California is poised to make major investments in neighborhoods that face significant pollution. On Sept. 3, nearly 200 people turned out in Oakland to have their say in how that money is spent. Their is still time to add your voice.
Starting in just a few weeks, a state law called the Climate and Community Investment Act, or SB 535, will give Californians some much-needed relief from carbon pollution, along with providing these communities with a whole host of other neighborhood-level benefits.
Here’s how it works. Under California’s popular climate change and clean energy law, AB 32, carbon emissions are capped and polluters are required to either reduce their emissions or pay into a fund to support clean energy and green jobs. As the amount of allowable emissions decreases with time, pollution drops while clean energy and green jobs grow.
According to SB 535, at least 25 percent of these AB 32 proceeds must be spent on projects that benefit the communities with the worst pollution. With the passage of this year’s state budget, lawmakers allocated $832 million in overall AB 32 proceeds toward efforts to curb carbon pollution.
This means at least $200 million this year alone will benefit communities already on the front lines of California’s climate crisis. Examples of expenditures include $25 million for low-carbon public transportation, $130 million for affordable housing, and $75 million in energy retrofits.
It’s exciting to imagine what California’s low-income neighborhoods would be like with living-wage jobs, quality housing options, cheaper energy bills and more reliable bus service. This is exactly what we can expect, if these investments are done right.
The California Environmental Protection Agency and the Air Resources Board have been conducting statewide workshops to discuss the investment of these funds, including how to decide which projects should get funded. Hundreds of people have attended public workshops in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Oakland — and many more are submitting comments online. The goal is to maximize benefits and support the projects that best meet community needs.
We need your help to impress upon decision-makers that they should target these dollars toward those who need them most — and these residents must be a part of the conversation when decisions are made.
For each expenditure, we think there are four key questions to answer. Does the investment address an important need? Are the benefits provided significant? Are low-income residents and households the primary beneficiaries? And does the project avoid imposing major burdens on these residents? If decision-makers can comfortably say yes to all four questions, the project should get the green light.
Quite simply, this is where the rubber meets the road. These laws must deliver on their promise so that our air gets cleaner and our communities flourish. As one participant in the Oakland workshop put it, “The people the SB 535 benefits are supposed to serve need to be part of the conversation.”
Together, AB 32 and SB 535 give our communities more power over our future. This is our moment to claim that power.
To submit comments online, go The deadline for submitting comments is Monday.
Miya Yoshitani is executive director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Vien Truong is environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute.