Our History

All Californians should have the building blocks to thrive -excellent public schools, good jobs, affordable housing, reliable public transportation and quality health care.

Public Advocates Inc. is one of the oldest public interest law firms in the nation. Founded by Robert Gnaizda, J. Anthony Kline, Sid Wolinsky and Peter Sitkin in the fall of 1970, we opened our doors in September 1971 to begin serving the people of California.

We began in part as a reaction to the rigid restrictions on the scope of California Rural Legal Assistance representation and were initially funded with generous support from the Ford Foundation and the Zellerbach Family Foundation. California had a need for a broad-based public interest law firm to address civil rights issues affecting the daily lives of low-income communities and we have been working to fill that need since our first day on the job.

Throughout its history, Public Advocates has engaged in a wide range of
cutting edge legal issues – many of them still at the core of our practice:  

School Finance

Urban Development & Planning

Transportation Policy

Military Base Redevelopment

Language Access

Access to Quality Healthcare

Telecommunications

Climate Justice

Our priorities and tactics are set to not only meet the challenges of the time, but also to have a broad and long-lasting impact.

Public Advocates has always had a strong personality. Over the years we have aimed to retain our independence, feistiness, cutting edge work and innovative legal approaches while building a reputation for genuine and effective collaboration with community partners.

We have also achieved a degree of financial stability, based on a combination of revenue from individual and law firm contributions, foundation grants, state legal services funding, litigation fees, and interest on reserves. We have even added a Sacramento office staffed with policy advocacy and community relations experts to deepen our influence on state policy and coalitions.

Our Early Success

Very early on more than a dozen actions were filed on behalf of clients such as:

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Working at the national, state and regional level, we were best known, initially, for our litigation expertise and success in pursuing innovative legal strategies to protect low-income communities and civil rights.

Our Collaborative Approach

From the beginning Public Advocates recognized the importance of collaboration with clients, communities and ally organizations. Our initial goal in 1971 was that our work would be “with, not just for, our constituents,” and that commitment deepened over time. As we evolved and matured, we developed a distinctive multi-pronged approach to civil rights advocacy incorporating

Public Advocacy

Coalition Building

Communication

Legal Strategies

We recognized that we could be most effective when we created a long term strategy for engagement with a significant policy arena, and generated a legal strategy incorporating alliances, subject area expertise, and implementation and communication plans.

Helping to Launch Advocacy Groups

Public Advocates is proud of having served as an incubator for the launch of numerous significant issue advocacy organizations.

As part of our role in building capacity for communities to engage in public policy advocacy we have helped in creating some  broad based coalitions, including:

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Latino Coalition for a Healthy California

Statewide organization aiming to be the leading organized voice for policies, services and conditions to improve the health of Latinos.

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Greenlining Institute
Envisioning a nation where communities of color thrive and race is never a barrier to economic opportunity.

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HomeBase
Nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to the social problem of homelessness.

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Health Access
Statewide coalition dedicated to insuring universal access to health care in California.

Now in our fifth decade, we continue to challenge the status quo by seeking legal victories and strengthening the voices of low-income communities, pursuing the civil rights that lie at the heart of everyday life.