Planning for Climate Change Takes a Comprehensive Approach

Climate change is here, and it’s already impacting the communities, economies, and environments of California.

Unified, inclusive, and strategic planning builds resilience to climate impacts. Plan alignment and integration help protect communities from the threat of climate change such as wildfire, increasing temperatures and extreme heat, sea level rise, drought, and the compounding impacts of flood-after-fire events.

Plan Alignment Tool Community & Stakeholder Engagement

What is Plan Alignment?

The process of plan alignment leverages connections, information, and resources to build shared language, data foundations, and processes across multiple planning efforts at any scale. Plan Alignment, in essence, is based on collaboration. The resulting plan alignment products are:

  • A suite of plans (with different scopes and purposes) that share the same data, similar underlying assumptions, aligned visions, and complementary goals, strategies, and actions.
  • A shared understanding, process, and structure for multiple entities in a community or region to continue to collaborate and align efforts over the long term.

Plan alignment helps communities integrate planning teams, data, and processes to achieve more holistic and effective solutions, and better outcomes for everyone.

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Big Ideas

Where do I begin? That’s a reasonable question that will be answered differently for each community. The following “big ideas” are guiding principles that describe what it means to align planning efforts, outline implementation tips for making it happen, and emphasize strategies for integrating climate resilience throughout the process. These are designed to be universally applicable for any community or region, at any planning stage. Keeping these in mind as both a starting point and as a central consideration throughout the planning process will set communities up for success regardless of where they begin their plan alignment journey.

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This is a tricky spot. These troubleshooting tips offer guidance and insights into managing challenges that may arise during the plan alignment process.

Local agency champions are needed—become a champion of integrated planning! Dedicate a plan alignment captain with strong facilitation skills to coordinate and become knowledgeable about all applicable plans, and to lead collaborations with other planning sectors and jurisdictions.

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Each community’s approach to defining local agency champions will be unique. For example, many larger cities have identified Chief Resilience Officers to lead efforts, and some moderate sized cities have broadened sustainability directors’ responsibilities to incorporate these topics more fully. Smaller jurisdictions may choose to designate a planning and community development director or leverage other existing positions for this role. For cities with capacity, committing staff resources to an “alignment captain” could reduce effort and maintain staff capacity and knowledge in the long run. Additionally, an alignment captain with strong facilitation skills and experience coordinating with diverse entities, communities, and sectors can help ensure the success of alignment efforts.

Develop a standing “alignment team” of diverse representatives from various planning efforts. Meet regularly to maintain commitment, consistent coordination, and ongoing effort. This helps to build an understanding of each plan, overcome sector silos, gain buy-in from multiple agencies, and transfer knowledge.

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“Alignment team” membership and size will be unique to each community and its goals. Consider incorporating the planning teams and lead departments responsible for the plans and processes ongoing in your community, and key community members or authorities that play a central role in community visioning, planning, and implementation. Objectives of this team include consolidating, aligning, and, when possible, standardizing planning requirements, metrics, funding, goals, and timelines.

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Consider developing a written formal agreement, such as a charter or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), across the entities joining the team. This agreement will not only demonstrate commitment and clarify partner roles, but also ensure the support of departmental senior leadership and better allow team members to prioritize the work.

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Host discussions and set appropriate expectations about time commitment, including how often meetings will occur and how much work will occur between meetings. Adjust timelines to meet these expectations and capacity limitations.

Make connections and build relationships with other local departments/divisions. Fostering this coordination early in the process allows departments to better identify opportunities for greater synthesis, such as co-designing projects, joining together to apply for funding, aligning budgets, and utilizing the same consultants.

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Collaboration and engagement structures will look different for each community. Consider whether additional working groups or advisory groups may be useful to support multiple planning processes, such as a forming or leveraging a regional network, technical/science advisory committee or a community advisory committee. Each group may serve a unique purpose and operate at different timelines and scales in relation to each planning process.

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Maintaining alignment between departments, plans, and processes can be challenging when institutional knowledge and trusted relationships are lost to staffing changes over time. To address the challenges of staff turnover, consider developing staff continuity and transition strategies to maintain staff knowledge and capacity, such as requiring a transition memo from exiting staff to facilitate transition of knowledge to new staff and to maintain relationships between departments.

Engage creatively and thoughtfully to identify consistent community goals and objectives. Think of new ways to engage diverse stakeholders, especially from underserved areas. Consider developing a strategic community engagement plan during the early stages of the alignment process, with multiple engagement points throughout the planning process. Meet at places that are meaningful and accessible to those who live, work, and play in the community. If possible, compensate participants for their time and expertise, and provide accessibility, childcare, and translation services/materials. Always ask, "Who is missing? Who should be involved?" [Learn More About Equitable Community Engagement.]

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To obtain buy-in across all sectors of government and the community, tell unified stories about the community and climate change, tailor engagement to each unique audience, and invite the public to weigh in on how they can help develop and implement goals both early and throughout the process. Geographic context is important in determining stakeholders and identifying the right messaging. [Learn More About Stakeholder Mapping and Engagement.]

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Avoid underfunding the collaboration and facilitation pieces. Budget adequate resources and staff time, and if needed, adequate training for integrated facilitation, coordination, and community engagement activities early on - including adequate financial resources to support community members' participation, such as stipends or consulting agreements.

Leverage the engagement opportunities of other departments and planning efforts to streamline public input and priorities across numerous planning initiatives. Attend other relevant planning-related events for cross-pollination and network building and develop a communications and engagement strategy that accounts for existing public input mechanisms.

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Lack of communication and coordination between disparate planning efforts and stakeholder fatigue from too many outreach efforts can significantly bog down the process. Aligning and consolidating disparate community engagement efforts across departments can save resources, help mitigate stakeholder fatigue, and lead to better engagement outcomes over time.

Climate equity and environmental justice should always be considered and reflected in the planning process. While some communities are better positioned to adapt to climate risks, others are disproportionately impacted by systemic socioeconomic and environmental inequities in addition to climate impacts. Key components of creating an equitable, climate-resilient community include identifying vulnerable communities, building community adaptive capacity, equitable community engagement, and prioritizing procedural, distributional, and structural equity throughout planning and implementation processes. [Learn More About Climate Equity.]

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Senate Bill (SB) 1000 (Gov. Code § 65302(h)) requires that all cities and counties with disadvantaged communities develop an environmental justice element or equivalent for their general plan. OPR's guidance for the Environmental Justice Element in the General Plan Guidelines outlines guidance for developing goals, policies, and programs that address the unique and compounded health risks in disadvantaged communities and prioritize improvements and programs that meet the needs of disadvantaged communities. Local agencies can include environmental justice and equity-focused goals, policies, and programs in other plans to align with environmental justice elements in general plans. OPR also encourages communities to incorporate environmental justice and equity into their plans even when SB 1000 may not apply to a general plan in a specific community.

Leverage the planning process and resources to build social and physical capacity across the community. If outside expertise or technical assistance is needed to complete one or more plans, consider how to leverage this assistance to build long-term community capabilities to adapt, especially in disproportionately vulnerable communities.

Develop an overarching adaptation vision and a robust multi-hazard vulnerability and risk assessment to guide climate resilience plan alignment efforts. A climate adaptation vision can exist as a standalone plan or series of agreed upon adaptation priorities, goals, and objectives, or be housed within another planning document. Both this vision and components used to develop it, such as cross-sector advisory groups, vulnerability assessments, and strategies or actions at multiple planning horizons, can be leveraged to support other plan updates.

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Interventions for one climate risk may exacerbate or interfere with responses to other climate risks. To avoid this pitfall, a comprehensive adaptation strategy or framework can help ensure specific interventions support the entire framework.

Collaborate regionally and across jurisdictional boundaries. Climate change impacts are not bound by jurisdictional lines and regional coordination helps identify climate change risks that may originate outside of a plan's jurisdictional coverage. Collaborative regional solutions, including shared resources and integrated management, can expedite comprehensive risk mitigation actions.

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Leverage existing regional bodies and collaborative efforts like Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Councils of Governments, non-profit networks, multi-sector networks, or regional climate collaboratives.

Identify funding sources that support the alignment of multiple plans. For example, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hazard mitigation planning funds can support the development of a climate vulnerability assessment for a local hazard mitigation plan (LHMP), a related Safety Element update, disaster recovery and resilience planning, wildfire protection planning, and more. Long-term financing and funding opportunities will vary for each community. [Explore resources for Investing in Adaptation.]

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Leverage philanthropic relationships early in the process to help secure grants for planning and fill gaps left by insurance and federal/state recovery resources.

Best Practices

While plan alignment ideally begins during the scoping phase of a planning process and continues throughout all stages, alignment can begin at any phase. This section provides examples of best practices and tips for avoiding tricky spots for whichever part of the planning process your community is in. It is also aligned with the four-phase approach in the California Adaptation Planning Guide and General Plan Guidelines to break the content into manageable steps.

Every community will vary in the approach and sequencing of their planning process; as such, the following phased approach is not meant to be prescriptive, but rather offer a menu of ideas that agencies can select at their discretion for implementing and sequencing plan alignment concepts.

Participating in visioning and engagement activities, identifying goals and resources, and outlining a process builds a plan’s foundation. Exploring, defining, and initiating one or more plans simultaneously can allow integration at the outset of each process, and the opportunity to streamline resources, staff, and efforts across involved departments and entities throughout the process.

For more on this phase:

  • Develop a shared vision. Engage stakeholders and the broader community to identify what people most value about their community and what they want their community to become. How will the community be similar or different in the future? All planning initiatives should center this same community vision, goals, and objectives for adaptation and resilience.

  • Become familiar with planning processes and plan requirements, both internal to a department/organization and those of other agencies and/or departments. Coordination and mutual learning at the onset may yield bigger returns later.

    • There are multiple state laws that require the integration of climate resilience in local planning documents, which are included in the Plans sections of this resource. Be sure to check relevant state and federal guidance documents and statutes early and often, as regulations often evolve over time.

  • Create an adaptable 5, 10, or 15+ year strategy for updating multiple plans/elements over time and identify ways that portions of different planning processes can be used sequentially to support each other. Consider aligning the update timeline of different plans by adjusting the frequency of subsequent updates.

    • Timing for each plan or element’s development, updates, and approvals may differ significantly. Be aware of timeframes so that funding and staff resources for one plan can assist elsewhere as needed.

    • Communities may face time-sensitive required updates to certain plans, such as the Housing Element of the General Plan or the 5-year timing of the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) update and may need to sequence other plan updates around this update. As a community develops its 10-year strategy, it may be helpful to plan around the time-sensitive plans and align timing of other plans to follow the plans with strict time-sensitive deadlines. Consider leveraging the next required update to develop components that can inform multiple plan updates, such as community engagement efforts or a comprehensive vulnerability and risk assessment.

  • Treat the process as an outcome. Developing thoughtful process goals to work towards plan alignment, equitable outcomes, and develop transparency can help jurisdictions focus not just on delivering plans, but also transform institutional norms that may be impeding community alignment, cooperation, equity, and resilience.

A vulnerability or risk assessment that incorporates climate change impacts is often based on the examination of current and historical conditions, emerging trends, and projections of future climate impacts. This process usually involves identifying populations and assets most vulnerable to hazards and associated impacts, evaluating the risks from each impact, and identifying priorities for effective strategy development. A comprehensive vulnerability assessment can serve as the foundation for aligning climate risk and vulnerability data across multiple plans.

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Provide a foundation for developing strategies by conducting a comprehensive and detailed vulnerability or risk assessment that includes future climate projections, and which can be leveraged for multiple plans.

  • Risk and vulnerability assessments vary in scope and level of detail. Determine which plan needs the most specificity and develop an assessment at that level so all plans can benefit. If this is not feasible, design the assessment so other components can be added as needed or as funding becomes available. Integrating vulnerability assessments is both good practice and cost-effective.

Develop a comprehensive, locally relevant definition of vulnerable communities with indicators applicable to the community from which all plans can draw from. [See the OPR guide Defining Vulnerable Communities in the Context of Climate Adaptation.]

Consider using multiple information sources from across the community and beyond (if available) for a robust assessment of local hazards, including both quantitative and qualitative sources, such as community member experiences and indigenous and Traditional ecological knowledge.

  • Apathy created by “disaster amnesia” or the perception that “nothing ever happens here” when time passes without a significant hazard event can stall public participation. Vulnerability assessment findings conveyed in an accessible and approachable manner can increase awareness and understanding of risk.

Examine risks at a regional scale beyond jurisdictional boundaries. Flooding and wildfire events in neighboring jurisdictions, for example, could lead to downstream impacts in a jurisdiction, such as evacuation pressures, debris flows, and wildfire smoke; and environmental pollution from neighboring jurisdictions may contribute to a community’s overall vulnerability. Check neighboring jurisdictions’ plans and assessments and promote regional consistency by coordinating on the use of similar data parameters and measures.

The vulnerability assessment created in Phase 2 can be utilized to refine a vision and any goals developed earlier in the process and identify policies, strategies, and actions unique to a community’s vulnerabilities, strengths, and objectives. While the terminology, level of detail, and purpose of different plans may differ, this planning phase involves the opportunity to align strategy/action frameworks across multiple plans.

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Integrate the same actions and risk reduction strategies in multiple plans. For example, adaptation strategies from the General Plan or a standalone climate adaptation plan can also be used as mitigation actions in an LHMP. At a minimum, cross-reference plans.

  • Ensure consistency among planning efforts, and, conversely, that no strategy, policy, or action in one plan contradicts another plan. Comparing plan goals both at the outset of the planning process and periodically throughout helps identify potential conflicts.
  • Plan components can inform other plans, but plan sections and entire plans may not be interchangeable due to differing requirements by approval agencies. For example, while parts of an LHMP and a General Plan’s Safety Element might overlap, federal requirements for an LHMP differ from state requirements for the Safety Element. At the same time, incorporating other plans by reference into the general plan is permissible by law, and doing so can help to avoid duplication of detailed information or more specific hazard mitigation and climate adaptation strategies contained in other plans. Thus, local agencies should consider what degree of integration and mechanisms for doing so are appropriate.

Reach out to scientists and academic institutions. They are often eager to provide insights on how climate information is effectively used. Leverage other existing agency collaborations with academia.

Align with State plans and priorities. State plans, such as the California Climate Adaptation Strategy, State Hazard Mitigation Plan, State Fire Plan, State Emergency Plan, and Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan can provide insights into State priorities for funding, local plan approvals, implementation, and coordination; illuminate specific climate risks resulting from hazards particular to different regions; and identify specific state programs, such as technical assistance or grant programs, that can be leveraged to support local planning. [Explore Adaptation Clearinghouse Topic Pages for featured state plans and other resources.]

Implementation can leverage the benefits of plan alignment by identifying and prioritizing actions, monitoring programs, evaluation mechanisms, and funding sources that support the goals and strategies of multiple plans. Continued collaboration with stakeholders to identify implementation opportunities and resources can kick-start the process and ensure each strategy and action continues to be effective into the future.

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Develop a timeframe for implementing each action aligned with existing and future funding opportunities. Seek to identify which strategies can be implemented using existing operations and budgets, may require a specific-line-item request as part of the routine planning and budgeting cycle, may require more unique public financing methods (e.g., special purpose assessments, impact fees, or tax increment financing), or can share funding sources with other local departments, neighboring jurisdictions, or regional entities. Developing a matrix or tracking mechanism that shows how actions and funding sources support multiple plans and goals can be a helpful tool to inform decision making, transparency, and outreach efforts.

  • Ensure that planning and implementation accounts for the useful life of critical infrastructure, not just design life.
  • Funding cycles can affect when decision makers can begin funding and implementing an action. Capital improvement plans are an important tool for identifying both short and long-term financing opportunities for adaptation strategies identified in plans.

Collaborate with stakeholders to identify implementation measures and funding sources, including:

  • Other departments to identify funding sources that can be leveraged for multiple plan strategies and measures. For example, stormwater or floodplain management agencies may be able to fund green infrastructure projects, and transportation agencies may be able to support infrastructure projects.
  • Public works departments to gain buy-in for ongoing/long-term operations and maintenance costs – without their support, capital projects may stall.
  • The private sector, including local businesses and private landowners, are critical for achieving widespread implementation of community-wide measures – engage them early on to build relationships and support.
  • Neighboring jurisdictions, including special districts and other agencies with overlapping political boundaries, to see if policy implementation can be coordinated and to avoid any issues arising from jurisdictional inconsistencies.
  • The community to identify creative resources, solutions, and leadership.

Develop community-driven, measurable outcomes across all plans to assess their effectiveness. Develop a monitoring program to track progress, build community trust, and enhance transparency by identifying progress indicators and metrics for each action in partnership with the broader community. The program can identify when and why to monitor, why monitoring is being done, and who is responsible for the evaluation.

Adjust and modify. Develop an adaptive process that allows for modification as opportunities to incorporate community knowledge, Indigenous and Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or scientific advancements arise.

  • Developing a review timeline for assessing progress can ensure accountability, create a vehicle for transparency, drive continued action, and allow for improvements based on lessons learned.
  • Develop strong messaging to drive implementation forward and dedicate adequate resources for outreach and building public support. Leverage plan alignment successes by showcasing how actions implement the strategies and goals of multiple planning documents and community priorities. Some actions may require greater effort to gain political backing or public support to implement, particularly those that require local financial and/or administrative commitments, or those that generate opposition from competing interests. It is helpful in these cases to make a convincing and long-lasting case for implementation. For each proposed action, explain clearly and succinctly how well the action can meet additional standards or “selling points.” [Learn more about strong messaging for stakeholders.]
  • Leverage existing and established venues for messaging, and when necessary, identify new venues to reach any audiences not engaged through established methods.

Ready to Align Plans?

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Plan Alignment Guides

Coastal Hazards Resilience

Sea-level rise and other coastal hazards that will worsen with climate change require an integrated, collaborative approach. Learn more about plan alignment opportunities in the coastal zone of California.

Flood-After-Fire Resilience

“Flood-after-fire" and “post-fire flooding and landslide” events are increasingly likely as climate change drives more frequent wildfire and drought conditions, and variable precipitation patterns. Learn how to align disparate planning efforts to address risk from flood-after-fire events.

Wildfire Resilience

As fires become more severe and wildfire season expands due to the impacts of climate change, California’s communities must learn to adapt and mitigate wildfire risk. Learn how integrated, aligned planning can address wildfire risk.

Plan Alignment Case Studies

Explore success stories of plan alignment in communities and regions across California. These case studies showcase how integration efforts and collaboration can lead to better outcomes and long-term resilience in the face of climate change.

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