California’s Urban Greening Program

California’s Urban Greening Program, created by SB 859 in 2016, is a competitive grant program that funds local green infrastructure projects to reduce emissions, expand green space, and create more sustainable communities. Administered by the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), the program is part of "California Climate Investments," which refer to the more than three dozen programs that are funded by the state's cap and trade auction revenues. Urban Greening projects can be used for improvements such as tree planting, park creation or enhancements, green streets and alleys, greening of public lands and structures, and more. The program's selection criteria ensure that projects proposed by, benefiting, and building partnerships in disadvantaged and critically underserved communities will be prioritized for funding.

All programs funded by California's cap and trade revenue, which is pooled into and allocated through the state's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund during the appropriations process, must result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Per SB 859 creating the Urban Greening Program, all funded projects must serve three purposes:

  1. reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which must be achieved by incorporating at least one of the following activities: tree planting for carbon sequestration, tree planting for shading and reduced energy use, or reducing vehicle miles traveled by adding bicycle and pedestrian paths and facilities;
  2. acquiring, creating, enhancing, or expanding community parks and green spaces, and/or using natural systems or systems that mimic natural systems to achieve multiple benefits; and
  3. achieving multiple benefits, which can include: stormwater management; urban heat island mitigation; tree canopy; wetlands; climate resilience and improved ability of natural systems to buffer climate change impacts; economic, social and health benefits; and more.

The program aims to result in the conversion of existing built environments into green space, and funding can be used for land acquisition from willing sellers in order to help enable these activities.

According to state law (AB 1550, enacted in 2016), at least 25% of funding allocated the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) must go to projects within, and benefiting individuals living in, disadvantaged communities (as determined by the state’s environmental justice screening tool, CalEnviroScreen), and additional set-asides are required for projects benefiting low-income communities. However, the legislation creating the Urban Greening Program went beyond these minimums; as a result, CNRA anticipates allocating at least:

  • 65% of the program's funding to projects within, and benefiting individuals living in, disadvantaged communities,
  • 10% of funds to projects within and benefiting low-income communities, and
  • 5% to projects within and benefiting low-income communities that are within a half-mile of disadvantaged communities.

The selection criteria for Urban Greening projects are designed to help meet these goals and ensure that the needs and priorities of disadvantaged, critically underserved, and low-income communities are met:

  • Projects within and benefiting individuals living in disadvantaged communities are most competitive in the application process, receiving the most points, followed by projects located within low-income communities.
  • Projects addressing "a meaningful and important community need" receive additional points in the selection process.
  • To be selected, projects must also be developed with engagement of the community, and must result in multiple community benefits.
  • Projects that meet additional statutory and program priorities receive higher scores in project selection as well; these priorities include:
    • Providing park or recreational benefits to critically underserved or disadvantaged communities,
    • Projects proposed by a disadvantaged or critically underserved community (and that are within the community), and
    • Developing partnerships with community-based organizations to strengthen outreach, receive higher scores in the evaluation and selection process.
  • The program questionnaire also asks whether and how the proposed project incorporates anti-displacement strategies. 

The Program was initially funded with nearly $30 million allocated through AB 74 in 2018. CNRA anticipates only one funding cycle, but may have more than one depending on the amount of competitive applications received. Governmental entities (including cities, counties, special districts, and joint powers authorities) and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply.

Publication Date: September 2016

Related Organizations:

  • California Natural Resources Agency

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  • Funding program

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