Donald E. Sobelman

Donald E. Sobelman


Donald E. Sobelman


Don Sobelman is exclusively focused on helping his clients successfully navigate the complexities of environmental law. His practice is multifaceted, embracing enforcement defense and litigation, compliance with environmental and land use regulations, contaminated site cleanup and brownfields redevelopment.  

Don collaborates extensively with technical experts – such as hydrogeologists, toxicologists, and engineers – to ensure that his clients obtain the best advice possible when deciding how to address environmental issues. Whether managing a project to remediate soil vapor or groundwater contamination, litigating responsibility for cleanup costs in trial court or on appeal, or assisting a client in complying with complex environmental regulations, Don has the breadth of experience and depth of knowledge to achieve his client’s goals.

Don's professional expertise includes:

  • Environmental litigation involving state and federal statutes (such as CERCLA, RCRA, CWA, HSAA), complex toxic tort claims, common law claims (nuisance, trespass), and contractual claims;
  • Investigation, remediation, and risk mitigation at contaminated sites involving vapor intrusion and soil/groundwater contamination (including by petroleum,
  • PFAS/PFOS, perchlorate, PCBs, metals, and PCE and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs));
  • Compliance with local, state, and federal environmental regulations pertaining to hazardous materials, hazardous waste, water quality, wetlands, and brownfields sites;.
  • All aspects of the CEQA project review process, including preparation, review, and analysis of exemptions, negative declarations, environmental impact reports, comment letters, and responses to comments;
  • Defense of Clean Water Act citizen lawsuits in federal court, alleging violations of the California General Permit for industrial storm water discharges;
  • Defense of administrative enforcement and penalty actions by US EPA, the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCBs), the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), and Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs);
  • Responding to requests for information/technical reports from USEPA, DTSC, RWQCBs, and CUPAs.
  • Implementing internal investigations and audits, to assess potential/alleged violations of environmental laws and regulations and to inform development of corrective actions, strategy for disclosures and responses to regulators, and options for minimizing potential liability;
  • Advising clients on brownfields redevelopment and related liability, remediation, and permitting issues.
  • Conducting due diligence regarding environmental liabilities associated with real estate transactions and development agreements, and negotiating and drafting contract provisions to resolve such issues;
  • Development and approval of land use plans and entitlements, including specific plans, zoning amendments, general plan amendments, and conditional use permits;
  • Litigation under CEQA and the California Planning and Zoning Law;
  • Development and implementation of document retention policies, both prior to and during litigation; and
  • Appellate proceedings in state and federal court, including writ review, interlocutory appeals, and appeals from final judgments.


  • Represent major defense contractor with respect to ongoing investigation and remediation of perchlorate and energetics in soil and groundwater at armaments testing facility, under supervision of Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
  • Represent Bay Area municipality in negotiations with responsible party concerning remediation of 86-acre former industrial site, under DTSC oversight, to accommodate shoreline residential development, open space, and R&D uses specified in new specific plan. Drafted environmental provisions of specific plan.
  • Represent client with respect to development of corrective action plan to address benzene vapor intrusion issues associated with historical release of petroleum to groundwater, under oversight of Alameda County Department of Environmental Health.
  • Advise Bay Area client regarding investigation and remediation of environmental conditions at former firearms range, focused on lead, other metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
  • Represent numerous clients with respect to investigation, remediation, and risk mitigation at contaminated sites posing vapor intrusion issues from chlorinated solvents, such as PCE and TCE, under oversight of Regional Water Quality Control Boards.
  • Advise Bay Area client with respect to implementation of TSCA-compliant PCB remediation to levels allowing for unrestricted use, to facilitate sale and redevelopment of property for residential and other uses.
  • Represented commercial property developer throughout project approval and CEQA process for 18-acre shopping center, and successfully defended project in both trial and appellate courts against suit challenging project’s environmental impact report and its consistency with the City of Modesto general plan. Naraghi Lakes Neighborhood Preservation Association v. City of Modesto, 1 Cal. App. 5th 9 (2016).
  • Conducted internal investigation for California client related to USEPA enforcement action for unpermitted filling of several acres of wetlands. Responded to USEPA request for information under Clean Water Act section 308(a) and negotiated administrative order on consent providing for mitigation and minimal penalty.
  • Defended Fortune 50 aerospace company in state-law (HSAA/nuisance) cost recovery action brought by a large southern California water district concerning aquifer contamination by TCE and other VOCs.
  • Defended major California recreational facility/resort against CUPA enforcement action alleging violations of hazardous materials business plan regulations, underground and aboveground storage tank regulations, and hazardous waste generator regulations. Negotiated settlement resulting in reduction of proposed penalty by over 70 percent, without any admission of liability.
  • Defended a potentially responsible party, sued on a successor liability theory, in a CERCLA/RCRA cost recovery action brought by a southern California municipality over perchlorate contamination in groundwater used as drinking water; negotiated consent decree resolving claims.
  • Represented former owners of East Bay property contaminated by PCE and other VOCs in Regional Water Quality Control Board enforcement proceedings, and succeeded in having clients removed from site cleanup order.
  • Acted as lead counsel for CEQA lead agency City of Sunnyvale in (1) development and approval of EIR for a multi-million dollar transportation infrastructure project, and (2) defense of City in litigation resulting in key decision on selection of a baseline for environmental impacts analysis.  Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Ass’n. v. City of Sunnyvale City Council, 190 Cal.App.4th 1351 (2010).
  • Conducted time-sensitive internal investigation for large industrial client in Southern California, following internal discovery of filling in area potentially constituting regulated wetlands under state/federal law. Avoided any penalty or enforcement action by voluntarily reporting incident, promptly implementing removal action, and conducting enhanced training of facility staff.
  • Defended major California oil and gas production company in citizen suit regarding storm water management at a 4,000+ acre oil and gas field utilizing hydraulic fracturing technologies.
  • Represented Silicon Valley municipality in negotiating and implementing the environmental remediation requirements, and related cost-sharing and indemnification provisions, in a development agreement for a major mixed-use project.
  • Represented several companies that owned and operated a former wood treating facility in the Central Valley, in a lawsuit brought by more than 2,000 plaintiffs alleging personal injuries and property damage resulting from exposure to hexavalent chromium in air and drinking water. Abarca v. Franklin County Water District, 761 F.Supp.2d 1007 and 813 F.Supp. 2d 1199 (E.D. Cal. 2011).
  • Represented defendants in district court and Ninth Circuit proceedings in cost recovery litigation (including nuisance and trespass claims) arising from petroleum and metals contamination. Redevelopment Agency of the City of Stockton v. BNSF Railway Co., 643 F.3d 668 (9th Cir. 2011).
  • Conducted enviromental due diligence for acquisition of petroleum product distribution company with portfolio of  properties, including contaminated properties subject to ongoing regulatory oversight. Drafted and negotiated environmental indemnities and related provisions in purchase documentation.
  • Negotiated consent decrees in a number of Clean Water Act citizen suits alleging violations of the California storm water industrial general permit. Clients included a metal recycling facility, a landfill, two waste transfer stations, an electronics recycler, two auto dismantlers, and a large food manufacturing facility.
  • Successfully defended major aerospace company against toxic tort claims in trial court and appellate litigation, resulting in decision limiting application of component parts doctrine. Maxton v. Western States Metals, 203 Cal.App.4th 81 (2nd Dist. 2012).

Professional, Community And Pro Bono Involvement

  • California Bar Association, Section on Environmental Law, 1997-1999 and 2004-present
  • Bar Association of San Francisco, Environmental Law Section, 2004-present
  • Association of Environmental Professionals, 2015-present
  • Pro bono representation of South Valley Islamic Center in ongoing CEQA and permit process for the Cordoba Center, a 16-acre project in San Martin including a mosque, community center, and cemetery, 2012-present

Honors And Rankings

  • Super Lawyers, Northern California Super Lawyer, Environmental Litigation, 2014-2019
  • Best Lawyers in America©, Litigation-Environmental, 2018-2019
  • Phi Beta Kappa

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