Maintaining Sustainability Staff

Considerations for Local Governments Managing Concurrent Crises

Local government decision-makers are grappling with extreme budgetary impacts and difficult spending decisions in the wake of a year of unprecedented crises. This online brief, produced by the Local Government Commission through the Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative (SEEC) – the predecessor to the California Climate & Energy Collaborative (CCEC), offers insights into how local governments that maintain sustainability staff can more effectively improve financial conditions and build long-term economic, social, and environmental resilience.

With special thanks to Angie Hacker and Sarina Soor for researching and writing this piece for CURRENTS.

This has been a tough year for communities across the nation. As 2020 comes to a close, the U.S. recorded over 19 million cases of COVID-19, and 344,000 deaths. California is in the middle of another stay-at-home order and thousands of businesses are shuttered. In response to the pandemic, election tensions, and outrage over social inequity and racial injustice, civil and political unrest has intensified. Meanwhile, California residents have also endured another year of catastrophic wildfires and power shutoffs, among the other worsening impacts of climate change.

Local governments find themselves at the forefront of managing programs and services to address these concurrent crises and planning for recovery. While needs and costs have grown, critical sources of local government revenue are evaporating such as transient occupancy taxes and sales taxes. As local governments navigate financial distress, they are pushed to address immediate budgetary shortfalls and spending decisions. Some jurisdictions are targeting sustainability spending to reduce costs, viewing work outside of traditional health and safety services as discretionary – from suspending entire departments to downsizing, furloughing, or reallocating staff. However, at its core, sustainability is a health and safety service. Cutting sustainability staff can be shortsighted, hindering recovery and making local governments and the communities they serve less prepared for future crises.