Challenges

Lack of funding is one of the biggest obstacles to increasing sustainability.
Lack of funding is one of the biggest obstacles to increasing sustainability.

Although local governments have substantial power to implement sustainability programs, they face considerable challenges. Most local governments cite lack of funding and knowledgeable staff resources as primary barriers. In addition, however, there is widespread confusion over the multitude of sustainability choices. Many local governments have told the Alliance that they are uncertain about which options are the most cost-effective for their jurisdiction. Recognizing that local governments are always balancing high priority policy goals against significant resource constraints, they also need to know what should be done immediately and what can wait.

Resource Constraints
In the Alliance’s recent Local Government Survey, the top barrier to achieving sustainable actions was funding constraints. While resources are always a challenge for local governments, current economic conditions have severely limited the ability of local governments to develop and implement sustainability programs, especially when those programs require significant up-front cash to achieve long-term savings. City staffing budgets have also become stretched, reducing the availability of staff to develop, implement and administer new programs and measures.

Regulatory Complexity
Over the past few years, as California embraced becoming a global leader in environmental sustainability, a multitude of new resource and environmental policies, rules and regulations have evolved. All expect local governments to play a major role – some by establishing specific mandates and milestones, others by encouraging voluntary adoption of long term visionary goals and objectives. There is no doubt: California is an exciting place to live and to work. However, as we have looked to local governments to assert leadership in achieving all of these goals and objectives, many communities throughout the State are unclear as to what actions they need to take, and when.

  • Local Government Toolkits

  • Sustainable Communities

  • Survey Results

  • Local Government Toolkits

    The California Sustainability Alliance has developed several toolkits and other resources that aid local governments in planning and implementing sustainable initiatives. These include:

    • Local Government Green Procurement Guide
    • Green Tenant Guide
    • CALeep
    • Local Government Resources Toolkit
    • Green General Plans
    • Local Government Operations Protocol
    • Local Government Retrocommisioning Toolkit

  • Survey Results

    To better understand and help local governments in California successfully develop and implement effective sustainability plans and policies in their jurisdictions, the Alliance in partnership with Public Technology Institute conducted a survey of California cities to determine needs for sustainability benchmarking tools.

    The survey, conducted in April-May 2009, examined the following:

    • The level of sustainability adoption among California cities;
    • What sustainability benchmarking tools cities are now using;
    • How sustainability tools are working for local city governments; and
    • What additional functionality these tools need to support the development and implementation of sustainability plans and actions.

    76 of 480 cities in California (or 16%) participated in the survey. Key findings from the survey include:

    • 67% of respondents indicated that their communities strongly support sustainability;
    • 55% responded that there is very strong leadership support within their cities for sustainability programs;
    • Water and energy efficiency were included among the top three sustainability priorities by more than 50% of respondents. Water efficiency was selected by 21 cities as their very top sustainability priority. Eleven cities selected energy efficiency as their top priority while 20 cities selected energy efficiency as their second highest priority.
    • Although the limited sample size meant it was difficult to draw broad conclusions from this survey. The diverse responses reinforce the perspective that local governments tend to have unique local priorities and resource challenges. There are several important common themes:
      • California’s local governments face many competing priorities, many of which are mandatory, and do not have enough financial and staff resources to do them all.
      • Confusion is high, with existing and evolving policy goals and regulatory and legislative mandates competing for attention, and lack of clarity as to exactly what actions local governments need to take.
      • Despite these challenges, city leadership and community support for sustainability remain high and there is a lot of current activity in all of the sustainability priorities.
      • On their own initiative, many local governments are proactively partnering with their utilities, state and federal agencies, private organizations, and other cities and counties.
      • Nearly every one of the 76 cities that participated in this survey indicated they had some type of environmental sustainability program ‐ whether it was recycling and/or composting, to fully integrated smart growth and climate action programs.

    To view the full survey results and report, please click here

    Los Angeles City Hall
    Los Angeles City Hall