Leading the Resilience Movement at the State Level: Policy Recommendations for a More Resilient California

California faces a diverse range of resilience challenges, top of mind for most being earthquakes and a full range of natural disasters – including wildfires, drought, and flooding which are becoming more severe and frequent due to climate change. Yet no less severe are the slow-burning resilience challenges: a housing affordability and homelessness crisis, rising economic inequality, and silos at all levels of government that hinder bolder responses to the state’s urgent issues. Despite, or perhaps because of these challenges, California finds itself at the vanguard of the resilience movement, with great potential for leadership at the state level. With its history of progressive leadership in areas like climate action, and with its urban centers taking tangible steps toward a resilient future, now is the moment for the State of California serve as a national and international model for resilience.

Over the past five years, 100 Resilient Cities has partnered with four cities in California – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley – to develop and implement holistic, urban Resilience Strategies that are preparing these cities for the acute shocks of the future, while ensuring that all residents can thrive on an everyday basis. Strategies in these four cities outline a series of tactical actions that ensure these cities are leading the way in innovative approaches which address challenges ranging from building seismic preparedness to increasing affordable housing, tackling climate change to fostering economic opportunity. In addition, funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has allowed 100RC to support the Southern California Resilience Initiative, a new partnership to pilot regional approaches to wildfire prevention and management.

Building upon the resilience experience and expertise cultivated in California to date, and with the election of a new Governor, Gavin Newsom, in mind, 100RC partnered with the Association of Bay Area Governments / Metropolitan Transportation Commission (ABAG/MTC) – a San Francisco-based regional planning agency – to conduct a scan of existing resilience issues, assets, and opportunities across the state and make recommendations for building statewide resilience. Leveraging stakeholder interviews, research, and policy analysis, this effort provides an overview of the players contributing to the state’s resilience, the regulatory and funding landscape, and evaluation of the state’s resilience.

“Resilience Public Policy and Implementation in California: Strategies for Building Statewide Resilience” provides an overview of these findings, along with a number of tactical policy recommendations across four opportunity areas: governance, housing, disasters and climate change, and economic opportunity. These recommendations aim to strengthen the State of California in the face of current and future shocks and stresses, while creating a resource for other states and municipalities working to build their own resilience. Keep reading for a summary of five key recommendations.

Primary Recommendation: 

The State of California should appoint a statewide Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) located in the governor’s office.

100RC experience since 2013 has proved repeatedly the value of a Chief Resilience Officer. A number of cities in the U.S. and elsewhere – including Santa Monica and San Diego in California – have even appointed their own CROs, despite not formally being a part of the 100 Resilient Cities Network. Lessons from statewide Chief Resilience Officers in Colorado and Rhode Island have also demonstrated the opportunity to adopt the CRO position at the state level in California, which would include broad responsibility across the range of policy areas impacting resilience, while building upon California’s leadership in progressive social, environmental, and disaster readiness policies. Compiling these areas under the umbrella of resilience will ensure that efforts are coordinated in a manner that amplifies their effectiveness while mitigating potential unforeseen consequences—for example, ensuring that seismic or energy upgrades do not exacerbate housing affordability challenges.

With the advent of the new administration and the challenges facing California today, now is the moment to appoint a statewide Chief Resilience Officer to accelerate coordinated planning across state agencies and to serve as a force amplifier for the work by building and leveraging partnerships with civil society and the private sector. Political will exists: a bill to create a Chief Climate Resilience Officer is currently under consideration in the State Senate.

Recommendation: 

The State CRO should lead a California Resilience Institute to enhance cross-sectoral governance.

Convened by the State CRO, a cross-sectoral California Resilience Institute (CRI) would serve as a resilience accelerator to strengthen regional government capacity, amplify county-level resilience actions and serve as a neutral, convening body to foster resilience implementation. Conceived as a collaboration between leaders in government, philanthropy, and civil society on resilience implementation, the CRI would:

  • Conduct research and provide innovative solutions for resilience challenges
  • Fund implementation of new resilience strategies
  • Provide political advocacy and policy support for state initiatives
  • Incubate or otherwise support innovative resilience solutions
  • Offer technical assistance for members

The California Resilience Institute, helmed by a CRO, would be the first actor in this field to undertake a truly holistic approach to resilience-building at the state level.

Recommendation: 

The CRO should help design and advocate for housing programs that work for all Californians.

New housing in San Jose. Source: Sean O’Flaherty via Wikimedia Commons

California is in the midst of a housing crisis, yet solutions are not easy to come by. The impacts of rising housing costs are most acute for lower income residents, who are typically renters. An expansion of California’s tax credits for renters represents one possible solution. Providing a higher statewide tax credit for renters for their main residence, consistent with similar statutes in Massachusetts and elsewhere, would equitably benefit low- and middle-income renters along the lines of federal tax deductions for mortgage interest for homeowners.

An increase to the current renter tax credit is a promising support that could strengthen housing policy interventions. Moreover, several renter tax credit bills have been proposed recently as vehicles to provide fiscal equity for renters, suggesting that this tactic has broad support. One promising version passed the Senate in May 2019 and currently sits with the Assembly.

Recommendation: 

California should adopt proactive “precovery” efforts to mitigate disaster and climate change impacts.

California has spent untallied billions in disaster response and recovery costs in the last ten years. Recent disasters have left damage to all types of buildings and facilities, ranging from single-family homes, multi-family apartment buildings, and private sector buildings, to essential service facilities such as hospitals and schools. In order to reduce harm to Californians and stem the tide on disaster response and recovery spending, a practical first step would be the creation of a special, one-time initiative to support resilience finance funding for accelerating implementation of “precovery” projects.

Flames of the Simi Valley fire ravage a Southern California mountain side.
Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Dennis W. Goff

Such an initiative would demonstrate regional and local capacity to effectively address risk. A precovery fund provides a missing, and much-needed, bridge among the varied investment sources from the private sector, cities, and regional bodies, along with state and federal agencies. Establishing a statewide request for proposals process would furthermore provide equitable access for communities to participate. Having a State Chief Resilience Officer as part of such a strategy could strengthen the capacity of differing partner stakeholders to overcome sectoral funding boundaries.

Recommendation: 

The state should strengthen partnerships to create economic opportunity for all Californians, including strategically launching and leveraging Public-Private Partnerships, as well as funding in Opportunity Zones.

By working with public, private, and philanthropic partners, the State of California can consolidate resources and leverage new and existing programs to ensure that economic growth creates opportunities for all Californians. One such opportunity is through the Opportunity Zone tax incentive. As a vehicle to support private/public resilience partnerships focused on productive economic activities at regional and local levels, a California CRO could support the acceleration of engagement with local partners and project development processes. By applying lessons learned in 100RC’s four California member cities and in the Bay Area Resilient by Design Challenge, the state’s Opportunity Zone program could mainstream successful partner models in local communities and ensure that those most at risk are equal partners at the planning table. The proposed California Resilience Institute could also provide support to Opportunity Zones by providing an incubator atmosphere, accelerating the development and implementation of new investment and development efforts through connections and relationships, mentorship, technical assistance, and by providing an advisory role to problem-solving.

There is no need to begin this work from scratch. The State Chief Resilience Officer would be able to leverage best practices from 100RC’s global network of CROs to accelerate the program. Additionally, the state’s existing climate change planning blueprint, Safeguarding California, benchmarks resilience outcomes that can adapted for local application of place-based economic development processes.

Read and download the full white paper: Resilience Public Policy and Implementation in California: Strategies for Building Statewide Resilience.