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.Learn more
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.]
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.]
Leverage philanthropic relationships early in the process to help secure grants for planning and fill gaps left by insurance and federal/state recovery resources.
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" 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.
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.Read more
Flood-After-Fire Plan Alignment: Sonoma County
Learn about Sonoma County's proactive, integrated planning and adaptive management approach to wildfires and post-fire flood events.Read more
Wildfire Plan Alignment: Mariposa County
Learn how Mariposa County aligned multiple plans to reinforce a holistic approach to wildfire mitigation and preparedness.Read more