Why Focus on Priority Populations?

As California adopts increasingly ambitious goals for addressing climate change and air quality, it also recognizes that the State’s ability to meet these goals depends on the efforts of all its residents. However, some California communities disproportionately lack the financial capacity to invest in low-carbon practices, transportation, or climate resiliency. Some Californians also live in communities that are exposed to multiple sources of pollution, have had chronic exposure to environmental pollutants, and will be the first impacted and the hardest hit by the effects of climate change.

Recognizing that these populations need support to improve local community health and climate resiliency, the Legislature requires that a portion of California Climate Investments benefit the most environmentally and economically burdened residents of the State. Collectively referred to as “priority populations,” these communities and households must receive at least 35 percent of all Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds in the form of California Climate Investments projects.

Pie chart depicting the statutory minimum investment percentage by priority population category. a minimum of 25% must be invested in projects located within and benefitting individuals living in disadvantaged communities. an additional minimum of 5% must be invested in projects located within and benefitting low-income communities or households. an additional minimum of 5% must be invested in projects located within and benefitting individuals in low-income communities or households that are within one half mile of a disadvantaged community. The remaining 65% can be spent anywhere in the state, including disadvantaged and low-income communities.

Identifying Priority Populations

Priority populations include the State’s disadvantaged communities, low-income communities, and low-income households. Disadvantaged communities are defined by CalEPA as the top 25 percent of communities experiencing disproportionate amounts of pollution, environmental degradation, and socioeconomic and public health conditions according to OEHHA’s CalEnviroScreen tool. Low-income communities and households are those with incomes either at or below 80 percent of the statewide median or below a threshold designated as low-income by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

More Information on priority populations

California Climate Investments’ Benefits to Priority Populations

As of May 2019, 61 percent of the money invested in California Climate Investments’ projects is benefiting priority populations. Cumulatively, agencies have implemented projects in at least 98 percent of disadvantaged community census tracts, which are providing a variety of benefits to those communities, including cleaner air, increased mobility options, greener communities, expanded access to clean energy, and new employment opportunities.

For example, through CAL FIRE’s Urban and Community Forestry program, the City of Modesto Tree Replanting Activity Project has planted over 1,400 trees that provide shade, energy savings, and create a more comfortable environment for active transportation and recreation. Caltrans’ Low Carbon Transit Operations Program supported Visalia Transit system’s V Line bus service expansion to seven days a week. CSD’s Low-Income Weatherization Program is helping low-income residents in disadvantaged communities reduce their energy use and energy costs: in Kern County alone, over 600 homes received energy efficiency upgrades. Additional examples of the kinds of benefits California Climate investments provide to priority populations can be seen in the project profiles and in the Annual Report to the Legislature.

Investment in disadvantaged communities has been a requirement since California Climate Investments began in 2012. In 2016, Assembly Bill 1550 set specific funding targets for low-income communities and households in addition to the funding targets for disadvantaged communities. State agencies that administer California Climate Investments are currently implementing projects consistent with these requirements.

Priority Populations Outreach 

Many priority population residents and groups are interested in applying for California Climate Investments programs, but often face barriers to these funding opportunities and can benefit from technical assistance. These activities, which include direct application assistance, project partnership development, or local capacity building, can help priority populations successfully compete or qualify for funds.

The State agencies that administer California Climate Investments have undertaken a broad, coordinated effort to help priority populations better understand and access program information to encourage participation in the California Climate Investments program. This coordinated effort is composed of several efforts:

  • CARB Outreach Contract: Since Fall 2016, CARB contracted with the Foundation for California Community Colleges (Foundation) to increase outreach to priority populations. The Foundation engages directly with the public by attending community events, creating and distributing outreach materials such as fliers and factsheets, maintaining a bilingual hotline to answer program questions, and supporting California Climate Investments’ social media presence. Factsheets for each California Climate Investments program can be found at the following pages of our website:

  • Agency Work Group: Agencies that administer California Climate Investments programs have formed an interagency workgroup to provide coordinated strategic outreach to priority populations. This group holds regular meetings to build interagency staff capacity to implement effective outreach through shared knowledge and experience.

  • SGC Technical Assistance: The Strategic Growth Council (SGC) received $500,000 in 2014, $2 million in 2016, and another $2 million in 2018 to provide Technical Assistance to priority populations. Through this program, SGC coordinates with other California Climate Investments programs to provide application assistance and build local capacity to address community needs. More Information is available at SGC’s California Climate Investments Technical Assistance Program page.

Agencies that administer California Climate Investments are committed to providing ongoing and enhanced outreach to priority populations across the State. This coordinated outreach effort will continue to improve funding access, build communities’ capacity to fully participate in California Climate Investments programs, and strengthen partnerships with these communities for effective and successful implementation of climate investments that benefit and strengthen California’s most vulnerable communities.