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UC Davis Law Hosts 'CEQA at 50' Conference

News Posted on April 19, 2021

Now just over 50 years old, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has evolved considerably over the past half century. On April 16, a virtual conference sponsored by UC Davis School of Law and the California Environmental Law and Policy Center focused on "CEQA at 50: Assessing the History & Charting the Future of the California Environmental Quality Act." The event brought together a star-studded array of experts from state and local government, the planning and development community, private law practice and academia.

CEQA is California's most overarching, longstanding and controversial environmental law.

Over the day, the speakers discussed and analyzed CEQA's history to date; current CEQA controversies; perceived shortcomings and potential reforms of the statute; and how CEQA is likely to develop in future decades.

This conference featured two keynote addresses. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye '84 delivered the morning keynote. The Chief Justice provided insightful thoughts about the general parameters of the California court’s approach to CEQA cases.

The afternoon keynote was by California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot.

The panels considered CEQA’s history, CEQA and underserved communities, CEQA guidelines, CEQA and housing, CEQA and climate change, legislative and regulatory responses to CEQA, and the future of CEQA.

The presenters included Justice Ronald Robie of the California Court of Appeal, Chris Calfee '01 (General Counsel, California Natural Resources Agency), Professor Chris Elmendorf, Matt Bogoshian '88, Jim Moose (Remy, Moose, Manley LLP), Tim Taylor (Stoel Rives LLP and land use planning professor), Susan Brandt-Hawley '77 (Brandt-Hawley Law Group), and many others.

Dean Kevin Johnson opened the conference. He discussed how CEQA, enacted by the Legislature in 1970, requires California state and local government officials to analyze the potential adverse environmental impacts of proposed projects, as well as privately proposed projects that come before state and local government decision-makers for approval. Over the past 50 years, the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive Branch have played major roles in shaping, developing, and enforcing CEQA.

UC Davis School of Law has a longstanding connection to CEQA. In 1972, under the leadership of Professor Harrison (Hap) Dunning, the law school’s Moot Court competition was based on a problem modeled on the Friends of Mammoth case that was then pending before the California Supreme Court – a case which a half-century later remains the most important CEQA case ever decided. In 2011, King Hall held a conference commemorating CEQA’s 40th anniversary.

King Hall’s current curriculum features two courses California Environmental Law & Policy and Land Use Planning. Law students spend considerable time learning about CEQA. Indeed, the conference is a key component of Professor Richard Frank’s California Environmental Law class this semester.

Over 600 judges, practitioners, policymakers, professors, alumni, students, and community members attended this important conference.