The Pacific LegalrnFoundationrnby Jim ChristiernOnly a few years ago prospects forrnthe Sacramento-based Pacific LegalrnFoundation, the country’s oldestrn”conservative” public interest law firm,rnhardly seemed promising. In 1986, PLFrnpresident and CEO Ronald Zumbrunrndecided to indulge in deficit spending torncontinue unpopular land use and takingsrnlitigation. The legacy of judicial activismrnfrom the 1960’s and 70’s was alsornhardly conducive to staff morale, recallsrnZumbrun: “Our biggest problem overrnthe years had been that the courts hadrnpresumed government was always correct.”rnThat was, he says, “until Nollan.” hlollanrnV. California Coastal Commission,rnone of the cases for which Zumbrunrnleveraged $300,000 in 1986, went inrn1987 to the United States SupremernCourt, which agreed with PLF that governmentrnagencies could not demandrnproperty as a condition for issuing permits.rn”Any time you lose in the SupremernCourt, it is significant,” says Ralph Faust,rnthe commission’s chief counsel, of therncase. “It changed the way we do business.”rnOthers, noting PLF’s partisan ties, sayrnthe firm was simply in the right place atrnthe right time. “The commission’s leaningrntoward granting permits isn’t sornmuch because of Nollan, but because ofrn[Republican Governors] Deukmejianrnand Wilson” providing conservative appointees,rnsays Oakland sole practitionerrnJoe Brecher, who works on retainer forrnthe Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, arnlongtime PLF opponent. But a winrnmeans precedent. And as Faust says, therncase “raised a lot of money.”rnPLF’s budget today stands at aboutrn$4 million, twice what it was in 1986rnand a quantum leap from the $110,000rnZumbrun launched the firm with inrn1973. And now, coupled with precedentsrnfrom Nollan and its 1992 sisterrncase, Lucas v. South Carolina CoastalrnCouncil, PLF hopes a blitz of amicus filingrnagainst wetlands and endangeredrnspecies regulations will stake out new legalrnterritory for the property rights movement.rnThe opening shot came in Augustrn1993, in Sierra Club v. Kern County,rnwhich is still waiting to be heard. PLFrnsided with the county when the SierrarnClub sought to prevent the state Fishrnand Game Commission from droppingrnthe Mojave Ground Squirrel from itsrnthreatened species list. The proposedrn”delisting,” the first of its kind in thernstate since the Endangered Species Actrnof 1973, would open up considerablernacreage in Kern County for development.rn”Wetlands and endangered speciesrnregulations, although they have beenrnaround for years, have not been developedrnin their full regulatory glory,” explainsrnPLF trustee Thomas May, a partnerrnin the San Diego firm of Luce,rnForward, Hamilton & Scripps. “Everyrntime you see a new regulatory wave,rnthere are more and more property rightsrnactivists.” In other words, more potentialrnclients and donors, which is a boon tornthe property rights movement but whichrnleads opponents to counter that PLF’srnamicus strategy is just marketing fodderrnfor business interests, which will amountrnto little in court if resources and talentrnare not focused. “The extent of their impactrnhas been difficult to tell becausernthey have been involved in so many casesrnindirectly,” says Joel Reynolds, seniorrnattorney in the Los Angeles office of thernNational Resources Defense Council.rnAnd not just involved in land userncases. PLF has fought for term limitsrnand against affirmative action, rent controls,rngays in the military, and state universityrnand bar fees directed to politicalrnactivities. William Rusher, the retiredrnpublisher of National Review and a PLFrntrustee, recalls, “We recently representedrna high school student who wanted to setrnup a Rush Limbaugh Club at school.”rnThe matter was quickly resolved. After arnvisit by PLF attorneys to the governingrnboard of Alcalanes Union High School inrnOrinda, California, student Kurt Busboomrnwon permission to set up the clubrnon campus.rnBut it is land use that pays PLF’s bills.rnAnd with more and more regulations onrnprivate property, PLF, says May, will nornlonger be dismissed as a tool of “rapaciousrndevelopers.” With $4 million inrnthe bank, PLF will surely be able to continuernits work. An image makeover isrnmuch more problematic. Even so, PLFrnhas come far since the dark days beforernNollan. “We have the experience, the legalrnprecedent weapons, and the courtsrnare listening to us,” says Zumbrun. “Werncan do more in the next 20 years than werndid in the past 20 years because we haverna base and a springboard.”rnIndeed, the property rights movementrngained important ground last June whenrnthe United States Supreme Court ruledrnin its favor in a crucial land use and propertyrnrights case in which PLF was namedrnas a friend of the court. In a 5 to 4 decision,rnthe Court in Dolan v. City ofrnTigard placed new limits on the ability ofrngovernments to require developers to setrnaside property for environmental uses.rnWriting for the majority. Chief JusticernRehnquist said, “We see no reason whyrnthe takings clause of the Fifth Amendment,rnas much a part of the Bill of Rightsrnas the First Amendment, should be relegatedrnto the status of a poor relation.”rnTurnabout is fair play, and the officialrnreaction of attorneys in environmentalrngroups echoed the dejection at PLFrncirca 1986. John Echeverria, generalrncounsel of the Audubon Society, calledrnthe ruling “an extraordinary intrusion byrnthe court into the authority of localrngovernment. It elevates the interest ofrnproperty owners over the interest of therncommunity as a whole.”rnJim Christie writes from Seattle,rnWashington.rnFor Immediate ServicernCHRONICLESrnNEW SUBSCRIBERSrnTOLL FREE NUMBERrnChroniclesrnAin’t Freedom Grand. Pt. IIrn1-800-877-5459rnJANUARY 1995/47rnrnrn