Study finds that California cities lack the capacity to capitalize on the historic number of climate action grants

Nov 29, 2023

Guest article by Roberto Carlos Torres, ILG Senior Program Manager

A new study has found that many California cities and counties lack the resources needed to capitalize on the historic number of new climate grants. Local officials are well aware of the challenges facing their communities, according to the survey. However, jurisdictions repeatedly identified a lack of adequate staffing and financial resources as the biggest barriers to climate action and the most important resources for implementing climate policy.

The Institute for Local Government (ILG) and UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment surveyed municipalities on their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect residents against the worst impacts of climate change. About a third of the state’s cities and counties responded to the survey, representing over half of the state’s population.

Only 6% of respondents reported having more than five employees working on climate issues, with most maintaining less than one full-time position. A third said they had no staff at all working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Many agencies are struggling to access these funding sources. Nearly half of respondents said accessing state or federal grants was “not easy.”

“This report reinforces what we’ve witnessed in local agencies for many years,” said Erica Manuel, CEO and executive director of ILG. “The desire to advance climate action and sustainability goals is there, but the capacity and resources are not. Additional state and federal investments in technical assistance, flexible funding, and workforce development will go a long way toward achieving our shared climate goals.”

ILG has worked with the state to pilot new strategies for climate action in low-capacity communities. It also provides technical assistance for state grant programs and shares best practices for local governments. ILG recently completed the second round of BOOST, a two-year capacity-building program, that has helped 10 cities and two regions advance their climate and equity goals.  

ILG has helped improve the design of some grant programs to support greater access for low-resourced communities. However, more revisions are needed, along with non-competitive and flexible funding and planning dollars. Several local governments surveyed and interviewed for the study echoed this sentiment.  

Smaller municipalities expressed a desire for more non-competitive funding and grant applications with fewer barriers to completion. Officials noted that funding programs that require them to compete with larger jurisdictions are often a time sink due to the grant’s complex requirements and their agency’s limited staff capacity.

One key takeaway from the report highlights how some cities can use public service programs, such as Americorps, to place climate or sustainability fellows in local governments for a fixed term to address limited staff capacity.

Workforce development programs that upskill and reskill existing workforces through work-based learning programs like registered apprenticeships are expected to gain steam in 2024. These programs can be pivotal in expanding a jurisdiction’s capacity to be proactive on climate issues.

For information about climate action and workforce development resources, visit the ILG website. Staff are also available to support cities looking for additional information and resources. Simply email Roberto Carlos Torres at Getting to Implementation: The Status of Local Climate Action in California developed in partnership with UC Berkeley with funding from Next10.