1965 – The founding of the Planning and Conservation League.

1967 – PCL assisted in striking down a proposed bill that would have authorized a trans-Sierra all-year highway through a wilderness area, crossing the John Muir Trail.

1970 – California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) adopted into law.

1972 – Proposition 20 – Voters accept the PCL supported Proposition 20, the Coastal Initiative, which assures planning and protection for California’s coastal zone. Also in 1972, the Governor signs the Wild Rivers Bill, SB 107.

1973 – The founding of the PCL Foundation to perform research, prepare reports, and train environmental activists.

1976 – SB174, supported by PCL, established the $25 million Roberti Z’Berg Urban Open Space & Recreation Program, to create parks and space in our urban areas.

1981 – PCL amongst others won a court case to prevent the City of Hayward from taking 93 acres of agricultural land out of the Williamson Act Preserve for development.

1984 – Defeat of AB 3651, thereby protecting the ability of citizens to institute local land use initiatives.

1985 – PCL helped to defeat a gravel quarry in Tahoe state park, and published the Community Guide to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

1986 – Bottle Bill AB 2020 – Ever wonder how we got refund values on our bottles and cans? PCL played a major role in negotiating and supporting AB 2020, which established a refund value of one to three cents on all California beverage containers beginning in 1987.

1988 – A Banner Year for PCL Successes

Proposition 70 – Parks, wildlife, open space, and coastal areas

Proposition 70 was a $776,000,000 general obligation bond act for the acquisition and development of parks, wildlife, open space, and coastal areas. The proposition involved hundreds of local and state groups, most of which had a project that the bond would cover. PCL ran the campaign and sent a contractor to local areas to collect signatures. It ended up being the biggest park bond during that period and the first time a volunteer initiative was used to get a proposition on the ballot. $776,000,000 was set aside for acquisition and development of parks, wildlife, open space, and coastal areas.

Proposition 99 – Public health and funds for fish, wildlife, and park programs

Proposition 99 increased the tobacco tax in California by $.25 per pack of cigarettes. It initially raised more than $600,000,000 per year. The revenue is designated to:

  • educate children on the hazards of smoking
  • serve the public health needs of those who cannot afford to pay
  • provide funds for fish, wildlife, and park programs.

Smoking has since reduced, and the resulting revenue has stabilized at around $450,000,000 a year. PCL “dreamed up” the 25 cents per pack tobacco tax initiative and sat on the steering committee. There was strong opposition to Proposition 99.

1990 to 1996

1990 – Proposition 116

PCL worked diligently to pass Proposition 116, which included a $2 billion general obligation bond act for public transportation, primarily rail, and also allocated a portion of gas tax revenue to finance public transportation.

1991 – Proposition 117, The California Wildlife Protection Act

The PCL team came up with Proposition 117 to ban the trophy hunting of mountain lions permanently. They devised a way to fund it, which was to set aside $30 million a year for thirty years for habitat – this became known as the Habitat Conservation Fund. Two-thirds of the money is for rare and endangered species and one-third is for deer, mountain lions, and native oak.

1990  – Forest Protection and Access Lawsuit

With the help of Proposition 70, PCL won the case in the Court of Appeals to save ancient redwoods and also provide public access.

1992 – Jennifer Jennings, PCL Staff, helps develop legislation extending the ban on offshore oil drilling and preventing private discussions between the Coastal Commission & prospective developers. Governor signs bills & measure.

1996 – PCL wins the suit, stopping the Governor and the Dept of Fish & Game from ignoring the California Endangered Species Act, by issuing a blanket permit to those whose activities would harm these species.

1996 – Proposition 204, a $995 million bond act for wildlife and fisheries restoration, water conservation, and wastewater recycling, successfully passes.

1997 – Bills

PCL played a leadership role in passing two important environmental justice bills. SB 1113, by Senator Hilda Solis, would have required CEQA documents to include environmental justice information. SB 451, by Senator Diane Watson, would have given better protection to minority and low-income communities with respect to the citing of facilities that use toxic materials. Unfortunately, Governor Wilson vetoed both of these bills.

Also in 1997, PCL responded to a vicious attack on the State’s Smog Check Program by supporting a bi-partisan package of bills which preserved the air quality benefits provided by Smog Check, while at the same time reforming and improving the operation of the program. In significant part because of PCL’s support, the three Smog Check bills were passed and signed into law.

1998: The Power of PCL’s Reports

California State Environmental Budget Report

The Planning and Conservation League’s Natural Resource Director, Rachel Dinno, completed a study revealing that while the Governor’s proposed budget recognized a $2.1 billion increase in revenues for the 1998-99 fiscal year, it proposed a decrease in environmental spending. Primary among the study’s findings was that less than one-half of one percent of the state’s General Fund proposed to be spent was on protecting California’s environment. Funding shortages severely handicapped the state’s ability to protect the environment and one of the major reasons for the funding shortfall is that so little of the state’s General Fund is dedicated to protecting the environment.

Immediately after the release of the report, Rachel Dinno was invited to meet with a Los Angeles Times editorial writer to discuss the report and the importance of funding for environmental resources. The editorial was printed in the Los Angeles Times a few days later. Further, this report was the catalyst for several additional editorials. All the newspapers that wrote editorials had received copies of the report and had met with the environmental community just prior to writing their editorials.

The legislature used this report to justify environmental budget increases. Since the release of the report, the findings of the report have been cited by Assembly Members and Senators in their districts and on the Senate and Assembly Floor. The findings have also been used in leadership documents calling for an increase in environmental spending.

The result was the largest environmental budget increase since 1988—with the budget committee increasing funding environmental protection by $200 million of which $154 million is appropriated for land acquisition.

California Parks Report      

Also in 1998, Rachel Dinno researched and authored “California Parks: Preserving Our Resources into the Next Century.” That report addressed the state of our state’s park system and presented various measures for policy-makers to consider. The state park system is both under-funded and overused, relative to the maintenance funds and staff available to support the system. Park use increased from 22.2 million visitors in 1960 to 107.6 million in 1997. Visitors increased by 484 percent, while park acreage increased only 208 percent.

The report received positive attention from the press and legislature. After releasing the study, PCL was invited to testify at two Joint Legislative Hearings on the status of our State Parks. At the request of the Assembly Budget Committee, copies of the report were distributed to every member of the legislature with a cover letter from the Chair of the Budget Committee.

Coupled with the Budget Report, this report helped educate the Legislature about the need to provide additional funds for our state parks. The budget committee approved an additional $154 million for parkland acquisition.

2000 – Bonds, lawsuits and workshops

Propositions 12 & 13 “The park and water bonds”

Voters approved Propositions 12 & 13 (popularly known as the park and water bonds) by a wide margin in March 2000. Except for Proposition 204 in 1996, they were the first park and water infrastructure bonds approved by the voters since the 1980s.

PCL developed many key elements of the bonds protecting and restoring watersheds, urban streams, and other open space to conserve California’s precious water supply. Following its passage, PCL Foundation developed workshops throughout California for local agencies and advocacy groups about funds available, application procedures and contact information for the grants and funding programs.

Monterey Amendments EIR Lawsuit Prevails

In 1994, the California Department of Water Resources secretly negotiated a deal called the “Monterey Amendments.” As part of that deal, the State eliminated drought assurances for urban areas like Los Angeles and gave away public water facilities in Kern County to several very wealthy individual landowners. The State also agreed to provisions that have contributed to the current ecological crisis in Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta estuary.

A lawsuit by the Planning and Conservation League and two other plaintiffs, the Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara County, and Plumas County Flood Control and Water Conservation District was successful. By prevailing, this challenge forced DWR to issue a new decision on the Monterey Amendments and begin publicly reporting the deliveries of the State Water Project every 5 years.

CEQA Workshops

In 2000, PCLF trained over 500 citizens, planners, attorneys, and business owners, in 14 cities throughout California to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to protect local environmental quality. 95% of participants surveyed said that the PCL CEQA workshops made a real difference in their understanding and ability to use this very important law. As a result of the workshops, many concerned citizens now have the ability to use California’s most powerful environmental law to become more directly involved in the local land use decision-making.

In the same year, PCL Foundation staff produced an updated version of one of our most popular publications, our guide to California’s centerpiece environmental protection law: the Revised Community Guide to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This publication explains CEQA’s procedural and substantive provisions.

General Plan Workshops

PCL Foundation conducted a workshop series that explains how citizens, planners, and elected officials can use general plans to better protect open space and environmental quality. The workshops have been conducted in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento.

2001 – Land, Water, Transportation, and Air

PCL staff participated in the California Environmental Dialogue’s efforts to promote increased discussion among California’s business and environmental communities about environmental protection, particularly in the areas of land conservation, air quality, and land use. CED is a roundtable of the state’s leading environmental groups and businesses whose goal is to find workable solutions to California’s key environmental problems, especially in the areas of clean air, clean water, transportation, coastal issues, open space protection, and land use.


PCL developed a legal attack on companies that practice clear-cutting in California and sent a letter alerting the Attorney General to Sierra Pacific Industry’s (SPI’s) business practices that we felt should be scrutinized closely. We have sent tens of thousands of letters alerting the public to the problem and letting them know that we will help to develop a legislative solution. PCL worked to find programs and funding sources to help the Department of Fish & Game to better manage its habitat lands.

Water Quality

PCL completed a study of desalting seawater to serve the urban needs of Southern California. PCL pursued a water quality lawsuit to force major reductions in the amount of contaminated water released into the Sacramento River through the Colusa Drain, a major agricultural drain Northwest of Sacramento.


PCL helped organize the implementation of the Air Resources Board (ARB’s) transit regulations to encourage local transit agencies to adopt alternative fuel purchases. With this program, PCL also influenced ARB’s program guidelines for expenditure of school bus purchase money to encourage alternative fuel purchases. PCL also testified at an ARB hearing on school buses and proposed regulatory changes.

Air Quality

PCL challenged the issuance of air permits for power plants that would have violated the Federal Clean Air Act and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

PCL Intervened in a lawsuit that challenged fleet rules which required both public and private fleet owners to buy alternative fuel vehicles when making new purchases. The Federal district court has ruled in our favor requiring compliance.

PCL organized a diesel working group to develop rules for fleet vehicles to convert their fleets to alternative fuels such as natural gas. PCL convinced the city of Fresno to replace its old, dirty diesel buses with natural gas buses in its transit fleet.

2003 – 2006

2003 –  Lead Safe Sacramento Campaign

In 2003, PCLF developed the 4-year Lead Safe Sacramento Campaign that targeted various communities to assess their propensity for lead poisoning. PCL Foundation partnered with Sacramento County’s Childhood Illness and Injury Prevention program and their Lead Poisoning Prevention program, the Multicultural Education Program at CSU Sacramento, as well as with the St. Hope Academy, The Met High School, and Hiram Johnson High School to provide outreach and education to the school’s immediate neighborhoods. Our collaborative efforts identified households at risk and provided those families with tools and materials to identify potential hazards and ways to eliminate or reduce exposure.

2005 – Everyday Heroes

PCL, PCL Foundation, and the California League of Conservation Voters compiled our 165 page Everyday Heroes report (9MB PDF) documenting 35 years of stories of successful citizen use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). We included stories from approximately 90 authors including Attorney General Bill Lockyer, former Assemblymember Byron Sher, former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, and former Assemblymember Herb Wesson as well as citizen activists, attorneys, and community leaders.

The publication was essential in the fight to preserve CEQA in the face of a concerted effort to roll back provisions of the bill during the 2005 session by development and industry representatives. Our publication was presented in a closed session of the Senate and was the subject of press coverage. Compiling stories was an essential element of our outreach process, building a network of concerned, engaged CEQA defenders. The publication has been very popular with grassroots activists who want to see what can be accomplished through participation in the CEQA process.

The full title of the publication is: Everyday Heroes Protect the Air the Breathe, the Water We Drink, and the Natural Areas We Prize: Thirty-Five Years of the California Environmental Quality Act.

2007 – Public Health, Air Quality, Climate Change, Flood Legislation

San Joaquin Valley Air Board Campaign

In 2007, PCL worked with the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition to reform the San Joaquin Valley’s Air District Board to add a medical doctor and scientist to the Governing Board. In a five year effort to enhance the Governing Board’s capacity, multiple stakeholders from throughout the state organized a campaign that has successfully made the SJV Air Board increase their representation of medical and public health expertise in order to stress the health impacts associated with poor air quality. This effort successfully shifted Air Board proceedings to represent a more balanced dialogue that seriously weighed public health impacts in their deliberation, improved the public’s trust in the local air district, and increased representation of urban and rural communities.

Local Climate Action Initiative

In 2007, we launched our Local Climate Action Initiative (LCAI). Through the Initiative, we empower local leaders to use enforceable land use, green building, and transportation policies to reduce the carbon footprint of new development in their region. We have led LCAI training in Santa Rosa, Pasadena, Walnut Creek, Bakersfield, Visalia, Humboldt, Davis, and the Silicon Valley. As Sierra Club Cool Cities Campaign leader Julio Magalhaes notes,

“We view this (Silicon Valley training) as a pivot for our campaign. We’re turning from (voluntary) pledges to legally binding decisions.”

Sierra Club chapter Director Melissa Hippard concurred.

“I thought the event was wonderful. The Redwood City Cool Cities Team and I already put our learning into practice at our city council meeting Monday night.”

Hunter and Angler Partnerships

In 2007, PCL began a partnership with the National Wildlife Federation to help educate California hunters and anglers about global warming and to strengthen protections for wildlife from the effects of global warming. Together PCL and NWF prepared the 30-page publication On the Edge: Protecting California’s Fish and Waterfowl from Global Warming and gave presentations on the report to numerous gatherings of hunters and anglers across the state, including Ducks Unlimited banquets, salmon festivals, and pheasant hunting clubs. We also helped bring together over twenty organizations to coordinate on policies to address the effects of global warming in California (commonly referred to as “climate adaptation”).

Flood Legislation Victory

In October of 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed all six bills in a comprehensive legislative flood package that Planning and Conservation League helped negotiate throughout the legislative session. By signing these bills, the Governor and the Legislature delivered the most significant flood legislation for California in over a generation. The flood package included measures to better protect life and property, improve local land use planning, and safeguard the state and its taxpayers from increased exposure to liability for damages caused by the flood.

“This package was clearly a win for both public safety and the environment,” said Mindy McIntyre, PCL’s Water Program Manager. “Floodplains provide vital habitat for migrating birds and other native California wildlife. And by calling for the use of setback levees and flood bypasses as natural infrastructure for flood control, these measures also preserve wildlife habitat and agricultural lands.”

In a memorable acceptance speech at PCL’s Symposium following the session, Lois Wolk’s Chief of Staff, Craig Reynolds, compared the backing of this bill to a boxing match. “Every time Lois [Wolk] took a punch in the ring, she would come back to the corner for an ice pack and a huddle with Jonas Minton and me.”

2008 – Highlighting Water

AB 609

In 2007, PCL successfully sponsored a bill designed to remove unnecessary obstacles to the state investing in energy efficient and green building equipment. The bill, AB 609, authored by Mike Eng of Monterey Park, will help the state purchase more efficient equipment for publicly owned buildings. California strives to be an international environmental leader. Our public buildings should lead by a green example. AB 609 helps make that happen.

SB 974

Planning and Conservation League helped lead a coalition of Sacramento advocates to pass Senate Bill 974 (authored by Alan Lowenthal) – the most important air quality measure of the 2007-2008 session.  The measure would have raised much-needed funding to improve air quality and reduce pollution caused by the movement of goods throughout the state. The bill passed the legislature with bipartisan support and a massive coalition of health, environmental, and labor groups, and dozens of locally elected officials backing the measure. The Governor vetoed the bill, but supporters and Senator Lowenthal plan to continue the fight to clean up our air and ensure polluters pay to clean up the pollution they generate.

SB 68

In 2008, PCL sponsored legislation to ensure local residents could play a truly meaningful role in the decision-making process for new developments. SB 68, authored by Sheila Kuehl, would have provided clarity as to which businesses, individuals or firms are involved in a proposed development, information that is critical if local challenge the environmental review for the project. We successfully got the bill to the Governor’s desk, but despite the lack of opposition to the measure the broad support for it, he chose to veto the bill. The bill will be reintroduced in 2009.

Water Efficiency & Security Act

Continuing our tradition of introducing bold, new ideas in the State legislature, in 2008 PCL worked with Assembly Member Paul Krekorian to introduce Assembly Bill 2153, The Water Efficiency & Security Act (WESA). A straightforward water-use offset program for new buildings, this proposal would have stimulated regional investment in environmentally-sensitive and climate-resilient water supply options (e.g. water conservation, water recycling, and groundwater clean-up) as a means of accommodating new growth in the state without further degrading the environment or the water security of current residents. Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW), an increasingly common partner of PCL’s, joined as cosponsors of this legislation. Thanks to the excellent work of Mr. Krekorian and his staff and concerted efforts by PCL, EJCW, and other environmental partners, WESA made it through some tough Assembly committees to the floor of the Assembly. However, faced with strong opposition from the building industry and because of concerns about a weakening economy, WESA failed on the floor.

WESA offered a robust strategy to accommodate the water needs of California’s residents and economy. PCL will be working again in 2009 to advance a similar proposal in the Legislature as part of our efforts to reform water management statewide.

Water Policy Summit

In 2007 and 2008, water issues played a dominant role in policy conversations in the Capitol. Dollar signs on a proposed water bond grew each day and landmark decisions about the Delta’s fate were imminent. The State Treasurer had projected a lingering $20 billion state deficit for 2009 – meaning that any significant piece of legislation would require a large grassroots effort and innovative sources of funding. Recognizing this emerging legislative climate, PCL’s Mindy McIntyre (Water Program Manager) and Environmental Justice Coalition for Water’s Debbie Davis, a strong voice for disadvantaged communities in the Capitol, partnered to begin a statewide collaboration of water advocates intended to enhance cooperative legislative and outreach efforts in the Capitol and in local communities. Throughout the fall and winter of 2008, the Water Summit gathered advocates in Davis, Los Angeles, and Pasadena, attracting as many as sixty people at a session. At the Davis meeting, Kip Lipper, straight-shooter and staff for then-Senate Pro Tem Leader Don Perata openly praised the initiative. As Mindy McIntyre noted, “Traditionally in the Capitol, environmentalists and environmental justice advocates have not been unified in their lobbying and this effort is meant to reverse that direction and the perception this relationship in the Capitol.” The process entered the new legislative season with a shared set of principles and legislative priorities.

2013 – 2015

Defending the California Environmental Quality Act

In 2013, PCL anticipated the efforts by development interests drastically weaken the California Environmental Quality Act and made that issue the focus of our annual Legislative Symposium. This effort united a broad coalition of organizations and citizens defeated attempts to eliminate the public’s right to learn of a project’s environmental impact prior to its approval. 

San Clemente Dam Removal

PCL spent more than a decade of work to build partnerships with citizen groups, government agencies and private companies to remove the San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River north and just inland of the spectacular Big Sur coastline. The ground was finally broken on this, the largest dam removal project in California history. PCL helped the California Water Company develop a funding stream that will support the restoration of this once vibrant Steelhead spawning ground.

The Delta Consensus Project

The San Francisco Bay-Delta is the largest estuary on the west coast and is a half-century old battleground between farmers, water exporters, hunters, fishermen, boaters and conservationists. Only 5% of the original wetlands remain and we continue to work hard to protect what is left. Little is agreed upon, but PCL established a facilitated negotiation among the Delta’s stakeholders’ and over 50 projects with a budget of over $1 billion was agreed upon.

Require Groundwater Sustainability Plans in California – SB 1168 (Pavley)

After decades of inaction and assisted by a serious drought, California finally established rules to prevent the over-pumping of groundwater and established a timetable to sustainably manage groundwater basins. This landmark legislation, a long time goal of PCL’s,  will begin a process where sustainably managed groundwater basins can be used as a reserve source of water during dry years. Currently, many groundwater reserves are significantly over drafted by agricultural users in all but the wettest years, leaving no reserves when most needed during drought years.

Proposition 1  –  A $7 billion Water Bond

Proposition 1 authorized $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply projects, with an emphasis on PCL supported regional water supply solutions, including stormwater capture, water reuse system, groundwater management, and conservation. It also included a poorly worded section on new storage projects that favor several new surface supply projects even if those projects cannot cost-effectively compete with other more environmentally friendly solutions. PCL will work to prevent these inappropriate projects from being approved.

Promote Stormwater Capture as an Important New Water Supply Source 

Industrial scale stormwater capture is a largely untapped source of new water for Californians. SB 985 (Pavley) was passed with strong PCL support to tap this little used new water source. PCL board member Esther Feldman is actively involved promoting L.A. river stormwater capture projects that have the potential to equal the water imported to L.A. from northern California. This bill requires a stormwater resource plan (SRP) to identify and prioritize stormwater and dry weather runoff capture projects for implementation in a prescribed quantitative manner and to prioritize the use of lands or easements in public ownership for stormwater and dry weather runoff projects. 

Passage of SB 350 — Climate Goals for 2030 & 2050

SB 350 (León & Leno) was a PCL Priority and it requires California utilities to produce 50% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and it requires California to double the energy efficiency of our buildings in the same time period. These 2030 requirements give utilities, government, and the private sector time to make thoughtful, cost-effective decisions that will protect our environment and create green jobs that will strengthen California’s future economic growth. This legislation will also influence the results of the International Climate discussions in Paris.

2016 – 2019

Proposition 9 – Keeping California Together

Proposition 9 was an initiative proposed by Tim Draper to split California into three states. PCL asked for a direct review in the California Supreme Court to withdraw this initiative from the November 2018 ballot. PCL argued that the essential “gutting” or “revision” of the California Constitution could not be done by initiative measure and was the sole petitioner against this measure. On July 18, the California Supreme Court, without further argument, ordered that the Draper Initiative immediately be removed from the November ballot. PCL is proud to have played an important role in preventing the needless expenditure of resources to fight a flawed initiative and to avoid the possible passage of an initiative that would have caused chaos in California for years to come.

Proposition 68 – Keeping California Green

PCL joined the statewide campaign to promote the passage of Proposition 68. Prop 68 offered $1.5 billion for conserving habitats and increasing California’s
resiliency to climate change, $1.3 billion for smart water projects, and another $1.3 billion for parks. The goal of the bond was to help address environmental justice concerns by funding parks to improve accessibility and funding water projects to provide clean water to all. PCL actively campaigned on this issue to raise awareness of the California voters of this bond and encourage all to vote Yes. Proposition 68 appeared on the June 2018 ballot and passed by a 57% vote.

National Policy – Environmental Wins in DC

PCL in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has worked on promoting various environmental policy in the national congress. The most recent and notable victory has been the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This fund had contributed to projects designed to improve and expand national parks and wilderness areas all across the country. The Fund expired in September 2018 and PCL worked to get California representatives on board to support the new version of LWCF that would not require yearly authorization. This new version successfully passed in January 2019. Aside from LWCF, PCL has also worked on supporting green biofuels through promoting the GREENER Fuels Act and worked to generate more funding for wildlife through the Restoring America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). PCL will continue working with the NWF to ensure that the federal government continues to have environmental policy on its agenda.