The Sohagi Law Group

Practice Areas and Representative Clients

Clean Air and Climate Change
Land Use Planning
Public Infrastructure
Sustainable Planning and Development
Sensitive Resources, Endangered Species, Wetlands, Coastal Act, Habitat Conservation Planning
Water Quality
Water Supply, Storage and Conservation
Inverse Condemnation
Growth Management
Municipal Finance: Impact Fees, Rates, Charges, Assessment Districts, Mello-Roos and Integrated Financing District Act
Land Purchase and Acquisition Contracts
First Amendment/Adult Uses and Regulation of Religious Institutions
Initiatives, Elections and Public Records Act
Memoranda of Understanding
Settlement Negotiations and Mediations
Federal and State Budgeting and Legislative Process

SLG provides expert advice on conducting environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") and the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"). We advise our clients throughout the environmental review process — from initial project application to final approval — to ensure that sensitive environmental issues are handled appropriately. We work with our clients to produce a legally adequate review document and minimize litigation risk, while being sensitive to local stakeholders. The Firm interfaces with public agency staff members and consultants to ensure that all facets of a project are properly addressed and that in-house expertise is maximized. Should the need arise, SLG has significant experience in CEQA and NEPA litigation.
The Firm has worked on a wide range of projects, including large public infrastructure projects such as the Los Angeles Airport Master Plan projects, the Port of Los Angeles expansion projects, the Port of San Diego Airport Master Plan project, and complex transmission line projects for the California Public Utilities Commission. The firm has also worked with clients on regional infrastructure plans, large mixed use projects, residential projects, coastal bluffs, specific plans, hillside ordinances, light rail projects, sensitive lands, deep pit mining, landfills, rehabilitation and neighborhood conservation regulations. SLG attorneys have drafted and revised local CEQA guidelines, thresholds of significance, and CEQA mitigation monitoring plans.
Clean Air and Climate Change ˆ
Clean air is one of the most important environmental issues facing public agencies today, and SLG has the expertise necessary to help our clients develop effective, efficient solutions to problems they face in this area. In order to provide clients with the best advice, SLG closely follows the development of federal, state and local standards for criteria pollutants, emissions analysis, health risk assessments, air quality modeling, and air quality environmental justice issues. SLG regularly advises clients regarding compliance with the federal Clean Air Act and its regulations, including the conformity requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 7506. SLG also advises clients on California's air pollution laws, including the California Clean Air Act of 1988, the Lewis-Presley Air Quality Management Act, and the Air Toxics "Hot Spot" Information and Assessment Act of 1987.
SLG stays on the cutting edge of climate change issues, particularly those related to AB 32 and SB 97. We keep our clients up-to-date on constantly evolving legislative, regulatory and judicial guidance on monitoring, reporting, and evaluating greenhouse gas emissions under CEQA and NEPA. In addition to advising clients in evaluating greenhouse gas emissions for their planning initiatives in development projects, the firm helped negotiate a MOU with the California Attorney General regarding greenhouse gas mitigation and monitoring at the Port of Los Angeles. Margaret Sohagi and Helene Smookler are regularly featured speakers at national and local conferences on the topic of land use planning, environmental review, and climate change.
Land Use Planning ˆ
The Firm draws on its breadth and depth of experience in advising its clients in the complex and often contentious realm of land use planning. Our experience ranges from small, focused zoning amendments to comprehensive, jurisdiction-wide planning initiatives. Whatever the context, our focus is on helping the client achieve its vision, ensuring compliance with state and federal law, and implementing effective, manageable regulations. SLG advises cities and counties in developing and updating General Plans and Specific Plans, and has successfully represented cities and counties defending their General and Specific Plans in mediation and litigation. The Firm has worked with the following agencies on their planning projects:
  • City of Chula Vista: General Plan update CEQA review
  • County of Los Angeles: Drafting amendments to Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan
  • County of Monterey: General Plan update drafting and CEQA review.
  • County of Marin: General Plan update and CEQA review
  • County of Tulare: General Plan update and CEQA review
Public Infrastructure ˆ
With its focus on land use and public agency clients, SLG is particularly well positioned to assist in the development of a full range of public infrastructure projects. The Firm is familiar with every aspect of the public project development process, from funding mechanisms, to planning, to environmental review, and implementation. Each of these stages involves a host of laws, regulations, and rules, and SLG is well equipped to guide its clients through the process. The Firm regularly works with clients in implementing their Capital Improvements Programs, interfacing with public employees, consultants, and construction managers, and state, federal and local permitting agencies along the way.
The Firm has worked with public agencies in developing their public infrastructure projects:
  • Los Angeles County
  • The California Public Utilities Commission
  • Los Angeles World Airports
  • The Port of Los Angeles
  • City of Encinitas
Sustainable Planning and Development ˆ
State and local agencies are experiencing increased pressure to implement sustainable development projects and land use planning. SLG works with clients to meet their planning and development goals while also preparing for the future. In particular, the passage of SB 375 in 2008 has put a renewed focus on sustainable land use planning. The Firm monitors the implementation of SB 375 in order to assist our clients in taking advantage of its incentives and maximizing benefit from sustainable land use planning.
Sensitive Resources, Endangered Species, Wetlands, Coastal Act, Habitat Conservation Planning ˆ
SLG regularly advises clients on the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, the California Coastal Act and matters relating to environmentally sensitive habitats. The Firm works closely with wildlife agencies and provides in-house CEQA training to the California Department of Fish and Game. Ms. Sohagi worked with the San Diego Association of Governments on the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan and related EIR/EIS for the seven jurisdictions comprising North San Diego County. The Firm advises several jurisdictions on matters involving the California Coastal Act and related California Coastal Commission procedures.
Water Quality ˆ
The Firm oversaw legal analysis and management of one of the first MTBE contamination lawsuits against a major oil company. Ms. Sohagi retained and managed outside legal counsel and technical experts and provided legal advice and oversight of all aspects of the case. This included a factual analysis of all MTBE sites, viable causes of action, theories of recovery and appropriate clean-up standards. As District Counsel, Ms. Sohagi assisted the Cambria Community Services District's technical team on plume delineation, replacement water investigation, cost recovery and remediation techniques.
Water Supply, Storage and Conservation ˆ
The Firm assists its clients across a range of water supply-related matters. The Firm has worked on development of a 6,250 square foot desalination plant, assisted with advisory ballots and public outreach programs, interfaced with permitting agencies such as State Parks and California Coastal Commission, and assisted the Cambria Community Services District in obtaining $10 million federal allocation for a desalination program. SLG regularly advises clients on compliance with Water Supply Assessment requirements (SB 610 and SB 221). SLG's attorneys have drafted emergency water conservation programs including grounds for Stage 1, 2 and 3 Water Conservation Programs pursuant to Water Code section 11350. The Firm has also drafted various drought protection and water storage policies, including mandated use of cisterns for large lot developments.
Inverse Condemnation ˆ
SLG has successfully defended inverse condemnation actions and regulatory takings claims for cities, counties, and public districts. The Firm defended the City of Glendale in a takings challenge seeking a writ of mandate, damages, and declaratory relief stemming from alleged delays in the City's completion of an Environmental Impact Report. SLG also represented the City of Riverside in takings challenges to the City's growth management measure and General Plan.
Growth Management ˆ
SLG advises clients on growth management measures and initiatives, including drafting and environmental review of growth management measures. The Firm advised the City of Chula Vista in amending its growth management plan and implementing building caps, and defended the City of Oceanside's growth management initiative in court.
Housing ˆ
SLG advises cities and counties on California's requirements for affordable housing development and assists clients with development of projects to meet those requirements. The Firm also advises its clients in developing General Plan housing elements that comply with the Government Code, and defends housing elements in litigation and mediation. SLG advised the City of Oxnard in development of an affordable housing project and defended the City of Oceanside's managed growth ordinance as it related to affordable housing.
Municipal Finance: Impact Fees, Rates, Charges, Assessment Districts, Mello-Roos and Integrated Financing District Act ˆ
The Firm has designed, implemented and defended capital financing systems, both of a traditional nature (i.e., impact fees, rates, charges, and assessment districts), as well as less commonly utilized systems (i.e., Integrated Financing District Act, San Marcos Legislation). Ms. Sohagi is co-author of Exactions and Impact Fees in California: A Comprehensive Guide to Policy, Practice and the Law with William Abbott, Peter Detwiler, Thomas Jacobson, and Harriet Steiner.
Land Purchase and Acquisition Contracts ˆ
The Firm has worked on numerous land purchase and acquisition contracts. Ms. Sohagi provided legal counsel for the public acquisition of almost 400 acres of coastal bluff lands known as the "East West Ranch" in Cambria, California. Ms. Sohagi advised on appraisal reports, environmental assessments, water rights issues and drafted conservation easements, the land purchase contract and escrow instructions. Now permanently conserved as open space, the $11.1 million acquisition was heralded by federal, state and local officials.
The Firm also represented the City of Glendale in the acquisition of 238 acres in the Verdugo Mountains, and was extensively involved in negotiating the $150 million acquisition by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in the Glendale transaction. Ms. Sohagi is co-author of Funding Open Space Acquisition Programs: A Guide for Local Agencies in California, Institute for Local Government, 2005.
First Amendment/Adult Uses and Regulation of Religious Institutions ˆ
The Firm has extensive experience advising and representing clients in matters involving regulation of adult-use businesses and religious institutions. SLG assisted the City of Pleasant Hill in drafting an adult use ordinance and represented the City in defense of the ordinance in Court as well as in amortization hearings, a task force on adult use, enforcement actions, and settlement negotiations. SLG has also advised the cities of Rolling Hills Estates, Vista, and El Monte regarding the expansion of churches and applications for development of religious institutions.
Initiatives, Elections and Public Records Act ˆ
SLG counsels public agencies in drafting, defending, and implementing voter initiatives on land use, planning, and environmental matters. The Firm has also advised agencies in handling adverse referenda petitions. SLG assisted the San Diego Association of Governments in drafting a successful sales tax ballot initiative for funding transportation infrastructure. The Firm also successfully defended the Cambria Community Services District in a challenge to its capital facilities initiative.
Memoranda of Understanding ˆ
As District Counsel for Cambria Community Services District, Ms. Sohagi oversaw numerous Memoranda of Understanding ("MOUs") including an agreement with a neighboring water district regarding water supplies and infrastructure. Additionally, many of the transactional and litigation matters handled by Ms. Sohagi are successfully settled through negotiations which are memorialized in MOUs. Ms. Smookler has negotiated, drafted and implemented a significant number of environmental and land use MOUs involving air quality, water, transportation, and homeless persons. The firm helped negotiate a MOU with the California Attorney General regarding greenhouse gas mitigation and monitoring at the Port of Los Angeles.
Settlement Negotiations and Mediations ˆ
The Firm prides itself on resolving issues through settlement negotiations and mediation. Ms. Sohagi has represented clients in numerous settlements. She has also served as a mediator in a complex endangered species dispute, San Bernardino Audubon Society v. Metropolitan Water District (2001) 109 Cal.Rptr.2d 108. Ms. Smookler is a trained mediator, specializing in large complex public policy disputes. She has recently been retained to mediate issues between the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Coalition to Preserve Open Reservoirs. Her mediation of jurisdictional and water quality issues involving the counties of Imperial and Riverside and the Coachella Water and Imperial Irrigation Districts resulted in the creation of the Salton Sea Authority.
Ms. Smookler is Adjunct Professor of Public Policy Dispute Resolution at the University of Southern California, Graduate School of Policy Planning and Development. Ms. Smookler has provided mediation training for local public officials (elected officials and staff).
Federal and State Budgeting and Legislative Process ˆ
The Firm frequently takes an active role in requesting financial and legislative assistance from state and federal agencies and elected officials. As Director of Government Affairs for SCAG for three years, Ms. Smookler was responsible for all federal and state legislative activities, including drafting of legislation and oversight of Sacramento and Washington D.C. lobbyists. Ms. Sohagi has numerous contacts in Sacramento at the various regulatory agencies including the Department of Fish & Game, State Parks, the Department of Health Services, and Assembly and Senate offices and committees. These contacts have been useful in obtaining funding for remediation efforts and legislative amendments.