Personnel Profile: Bruce Reznik

Bruce Reznik is the new executive director of the Planning and Conservation League.

You have so much dedication to the environment cause that you moved from San Diego to Sacramento.
A lot of people ask why. I’m really excited about the move. I’m a native of California, from L.A. originally. I went to school in Berkeley, then law school in San Diego. I spent a year in D.C. doing a master’s in environmental law. I did not finish that, all but the thesis. I did five years of air quality work in L.A., the last dozen doing coastal work in San Diego for San Diego Coastkeeper.

What appealed to me about coming up here and to the Planning and Conservation League specifically was a couple of things. One, I’ve been an environmental advocate my entire life, but also a political junkie. In San Diego, I was very involved in politics. I’m a big-picture guy. I wanted to work where I could have the greatest impact, and I think that’s working on state-level issues. Nationals seem a little intimidating. Certainly Sacramento isn’t the easiest place to get things done, but I feel like I can have a real impact.

The Planning and Conservation League was very appealing. It’s an organization with a rich history of 45 years. It was the first environmental group lobbying in the Capitol. It played a key role in the passage of CEQA, the Coastal Act, a lot of the bond funding that’s happened. I thought it was a great opportunity to set a new direction for PCL.

What is that new direction?

I’m going to throw the caveat out – I started on May 2. Right now we’re operating without a real comprehensive strategic plan. I’m rolling up my sleeves and trying to put it together. I’m still at the low end of the learning curve. But in terms of strategic direction, it may seem naïve or wide-eyed, but I really want to push a holistic and transformative vision for California. I recognize the budget challenges, but I think we need to be looking more comprehensively at land-use planning, transportation planning, water and energy and food production.

In the last 45 years, we have a much more crowded playing field in Sacramento, a lot more environmental groups. I think that provides a tremendous opportunity to work together. In the past, water has been a big issue for PCL. That ranges from the Delta and the state water project, conservation, efficiency, water harvesting, reclamation. The second big component is implementing SB 375 on the ground, the historic law that tells our planning agencies throughout the state we can’t look at boxes anymore. We’ve traditionally done our land-use planning in one box and our transportation planning in another, our economic growth and housing in another. Those boxes all fit together. We need to look at these as a package.

It’s a great law, but there aren’t a lot of teeth in SB 375. It’s going to be incumbent on groups like PCL and others to make sure we actually deliver on what was promised. I’m familiar with the San Diego plan because I was looking at that for a group called Sustainable San Diego after I left Coastkeeper. I don’t think it delivers. It’s a very road-heavy plan. It’s billions of dollars in highway expansion.

We’ve worked a lot on high-speed rail and making sure it has the proper governance and the right routes. I think it could also integrate in this urban core transit commuter rail strategy. Linking the local to the state is really important.

Another thing PCL has done historically is just being a protector of environmental laws, making sure those aren’t weakened and the public still has a say in environmental decisions. That’s still a big priority. PCL hasn’t had a very strong energy platform. A lot of folks are focused on energy. I had a meeting today on that with the folks at Environment California. I don’t think the field is too crowded. It’s a huge issue. And I don’t think you can separate regional planning, land-use planning, water and energy. Those are intertwined.

I think people may forget the “League” part, the last word. It was really founded to be the voice in Sacramento for all those groups and communities that couldn’t afford a lobbyist, who weren’t here in Sacramento, who are throughout the state working on their local issues. We still have a strong league focus, but I’d really like to build the grass roots. I come from working in local issues, and knowing you feel left out in the state debate and the national debate.

We’re having our Coastal Commission conference (June 23). I get the impression a lot of people don’t really understand the commission.
I have worked extensively with the Coastal Commission. I’m Ester Sanchez’s alternate; she’s a councilwoman in the city of Oceanside. It’s usually an agreement between the commission member and the appointing authority, in this case Speaker Perez. This goes back to the Coastal Act, a voter initiative that Peter Douglas [keynote speaker at the conference] and a lot of activists who really had a lot of foresight back in 1972 that recognized that there was such a threat to the coast. Really walling off what makes California so special.

Sara Wan, who just was not reappointed, but a longtime commissioner, said, “If it wasn’t for our coast, California would be Nevada.” You look at other places in the states and internationally where you don’t have those kinds of safeguards, and you really can run that risk of taking a public asset and taking it away. I think it’s been a great agency through the years, certainly not without its faults. You still have a lot of development and a lot of seawalls and a lot of erosion. It really is an agency that operates independently, which is why a lot of people don’t like it. It’s a hard agency to control, but I really think it’s a vital agency. Probably once or twice a year the Coastal Commission is meeting in your community and deciding on issues that are going to impact you.

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