Rachel Hooper, Richard Taylor, and Dan Selmi: Legal Heroes
|A view of the scenic Martis Valley which Rachel, Richard, and Dan worked to protect.
Two of the Sierra Club Law Program's most remarkable victories of 2006 could not have been achieved without the hard work and dedication of attorneys Rachel Hooper, Richard Taylor, and Dan Selmi.
These three attorneys each displayed a remarkable level of dedication, persistence, and perseverance in achieving outstanding victories in two Sierra Club lawsuits challenging an ill-conceived water privatization project in Stockton, California, and a massive development proposal that involved building an entire new town between Lake Tahoe and the town of Truckee, California.
Richard Taylor and Rachel Hooper are both partners at the San Francisco-based law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. With the help of Professor Dan Selmi, who teaches environmental and land use law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, Richard and Rachel succeeded in achieving a landmark settlement agreement that protects the most biologically important areas in Tahoe's Martis Valley, and also ensures affordable housing for workers in the area. The case began in January 2004 when the Sierra Club and a coalition of local environmental groups took legal action against the "Martis Valley Community Plan," which called for extensive development and a four-lane highway that would cut through this spectacular area.
After successfully challenging the development proposal in court, the Sierra Club reached a landmark settlement with Martis Valley developers in September 2006. The final settlement prevented development in the most environmentally sensitive areas of Martis Valley and also secured millions of dollars in funding to purchase and permanently protect areas from future development. The settlement also includes requirements for affordable housing for local residents.
Dan emphasized that, in reaching this settlement, "Rachel and Richard conceived of, and carried out, a masterful negotiation strategy." He described the work that he, Rachel and Richard did as being "the essence of teamwork." Richard seconded Dan's sentiment, adding that this landmark settlement "never would have happened without the client groups being very clear on what they wanted, as well as building community support and leveraging that with landowners. One of my favorite things about this case was representing community groups who were working just as hard as I was; as a lawyer it's a great thing to have your clients so engaged." Thanks to the work of Richard, Rachel, Dan, and the many activists and community groups they represented, Tahoe's Martis Valley will be preserved for future generations.
Less than one month after Richard, Rachel and Dan helped the Sierra Club to protect Martis Valley, Rachel and Dan worked to help the Club ensure that the city of Stockton's water supply will remain a public resource, instead of a private commodity. The lawsuit challenged a 2003 water privatization contact that the city of Stockton entered into with Denver-based Operations Management International, Inc & Thames Water. The effect of the contract was to hand over control of a local California water system to a global coalition of corporations. Under the $600-million contract, the city turned over to the private companies virtually every aspect of the municipal water, wastewater and stormwater utilities for a period of 20 years.
On November 3, 2006 Judge Elizabeth Humphreys of the San Joaquin County Superior Court ruled that the city of Stockton had violated the California Environmental Quality Act in approving the contract, finding that "[t]here is substantial evidence in the administrative record to demonstrate that transfer of the City's water utility operations for 20 years will have significant environmental impacts." Rachel described this case as "absolutely compelling," and she credited the work of Sierra Club activists and other community members, whom she said "had a lot to overcome. The city and this massive corporation had seemingly limitless resources; it extremely gratifying to win." In addition, Rachel credited Dan's legal assistance and support from the Sierra Club's law program in achieving this important victory.
In both the Martis Valley and Stockton cases, Richard, Rachel and Dan truly exemplified the ability to work collaboratively with diverse interests and groups to achieve tremendous outcomes. Their passion, dedication, and ability to work with the local communities and activists resulted in two incredibly important legal victories; the Law Program is appreciative of their stellar efforts.