How to Navigate the Playbook

The Resilience Playbook is a resource to help develop practical land-use policies in local land-use planning—with an emphasis on the critical role that nature-based solutions play in climate mitigation and adaptation.

There is no one particular way to address your communities’ risk to the impacts of climate change. The purpose of this collection of innovations and best practices is to give you ideas and language to integrate resilience directly into your policy documents.

The Resilience Playbook is for anyone who may be involved in incorporating climate policies into General Plans, Climate Action Plans, or other related documents. You may be:

  • Local government officials or city staff embarking on your first climate action plan or specific elements of a General Plan.
  • Community-based organizations looking to orient yourselves to the General Plan update process and looking to further your knowledge of specific issues and policies.
  • Members of the public who wish to learn more about climate policies and how to advocate around them.

The Playbook contains sections that cover different challenges related to climate mitigation and adaptation. Each section provides a background of the topic at hand and discusses some of the most pressing risks we face. We then list “critical actions to take now” or high-level solutions that can combat the challenge outlined in each themed section. After an overview of potential solutions is presented, we provide examples of policies that can be adopted to achieve the critical actions we highlighted. These policies were mostly sourced from ambitious Climate Action Plans and General Plans from around the region, but we also used white papers and scientific articles to gather a scope of best practices that thoroughly address the risks we outlined.  Most of the policies were directly pulled from these sources and minimally edited for clarity (see full Playbook Matrix for the full list of sources).

We selected these policies through a combination of outreach, expert input, and independent research, however, we know every jurisdiction faces varying challenges. For that very reason, any and all recommendations should be tailored to the location you are working in through rigorous community engagement practices, which we cover in the Centering People and Equity First section.

Source: adapted from the District of Squamish

The Resilience Playbook also provides strategies and tools to build capacity and political will to strengthen civic infrastructure. It will help you accelerate adaptation to flooding, fires, and drought—allowing communities to thrive under a changing climate.

Where to Add Climate Policies

Taking coordinated action at the local level is the right, first step. The Resilience Playbook will help you address multiple hazards simultaneously in local policy documents so that your communities are equipped to address both adaptation and mitigation. Key documents include:

General Plan: The General Plan is a critical document for codifying goals, objectives, and policies related to climate change adaptation and environmental justice. All cities and counties in California are required to have a General Plan, which serves as the “constitution” for urban development and preservation in the city. The General Plan lays out the jurisdiction’s long-term (20+year) vision and includes text, diagrams, and maps to communicate how the vision will be implemented. It guides urban development within the city limits and is used as a basis for land-use decisions by government officials (planning commissions) or legislative bodies (City Councils or County Boards of Supervisors). Key elements (chapters) for incorporating climate policies are the Safety Element, the Housing Element, and Environmental Justice Element. Some jurisdictions choose to have a Climate Element, while others address climate change as a cross-cutting challenge that is addressed in numerous other elements of the General Plan. All General Plans in California are required to include the following mandatory elements:  Land Use, Housing, Circulation, Conservation, Open Space, Safety, and Noise.

SB 379 (2015) amended General Plan law to require that all Safety Elements be updated to address climate change vulnerability and adaptation by January 1, 2022 if no local hazard mitigation plan has been adopted yet. Local agencies may use a stand-alone climate adaptation plan to satisfy SB 379 requirements, as long as the separate plan meets all of the statutory requirements. For more information about General Plans, see OPR’s General Plan Guidelines.

Environmental Justice (EJ) is now a mandatory topic for all jurisdictions that contain disadvantaged communities, and an Environmental Justice Element must be prepared when two or more elements are being updated concurrently by such jurisdictions. 

See Implementing Climate Policies for more information on state bills that mandate requirements for General Plans.

Climate Action Plan (CAP): A community can choose to create a stand-alone plan focused on climate change. Stand-alone climate action plans (including climate adaptation plans, sustainability plans, and related documents) are strategic plans to address climate change. A Climate Action Plan is a community-wide strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and adapting to the effects of climate change. CAPs are generally prepared in response to State guidance that local actions be coordinated with State goals for reducing GHG emissions. The Office of Planning and Research (OPR) strongly encourages CAPs and considers it best practice to prepare CAPs or related climate action planning components such as setting goals or targets to help complement state actions.

Many California communities have climate action plans, and though some focus exclusively on climate mitigation, many also address climate adaptation. Stand-alone climate adaptation plans contain background data and analysis, adaptation strategies, and often an implementation program. As noted above, these stand-alone CAPs or climate adaptation plans may be useful in satisfying General Plan Safety Element requirements pursuant to SB 379.

Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP): LHMPs are an important example of a community planning process that already includes mitigation for natural hazards. These plans should be developed and updated in light of potential climate change effects, and climate change should be integrated into the assessment of hazards risk. Ideally, measures identified in an LHMP address both current hazards and future, climate change–affected hazards. However, natural hazard impacts are only one area that may be affected by climate change. Other areas include agricultural, forestry, and fisheries productivity; ecosystem structure and function; and public health. Planning in all these areas should be done in light of potential climate change impacts. Additionally, a LHMP is necessary to receive federal disaster aid funding. Because SB 379 requirements for addressing climate adaptation in the General Plan safety are triggered by LHMP updates, it may be appropriate to update General Plan Safety Elements and LHMPs concurrently to ensure that the plans are consistent with each other in how they address climate adaptation.

Source: Regional Resilience Toolkit


A resilient community is able to respond and adapt to a variety of climate shocks and stressors. To create resilient communities, we need to pursue multifaceted approaches concurrently and integrate them into every climate threat where possible. We must also work toward long-term and near-term goals at the same time and make sure our work is guided by community-driven vision, planning, and power building (Movement Strategy Center). There are a few cross-cutting issues that need to be prioritized regardless of the policy or action. We recommend that every local policy document integrate the following principles in all chapters or elements:

  1. Community Engagement: Actively engage frontline communities in research, planning, implementation, education, and decision-making about potential climate change impacts and about the development, funding, implementation, and evaluation of adaptation and resilience policies.
  2. Transform Existing Systems: Promote adaptation policies, funding decisions, and implementation actions that increase training, employment, and economic development opportunities among frontline communities. Shift policy and regulatory environments in ways that promote resilience and discourage non-regenerative practices. Ensure cities have the support to include the right climate policies and the capacity and funding to implement them. Where applicable, prioritize opportunities that advance land-use policies that explore a just transition from dependence on fossil fuels and further enhance community resilience to the impacts of climate change.
  3. Transparency and Accountability: Promote local, regional, and state agency transparency, accountability, and adaptive management by developing and applying easy-to-understand climate justice metrics, data, and information resources along with annual reporting protocols.
  4. Funding and Capacity Building: Identify needed funding, establish needed funding mechanisms, and allocate adequate funding to support adaptation policy development, implementation, and evaluation in frontline communities.
  5. Embrace Uncertainty: Address climate impacts now while acknowledging that data may change and be ready to pivot and be nimble.

An additional strategy to create resilience in communities is to build new climate-resilient civic infrastructure. To build and scale the new forms of political and civic participation that are critically needed, we need to establish new methods of communication and collaboration between communities and local, regional, state, and/or federal jurisdictions and agencies on climate resilience and adaptation strategies. Examples could include community-driven climate action planning, hiring a chief resilience officer, creating a resilience overlay district, municipal economic development that focuses on climate resilience, or switching to public management of local green utilities and energy production.