The Progressive
By Alvaro Sanchez

While politicians and activists debate the idea of a federal plan to fight climate change and boost our economy, the Golden State is quietly showing how it could actually work.

While politicians and activists debate the idea of a Green New Deal to fight climate change and boost our economy, California is quietly showing how it could actually work. The state has a successful model program that could be used by any community that wants to make itself cleaner, more livable and more prosperous.

It’s called Transformative Climate Communities, or TCC, and it focuses on ways that different agencies can work together with communities to make neighborhoods better.

As it is, most governments put each of its various functions in separate buckets. One agency approves transportation projects, another deals with housing, and so on. Often no one considers how their agencies affect each other or what residents need.

But TCC puts communities in charge of pulling these various pieces together, with a goal of reducing carbon emissions.

This might mean replacing old, smoky diesel buses with clean electric buses or light rail, building affordable housing near those transit stops, and connecting it all with improved pedestrian and bicycle pathways. It might mean planting trees that shade those new bikeways and sidewalks even as they take climate-damaging carbon out of the air. It could mean outfitting those new, affordable homes with solar power and designing them to be energy efficient.

And instead of applying to a dozen different bureaucracies for a dozen separate grants, TCC gives communities a “one-stop shop” where they can get the whole package funded.

The result: A community that’s cleaner, greener and easier to get around, with less air pollution and traffic and lower energy bills for residents. And hundreds of people are put to work making it all happen.

This isn’t a fantasy. It’s happening right now in five California communities.

Consider Fresno. This medium-sized city in the middle of the state’s Central Valley agricultural heartland has long suffered from poverty and air pollution. As required by TCC, Fresno’s plan was put together by the residents themselves – who are, after all, the real experts in their community’s needs.

The plan funds about two dozen projects with dollars collected from polluters through the state’s cap-and-trade program. These include affordable housing close to transit, bike paths, a community garden, home weatherization for low-income families, electric car, vanpool and bikeshare programs. Taken together, the projects will make life better for thousands of low-income residents, clean the air, and put people to work in a region with chronically high unemployment.

There are also full-fledged TCC plans in Ontario, Sacramento, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Watts and the northeast San Fernando Valley.

My organization, the Greenlining Institute, worked with state legislators to create the TCC program and has been able to offer technical assistance to several communities seeking to apply for funds. But we’re the first to admit that we’ve barely scratched the surface. This sort of comprehensive, community-led effort should happen nationwide and on a much larger scale.

What’s needed is a commitment to community-driven transformation and reliable funding.

The proposed Green New Deal offers the opportunity to do that. The idea that we can fight climate change, improve our neighborhoods and build prosperity for struggling communities isn’t some fantasy. California is showing how to do it right now.