City resilience strategy to address environmentalism, racial equity

Zainab Ali/Staff

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At a special briefing Friday morning, city personnel introduced a resilience strategy that addresses interconnected stressors facing the city, including natural disaster response, renewable energy, climate change and racial equity, among other issues.

The city of Berkeley was selected by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program in 2014 to develop the plan. Over the next 18 months, the city obtained expert analysis, collected community input and conducted research into the best practices from cities around the world to create the strategy, said Timothy Burroughs, the city’s chief resilience officer and assistant to the city manager.

Berkeley is the first city in the Bay Area and the sixth in the world to develop a comprehensive resilience strategy, according to Burroughs.

The strategy consists of six core goals: building a connected and prepared community, accelerating access to reliable and clean energy, adapting to climate change, advancing racial equity, working together with City Council to better serve the community and building regional resilience.

Malo Hutson, campus assistant professor of city and regional planning, stressed the importance of engaging city residents in the success of such strategies.

“A city is its people,” Hutson said. “A city is not just all by itself.”

One of the programs outlined in the strategy is the creation of a city Community Resilience Center program. Through this program, the city will provide free disaster response supplies, disaster planning assistance and disaster training programs to already established community-based organizations — such as churches, youth empowerment groups, cultural centers, large apartment buildings and social service providers — in order to increase access to these services.

According to the report, the program will prioritize organizations that serve traditionally underprivileged groups to not only address disaster preparedness but also promote equity within the city.

“(Comprehensiveness) is a central component of city planning,” said Judith Innes, campus professor emerita of city and regional planning. “Resilience is about the whole city system. All these different parts are related.”

The strategy also includes the implementation of green infrastructure — which uses or mimics natural systems to reduce environmental impact — into the city’s stormwater master plan. This plan will address flooding issues while also integrating technologies that could potentially protect ecosystems by removing water pollutants and enable the capture and use of stormwater for other purposes.

“A city’s resilience is defined by the ability of the community to respond to not just one challenge in isolation but several challenges at once,” Burroughs said.

Moni Law, a Berkeley resident and community activist, however, said she believed the report did not place enough focus on one of the city’s most prominent issues: its affordable housing crisis.

“If (affordable housing) is not at the forefront of our approach then it’s going to be doomed to failure,” Law said.

The city will implement the strategy through a combination of city funds, technical support and a grant from the 100 Resilient Cities program, as well as private and philanthropic investment, according to Burroughs. He added that because of the “multi-faceted” nature of the program, the city has not developed a definite estimate of the cost to implement these strategies.

Jessica Lynn is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.