Land use and community development play a foundational role in how Californians are able to prepare for, and respond to, the impacts of climate change. Development patterns, land conservation and protection, and land management practices can help, or hinder, the State’s long-term community health, environmental, and economic goals, including climate adaptation. Incorporating climate considerations into local long-range planning is a critical step to adapting to the impacts of a changing climate, especially since land use planning and community development intersects with so many other sectors. Climate disasters, as well as incremental climate effects, present disproportionate risks for people experiencing housing precarity and people experiencing homelessness; affordable rental units are more likely to be demolished (than to be repaired) when damaged; and the age and condition of existing housing stock makes significant difference in homes’ resilience to wildfire.

Incremental climate effects like extreme weather also present disproportionate risks to the unsheltered population. Additionally, past and current housing and other land-use decisions can significantly impact a community or region’s overall vulnerability to climate impacts, such as contributing to wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface. As such, strategic planning and decisions regarding local and regional housing needs should prioritize addressing and mitigating climate risk and vulnerability. While the practice of adaptation planning continues to evolve, there are a number of ways local governments address climate change, meet statutory requirements, and build community resilience. For additional background information and discussion of climate impacts and vulnerabilities specific to the Land Use and Community Development Sector, visit the sector Background and Climate Impacts page excerpted from the Adaptation Planning Guide.

For discussion on different options for local climate change planning and integrating different local and regional plans, such as Local Coastal Programs, Climate Adaptation Plans, or Local Hazard Mitigation visit the Plan Alignment Compass page and the Adaptation Planning Guide (APG). To explore adaptation planning efforts across the state, visit the ResilientCA Adaptation Planning Map (RAP-Map). Examples of adaptation strategies are provided on the Adaptation Strategies page and can be found in many of the resources available by search below.

The APG, developed by the Office of Emergency Services, is the state’s primary resource for helping local governments meet climate change planning requirement and address climate impacts. For detailed information on how to incorporate climate change into local land use and community development planning mechanisms, view the APG Introductory Section “How to Use the APG?” Many communities also find that coordinating with other agencies and organizations in their region is critical to the success of climate adaptation land use and community development efforts; see more information in the Regional Collaboration section of APG Phase 1.1. Additional guidance can be found in Chapter 4 and 8 of the General Plan Guidelines and the California State Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Defining the Sector

The land use and community development sector plays a foundational role in how communities can prepare for and respond to impacts related to climate change. This sector includes the development patterns, land conservation and protection, and land management decisions made in local communities throughout California. Land use decisions are typically made based on a general plan land use element and zoning code, which have guidelines for where and how communities will develop in the future. This sector includes plans and programs that provide communities with a healthy and safe environment, affordable housing, and accessible public amenities.31 Key principles that define the land use and community development sector include: equity, sustainability, and choice; economic development; location and connectivity; resilience in new and existing development; innovation; community-led capacity; awareness and responsiveness; collaboration; and improved data.32

Major Vulnerabilities

The land use and community development sector is based on safety documents such as general plan safety elements and local hazard mitigation plans, which can govern development patterns and provide hazard mitigation measures to prevent loss of life and property. However, many safety elements are out of date and may not address current or future climate-related effects.

This sector is also primarily vulnerable to physical climate change effects based on the location of development. Buildings and populations living in hillside and mountain communities are especially vulnerable to damage or injury from landslides, wildfires, severe weather, and flooding. Coastal communities face similar challenges, because sea level rise and coastal flooding cause inundation and damage to essential infrastructure and homes. Damage from these physical hazards can also devastate local economies because businesses could close, residents could leave permanently after evacuations, and the local tax base could virtually disappear.

Existing land use patterns create vulnerabilities for the people living and working there. Some neighborhoods are not walkable, lack access to transit, and are not close to resilience hubs, which could prevent seniors and those without access to lifelines from reaching resilience hubs or cooling centers during extreme heat conditions. People experiencing homelessness are often overlooked as a population that requires assistance, and therefore may not know about or have the means to travel to resilience centers. Neighborhoods beyond urban limits may also not have access to resilience centers or community activities that can build social capacity (interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, and a shared understanding) within a community. Many neighborhoods are within the wildland-urban interface and highly vulnerable to wildfires, or in landslide-prone areas. These neighborhoods typically have many single-access roads, which can be blocked or damage during emergencies, leaving those living on them isolated or trapped.

Many communities also have inequalities between neighborhoods, which can put vulnerable populations at higher risk of being affected by climate-related effects. Communities that have large impervious areas that lack vegetation, typically in areas with disadvantaged communities, are subjected to higher temperatures from the urban heat island effect and may have poor drainage during flood events. In the event of a climate hazard event, residents and business owners in these neighborhoods may live in unhealthy conditions, face great financial hardships due to recovery costs, or be permanently displaced if housing is unaffordable. Linguistically isolated populations, undocumented persons, and other marginalized persons may have limited access to community amenities or lack a voice in their communities, which means that community development policies and programs are less likely to consider their needs. This could make preparation, response, and recovery efforts difficult or impossible for vulnerable populations.

Appendix C provides examples of ways that local governments can support a more resilient land use and community development sector as part of adaptation planning effort. These strategies are generalized approaches that can be refined for the specific land use and community development.

Climate hazards Adaptation Strategy Factors to Consider Category Sector overlap Responsible Agencies Funding Examples & Sources
Land Use and Community Development Sector
All climate hazards Strategy LUCD-1: Integrate climate change adaptation considerations into general plan Safety Elements, Local Hazard Mitigation Plans, emergency operations plans, and other public safety documents. This strategy is a long-term goal of all adaptation planning efforts. Almost all communities maintain plans to help prepare community members and municipal staff for disasters and other hazards, and to guide staff response once a disaster occurs. These plans can include General Plan Safety Elements, Local Hazard Mitigation Plans, and Emergency Operations Plans, among others. Climate change-related hazards and other climate change effects can pose threats to human health and property and should be included in public safety and planning documents. Communities throughout California should strive to ensure that their public safety documents address emergencies that may be created or otherwise affected by climate change, including discussion on how the effects may vary in the future due to a changing climate. Per state requirements, jurisdictions must update these plans regularly to include the most recent and should include the most relevant climate change projections. Community and staff understanding, and support of climate adaptation strategies, is critical for integration into safety documents and implementation of the strategies. Therefore, updating public safety documents should coincide with comprehensive outreach and education programs for the community. Local governments should also consider updating zoning and development codes for consistency with public safety documents. Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Emergency Management Public Health Cities and Counties FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant CA SB 1 Grant City of Foster City Local Hazard Mitigation Plan & Safety Element (2016) Mammoth Lakes Safety Element (2019) Riverside County Multi-Jurisdictional LHMP (2018) California Government Code Section 65302(g) Resilient IE (2020) State of California General Plan Guidelines (2017)
Wildfire, Landslide, Extreme Heat, Air Quality, Drought, Flooding, Severe Weather, Sea Level Rise Strategy LUCD-2: Increase the resiliency of existing residential and commercial development through structural strengthening, fire safe landscaping, and energy efficiency upgrades. Many existing developments are located near or on lands that are within hazard prone areas and can be damaged or destroyed by wildfires, landslides, flooding, and coastal flooding. Older building may also not be energy efficient, and homeowners and business owners may have to increase the use of air conditioning systems during extreme heat or poor air quality days. Damage to buildings and increasing energy use can cause financial burdens and limit the recovery options for building owners. To alleviate recovery costs and prepare existing development for potential hazards and other negative effects of climate change, local governments can identify funding opportunities, including grant assistance or PACE programs, to increase the resiliency of existing residential and commercial development. Homeowners and business owners can use these funds to make structural strengthening and energy upgrades, as well as adhere to fire safe landscaping standards developed by Cal FIRE. However, these upgrades and changes can often be too expensive for economically disadvantaged populations. Local governments can pursue grant funding such as the Transformative Climate Communities Program through Strategic Growth Council and identify regional PACE programs that can support business and residents in strengthening and upgrading their homes and buildings. This strategy includes creating funding to make buildings more resilient. However, local governments should also put resilient building requirements in their General Plan policy documents, the zoning code, and local building codes. FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant program funds mitigation measures in communities. The Wildfire Mitigation Program (AB 38) is intended to promote structure hardening and retrofitting, as well as other mitigation techniques. Jurisdictions should also consider upgrading historic buildings and significant cultural sites. Co-benefits of these retrofits and upgrades include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the potential spread of wildfires. Programmatic Energy Cities and Counties Grant funding PACE programs Community Development Block Grant The Wildfire Mitigation Financial Assistance Program (Fire Hardened Homes Revolving Loan Fund) FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Resource Legacy Fund: Paying for Climate Adaptation in California SoCalGas: Climate Grant PACE in California State of California General Plan Guidelines (2017) Fire Hazard Planning General Plan Technical Advice Series (2015) Office of Historic Preservation: Disasters & Historic Resources
All climate hazards Strategy LUCD-3: Collaborate with local and regional partners to support business resiliency through preparedness education, trainings, and resources. Climate change-induced hazards and other climate change-related effects can severely damage both urban and rural local. For example, communities in mountainous areas often face a threat from wildfires that destroy mountain communities, droughts and agricultural pests can harm agricultural communities, or coastal flooding can harm commercial centers near the water. These types of effects, along with many others, can all directly or indirectly impact local economies. Working with local business and regional employment centers to support business resiliency can produce a more resilient local economy. Actions under this strategy could include increasing access to business related emergency preparedness and mitigation resources, supporting the business community in increasing their resiliency and ability to reopen after disaster through FEMA and other financial assistance, and expanding the availability of business resiliency trainings, data backup plans, and other resources specific to business owners. The loss of residents and visitors during or after a disaster has direct economic effects on these communities. As communities lose homes and essential infrastructure due to disasters, residents may choose or be forced to leave the community, hampering economic recovery. Keeping businesses and employers open can help keep these residents in the community in the long-term. Ensure that business resiliency is integrated into any community or regional economic development plans and initiatives, and that local business groups are key stakeholders in any implementation efforts. Education, Outreach, Coordination Programmatic Emergency Management Cities and Counties Mammoth Lakes Safety Element (2019) Capital Region Business Resiliency Initiative Moreno Valley Business Emergency Resiliency Training Program
Drought, Extreme Heat, Flooding Strategy LUCD-4: Encourage and incentivize the use of pervious and climate-smart landscaped surfaces in new and existing development. The use of pervious and landscaped surfaces in existing and new development can help neighborhoods reduce the urban heat island effect, catch stormwater where it falls to reduce flooding and help groundwater recharge, and lower overall water use on a property. Many new developments are required to have a specific percentage of pervious or landscaped surfaces. Encouraging existing developments in urban areas to use these materials can increase the resilience of the community. Although landscaping can improve groundwater recharge and reduce the urban heat island effect, it is also essential to incorporate wildfire mitigation landscape standards into this adaptation strategy. Adding these standards can reduce the risk of wildfire spreading between properties in some cases, depending on the specific landscaping approach. Programmatic Public Health Biodiversity and Habitat Cities and Counties Utility Companies Grants State Water Resources Control Board: Stormwater Grant Program Safeguarding California: 2018 Update Mammoth Lakes Safety Element (2019) San Luis Obispo County Cash for Grass Program SoCal Water $mart Residential Rebates State Water Resources Control Board: Stormwater Strategy
All climate hazards Strategy LUCD-5: Collaborate with local, regional, State, and federal partners to develop a community-wide outreach program to educate a diverse community on how to prepare and recovery from climate change effects. Implementation of climate adaptation strategies requires the community to understand the climate effects in their area. Local governments can work with Cal FIRE, community-based organizations, FEMA, tribal nations, and other partners to create an educational program that can help community members act. This program is also an opportunity for community members to brainstorm strategies unique to their community and neighborhoods. Education and outreach programs should consider their audience and the timing and location of the events. Local governments should work with community-based organizations to identify location and timing to reach specific populations such as seniors, school age children, and linguistically isolated persons. Educational programs should be in multiple languages, at different locations, and during varying times in the day to reflect the unique demographics and needs within each community. Education, Outreach, Coordination Emergency Management Public Health Cities and Counties Cal OES FEMA Community-Based Organizations Safeguarding California: 2018 Update Marin County – Resilient Neighborhoods California Air Resources Board
Wildfire, Landslide, Flooding, Sea Level Rise, Extreme Heat Strategy LUCD-6: Identify and establish climate hazard overlay zones. Local governments can use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify where climate change-related effects are most likely to occur now and, in the future, and then overlay the at-risk areas with existing parcel, infrastructure, and building information. Communities can determine expected extent of sea level rise and where flooding, wildfires, and landslides are most likely to occur. Jurisdictions can then put specific development and infrastructure regulations in place to ensure that neighborhoods can prevent and are prepared for climate hazards and other effects. Each community can tailor hazard overlay zones to meet their needs. When hazard overlay zones are established, local governments should also consider superimposing maps of vulnerable populations to identify hot spots of vulnerability in wildfire, flooding, sea level rise, landslide, and extreme heat areas. These areas may need funding assistance to upgrade facilities and properties to comply with risk reduction measures in the hazard overlay zone. Communities can also use these overlay zones to identify essential infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and power plants that are at risk of damage from climate hazards and other effects. Jurisdictions should also consider historic districts or overlay zones, and how they will integrate with the hazard overlay zones. Evaluation Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Emergency Management Public Health Transportation Energy Cities and Counties Council or Association of Governments SB 1 Grant General Fund Cal FIRE: Fire and Resource Assessment Program County of San Luis Obispo: Geologic Study Area FEMA: National Flood Hazard Layer Coastal Adaptation Policy Brief APEN: Mapping Resilience Report
Wildfire Strategy LUCD-7: Develop a fire risk assessment for all new development within fire hazard severity zones or the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Fire risk assessments can help identify the potential for fires to occur within and surrounding a new or existing development. These assessments can assign numerical values to metrics such as fire history, FRAP fire threat, response time, proximity to the WUI, fuel reduction efforts, community collaboration, and unique local criteria. Based on the fire risk assessment, local governments can understand if new development is prepared for or even considers wildfire threats within the area. Jurisdictions can place additional requirements on projects that do not meet specific thresholds based on a community’s fire risk assessment. The fire risk assessment can be integrated into existing plans or development review processes. Communities can apply this assessment at different scales to accommodate small developments or large subdivision projects. Jurisdictions can also use fire risk assessments for event permits and other special use permits that may be located within wildfire hazard areas. Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Evaluation Emergency Management Forests Cities and Counties Council or Association of Governments FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant SB 1 Grant General Fund Permit Sonoma – Fire Risk Assessment
All Climate Hazards Strategy LUCD-8: Facilitate affordable housing options for all residents. People experiencing homelessness and People who are housing-insecure (i.e., one financial shock away from eviction) are the two most vulnerable to impacts from climate change. These two populations are growing as a share of the overall population due to severe shortages of affordable housing on local and regional scales. Local jurisdictions can utilize new approval processes (i.e., SB 35 streamlining and CEQA exemptions), new infrastructure funding, and planning grants, in order to facilitate increased housing production to meet local and regional needs. Doing this will reduce the number of housing-insecure residents and people experiencing homelessness who are especially vulnerable to all climate hazards. Ensure an adequate supply of affordable homes locally and regionally would reduce the incidence of housing insecurity and/or people experiencing homelessness for low-income households and households in poverty. This would reduce the numbers of individuals who are most exposed to safety impacts and health impacts in climate disasters. Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Emergency Management Public Health Cities and Counties Associations of Governments State and federal agencies Affordable Housing Programs Planning grants: SB 2 Planning Grants Program & Local Early Action Planning (LEAP) Program CalHOME No Place Like Home (NPLH) Supportive Housing Multifamily Housing Program (SHMHP) Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC) Infill Infrastructure Grant Program (IIG)

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