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 cost recovery claims under state and federal statutes (including CERCLA, RCRA, HSAA), environmental toxic tort claims, common law claims (nuisance, trespass), and contractual indemnity claims;
  • Compliance with state and federal environmental regulations pertaining to hazardous materials and waste, water quality, and air quality.
  • 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 actions by US EPA, the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), and Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs);
  • Investigation and remediation of contamination (including petroleum, perchlorate, PCBs, metals, and PCE and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs));
  • 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 city’s recently adopted specific plan.
  • 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).
  • 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 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 trial and appellate court proceedings 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).
  • 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 federal district court and Ninth Circuit proceedings in cost recovery litigation (Polanco Redevelopment Act, 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).
  • Advised southern California municipality concerning strategy for remediation of petroleum and VOCs at redevelopment site, including preparation of feasibility study and remedial action plan under supervision of DTSC.
  • Negotiated consent decrees in a number of Clean Water Act citizen suits alleging violations of the storm water industrial general permit.  Clients included a metal recycling facility, a landfill, two waste transfer stations, an electronics recycler, and two auto dismantlers.
  • 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, 2014-2018
  • Best Lawyers in America©, Litigation-Environmental, 2018-2019
  • Phi Beta Kappa

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