Letters
California Lawyer

Letters

August 2013

Standing Up for CEQA
There are enormous differences between the three infrastructure projects mentioned in "Collision Course" [May]. High-speed rail is probably the least controversial, and if it were being constructed in the Boston-to-Washington transportation corridor it would hardly merit a yawn, let alone raise eyebrows. Fracking and water-diversion tunnels around the Sacramento River Delta are much more problematic. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) may be their opponents' tool of choice, but if those projects fail it will be because they violate fundamental understandings of how we appropriate our natural resources between Northern and Southern California, and how the benefits are to be distributed. Water is a scarce commodity here, and battles over ownership and use of it have been raging since the 1850s. Forty years ago California self-funded its own water project; I would like to see some hard data about the long-term effects of that project before we begin another one whose downstream effects we have not yet assessed.

Fracking is, by definition, highly problematic, made all the more risky because of where we live. Earthquakes are a fact of life in our state, and, not coincidentally, one of the reasons nuclear power never gained much traction. CEQA is not perfect -no legislation ever is-but "fixing" CEQA is not something that's going to be decided within the term of the legislative session, or even the term of the current governor.

Suggesting that this is simply about developers and environmentalists butting heads, with all of the usual atmospherics of political campaign punditry, displays a towering disrespect for the place we live and the people who live here. CEQA can be abused, but mostly it tries to force good decision making. I'm all for that.
Arthur R. Silen, Davis

Bar Talk
We are writing as officers of the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) and in response to Dan Grunfeld's "Fighting for Relevance" [At Large, May]. Grunfeld notes that local bar associations must constantly work to remain relevant and acknowledges that some bars are doing much of what he suggests is meaningful for their members and communities. We agree. We believe that if the author had inquired, he would have been pleased to learn that a number of local bar associations offer timely programs to meet the needs of those they serve. For instance, at BASF some of our recent efforts include:

- Strong advocacy in support of adequate funding for our courts. Our efforts have included numerous meetings with legislators, court leaders, and others where we have emphasized the real-world impacts on our community of closed courtrooms, reduced hours, and eliminated court services. We also organized a rally last year in which more than 500 attendees from throughout California heard from numerous state leaders, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, about the dire consequences of the cuts to court budgets.

- Creation of Mind the Gap, an innovative program, to help new lawyers struggling to find employment. Our community has strongly embraced this program, which includes practical lawyering-skills training as well as training and information regarding how to start a practice; gaining hands-on experience through our Justice and Diversity Center's Legal Services Program case work; mentoring from JDC staff attorneys and other volunteers; networking opportunities for contract or other legal positions; and debt-reduction information and seminars.

- A pilot program in San Francisco providing counsel in civil law matters in which basic human needs are at stake. This year BASF partnered with city leaders to establish San Francisco as our nation's first "Right to Civil Counsel City." Through this effort we are providing representation in cases involving shelter, child custody, sustenance, safety, and health to individuals who otherwise cannot afford such counsel.

These latest initiatives build on other longstanding work of relevance. We have pursued a multiyear effort to engage in-house counsel in the bar. BASF also remains a leading actor on matters such as diversification of the legal profession, and advocating for equality more broadly in our society in amicus briefs it has filed at every level of our state and federal courts.

The fact is, local bar associations like BASF do matter, and we will continue the important work necessary to remain significant forces in our communities.
Christopher C. Kearney, President
Stephanie P. Skaff, President-Elect
Timothy W. Moppin, Treasurer
Michael F. Tubach, Secretary

Mr. Grunfeld is correct: Societal trends mean local bar associations have had to adjust their focus, but the real challenge is how to be relevant to the unique and changing culture of their legal communities.

It goes without saying that the needs of a young sole practitioner are different from those of a long-practicing large firm partner, and they are also different from what they were ten years ago.

In our new office space we have created a "hub" for San Diego's legal community, with a members-only lounge, a shared work space, conference rooms, and a high-tech conference center in close proximity to our main courthouses.

In San Diego, we've put together a group of highly reputable attorneys to lobby our local legislators and share stories of how families and local businesses are being affected by reductions in court funding and decreased access to justice. We have reached out to the greater San Diego community-largely uneducated about how the courts' shrinking budget will affect their day-to-day lives-through a press campaign. We consider ourselves to be the voice of the legal community, and I can't think of any other organization with the passion and volunteer-powers to undertake this sort of initiative. To us, the key to being relevant is consistently assessing what relevancy means. We are confident that this means we will always continue to have our place.
Marcella McLaughlin, President, San Diego County Bar Association


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