Sonoma County Establishes Regional Climate Protection Authority
Sonoma County’s nine cities and multiple county agencies have been engaged in local climate protection efforts for more than ten years. In 2002, Sonoma became the first county to have all its jurisdictions conduct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventories. In 2005, all ten local jurisdictions adopted a joint target of reducing GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2015. In 2009 Sonoma took another pioneering step by establishing the Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA).
Community story written and posted by BAAQMD, December 2010.
Sonoma County’s nine cities and multiple county agencies have been engaged in local climate protection efforts for more than ten years. In 2002, Sonoma became the first county to have all its jurisdictions conduct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventories. In 2005, all ten local jurisdictions adopted a joint target of reducing GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2015. In 2009 Sonoma took another pioneering step by establishing the Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA). The RCPA is a special district created by state legislation designed to improve local coordination on climate change issues and establish a clearinghouse for efforts to reduce countywide GHG emissions.
- The RCPA includes a council member from each of the nine cities in Sonoma County and three members of the County Board of Supervisors.
- The RCPA does not establish a new bureaucracy; it is directed by the board of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
- The goals and objectives of the RCPA are actions that need to be taken throughout the county and require regional cooperation to implement.
- A regional entity can act as a convener on competitive grant proposals and spread the benefit of grant funded programs to smaller cities that would not have applied otherwise.
- Establishing a formal regional coordinating body has provided a strong foundation to keep climate protection efforts moving forward, and be inclusive of smaller cities that cannot afford to hire their own energy or sustainability staff.
- Achieving unanimity among local jurisdictions in a region may take more time up front, but creates inertia to keep the program going even in a tough economy.
Resources To Learn More
The Rest of the Story…
The idea of establishing the RCPA came out of discussions between the Sonoma based Climate Protection Campaign (CPC), a not-for-profit organization that has been instrumental in engaging Sonoma’s local governments in climate work, the region’s city managers, and other stakeholders. CPC Staff had met with the Sonoma Transportation Authority (SCTA) to discuss climate change actions for many years during the annual “Climate Protection: Everybody Profits” day-long workshops that debuted in Sonoma in 2004. Recognizing the need to officially step up the coordination of local climate protection efforts beyond the annual workshop, the SCTA agreed to develop a countywide climate coordination plan in 2008. Over the following year, many County stakeholders were convened to discuss the formation of the RCPA, and grant applications were submitted to provide seed funding to hire more permanent staff. The SCTA was a logical choice to host the RCPA since 62% of Sonoma’s GHG emissions result from transportation related activities. The regional water and waste authorities also participated in establishing the RCPA. Another advantage of working with the SCTA was that the SCTA’s Board of Directors could serve as the RCPA Board as well, thereby eliminating the need to establish a whole new bureaucracy.
Since the SCTA (which raises funds through a local sales tax for transportation projects) was established by a California state law, it was necessary to also go to the state legislature to establish the RCPA as a legal entity. In October 2009, enabling legislation for the entity (AB 881), sponsored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, was passed and the RCPA was ready to go.
One of the first tasks of the RCPA was to establish a mission statement, goals and objectives. The CPC’s 2008 Community Climate Action Plan as the basis for defining many of the objectives, which address transportation and land use, energy efficiency and renewable power, green economy, and resource management. Various county agencies were assigned as lead coordinator for each of the 13 objectives established by the RCPA. For example, the Workforce Investment Board and the Economic Development Board are lead coordinators on the green economy related objectives.
Some of the efforts that the RCPA has undertaken to date include launching a pilot program to assist local water utilities with the development of on-bill financing for water conservation, facilitating the design of Sonoma’s Energy Upgrade California program, and working with a variety of stakeholders to develop electric vehicle infrastructure in the county. The RCPA has played an instrumental role in applying for and getting funding for these programs through various regional, state and federal grant programs.
RCPA is staffed by one full-time Program Manager and a part-time Program Analyst. The Board meets approximately 10 times per year, with occasional study sessions or strategy meetings. RCPA staff hosts coordination meetings among local agency staff, as well as working groups to discuss issues of regional interest such as GHG data collection.
As RCPA enters the second year of its five year mandate, RCPA faces many challenges in its goals for community-wide GHG reduction. Staff is particularly concerned about the impacts of a recent statewide ballot proposition, Prop 26, which limits the ability of local governments to impose fees on activities that harm public health (such as fossil fuels). However, the defeat of Prop 23 at the statewide level, which would have suspended the State’s AB32 law, shows that there is growing public support for climate protection that protects public health and grows the green economy. RCPA hopes to benefit from being on the cutting edge of this new area, and to develop innovative approaches that may be adopted throughout the state or by other localities around the country.