Environmental Justice in Local Land Use Planning

Low-income communities and communities of color often bear a disproportionate burden of pollution and associated health risks. Environmental justice seeks to correct this inequity by reducing the pollution experienced by these communities and ensuring their input is considered in decisions that affect them. "Environmental justice" is defined in California law as the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. (Cal. Gov. Code, § 65040.12, subd. (e).)

California is a leader in enacting laws that promote environmental justice. For example, its laws direct funding to environmental justice communities (SB 535 and AB 1550), create a community air quality protection program (AB 617), and require environmental justice to be addressed in local government planning (SB 1000). In addition, civil rights laws, such as California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act, promote environmental justice by prohibiting policies or practices that result in polluting land uses disproportionately impacting a protected class’s use and enjoyment of their residence. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 12161, subd. (b)(10).)

SB 1000 Best Practices

SB 1000 went into effect in 2018, requiring local governments to identify environmental justice communities (called "disadvantaged communities") in their jurisdictions and address environmental justice in their general plans, which serve as a local government’s “blueprint” for how the city and/or county will grow and develop. This law has several purposes, including to facilitate transparency and public engagement in local governments' planning and decision-making processes, reduce harmful pollutants and the associated health risks in environmental justice communities, and promote equitable access to health-inducing benefits, such as healthy food options, housing, public facilities, and recreation.

The Attorney General has published guidance (in English and in Spanish), to help local governments comply with SB 1000. The documents discuss the historical background of environmental justice, including the legacy of discriminatory land use policies that led to pollution inequities that persist today. A key goal of SB 1000 is to reduce disproportionate pollution burdens, including the unequal impacts of climate change.

The guidance also provides methodologies and tools for community engagement, ways to identify environmental justice communities, and best practices in creating good environmental justice policies. The guidance includes real-world examples of policies that cities and counties throughout the state have implemented, in Appendix A. In addition, it includes a list of resources and tools that local governments can use when developing environmental justice policies, in Appendix B.

Attorney General's Comment Letters and Enforcement Actions

The Attorney General is working to ensure local governments comply with SB 1000 and other mandatory duties to further equitable land use policies. Below are the comments we have submitted and enforcement actions we have taken in an effort to promote effective environmental justice planning at the local level.