March 21, 2016 – Sean Hecht, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Evan Frankel Professor of Policy and Practice at UCLA School of Law, was a 2016 winner of the California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) Award for environmental law. The prestigious CLAY Award is given annually by The Daily Journal and California Lawyer to lawyers across the state whose work in different fields of law has had significant impact in the preceding year.
UCLA School of Law’s Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic was on the team of lawyers representing plaintiffs that challenged the environmental review of the Newhall Ranch development, a new city-sized development planned for the Santa Clarita valley, north of Los Angeles. Clinic students, including UCLA School of Law alumni Heather Leslie (’15) and Ryan Berghoff (’15), worked on this matter, which reached the California Supreme Court in 2015 and resulted in a court decision favorable to the plaintiffs.
The case involved important issues about the proper means to evaluate the climate change impacts of new development projects, as well as whether development impacts on a fully-protected species can be mitigated through means that disturb the species’ habitat by relocating individual animals. In its decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The Court held that the project’s environmental impact report’s methodology for evaluating project greenhouse gas emissions was flawed, and that the project mitigation required unlawful relocation of a fully-protected fish species, the unarmored Threespine Stickleback. A longer discussion of the case’s importance is available here.
Other recipients of the 2016 CLAY Award include John Buse, Kevin Bundy, Adam Keats and Aruna Prabhala of the Center for Biological Diversity; UCLA School of Law alumni Jan Chatten-Brown and Doug Carstens, of Chatten-Brown & Carstens LLP; and Jason Weiner of the Wishtoyo Foundation and Ventura Coastkeeper.