Wednesday, June 15, 2005



What You Need to Know When Developers Come to Call:

You have just learned that a developer has submitted plans for a 1200 unit development on the old dairy farm. You’re outraged that a neighborhood greenbelt will now be covered with Mc Mansions. You worry about traffic impacts and the fate of the historic oak trees that cover the property.

Is there anything you and your neighbors can do?

You might call your County Supervisor. You might write letters to the editor or chain yourself to a fence in front of the site. You might bring in the Ruckus Society to lead a protest march. Or hire a pit bull attorney to sue everyone in sight.

You might simply tear your hair out in frustration.

Or you could bring on board a seasoned land use lawyer who is also versed in grassroots political action and lobbying techniques. Someone who can draft an effective legal response to an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and represent you and your neighbors before the Planning Commission. Someone who can also help your group organize, build support for the cause and let the local politicians know you mean business.

A Mutli-modal Approach to Environmental Problems:

You’ve heard the term multi-modal in the context of technology and transit planning. But it applies just as well in the community environmental arena. Let me explain.

Community groups shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time a developer or big box retailer comes calling. A multi-modal approach using law and political action can provide you time proven techniques to help you win your environmental battles.

Over the years, I have learned techniques for working with neighborhoods and community groups beyond legal representation. My practice has grown as a result into three distinctive realms:

1) Public Interest Law: representing citizen and environmental groups in public hearings, reviewing and commenting on EIR’s and litigating environmental cases; advising clients in First Amendment petition rights and election law; drafting initiatives and referenda.

2) Campaign Consulting for Candidates and Issues: strategic campaign planning, reviewing issues and crafting a message for voters and ensuring the message is delivered effectively

3) Activist Training: providing the tools necessary for your group to influence public opinion, lobby elected officials and wage an effective campaign for your cause

In the context of a community environmental issue, these three realms all contribute to a successful outcome. Having someone who understands both the law and the politics involved early on in the process is crucial.

Using a multi-modal approach allows you to tackle the issues of strategic planning, coalition building and fundraising while addressing the fine legal points in the environmental review process. Lobbying officials and “speaking truth to power” are also crucial in waging a battle that will affect your community and quality of life.

Remember, an environmental legal battle IS a political campaign.

The Advantages of Multi-modal Environmental Action:

Using a multi-modal approach can avoid unnecessary litigation by involving an experienced land use attorney who is also skilled in campaign and lobbying techniques. In this way, you magnify your clout and make the decision-makers sit up and take notice of your cause. In preventing a planned doubling of San Quentin Prison, an ad hoc group deposited thousands of signatures on the desk of the President of the Board of Supervisors demanding the EIR be reopened for failure to properly notice the local community (a legal position).

The result was a withdrawal of County support, which caused the State to abandon its plans altogether (a political outcome). Using grassroots techniques to take the message to both the public and the decision-makers avoided costly litigation.

This approach also offers opportunity for collaboration between grassroots activists and legal professionals to strengthen the position of both. A successful lawsuit to stop local jail construction led to a successful campaign to preserve the land from future construction in Marin County.

Citizens used a lobbying and public relations campaign to piggyback on their legal arguments to derail piecemeal construction of cell phone towers in rural Mendocino County.

In McCloud, California, a successful lawsuit challenging the legality of a contract with the giant Nestle Corporation for sale of water rights dovetailed with Citizen action to keep the project in the public’s eyes and wage a strong grass roots campaign.

This office has been working with community groups, training activists and waging legal battles for more than 15 years. Many of the candidates I have helped elect have come from these environmental campaigns. When environmental and community activists run for office, the effects of this work are far reaching and very rewarding for all concernmed.

Dotty E. LeMieux

Dotty E. LeMieux practices public interest environmental, land use and election law in Mill Valley, California, along with advising candidates for elected office. She offers activist trainings for citizen groups and teaches “Practical Politics” through the College of Marin Community Education program. You may reach her at


David Schonbrunn said...

Dotty captures here, better than anywhere I can think of, how litigation, political action and activism need to be integrated into a holistic stragegy. Thank you!

A small historical footnote:
The withdrawal of Marin County support for the expansion of San Quentin Prison was the direct result of political action (the petition's effect was indirect). The election of Annette Rose changed the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors to one of opposition to the prison expansion. I personally see that as her greatest accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

"In McCloud, California, a successful lawsuit challenging the legality of a contract with the giant Nestle Corporation for sale of water rights dovetailed with Citizen action to keep the project in the public’s eyes and wage a strong grass roots campaign."

Temporarily true, but an unsympathetic appellate court later overturned that superior court decision. Some jurists are too far removed from the natural environment to appreciate the risk Nestle poses.

Kim Peirce said...

My son has a driveway easement. Basically just bought his home and the neighbors driveway and his come off the main road onto one driveway. son's goes left, his goes right. However, the neighbor is now selling his home. My son isn't worried about the driveway, however, he is worried about the property. Basically when he parks his truck in his driveway their property line cuts down through half the back of his truck so to speak. For 8 months now all is great. He is concerned that a new owner might have a fleet of boats or cars and want to park them all on the property line blocking his picture window and walkway, etc. Does the driveway easement include this? The home was owned by the daughter of the now neighbor who is selling his property now. My son bought a property owned by a family. The father of the original property whose house is for sale now, gave his daughter two years ago, the property my son purchased. So it was basically all family at that time. He does have the easement but is concerned about someone new buying it and now allowing him the pleasures he now has currently, like looking out the window and seeing his and his neighbors driveways only. Both driveways enter off the main road but both take a left and a right once in on the property. Then both go about 40 feet til they reach their said garages. What steps should he take? Thank you.

Dotty LeMieux said...

You don't say where you are, but I would check with the local planning department and see what is permitted on private property. Many have prohibitions on parking boats or "fleets" of cars, as your son is worried about.

Then, see what happens. It's unlikely this scenario would occur.

Rachael Collet said...

yes can anyone help me i live in texas i have a home i need to run a line to the citys main hook up a swear line that i have to pay for thats fine but the city main hook up is in a field they say i have have to get easment rights to cross over from the end of my property to there main hook up how do i get this easment rights i dont have a choice so how do i go about it help please

Dotty LeMieux said...

Dear Richard,

Assuming the field is privately owned, you would need an easement from the owner. You can get the information about who owns it from your recorder's office, or ask the City, who must have an easement for the main sewer line.

Good luck with your hook up.

Vince Pastore said...

Hi Dotty,
Great Blog- thanks!
I have vacant rural 20 acres in santa cruz mtns, CA. When I bought the parcels in 2000, there were two private driveways across neighboring parcels. After I bought the parcels, the neighbors told me I could only use one of the driveways, the worst one! It has been 15 years now... What do you reccomend?

Dotty LeMieux said...

Hi Vince,

You should look at your deed first and see if these driveway easements are included. So have you not used the better one for 15 years? It's kind of a long time to let it go without objection. It maybe deemed to be abandoned from lack of use, but that is not a foregone conclusion without knowing more. For instance, has no one been on the property for several years? Has the "worst" one deteriorated over the years? is the better one still open?

You'd do well to consult a local land use attorney, make sure you know what the deed says and then you can make a better decision how to proceed. Good luck. Thanks for reading Land use News.