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Funding Climate Resiliency In San Diego: Can Cities Manage Current And Future Climate Impacts?

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

Climate change has become an emergency that affects the health and wellbeing of millions of people around the globe. According to the latest UN IPCC report, nearly half of humankind—3.3 Billion people—lives in a danger zone, particularly those in low-income communities. Now, more than ever, countries and communities are feeling pressure to adapt to the continuing effects of the climate emergency and plan for future impacts.

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has stated that he will work to ensure that 50 percent of all climate investments go toward adaptation and that he will work to remove barriers that prevent small island states and least developed countries from receiving the funds they require to save the lives of their people.

“We need new eligibility systems to deal with this new reality. Delay means death." - UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres

Here in the United States, natural disaster events such as West Coast wildfires, blizzards in the East Coast and Midwest, and increased flooding and hurricanes in the South make Americans wonder how we might cope with climate change impacts in the coming decades. With more than 80% of Americans living in urban areas, cities have a responsibility to go beyond simply cutting carbon emissions. They must also work to build resilient communities by providing families and businesses with resources to confront and adapt to the climate emergency.

In the San Diego region, cities are beginning to address the ongoing impacts of the climate emergency, mostly by incorporating adaptation strategies into their Climate Action Plans (CAPs). Last Fall, the City of San Diego—the largest city in the County—released its Climate Resiliency Plan which aims to respond to climate change-related impacts. The framework the City Council adopted in December 2021 has the potential to improve San Diego’s social equity, health, and safety.

Unfortunately, past failures to implement climate policies make us question how cities can manage current and future climate impacts?

Climate action planning is a complex task that requires robust leadership, regional coordination, innovation, ongoing community participation, and, last but not least, significant funding.

In San Diego and across the U.S., cities have repeated the same mistake repeatedly by adopting frameworks without developing funding and implementation plans to complete climate projects on time, leaving communities unprepared for a changing climate. This is partly due to cities' lack of capacity—namely, grant writers and administrators—to research and apply for funding for their proposed projects. Another issue is that many climate frameworks are unspecific and vague, making it difficult for cities to qualify for available funding.

This is why, at Climate Action Campaign, we continuously work to provide cities with best practices for developing implementation and funding plans that will ensure successful climate action. Over the past year, I’ve been hard at work, learning the best practices for implementing equitable resiliency strategies in a way that gives communities a voice. I recently spoke with Resilient Cities Catalyst (RCC) to hear insights on their study which identified gaps and opportunities in climate governance and funding structures across California. The RCC is an organization formed by urban practitioners working to influence the way cities plan and build resilient communities.

Earlier this year, CAC partnered with the City of San Diego on outreach efforts for their draft resiliency plan. This included making a presentation in Spanish to members of Casa Familiar and the San Ysidro community on the City of San Diego’s resiliency plan.

Above: CAC and Casa Familiar Presentation

Feedback from the presentation showed that community members want to know more about how the city is investing in resiliency, including details on the costs of the plan and the locations where projects will be implemented.

In addition to doing research and outreach, I've also been representing CAC in webinars at the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to collect information on state resiliency funds. As California and the federal government prepare to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into local resilience projects, we are pushing cities in our region and the County of San Diego to pursue this funding and financing to fund equitable adaptation and resilience planning and projects.

Last year, Governor Newson released a $15 billion climate package, the largest investment in California's history. To support climate resiliency efforts, I recently provided all cities in the County with a guide with resources on state and federal grants that they are eligible to apply for. Ultimately, our goal is that cities strengthen their climate adaptation and resiliency strategies, and ensure funding protects the lives and livelihoods of our most vulnerable communities.

As cities develop their budgets for Fiscal Year 2023, we encourage you to ask your Council Members and Mayors to prioritize funding for climate adaptation and resiliency planning. In the City of San Diego, Mayor Todd Gloria will be releasing his proposed budget on April 15.

We ask residents to stay tuned for the Public Input Budget Hearings happening on May 4th and May 6th, where we will be asking the City to commit to fully fund key investments including the Climate Action Plan 2.0, the Master Mobility Plan, and the Climate Equity Fund. All of these items have already been prioritized by the City Council in their budget memos and we are excited to see them in the Mayor's budget.

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