighborhoods and a thriving arts scene, all while ensuring that “housing is a human right for existing East Oakland residents.”

The state-funded community plan comprises five projects: 55 green affordable housing units with a health clinic underneath them; turning a concrete barrier into a 1.2-mile trail called the San Leandro Creek Urban Greenway; planting 2,000 trees within the project area; an aquaponics farm and food hub; and a local art bike-share project. 

For McBride, Oakland’s chief resilience officer, this climate work is about restoring a community’s joy in the middle of the climate crisis.

“When we talk about making people happy, in order for us to really do that, we have to ensure that everyone has access to the happiness,” she said.

McBride says planning for climate change from the bottom up instead of only relying on  statewide goals allows for dealing with multiple issues, such as  housing, food insecurity and heat islands. In the grant application, city planners and community leaders made sure climate solutions also benefit people’s lives. 

“People of color care as equally about climate change as people who are coming from different backgrounds,” McBride said. “If you’re low-income or a person of color, you have different outcomes. TCC begins to disrupt and pay back into that system.”

The East Oakland project includes an art bike program, an aquaponics farm, 2,000 trees to be planted and 55 green housing units. (Courtesy of the City of Oakland.)

A Mutual Vision

The extra funds could open the door for 15 more of the state’s most disadvantaged communities to start community-led climate work, said Kate Gordon, senior climate advisor to the governor.  

She says the projects help create a mutual vision of meeting climate goals while also helping some of the most vulnerable communities in the state. 

“This is really a demonstration of how this work can be done on the ground,” Gordon said on a press call about the May budget revision.

Newsom’s latest budget proposal also includes $750 million to establish the Community Economic Resilience Fund for planning grants going to regions of the state recovering from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic while transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy.

The Legislature still has to approve the governor’s updated budget. Even more funding for community-level climate adaptation solutions is needed, says Alvaro Sanchez, vice president of policy for the Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based advocacy organization focusing on economic opportunity for and empowerment of communities of color.

“This is catalyzing the kind of climate action that we need in California, which is one that follows what communities that are most impacted need,” Sanchez said. 

Sanchez recognizes the state investment is just a start, but he says the funding could help relieve the stressors of climate change in areas like Richmond, West Oakland and many other communities.

“It’s also about self-determination, and I think that’s what’s been lacking in our climate strategies,” he said. “I think people that are most impacted feel like things are happening to them, without them, and TCC allows those people to feel like they are part of the solution.”

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