City of Berkeley, Existing Buildings Electrification Strategy

June 18, 2021

The Berkeley Existing Buildings Electrification Strategy is a great example of how Rincon successfully engaged with marginalized communities in a manner that meaningfully influenced the outcome of the project. The strategy identifies a pathway to decarbonizing 100% of the city’s existing low-story residential buildings through beneficial electrification. While the benefits of beneficial electrification such as healthier homes and lower energy bills can be significant, the retrofit process comes at an upfront cost to homeowners and can be passed on to renters by building managers. Representatives of communities of color, low-income, senior, and disabled communities were engaged early and throughout the process and their input and concerns heavily influenced the final timeline and the selected electrification strategies. These concerns the Rincon team heard over the course of the project were distilled into a set of what were termed “equity guardrails” which were used to review each policy or action for their impact on Berkeley’s disadvantaged communities. Any policy or action that did not “pass” the guardrails was then revised, supported with another action (like a financing strategy) or removed. For example, a common concern that was expressed during the outreach process was the upfront cost of retrofitting. In response, strategies mandating retrofits were adjusted so that mandates are not triggered until the City has put into place funding and financing mechanisms to offset costs and that those polices are accessible to everyone in the community.

To design intentional policies that lead to equitable outcomes, the team utilized the Targeted Universalism framework developed by the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. At its core, Targeted Universalism is the practice of setting a universal policy goal (for example, electrifying all existing buildings) while identifying targeted strategies and actions specifically for marginalized communities to ensure that those communities can benefit from the policy goal. As detailed in the Haas Institute Primer on Targeted Universalism, each “policy is tailored to the needs of the people it aims to serve or protect.”

Although the number of population groups and sub-groups of people within a community could be almost infinite, through our stakeholder engagement, the team identified certain communities that have been historically marginalized in Berkeley and who should benefit most from the policies proposed by the project. These communities include BIPOC, low-income communities, people living with disabilities, non-English speaking communities, immigrants, refugees, seniors, young children, the LGBTQ+ community, and other people groups who have been historically marginalized, under resourced and/or have experienced procedural, distributional, and structural inequalities. By focusing on developing strategies and actions for the most at risk communities, the City could be sure that electrification could work for everyone.

While the Berkeley Existing Building Electrification Strategy has been developed with community input throughout the process, continued collaboration and communication will be critical to successfully implement the strategy without negatively impacting equity in the community.

The Berkeley Existing Builiding Electrification Strategy’s innovative financing recently received a Business Achievement Award from the Climate Change Business Journal, learn more about the project and award here.