California often leads the nation when it comes to acknowledging and searching for ways to address climate change. The state’s first-of-its-kind Cap-and-Trade Program highlights its innovation. The program was recently extended in the state legislature to 2030 (ten years past its initial 2020 horizon).

Cap and Trade works by setting an annual “cap” on the total amount of carbon emissions attributable to businesses within the state. Each year this cap declines. Businesses are then required to purchase permits which allow for a certain amount of emissions to be released. A certain number of permits are allocated for free, but if a business is in need of more, it must purchase these permits from the state. These permits are sold quarterly, and the revenue gained from these sales is funneled into a suite of programs, called California Climate Investment Programs, which are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It is time for our city to “walk the walk” as it pertains to climate change.

California also recognizes the burden of environmental pollution and the negative effects of a changing climate (increased summer temperatures, drought, and other extreme weather events) disproportionately impact vulnerable communities. For instance, low-income and minority neighborhoods are often located near heavily trafficked roadways and freeways, industrial sites, and other environmentally unsafe landscapes. These burdens are captured in a mapping tool called CalEnviroScreen. The state uses this tool to assess which places are priorities for investment, or what it refers to as “disadvantaged communities.” Stockton is high on that priority investment list. A quick search with the CalEnviroScreen mapping tool shows the city awash in red, the color indicating the highest rate of environmental and social burden.

The CalEnviroScreen maps (on the right) show the widespread, burdened neighborhoods in Stockton. On the left, you can see historic redlining maps from the 1930s. To learn more about the comparison read Javier Padilla’s article on redlining and environmental justice history.

While this deserves lamenting, and acknowledgement that we have collectively failed to protect those in our city who need it most, it also provides an avenue of opportunity.

The City of Stockton should work to benefit its citizens living in these disadvantaged neighborhoods by pursuing the funds available through the California Climate Investment Programs. The programs are varied, but one in particular – The Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) Program – has the potential to bring meaningful, climate-conscious investment to our community.

In its first year, the program has already selected Fresno as the lucky recipient of $70 million. These funds will be directed toward community-driven improvements: affordable housing, improved public transportation, enhancements to the urban tree canopy, and massive workforce development programs aimed at benefiting residents living in those red CalEnviroScreen neighborhoods. Each improvement is on the table to be funded. Fresno has taken great strides to ensure the process is inclusive, allowing all who live or work in disadvantaged neighborhoods to vote on the projects to be awarded funds.

Fresno was not selected by accident. Over the past decade, elected and administrative leadership have worked hard to lobby Sacramento on behalf of their communities. The city overhauled its zoning code and worked to create neighborhood plans that laid the foundation for these improvements to take place. As Stockton sheds its post-bankruptcy hesitancy, it, too, is beginning to seek out and pursue these opportunities.

A group of community-based organizations in Stockton has started to coalesce around the TCC Program’s smaller Planning Grant opportunity. These funds, up to $250,000, will allow the city to start building and documenting a collaborative planning process to prime itself for future investment on a scale similar to Fresno (should the city be awarded, it will be prioritized for future funding awards). However, this process should not be limited to these initial groups. In order to ensure the projects identified for future TCC funding are representative of community needs, significant outreach must occur. This outreach, which will likely extend over the next two years, will start next week.

A public meeting will be held at Stockton’s Civic Auditorium from 6 to 8 p.m. this Tuesday, Sept. 26.

There will be food, childcare, and translation services available. At this meeting, information on the TCC Program, as well as a proposed planning area based on CalEnviroScreen data, will be presented. As a member of this TCC planning group, and as a resident of Stockton, I urge anyone who may be interested to make a visit to learn more about this program and how it could benefit our community. It is time for our city to “walk the walk” as it pertains to climate change, and ensure that our future investments both protect and empower those who have been left vulnerable to environmental racism and injustice.

Cover image by Dave Sizer