Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit


Making Community Engagement Law

The following resources and case studies provide examples of state statutes and municipal ordinances that mandate public participation under law. Legal mandates guarantee opportunities for community members to have a say in the climate adaptation measures proposed by state and local government and related entities.

Lessons Learned

  • Policymakers should institutionalize practices that support meaningful and inclusive engagement processes.
  • Practitioners can identify sustainable and flexible funding sources that can be used to support prolonged engagement processes and provide needed community support (e.g., childcare, food, stipends, travel, translation).
  • Legislation can require planning processes that adopt principles of procedural equity.


Related Resources

Making Public Participation Legal

This paper has provided both state and local governments with model ordinances and provisions for public participation. The paper presents the argument that the vast majority of public meetings are run with little citizen input, interaction, or deliberation. Part of the reason that public participation is lacking in its scope and duration is the current legal framework that governs public participation. To address the lack of public participation, this paper outlines several ways in which the process can be enhanced and provides legal tools that state and local governments can use in considering their options when it comes to public participation. These documents include a model public participation ordinance for local governments, a model public participation act for state governments, and a document with model city charter language for Citizen Advisory Bodies. 

CA SB 1072: Regional Climate Collaborative Program: technical assistance.

In September 2018, California enacted a new law to ensure low-income and other vulnerable communities also have access to the funds and resources that the state provides. California SB 1072 acknowledges that "under-resourced communities" often lack the funding, staff capacity, and technical expertise to apply for and secure competitive statewide grant funding. It establishes a technical assistance program to help communities apply for and secure state and federal grants for both mitigation and adaptation projects. It can also be used to support project development, funding expenditure, and project implementation. "Under-resourced communities," include: communities identified based upon "geographic, socioeconomic, public health, and environmental hazard criteria" under existing state law, which includes areas disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards; areas of concentrations of low-income residents, high unemployment, low levels of homeownership, high rent burden, sensitive populations, or low levels of educational attainment; low-income households (with household incomes of less than 80% of statewide median income or levels below thresholds set by the Department of Housing and Community Development).

Prince George's County, Maryland Environmental Justice Commission

In 2018, the Maryland General Assembly enacted the Maryland House Bill 183 (HB183) Environmental Justice Commission to tackle the environmental health concerns in Prince George County (PG County). HB 183 lists the composition of the commission, outlines the missions and duties of the commission, and mandates a findings and recommendations report along with a plan of action within two years and a month. Enacting a commission to facilitate environmental justice in PG County has helped address inequities for low-income and minority residents in the area while also helping the community adapt to climate change. In April 2019 after the commission submitted the first report of February 2019, the General Assembly acknowledged the commission’s work and passed HB 1362 replacing HB 183 to extend the termination date of the commission to June 30th, 2020. The final report was submitted on January 10, 2020. Prince George County Environmental Justice Commission exemplifies that through legislation community engagement and equity can be addressed institutionally.

California Coastal Commission Environmental Justice Policy

Established in 1972, the California Coastal Commission has a mandate “to protect and enhance California’s coast and ocean for current and future generations" by regulating development with local government. In 2016, AB 2616 was enacted to amend the state’s Coastal Act, giving the commission authority to specifically consider environmental justice when making coastal permit decisions. By providing the public and the commission with guidance on how the agency will implement its authority under AB 2616, the 2019 environmental justice policy is intended to integrate the principles of environmental justice, equality, and social equity into all aspects of the Commission’s program and operations. The policy addresses climate change impacts on the coast and vulnerable populations through equitable planning principles and coastal access.

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