February 19, 2013

Our staff commit themselves wholeheartedly to our mission, our clients and the pursuit  of justice. They don’t do it to win prizes – but it is sure is nice when they do.

We’re exceptionally proud that Senior Staff Attorney Sam Tepperman-Gelfant has been named a California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY). The honor recognizes Sam’s counsel to the Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord (CCSC) that led to adoption in January 2012 of a rare and visionary plan for the development of the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

California Lawyer looks for impact in choosing the CLAY Awards. The plan for Concord adopted as a result of CCSC’s work will affect the lives of more than 30,000 people as a facility for the storage of weapons is transformed into a true community embodying principles of equitable smart growth. The notion of integrating housing, jobs, transportation, parks, schools and community services is espoused around the country. But rarely has it been expressed in so complete and harmonious a way as in the plan for Concord:

  • 25 percent of the homes affordable to people with very low and low incomes;
  • 70 percent of the land preserved as parks and open space;
  • Local hire and job training programs; and
  • Dense development clustered near public transit.

Public Advocates aims to give community groups the depth and quality of legal representation that corporations expect when they engage in complicated transactions, planning or litigation. That’s exactly what Sam did here. As Coalition leader Amie Fishman, Executive Director of East Bay Housing Organizations, said:

“We couldn’t have done it without Sam. Having a talented and responsive lawyer with us every step of the way gave us the critical support we needed to maximize our organizing and education efforts and win a reuse plan that will create homes for low-income families for decades to come.”

And speaking of skills, Sam enlisted pro bono help from environmental lawyers specialized in base closure matters from Goodwin Procter’s Boston office.

This accomplishment didn’t happen overnight. For nearly five years, Sam provided legal and strategic advice to CCSC, a broad group of labor, faith-based, neighborhood, affordable housing and environmental organizations committed to making sure the reuse plan for the 5,000 acre site meets the full range of community needs.

And it wasn’t easy. Sam helped this disparate Coalition define a shared vision and move decision makers from their initial focus on sprawling single-family homes to the dramatically different vision put forward by the Coalition. The community-serving features in the reuse plan will be of substantial benefit to residents of the East Bay while serving as a model of equitable suburban infill development statewide.

Sam graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College (2000) and cum laudefrom Harvard Law School (2005). He spent summer 2004 at Public Advocates and returned as a Baker & McKenzie-Equal Justice Works Fellow in 2007. Sam was promoted to staff attorney in 2009 and senior staff attorney in 2012. We know Sam as a treasured colleague who asks exceptionally far-reaching questions, a caring friend, a cellist, and a skilled and generous baker and jam-maker.

With this award Sam joins a rich tradition of excellence and advances a core Public Advocates value of developing the next generation of social justice activists and leaders. His mentor, Richard Marcantonio, himself received a CLAY Award in 2011, and Sam in turn manages our intern program, which brings a dozen or more law students a year to our tiny organization to lay the groundwork for their careers.  Managing Attorney John Affeldt was named an Attorney of the Year twice, once by California Lawyer magazine in 2005, and again in 2010 by The Recorder along with Senior Staff Attorney Tara Kini. Among the other 2013 CLAY winners are Public Advocates co-founder Sid Wolinsky (Disability Rights Advocates) and Pillar (alumnus) Jim Wheaton (First Amendment Project).

Congratulations, Sam!  We’re proud you’re one of us.



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