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Actions to Address Economic, Equity and Climate Concerns

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The Institute for Local Government is committed to helping local government leaders navigate the complexity of their important roles. In response to the unprecedented impacts local governments are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis, ILG developed a curated list of practical actions local governments can pursue immediately to continue their commitment to sustainability and build resilience to future disasters and public health crises. These best practices illustrate ways in which local governments can address and balance economic development, climate action and equity with the health and safety concerns of their communities. 

We will continue to update this page as new practices emerge. Contact the Sustainability Program team to share the actions your agency is taking and to include them in this framework.

Energy Efficiency

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Analyze rate schedules to ensure they are most effective for your agency at this time.
  • Work with energy provider to access technical assistance and financial incentives, such as facility audits, rebates, on-bill financing, loans, savings-by-design and demand management programs.
  • Use existing financing programs and utility rebates to implement low cost energy efficiency measures.
  • Promote utility incentives to help local businesses save money and earn bill credits, such as air conditioning cycling, demand response, critical peak pricing and energy advisor programs.
  • Utilize the shelter at home mandates to retrofit empty commercial and municipal buildings.
  • Support PACE Programs to assist residents in obtaining Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
  • Deploy resources to electrify buildings and transportation. 

Health and Safety

  • Ensure all consumers, particularly vulnerable populations, stay connected to essential utility services.
  • Promote programs that offer residents and businesses safer materials for weatherization and energy efficiency to improve indoor air quality.
  • Ensure access to all for telehealth and online education by promoting policies and programs that prevent service disruptions.
  • Seek to improve health and safety of all California’s existing buildings by improving support for low-income weatherization and energy efficiency. 

Equity

  • Work with utility providers to ensure low income and vulnerable populations are safeguarded against energy power loss by supporting:
  • Restoration of power to disconnected homes without a reconnection fee.
  • Statewide utility shutoff protections and expansion of energy assistance programs.
  • Suspension of electricity disconnections and credit action due to non-payment.
  • Bill assistance and late fee forgiveness for businesses and residents.
  • Bill payment plans with reasonable payback terms post-COVID-19.
  • Low income Energy Assistance Plans such as LIHEAP, CARE, FERA and Medical Baseline. 
  • Prioritize energy efficiency programs and projects for small and medium businesses in marginalized communities.

Water & Wastewater Systems

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Use existing financing mechanisms and utility rebates to expand programs to increase efficiency and water-reuse.
  • Reduce turf and grass in agency landscaped areas and replace with native plants and xeriscaping. 
  • Implement drought tolerant and hydro-design principles to group compatible plants based upon water needs for agency parks and landscaping.
  • Use compost, bio solids and mulch in agency landscaping as a water conservation measure.

Health and Safety

  • Keep abreast of the latest CDC recommendations regarding safety precautions for wastewater workers. The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in untreated wastewater.
  • Post signage discouraging the flushing of disinfecting wipes to prevent sewers clogs and backups at wastewater treatment plants.
  • Ensure that all employees engage in proper handwashing practices related to COVID-19.
  • Require building owners and managers to minimize water stagnation during closures and address building water quality before reopening.
  • Ensure drinking water meets state and federal standards.
  • Continue bacteriological monitoring to ensure water is safe to drink and to ease the resumption of activities post shelter-in-place.
  • Continue source water monitoring, treated water sampling and nitrate treatment on a regular schedule.
  • Join the California Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (CalWARN), a statewide mutual assistance organization.
  • Replace broken water meters immediately. Provide assistance to customers to do so in a timely and coordinated manner.

Equity

  • Ensure access to running water, or provide sanitation stations for handwashing for vulnerable populations.
  • Support LIHEAP Cash and Crisis grants to be used for heat-related water service.
  • Suspend water shutoffs for non-payment.
  • Provide water services payment arrangements.

Green Building

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Create a dedicated page on the agency’s website to help residents find green building information and resources.
  • Invest in urban greening and other multi-benefit resilience measures, especially in marginalized communities.
  • Provide information to homeowners and businesses about available utility rebates for new residences and commercial buildings that exceed California’s Title 24 energy code by 15 percent.
  • Provide incentives, such as expedited review/permit processing, to encourage green building.

Health and Safety

  • Work with large employers, hospitals and schools to expand remote programs.

Equity

  • Invest in equitable broadband access and computer-equipment lending.
  • Promote use of zero or low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and materials to reduce air quality impacts on vulnerable populations.
  • Control concentration of indoor air pollutants, such as ammonia, formaldehyde, benzene, total VOCs, radon, PM2.5 and PM10.

Waste Reduction & Recycling

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Encourage local restaurants to use compostable food ware, where appropriate.
  • Provide information online showing how to dispose of each type of takeout container.
  • Educate residents about the importance of not contaminating recyclable waste streams.
  • Offer virtual composting and sustainable landscaping classes to the community.
  • Cohost virtual “fun in the garden” and “cooking academy” youth workshops with local organizations to promote home composting and vermicomposting.

Health and Safety

  • Coordinate with the California Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery (CalRecycle) on the latest information, resources and programs to assist local businesses.
  • Work with solid waste service providers to adopt enforcement mechanisms for residents and businesses that misuse or contaminate green waste and recycling containers.
  • Review CalRecycle’s COVID-19 guidelines to understand impacts and changes to resource recovery and recycling requirements.
  • Adopt social distancing guidelines to allow for opening of household hazardous waste drop off. Such as asking all staff and customers to wear face coverings and to keep waste in trunk or bed of the vehicle and to not exit their car during drop off.

Equity

  • Expand food recovery programs.
  • Partner with schools and other food distribution centers to distribute locally produced food and milk, to avoid waste farmers are experiencing due to the disruption in the supply chain.
  • Support local food banks by advertising/streamlining volunteer services and food donations. Post tips on agency website to help residents avoid food waste.
  • Expand opportunities for farmers to sell products through new opportunities.

Climate-Friendly Purchasing

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Develop and launch a Work From Home Resources portal for city employees to make telecommuting efficient and accessible.
  • Participate in multi-agency procurement pools that have a climate-friendly purchasing component such as compostable food ware containers.
  • Encourage the practice of not purchasing new materials, such as office supplies and furniture, through the reuse of existing items in surplus that are thoroughly sanitized.
  • Consider efficient transportation methods and local economic development when purchasing goods and services, such as using local vendors and or locally produced goods.

Health and Safety

  • Eliminate requirements to conduct a competitive solicitation for contracting for emergency-related goods and services.
  • Develop innovative partnerships with private and nonprofit sectors to meet local demands.
  • Use existing contracts or known vendors; or use approved vendor or supplier lists that have already been vetted.
  • Make sure that each contractor has a city point of contact (e.g., a project or agency manager) to reach out to ask questions about items pertaining to submission of payments to support efficient and timely purchasing, etc.
  • Create a data-sharing platform to share due diligence information about vendors with your sister cities.

Equity

  • Encourage departments to creatively reach diverse small businesses for their contracting needs. 
  • Include opportunities for Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise firms in your procurements.
  • Even as priorities change, ensure that procurement processes are transparent and grounded in sound, participatory decision-making.

Renewable Energy & Low Carbon Fuels

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Enter into power purchase agreements (PPA) to meet all or part of the electrical energy requirements of buildings and facilities through a consistent monthly payment to reduce electricity costs.
  • Work with Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) to determine rate changes that can be made right away to save money on electricity costs through on bill financing.
  • Consider microgrids to ensure energy reliability during emergency situations.

Health and Safety

  • Facilitate online permitting and inspections.
  • Conduct virtual renewable energy workshops for residential, commercial and industrial property owners.

Equity

  • Partner with local business accelerator or university to develop a green and clean tech pipeline in the community as a recovery strategy.
  • Elevate distributed energy resources such as solar PV and solar+storage as a sustainable and equitable recovery strategy.
  • Promote and provide information on the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) distributed energy systems installed on the customer’s side of the utility meter.
  • Offer online educational resources to the community on the link between renewable energy, low carbon fuels and air quality.
  • Invest in green, innovative, entrepreneurial and inclusive workforce training programs to get people back to work.
  • Develop job training programs and other opportunities that promote upper watershed restoration for wildfire prevention, carbon sequestration and water supply reliability.

Efficient Transportation

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Assess the short and long-term mobility needs of the community, including the efficient movement of people and goods.
  • Implement Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) for surveillance and traffic control, such as synchronized signals, transit and emergency signal priority, and other traffic flow management techniques as appropriate, to improve traffic flow and reduce vehicle idling.
  • Make reducing vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) a high-priority criteria in the creation of any new policies, programs and projects.
  • If furloughs or schedule augmentations are necessary, allow employees to work from home to avoid driving into the office for half days.
  • Implement a flexible work schedule for agency employees, incorporating telecommuting and modified schedules to reduce agency energy use and vehicle miles traveled.
  • Establish dedicated delivery/loading zones for restaurants, commercial businesses and school lunch pick up.
  • Increase online permitting services to reduce the need to travel to agency offices for minor permits.
  • Institute strict limits on parking outside restaurants and retail businesses, so cars can only stay there for the time it takes for an employee to obtain a carryout order.
  • Classify bike shops as essential services.
  • Include information on agency website about state and federal clean vehicle rebates.
  • Create and distribute bike maps and “safe routes to school” maps to community members.

Health and Safety

  • Create a “slow streets program” to encourage safe and healthy outdoor activity.
  • Close streets that go through parks to cars to discourage driving to parks.
  • Partner with local community organizations to identify and develop a connected network of green pedestrian and bicycle streets to facilitate social distancing.
  • Adjust signal timing to slow vehicles and promote pedestrian safety.
  • Set traffic signal system to “night mode” to improve pedestrian safety, curb speeding and eliminate the chance that drivers would encounter several green lights in a row.
  • Reset high volume traffic lights to automatically display pedestrian crossing signals for every light cycle.
  • Convert actuated to fixed signals where possible to ensure “touchless” pedestrian crosswalks.
  • Implement a robust cleaning program for public transportation vehicles to instill rider confidence.
  • Establish back door boarding policies to alleviate crowding and support operator safety.
  • Create a website highlighting walking opportunities within the city.

Equity

  • Consider making public transportation “fare free” to ensure all Californians have options to work and essential services.
  • Consider free transit passes for vulnerable riders and essential workers.
  • Establish protected “pop up” bike lanes to ensure safe travel for residents without cars.
  • Offer free or reduce priced bike share access to provide low income and essential worker transportation options.
  • Establish and promote a cleaning program for micro-mobility transportation services.
  • Use government property to create “walk-up” COVID-19 testing locations accessible to people outside cars.

Land Use & Community Design

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Prioritize land use initiatives that focus on job creation, housing production and the environment.
  • Assess permit process and fee structure to increase affordable housing, infill development and transit-oriented housing.
  • Focus place-making initiatives for health and safety by pedestrianizing downtown areas and neighborhoods, opening streets for walking, limiting vehicle traffic and widening of sidewalks. 
  • Developing objective design standards or pre-approved site and architectural plans that facilitate non-discretionary permitting.
  • Encouraging Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and other innovative building types through actions above state law requirements such as, outreach, fee waivers, pre-approved plans, website zoning clearance assistance and other homeowner tools or finance tools.
  • Include planning staff as part of your hazard mitigation or emergency response team, or repurpose them track and collect data needed for relevant local policy implications related to COVID-19.
  • Establish a policy that increases the available open space (such as parks, green belts, hiking trails, etc.) to support different types of uses and the different recreational needs of the community.
  • Adopt policies in the general plan, climate action plan or other appropriate policy document to address the potential land use and community design effects of climate change (such as sea level rise, heat events, wildfires, etc.) especially for providing essential public services.
  • Focus on permitting that creates short-term solutions to help keep businesses open safely such as permitting a drive-through window or repurposing on-street parking spaces to facilitate pick-up of restaurant take-out orders.
  • Expand uses allowed in home occupations to enable businesses to work out of the home until social distancing requirements can be relaxed.
  • Resist efforts to waive design and development standards for projects that won’t be completed for another 12 to 24 months. Such waivers may have limited value in helping businesses weather the short-term economic crisis.

Health and Safety

  • Create an online “self-service” permit portal for building permits, building inspections, planning applications, research permits, fee payments and property information to reduce in person contact and expedite services.
  • Make online forms “fillable” electronically so that customers don’t have to print them out and instead can submit them digitally.
  • Modify counter operations to assist customers through email, phone and videoconferencing.
  • Implement a physical drop-off system to facilitate the exchange of documents and plans, as well as the filing of project applications, without requiring face-to-face meetings.
  • Encourage clients to schedule one-on-one phone calls with staff, in instances where in person meetings are necessary.
  • Prioritize projects and code revisions needed to protect the health, safety and welfare of community members, such as drive-thru testing centers.
  • Institute programs that streamline or consolidate review processes.
  • Move commission meetings and public engagement to online or virtual platforms.
  • Consider spaces to serve multi-purposes, if necessary, such as transforming a vacant arena into a care facility for COVID-19 patients.
  • Publicize any changes made to planning process broadly to inform community stakeholders of the temporary change in operations.

Equity

  • Prioritize homeless and supportive housing production. 
  • Support financing of new construction and rehabilitation of exisiting affordable housing. 
  • Identify and address food deserts to support temporary and long term solutions.
  • Increase access to broadband and Wi-Fi by rolling out “Wi-Fi buses” in neighborhoods without broadband access.
  • Consider easing development regulations for market-rate and affordable housing projects.
  • Consider rezoning for significant additional housing capacity without or with lesser discretionary review or establishing zoning to permit residential development by-right, particularly multifamily.
  • Increase access and availability of parks and open space for community use.
  • Support long-term community-resilience planning to reduce future shocks, with particular attention to vulnerable communities.

Open Space & Offsetting Carbon Emissions

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Manage parks, open space, recreational facilities and other natural areas owned or operated by the agency to ensure the long-term health and viability of trees and other vegetation.
  • Deputize residents to update inventories of natural features in parks and school grounds; residents may share findings on apps such as iNaturalist.
  • Crowd-source photos of where residents find nearby nature on the city website or city social media channels.
  • Create a citywide contest to count the most squirrels, robins, crows, etc.
  • Provide guidance for parents to lead nature story walks and ease virtual library access to nature stories easy to tell (in multiple languages).
  • Create a scavenger hunt or bingo game to identify local street trees and birds, and disseminate on multiple city websites.
  • Increase opportunities for recreational open space by closing streets or utilizing under-used spaces.
  • Update List of Road Closures to allow people to be outdoors while practicing social distancing.
  • Arrange for school grounds with any natural features (including grass) to remain open.
  • Highlight livestreams available from city parks, zoos and natural areas.
  • Utilize CivicSpark Fellows to support staff capacity to move forward on climate-related issues.
  • In advance of fire season, remove invasive non-native plants in order to reduce risk of forest and grassland fires (and the associated greenhouse gas release).
  • Promote sustainable native forests and grasslands.
  • Where feasible, direct new development away from open space and agricultural lands in order to take advantage of carbon storage opportunities.
  • Provide tree planting resources and information on the agency website to encourage residential tree planting for those sheltering in place.
  • Create incentives for community organizations, businesses and residents to reduce their carbon emissions, including the purchase of third-party verified greenhouse gas emission offsets.

Health and Safety

  • Clarify via public announcement and on the city website that parks, greenways and trails remain open for use with physical distancing rules in effect.
  • Post a video of the mayor taking a walk around their neighborhood or in a park.

Equity

  • Collaborate with public agency partners such as schools and libraries to disseminate virtual and neighborhood-based options for connecting children to nature.
  • Proceed with long-rang climate action planning efforts, taking into consideration vulnerable communities, economic recovery and climate resilience.
  • Enact a policy to purchase locally grown food for agency food purchases, when feasible, to promote retention of local agricultural land uses.
  • Promote the purchase of locally-grown produce through farmers markets and other measures, with appropriate social distancing, to support the availability of healthy, locally grown produce.
  • Provide a virtual workshop on healthy eating and nutrition and provide low-income attendees with coupons to use towards purchasing healthy locally-grown produce at farmers markets.

Community & Individual Action

Economic and Climate Considerations

  • Offer online climate activities and challenges for community members to do at home including a carbon footprint calculator, virtual workshops and events, and resources focused on a specific monthly topic.
  • Establish a small business task force of local, state, private and philanthropic leaders to pursue the creation of innovative small business loan and support programs; at minimum, a two-year horizon should be considered for these programs.
  • Convene philanthropic organizations, private donors and large-scale anchors to create budget support gap measures for creative and arts organizations.
  • Create a task force of large-scale service employers, grocery stores and delivery services to provide appropriate wages and benefits, as well to identify best-practices in design for social distancing and the use of protective gear for front-line employees. Work with these groups to disseminate best practices to smaller businesses and organizations.
  • Create an online portal to solicit innovative ideas from companies and individuals that can contribute to solutions to navigate the complexities of COVID-19.
  • Execute a direct marketing and outreach strategy to local businesses and entrepreneurs to ensure they are aware of federal, state and local loan programs.
  • Deploy a “Made in …” campaign as a means for promoting local businesses and services. Community residents are very much inclined to help local businesses weather this crisis.
  • Develop an immediate platform or hub (wiki page or website) for sharing entrepreneurship and small businesses resources throughout the community. Entrepreneurs need a one-stop shop.
  • Deploy a business technical resource team to provide assistance on the design retrofit and health checks required to reopen safely. 
  • Partner with local anchor institutions and larger businesses to commit to temporary local purchasing goals, using the size and scale of these entities to increase demand for local goods and services. 
  • Establish a creative economy team to assess the impact on the creative economy, to marshal funding for arts and cultural organizations and to provide technical advice to smaller galleries, independent theaters and music venues on how to get back up and running safely.

Health and Safety

  • Mobilize, in partnership with employers and state officials, to provide protective gear now and for the long-term for frontline service workers.
  • Work with employment offices and workforce providers to mobilize to fill employment openings at grocery stores and warehouses and for delivery workers.
  • Partner with economic development officials, community development groups, anchor institutions and local social service agencies to develop a coordinated strategy for addressing and mitigating the health-care vulnerabilities of less advantaged communities.
  • Focus workforce and placement initiatives on developing training and job opportunities for residents of less advantaged neighborhoods.  
  • Operate indoor recreation facilities as emergency care facilities for children of parents on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak and low-income families.
  • Host a large-scale drive-thru emergency food distribution for low-income families and seniors.
  • Coordinate with local networks of early childhood care and education providers, out-of-school time providers and parents to disseminate tips and resources.
  • Shift non-essential staff to work with volunteers and Meals on Wheels to conduct daily check-ins for seniors.
  • Partner with local restaurants to deliver meals for low-income seniors.
  • Create a Pandemic Community Advisory Group to gather input, advice and reactions on an ongoing basis; this group also will play a key role in helping to determine criteria for distribution of donations.
  • Accept tax-deductible monetary donations to bolster response efforts.
  • Form a Community Relief Fund to receive and direct charitable donations to sustain and protect local residents and businesses during the COVID-19 health emergency.
  • Connect residents 55 years of age and older with volunteers that can run errands, grocery shop, and offer companionship.
  • Encourage backyard and community gardening, yard work, and tree planting – provide seeds, seedlings, mulch if available via meal distribution sites.
  • Encourage residents, and children in particular, to get outdoors at least once each day, and to connect to nature in any available form.
  • Create pathways for jobs by allocating resources to community-ambassador positions that support emergency communications and neighborhood-level preparedness and recovery.
  • Expand Community Emergency Response Training (CERTs) programs to train residents in climate resilience and disaster-response skills.

Equity

  • Utilize a variety of high-tech and low-tech engagement methods to interact with the community including texting, television/local access channels, online surveys, virtual meetings, livestreams and more.
  • Ensure that information about COVID-19 precautions, orders and instructions are provided in multiple languages.
  • Launch virtual resources and activities to help keep youth socially engaged, including sustainability-themed arts and crafts ideas and activities and fun physical activities, fitness challenges and wellness resources.
  • Focus the efforts of related initiatives and working groups for anchor institutions, small business and arts and cultural institutions on disadvantaged areas.
  • Collaborate with priority communnities to develop plans and programs to help build long-term resilience to climate change.

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