Santa Barbara County's One Climate Initiative focuses on new planning elements with a goal of environmental justice

Santa Barbara County started the One Climate Initiative in 2020 to bring planners together to tackle major issues tied to climate change, according to county Planning and Development Senior Planner Zoë Carlson. 

“I like to think of One Climate as an umbrella of all our different planning elements. We are all moving forward concurrently with our different planning efforts. One Climate is the umbrella that helps us move forward,” Carlson said. 

click to enlarge Santa Barbara County's One Climate Initiative focuses on new planning elements with a goal of environmental justice
EQUITABLE ACCESS : Water access to sources like Lake Cachuma, where water levels continue to drop, is a concern for Santa Barbara County’s One Climate Initiative.

Now, the planners are adding an environmental justice element to the program: an initiative that will identify strategies to reduce pollution exposure, improve air quality, and promote access to public facilities, healthy foods, and safe and sanitary homes for those experiencing persistent environmental health disparities, she continued.

“Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment of all people with respect to the adoption of policies,” Carlson said. “The environmental justice element will look at our policies and programs, and how we can ensure that we are treating people fairly.”  

She explained that the first component of this element is understanding where Santa Barbara County’s low-income communities are located because they are disproportionately impacted by environmental burdens due to their income status. 

Heavily impacted communities were identified through the Santa Barbara County Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment—a multi-year assessment to improve local communities’ ability to adapt to changing conditions—according to previous Sun reporting

“We call them environmental justice communities because they have this unique combination of environmental burdens and low economic opportunity,” Carlson added. “Within each of these communities, we are going to communicate with them to see how we can develop new policies—or adjust existing policies—in light of their needs as they relate to environmental justice.” 

Carlson and her fellow planners are working on mapping methodology for the community identification process and will be asking for public review in the near future, she said. 

The second state-required addition to the comprehensive plan is a housing element—which will identify potential undeveloped or underdeveloped locations, and update zoning policies and housing programs to ensure the county can meet future regional housing needs for all income levels, according to One County Initiative press materials. 

Housing Element Project Manager Jessi Steele said the state passed down a housing goal to build 6,000 new housing units between 2024 to 2032—almost 10 times more than the current plan’s goal of 661 new units.  

“We are looking at a lot of innovative ways to facilitate those housing units. We are trying to connect with groups that have been historically underserved in the funding process,” Steele said. 

Housing and environmental justice coincide because they promote equitable access to safe and sanitary communities, Steele said. 

“The environmental justice and housing teams are really trying to align our goals, projects, and programs with the county’s goals for climate action,” she said. 

These collaborative efforts are crucial because climate change touches every aspect of people’s lives, Climate Program Manager Garrett Wong added. 

“Climate change is one frame that addresses community concerns, but it is a complicated and multifaceted topic, especially if you don’t have the time, awareness, or the resources to participate,” Wong said. 

Tackling a subject like climate change presents many internal and external challenges, he continued. 

“[Externally], not everyone thinks climate change is a pressing issue and it’s not something the government should be acting on—local governments should do what they can within their own authority,” Wong said, explaining challenges the program faces. 

Within his own work, there are five action plans that could result in new policies and project work with certain priorities that need to get managed and coordinated, he continued.

“Another way I like to think about it is it creates more opportunities for us to be creative and collaborate and work together. … Some of it is driven by ensuring we are protecting our communities and [ensuring] a safe future for everyone,” Wong said. 

People can sign up for One Climate Initiative’s monthly newsletter that highlights community resources, activities, and events associated with these projects. To learn more and sign up, visit


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Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].

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