Cities and Counties have gotten used to the state imposing mandates without giving them the tools – or funds – to meet what are otherwise laudable goals.

To many, AB 32 and SB 375, fall in this category.

The California Air Resources Board, which monitors the state’s sustainability program, has called on local government to inventory greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, vehicles and treatment operations through the Local Government Operations Protocol.

The next step will be to establish regional transportation-related greenhouse gas targets, energy demand reductions, and expansion of green building practices. Municipal agencies must additionally plan and implement landfill methane capture.

The problem is that these things take staff time and resources, something that is at a premium at many jurisdictions across the state in times of shrinking budgets.

Some agencies are looking to grants to start the process, but only if the benefits outweigh the administrative burden.

Jill Boone, Climate Change and Sustainability Manager for the county of Santa Clara is considering applying for a Sustainable Communities Planning Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. These $100,000 to $1 million grants are designed to kick start regional efforts.

“Transportation, air quality and sea level rise are bigger than one county,” Boone said.

Before she brought a proposal to the board, however, she was reading the fine print to ensure the grant would cover staff time. “The way our budgets are right now, I really have to make sure there are no requirements for matching funds or onerous reporting,” Boone said.

Guidelines are still being finalized and the $60 million pool of funding will be granted in up to three waves. To help sort out the requirements and resources, the Institute for Local Government, the research and education arm of the League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties, launched a Sustainable Communities Forum as a follow up to a Tools and Resources for Sustainable Community Planning at the Local Level workshop.

Some at the state level are also trying to hold out a hand to locals. “We need to equip and trust local communities to decide what works for them,” said Gregg Albright, deputy secretary for Environmental Policy at the California Business Transport and Housing Agency. “The stuff that happens at the state level is just paper and policies.

Where the rubber hits the road is on any given Tuesday at a city council meeting.”

“I know cities and counties are struggling to meet un-resourced mandates,” Albright said at a recent ULI meeting. “We want to give them the tools to be successful, not take away choices.”

State funding options available to cities and counties include the $15 million Urban Greening Projects Grant Program (and $250,000 Urban Greening Planning Grants), which provides funds to preserve, enhance, increase or establish community green areas such as urban forests, open spaces, wetlands and community spaces. Preference is given to urban, disadvantaged communities.

“These [the Urban Greening Grants] are great because they help fund things the cities are already doing,” said Lindsay Buckley, Sacramento valley Representative for the Great Valley Center.

Bob St. Paul, a senior planner at the City of Fullerton, said that while his city is looking at a number of these opportunities, he is focusing on including sustainability as part of the general plan update. “Sustainability is not just one, stand-alone element, it is part of a living document,” St. Paul said.


JT Long can be reached at