Authored by Kendall Matsumoto, Policy & Research Associate
Located in the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno sits at the heart of California’s Central Valley. With a population of roughly 545,000, it is the largest city in the greater Central Valley region. Not only is Fresno an economic hub surrounded by large-scale agricultural production, it also boasts rich ethnic and cultural diversity.
In Fresno, climate change is exacerbating long-standing environmental, health, and economic burdens, negatively impacting communities in the region. Fresno residents face poor air quality, drought, lack of tree coverage, and the effects of agricultural pesticides. In addition to these environmental vulnerabilities, communities in Southwest Fresno and Chinatown in particular experience high rates of poverty and some of the state’s widest racial wealth gaps.
In order to ameliorate these inequities and build a cleaner future, it is critical that historic climate investments reach those most impacted by poverty and pollution. Communities like Fresno have the knowledge and expertise to transform their communities; however, there is no guarantee that unprecedented investments will get down to the ground. Dream.Org works to ensure that communities like Fresno will be equipped to access and benefit from resources to bring their local visions to fruition.
Climate Equity Regional Planning Event
To ensure that Fresno communities tangibly benefit from these dollars, on July 21, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 9, Dream.Org hosted a climate equity regional planning event in Downtown Fresno. The day-long event consisted of two parts:
1) Fresno Climate Planning Launch
Gathering with the press at the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Martha Guzman, U.S. Representative Jim Costa (D-CA 21st District), and Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer (R) announced the exciting news of the $1 million planning grant to Fresno Council of Governments to tackle climate pollution, promote clean energy, and drive local economic growth. The grant is part of EPA’s $5 billion Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) program and reflects President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda.
Additionally, local climate equity efforts such as the Fresno Black Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Bizwerx Business Innovation and Mobility Hub–which includes electric transportation infrastructure such as ebikes, charging stations, and ADA vehicles–was highlighted as a community-driven solution:
“This hub not only provides holistic, wraparound resources to Black businesses to enable them to thrive but is also expanding the entire Fresno community’s access to clean transportation.”
– Martha Guzman, EPA Region 9 Administrator
Here in Fresno, federal resources can fuel local vision, unlocking place-based transformation that meaningfully meets community needs.
2) Fresno County Climate Equity Convening
Following this groundbreaking announcement, roughly 30 stakeholders convened for an interactive, collaborative session in which local leaders and subject matter experts shared information, resources, and insight on pursuing federal funding opportunities for local transformation.
Stakeholders who shared their expertise:
- Fresno Council of Governments
- San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District
- EPA Region 9 staff
Subject matter experts from the U.S. EPA Region 9 also shared targeted guidance on specific federal program areas. With staff and local stakeholders all in one room, participants were able to ask questions, receive immediate feedback, and hear directly from experts. EPA staff represented three major programs:
- US EPA Brownfields program
- Environmental Justice Block Grants
- Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund Solar4All program
To spur strategic local action, Dream.Org, along with community development consultants HR&A Advisors, Inc. then facilitated a regional climate equity planning session. This workshop included discussion of project identification, funding pathways, and opportunities for collaboration.
Dream.Org’s Approach to Climate Equity
The structure and content of this event highlight the value of holistic, inclusive regional planning activities, convening across the aisle, and trust building between sectors. These are the cornerstones of equitable and effective climate work.
Centering Those Most Impacted
Community vision is the bedrock of place-based climate work. Ensuring that frontline communities have seats at the planning and decision-making tables is critical to inclusive community development. As the transition accelerates, local leaders, stakeholders, and community members must be at the center of designing and implementing projects that work for them.
“We are committed to ensuring that change will happen for our communities and not to our community.”
- Dr. Cassandra Little, CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce
Partnership At All Levels
Dream.Org was proud to partner with leaders at the local, regional, and national levels to think concretely about accessing public investments and putting them to use on the ground in Fresno. It is not a matter of simply drawing down federal dollars regionally and locally; it is paramount that they are intentionally directed toward the people and places that need them most. In order to do so effectively, Dream.Org works with leaders at all levels to influence investment pathways and ensure that capital flows toward communities that have been historically left behind.
This event showcased collaboration from all levels, laddering from the ground all the way up to the federal government: local government, Mayor Dyer’s office; regional leadership, US EPA Region 9 administrator Martha Guzman; and national level representation, Congressman Costa of California’s 21st District. This model of multi-layered engagement merits replication in other geographies and regions across the United States.
Working Across Partisan Lines
In addition to vertical coordination, collaboration across the aisle is a key ingredient to successful implementation. Bipartisan political leadership came together to uplift Fresno Council of Government’s $1 million grant, demonstrating that transforming our communities into healthier, cleaner, and more sustainable places is not a partisan issue. As Republican Mayor Jerry Dyer puts it: “everyone loves investment.” As we face our greatest challenges, we must turn towards one another, not away, through unlikely partnerships.
“During heat waves, Republicans and Democrats both sweat the same.”
– Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, Republican
Bipartisan engagement, collaboration, and partnership also ensure that solutions are resilient to changes in the political landscape and durable into the future. This kind of allyship fundamentally changes how climate work gets done.
A Multi-Sectoral Approach
In order to tackle these multifaceted challenges of climate change with effective and enduring solutions, community development efforts must also employ a multi-sectoral approach with engagement and buy-in from key actors in different corners of the community.
For the workshop portion of this convening, Dream.Org brought diverse stakeholders–the private sector, academia, financial institutions, economic development entities, and public institutions and local government–into the room, for one conversation on regional and local climate planning. Equitable community development is only successful when planning efforts intentionally include entities at all corners and levels to remove as many barriers to implementation as possible. This inclusive approach ensures that community-led solutions are realistic and durable.
Stakeholders and entities at the table included:
- UC Merced
- Access Plus Capital
- Central California Asthma Collaborative
- Inspiration Transportation
- Downtown Fresno Partnership
- The Central Valley Urban Institute
- Next Gen Policy
- Fresno Economic Development Corporation
"It takes a village to launch a climate project. Working with Dream.Org has been invaluable in connecting us to resources and helping us build our village as we plan for our EV Accelerator in Fresno."
– Dr. Cassandra Little, CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce
“Dream.Org has been an important partner to federal government agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, helping us make our programs more inclusive of low-income communities and communities of color.”
- Martha Guzman, EPA Region 9 Administrator
The Pathway Forward
This convening was both a celebration of the momentous investments coming down to Fresno from the federal government, as well as a recommitment to tangible planning activities for equitable climate work in the city and region. Networks of stakeholders were strengthened and expanded, and the added financial capacity for climate planning paves an exciting way forward for Fresno. Led by bold local visionaries, the city of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley region are well-positioned and primed to be leaders in the climate transition, all while building an inclusive green economy that lifts communities into greater work and wealth opportunities.