Research Report

Planning for Food Justice: Advancing Equity in City and County General Plans Through California’s Senate Bill 1000

SB 1000 requires cities and counties with “disadvantaged communities” to incorporate environmental justice into their General Plans. Our analysis shows that SB 1000 can serve as an important avenue for advancing comprehensive food access policies at the local level.

September 28, 2023

By Katherine Fallon, MCP, Charisma Acey, PhD, and Susana Matias, PhD

Often seen as separate social movements, environmental and food justice are deeply intertwined, with roots in equity and civil rights. Our report emphasizes the connection between the two movements. As cities and counties incorporate environmental justice into land use planning, SB 1000 provides an important avenue for advancing food justice throughout the state.

By combining desk review of General Plan documents, quantitative data analysis, and in-depth interviews in two case studies in Richmond and Gilroy, we tracked the statewide implementation and compliance of SB 1000. We also determined how comprehensively cities and counties have integrated policies that advance food justice. Based on this analysis, this report emphasizes the importance of explicitly targeting food inequities in environmental justice land use planning and offers recommendations to city planners and state legislators to improve SB 1000 implementation to better advance the law’s food justice goals.

Policy Recommendations

Our database shows that SB 1000 put legislative weight behind incorporating environmental and food justice policies in city planning. However, the gap between SB 1000 compliance and comprehensive food justice policies, as well as insight from our case studies, highlight the need for improving SB 1000 implementation to further advance food justice in the planning process. We offer the following recommendations.

Recommendations for City and County Planners

  • Implement a standalone environmental justice element rather than incorporate environmental justice goals throughout the General Plan.
    Our research shows that cities and counties are more likely to comprehensively address food justice in their General Plans if environmental justice is implemented as a standalone element, rather than incorporated throughout the plan. Even if EJ is spread throughout, General Plans should list them in a single, easily referenced place.
  • Involve public awareness and participation in drafting environmental justice goals, and communicate those goals to the public.
    Many of our interviewees in Gilroy and Richmond, who either work in food or city government, were only vaguely aware of SB 1000 and did not know which policies their city had adopted. Cities and counties should include widespread public participation to create the environmental justice goals in their General Plans. The final goals should then be communicated back to community members and organizations, especially those who participated in the planning process.
  • Improve the follow-through and on-the-ground implementation of stated goals.
    A General Plan serves as a municipality’s blueprint, but our analysis showed a lack of incentives and accountability to turn these blueprints into reality. This issue is not specific to SB 1000 but applies to General Plans more broadly. General Plan goals would become more effective by tying funding to these policies or committing more resources to their implementation.
  • Write food justice policies that are targeted, actionable, and specific.
    Our analysis found that the best food justice policies targeted disadvantaged communities, specified a roadmap to achieve those goals, and would lead to measurable changes.
  • Prioritize racial equity in environmental and food justice planning, despite the fact that CalEnviroScreen does not include race in its analysis of disadvantaged communities.
    Cities and counties should explicitly address the legacy of racial discrimination in land use planning in their locality. Municipalities should ensure that communities of color have a voice in decisions that would affect their health. Resources and investments should be allocated equitably to support community-led initiatives that address environmental injustices. If cities do not specifically target racial equity in their General Plans, planning will perpetuate existing inequities.

Recommendations for the State of California

  • Include USDA food access metrics when defining “disadvantaged communities.”
    Food access is not a criteria included in CalEPA’s CalEnviroScreen calculation of disadvantaged communities. Some cities or counties might not have a documented environmental burden, and are thus not required to implement SB 1000, but they might have food-insecure communities. Our database shows 130 cities triggered by SB 1000 contain a majority of households more than a mile away (or 10 miles in rural areas) from a grocery store. However, by overlaying CalEnviroScreen with USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, we identified 98 additional cities that are not required to implement SB 1000 but do include low-income communities with food accessibility issues. Expanding CalEnviroScreen to account for food access would widen SB 1000’s impact to these communities.
  • Clarify CalEPA’s designation of Tribal communities as “disadvantaged” in SB 1000 to increase compliance in counties with federally recognized Tribes.
    As of May 2022, CalEPA considers lands under the control of federally recognized Tribes in the state as “disadvantaged communities” for the purposes of laws like SB 1000. Meanwhile, the five out-of-compliance counties contain Indigenous communities rather than DACs flagged by CalEnviroScreen, which indicates a lack of clarity or awareness that these counties are required to implement SB 1000. We suggest clarifying the law’s inclusion of counties with Tribal communities and targeting outreach to these county planning departments.