CURRENTS: CivicSpark on Fire

by Julia Kim, Local Government Commission

With limited capacity, resources, and time to address climate change, innovative partnerships and programs that achieve multiple benefits and provide both immediate and long-term results will be critical to successfully mitigating the most harmful effects, and adapting to the unavoidable impacts, of climate change. The good news is that collaboration is at its height in California and the State is focusing heavily on improving coordination and integration to create a vibrant and resilient future for all Californians. Two bills passed this year that would increase coordination on climate change—SB 246 (Wieckowski 2015) established the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program to coordinate regional and local efforts with state climate adaptation strategies and AB 1482 (Gordon 2015) requires coordination among state agencies to ensure that planning decisions and state investments consider climate change impacts. Meanwhile, a new program is taking bold steps to become a model for local innovation and impact.

In order for California to meet its ambitious climate change goals and to prevent significant, negative impacts on California’s economy and environment; local governments – recognized by the state as critical to these goals – need expanded capacity to manage the new research, planning, and implementation tasks required. CivicSpark, administered by the Local Government Commission (LGC) in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), is Governor Brown’s Initiative AmeriCorps program that aims to build capacity of local governments to address climate change in California. This fellowship program brings together 48 recent college graduates each year, organized in 8 regions throughout California, to provide local governments with the support they need in their climate, energy, and sustainability initiatives. LGC invites projects from a range of partners such as cities, counties, regional agencies and NGOs, and rigorously matches each project with the best fellow for the job.

CivicSpark provides the support needed to develop new programs, enhance staff skills and expertise, and engage stakeholders (including volunteers) where it’s needed most. Projects may focus on a range of climate-change response assessment, planning and action implementation, but all participating local governments must lack one or more of the following capacities: a dedicated full-time sustainability staff person, a formally adopted climate action plan, and specific concrete mechanisms to track progress on climate action. Additionally, at least 50% must be considered “high need”, meeting at least 2 of the following criteria: community unemployment above the state average, community-wide energy-use higher than previous recorded year; government employment lower than 2007 levels, and a CalEnviroScreen rating in the top one-third.

The model is simple, but the impact is far-reaching and long-lasting.

In the inaugural 2014-15 service year, CivicSpark fellows supported 37 projects, assisting 86 local government agencies and providing over 60,000 hours of service. Collectively, the fellows conducted outreach to over 3,500 community members through in-person events, completed and tracked over 1,250 solar permits, conducted 102 energy assessment reports, and drafted 12 Climate or Energy Action Plans. Some notable deliverables include:

With a full project portfolio this year, CivicSpark expects to have even more impressive impact numbers to share upon the completion of the second service year. Some key projects underway include:

  • Regional EV and Fuel Cell Projects – Amanda and Pierce are supporting the accelerated adoption of electric vehicles and other alternative fuels in the broader North Coast region through community outreach and education, stakeholder engagement, and technical research and analysis.
  • Climate Planning for the Sierra Region – Jill and Rawley are assisting Sierra Nevada local governments advance Energy Action Plans, using data-driven analysis to conduct re-inventories, benchmark municipal buildings, and train staff in energy star portfolio manager, and researching climate risks and vulnerabilities in the region as a whole.
  • California High Speed Rail System Asset Vulnerability Assessment & Policy Implementation – Annika is reviewing the high-speed rail system infrastructure to determine the risk of various assets to current and future climate hazards, and developing a list of system-wide and asset-specific adaptation strategies.
  • See CivicSpark’s full 2015-16 project portfolio at

Learn more about CivicSpark at or contact Julia Kim at