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Climate and Environment

Orange County’s Climate Plans Are ‘Decades Behind’

A close-up of a small group of people, two of them holding signs that say "Electrify Everything" and "Sprawl Kills."
Orange County leaders and climate activists presented a sobering report on the lack on climate planning in Orange County, Jan. 25, 2023.
(Jill Replogle
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Just six Orange County cities have a comprehensive plan for mitigating and adapting to climate change, according to a new report card from the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign. That's despite being the second most densely populated county in California and one of the most vulnerable to rising temperatures, wildfires and a disappearing coastline.

"We are decades behind in planning for the future to protect what we know as this beautiful place we call home," said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, who represents coastal O.C., at a news conference Wednesday.

Foley said the county, which was also called out in the report for lacking a climate action plan, is finishing data collection in order to start formulating a countywide plan.

What Is A Climate Action Plan?

A climate action plan is essentially a roadmap for changes that aims to mitigate the local effects of climate change and help communities adapt. The plans usually include an inventory of the local government's greenhouse gas emissions, targets for reducing those emissions, and a plan for how to get there.

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The California state government encourages cities and counties to develop climate action plans to help it meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation mandating that plan last year.

Statewide, at least 200 cities have climate action plans, according to an inventory maintained by the California Air Resources Board. Most coastal California counties also have climate action plans, with the exception of Orange, Del Norte and Mendocino (Mendocino is in the process of developing a plan).

(See if your community has a climate action plan on this interactive state map.)

Where's The Money?

Lexi Hernandez, an organizer with Climate Action Campaign in Orange County, said local governments are in danger of missing the window on unprecedented levels of state and federal funding available to help communities mitigate climate change and adapt.

"If Orange County cities fail to plan, we will lock communities out of once-in-a-lifetime funding for healthy homes, better bikes, transit, EV, and pedestrian infrastructure, for more trees and green space, and all other climate solutions that our communities need and deserve," she said.

California is putting up billions in funding to help local governments make and implement sustainability plans. Key to getting some of that funding, Hernandez said, is involving communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change in the planning process.

At the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act, and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act both set aside funding for communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Some Bright Spots

Of the six O.C. cities that have climate action plans, just one, Huntington Beach, legally binds the city to meet the state's targets for reducing greenhouse gasses.

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None of the existing plans address environmental justice, or have 100% clean energy goals, and none call for zero waste, according to Climate Action Campaign.

On the up side, the organization praised Fullerton for its walking and biking plans, Santa Ana for its commitment to building affordable housing near transit and Huntington Beach for its commitment to monitoring progress on greenhouse gas reduction.

In Laguna Beach, the city council there voted unanimously this week to hire a consultant to develop a new climate action and adaptation plan for the city. Laguna Beach has one the oldest climate action plans in California, adopted in 2009, but it's not legally binding and hasn't been updated.

In Buena Park, newly elected Councilmember José Trinidad Castaneda has asked the city to look into establishing an office of sustainability and recruiting a "chief resilience and heat officer." A 2022 study found that Orange County is expected to experience the state's biggest increase in very hot days by 2053.

At the county level, Foley said her office had hired an environmental firm to put together a climate action plan for the county, which she plans to propose to the full board of supervisors later this year.

Have a question about Orange County?
Jill Replogle wants to know what you wished you knew more about in OC and what’s important to you that’s not getting enough attention.

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