Is California’s Climate Change Funding Hitting Its Target?

by Crystal Shaw on February 22, 2017

By Cameron Phillips

Liberty Hill’s new report, Green Zones and Grassroots: How California’s Climate Investments Benefit Los Angeles County’s Disadvantaged Communities, is an inside look at how California’s investments to fight climate change have been used in L.A.’s low income communities. California is a leader of the worldwide climate justice movement, which recognizes that the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the world’s most vulnerable communities. The state’s ability to achieve its goal to get benefits to environmental justice communities is a crucial step toward local climate justice.

When you think of climate change, you might think first of the Arctic or Pacific atolls, but failure to address climate change also means failure to shut down toxic polluters in close proximity to homes, schools and places of faith in urban neighborhoods. Moreover, when severe weather conditions likes storms, flooding and heat waves occur, low income communities are hit hardest.  

California has established itself as a global leader not only by setting goals for reducing pollution, but also by supporting equitable and sustainable development. The goal is for our communities to be free of dependence of the fossil fuel economy and to move in a positive direction with sustainable energy practices and climate-friendly improvements. 

The report finds that the state has targeted many environmental programs to low income communities, but that residents have yet to reap all the benefits of these programs because of language barriers, misinformation about program costs, and distrust of outsiders, among other challenges.  However, there is even greater potential if program administrators work closely with grassroots community-based groups.


From solar panel installation and weatherization, to tree plantings and electric vehicle sharing, the list of possible community benefits from climate change funding is long, and a key takeaway of Green Zones and Grassroots is the fact that grassroots environmental justice groups can help communities overcome barriers and take advantage of the state funded programs to improve their neighborhoods.  The report points to L.A.’s new “Green Zone” neighborhoods as examples of success, where grassroots community organizations in Boyle Heights, Commerce, Pacoima, South L.A., Wilmington, and in the Gateway Cities of Southeast Los Angeles County are increasing the ability of communities to plan healthier futures and maximize the decision-making power of residents in the development process.

Practical recommendations are part of the report, which describes inclusive community-involvement techniques such as focus groups, roundtable discussions, leadership development, charrettes, “groundtruthing” (community-based research) and advisory councils that can improve program design and implementation and more effectively reach economically isolated areas.  

Green Zones and Grassroots has been warmly received by environmental justice groups as well as state agencies that want to improve community engagement and provide more benefits to vulnerable communities. The report was circulated at a Stakeholder Summit earlier this month for the state’s Strategic Growth Council’s new Transformative Climate Communities program, where it received positive feedback and agreement with its recommendations for formal partnerships between state agencies and environmental justice groups. These recommendations are especially timely now, as the Strategic Growth Council finalizes guidelines for the program, requiring investments to focus on the top 5% disadvantaged community census tracts. Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC, and a Strategic Growth Council board member, called it “very impressive thinking that should inform our program design going forward.”

Liberty Hill Foundation intends to present these findings and recommendations to multiple state agencies, as well as the Los Angeles Mayor’s Sustainability Office to inform its selection process of its submission for the $35 million in Transformative Climate Communities funding designated for a City of Los Angeles sustainability project. There is great potential to improve the lives of low income communities on the frontlines of industrial pollution, and Liberty Hill hopes that its latest report will help pave the road to success.


Download a copy of the report at:


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