With the easing of pandemic restrictions, California communities are again facing familiar challenges - concerns of how to reduce traffic, increase housing, share resources and protect the environment have reappeared on the public stage. On Friday, Jan. 27, UCLA Extension hosted leaders addressing these challenges at its 37th Annual Land Use Law and Planning Conference in the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Though the event is long-standing in the urban planning, real estate development and legal professional communities, this year was the first in-person event since the pandemic, welcoming more than 170 people to hear about the changes to law and practice.

“You can feel the energy in the room,” says Stephen Mucher, department director for education, humanities and social sciences at UCLA Extension. “There is enthusiasm to be back. You see peers networking with each other for the first time in two or three years.”

Mucher and his team at UCLA Extension planned the event with conference co-chairs Alisha Winterswyk, partner at Best Best & Krieger LLP; David Smith, partner with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; and Matthew Burris, deputy city manager for community and economic development for the City of Rancho Cucamonga.

Among the attendees were four student scholars and one faculty member who were honored with the Donald G. Hagman scholarship, covering the conference fees and providing a networking breakfast with the conference chairs. The conference, Mucher said, prioritizes networking and support for students and early career professionals as they develop their knowledge in the field.

“It has been a really great opportunity to dive into a world I haven’t had much exposure to,” said Thomas Lenihan, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student attending the conference on a scholarship.

The conference featured several panels, as well as a lunch and networking event. The ballroom was packed; all seats filled with late arrivals standing in the back until more chairs were added. During breaks, attendees would move around and chat, or step into the lobby for a phone call.

Melissa Telles, deputy city attorney for the City of Simi Valley, said that this was the first time she had attended the event, but she was impressed with the panels scheduled for the conference. In her position, Telles said, she will likely need to attend planning meetings and the conference gave her some background she will need.

This year’s event was themed around the environment, with several updates on the California Environmental Quality Act, the Brown Act and other environmental regulations. This, Mucher said, is due to the importance of sustainability initiatives and focus on the state of California.

Alice Patino, mayor of Santa Maria, is a repeat attendee. She has noticed regulatory changes at the state level that impact the building and development her city can accomplish. She found the information shared at the conference accessible even without a background in law or planning.

“All of this affects our community,” she said. “The housing and the impacts – I need to know more about land use and zoning.”

For more information, visit the Land Use Law and Planning Conference website.