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California Department of Conservation Director Bridgett Luther presents Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge with a proclamation recognizing The City of Riverside’s efforts in the Emerald Cities Pilot Project. Photo by: Michael J. Elderman

by Ed Wilson

The Emerald Cities Pilot Program is an innovative, public/private partnership designed to achieve California’s aggressive resource conservation and environmental goals. Through “hands on” technical and financial assistance, the program will help local and regional communities become more “green,” and become part of the effort to meet the state’s environmental, energy, and economic priorities.

Collaborative Members

Emerald Cities is sponsored by the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and administered by the California Department of Conservation (CDOC). CDOC provides insight into sustainable practices, potential grants and other funding, and technical expertise to address barriers and develop solutions to successful sustainability projects.

“Environmental issues – in particular climate change and sustainable living -- have reached a level of importance in our society that is perhaps unsurpassed at any point in history,” said Bridgett Luther, director of the California Department of Conservation. “It is vital that state and local government work together in ways that can help ensure the best possible future for California.”

CDOC works with consultants to assess and evaluate local sustainability initiatives. Participating state agencies, such as the Air Resources Board (ARB) and Department of Fish and Game (DFG), are reviewing and commenting on each local government’s action plan, and identifying potential ways to help make those plans successful. The lessons learned in pilot projects will be shared with other state agencies and the Strategic Growth Council to improve coordination between participants and streamline programs.


Currently, two cities are piloting the Emerald Cities program: Riverside, which has an existing sustainability action plan, and Tracy, which is starting to develop a comprehensive sustainability action plan. Both cities are participants in the Comprehensive Recycling Communities program, a CDOC initiative that focuses state resources on local communities to increase beverage container recycling. Building upon these efforts, the Emerald Cities Pilot Program expands the focus to other environmental priorities including water conservation, energy efficiency, improved air quality, and prudent protection of agricultural and open space lands.

In November 2008, the CNRA and the CDOC launched its pilot program with Tracy. Through efforts of the National Charrette Institute and Town-Green, Tracy will receive assistance from for-profit and non-profit technical consultants and practitioners in the development of a sustainability action plan.

In February 2009, the State launched the second Emerald Cities pilot in Riverside. To supplement Riverside’s existing sustainability action plan, DOC and the City consulted with the California Sustainability Alliance, which identified techniques to increase Riverside’s “stretch” goal from the production of 3 Megawatts of solar power to the production of 20 megawatts of solar power by 2020.

How Does the Program Work?

Emerald Cities pilot participants voluntarily participate by adopting an official resolution that commits the community to help achieve California state sustainability targets.

Once a city adopts a resolution, consultants assess the city’s current “state of health” across a spectrum of sustainability focal points. Through a collaborative effort and the input of a variety of program participants including community representatives, a sustainability plan is drafted. The outcome, a plan of policies, practices, tools and monitoring programs, reflects the shared authorship and support of the public. A local team then implements the plan, assesses its progress and adjusts ongoing actions accordingly.

Concurrently, the local governments participating in Emerald Cities commit to join The Climate Registry (TCR) and conduct a greenhouse gas inventory of municipal and community facilities. This helps meet the state’s greenhouse gas target reductions, established in 2006 by Assembly Bill 32 (Nunez) and in 2008 by Senate Bill 375 (Steinberg).

Finally, for cities and counties in areas with a state funded Regional Blueprint Plan, each government agrees to support an adopted Blueprint Plan.

“The Emerald Cities Project is an ambitious attempt to imbed sustainable practices into a community’s mindset, the way it conducts its daily business, and the way it grows,” Luther said. “The ideas we share and the plans we develop will help reduce damage to California’s air, water and land, and move us all toward a cleaner future.”


The Emerald Cities Pilot Program increases collaboration between state agencies, participating local governments, utilities and other partners, resulting in more effective and quicker implementation of sustainable actions. It coordinates state programs across multiple state agencies to leverage state grants and technical services, and reduce duplication. The program links specific local government actions to specific state environmental goals and targets, and accelerates adoption of “best practices” identified through a collaborative process with consultants and state program experts. It also improves communication and collaboration between state, regional and local governments and aids in establishing on-going processes for implementing sustainability within each city and county for continued growth of sustainable actions, thus ensuring sustainable communities.

Next Steps

Because of the expressed interest by local governments, the Emerald Cities Pilot Program is looking at ways to expand into a statewide program. If expanded, the Emerald Cities Pilot Program could become “Emerald California” and will help both cities and counties become more sustainable.

Ed Wilson is Communications Director for the California Department of Conservation





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