Featured in TSFF: Pioneering climate law to help disadvantaged communities

Thanks to The San Francisco Foundation for recognizing our SB 535 work!

In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) creating the first program in the country to take a long-term, comprehensive approach to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This landmark climate change legislation will generate between $1 billion and $5 billion in new public funds that will be used to reduce our global warming impact.

Disadvantaged communities will be hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change as they face escalating costs for food, water and transportation as well as increased adverse health effects from pollution.1 The question soon emerged – how will the communities most impacted by climate change truly benefit from these new state funds? Fortunately, Senate Bill 535 (de Leon) was passed as a companion piece of state legislation, directing a significant portion of AB 32 funds to the communities that will need them the most in the face of a changing climate. Programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are eligible for these funds include public transportation, affordable housing near transit, urban forestry, weatherization, energy efficiency, and clean freight vehicles.

In early November 2014, The San Francisco Foundation hosted a convening for funders featuring the four leaders of the 535 Coalition – Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Coalition for Clean Air, The Greenlining Institute, and Public Advocates. Over 30 people from 18 funding organizations gathered at the Foundation to hear from public sector, research and advocacy organizations on how to maximize the benefits of these investments.

“When we talk about climate change and environmental progress, we want to make sure that the communities that are impacted the most are at the decision-making table,” said Vien Truong of The Greenlining Institute. “The 535 Coalition is a diverse coalition of affordable housing, transportation, environmental justice, civil rights and labor advocates that has effectively lifted up the voices of the most impacted and built bridges to state policy makers to pass the SB 535 bill.”

“This is the largest pot of money dedicated to disadvantaged communities,” said Marybelle Nzegwu of Public Advocates, who helped advocate for at least a quarter of the new funds to go to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. “Now that we have put into place a law that directs investments to our communities, we need to continue to fight to make sure that the projects and programs that get funded amount to real, measurable and demonstrable benefits in our communities.”

By the end of the convening, funders learned about the unique role that philanthropy can play to ensure that state funds are spent on impactful projects and programs. Jose Carmona of the Energy Foundation said of the convening, “The 535 Coalition’s work is an innovative model that injects core equity principles into public policy that will result in a package of sustainable and clean energy projects in California communities most impacted by climate change. This is an amazing model that needs to be replicated in other states and countries.” There are still many challenges to implementing SB 535, but the leadership of advocates like the 535 Coalition can provide a direction and vision on getting it right. The San Francisco Foundation was honored to provide the 535 Coalition its first grant to ensure the equitable distribution of AB 32 revenues.


1California Department of Public Health and the Public Health Institute. Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in California: Community Vulnerability Assessments and Adaptation Strategies. Report No. 1: Heat-Related Illness and Mortality. Retrieved 1/13/15, from http://www.ehib.org/papers/Heat_Vulnerability_2007.pdf.

CalEPA’s interactive map of the state’s disadvantaged communities can be found here: http://oehha.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Viewer/index.html?appid=dae2fb1e42674c12a04a2b302a080598

– See more at: http://sff.org/pioneering-climate-law-to-help-disadvantaged-communities/#sthash.Lr3PGze3.dpuf