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An Interview with the New Executive Director of BCDC: Larry Goldzband

By Jon Welner
On July 20, Lawrence J. Goldzband was appointed Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

BCDC is a state regulatory agency created in the 1960s to ensure the environmental protection and responsible economic development of San Francisco Bay. It has permit authority over all development in the Bay and within 100 feet of the shoreline, including the development of all ports and marine facilities. In recent years, BCDC has taken a leadership role in preparing the Bay Area for the effects of sea-level rise resulting from global climate change.

We recently sat down with Mr. Goldzband to discuss his perspective on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Jon Welner: The prior Executive Director held the position for 17 years–that’s a long time for any institution to be under the same leadership. What challenges will you face as the first new leader of BCDC since the mid-1990s? What will change, and what will stay the same?

Larry Goldzband: Will Travis’ tenure at BCDC was a success by any measure, and the Bay and BCDC both flourished during that period. I think that our challenges now are both internal and external. Change at the top in any organization provides challenges of all types. My challenge is to work with my colleagues to discover and enhance what works, identify and improve what needs to be changed, and do so while keeping BCDC at the forefront of important policy debates, such as those surrounding climate change, the conservation of resources, and appropriate development. I’ve told my colleagues that 2013 won’t look like 2012, but that I can’t predict exactly how. We’re about to start a newly-energized strategic planning process that will help guide us and make sure that we understand what those changes should be.

JW: What are your top priorities for the coming year?

LG: One of my top priorities is to utilize BCDC’s Commissioners more fully. Our commissioners and alternates are an incredible asset–as locally elected officials, as representatives from our policy partners such as the federal EPA, CalTrans, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (to name a few), and as independent voices who love the Bay and want to ensure the Bay Area’s economic future–and we know that they can provide incredible guidance for us and our stakeholders. Another priority is to ensure that BCDC’s policy, permitting, and enforcement functions work together–and work with our partners–from the beginning of projects, and guarantee that we make substantial progress on critical issues such as sediment management.

JW: BCDC has been a leader on the issues of climate change and sea-level rise. Last
year, BCDC amended the SF Bay Plan to address these issues, generating concern in some quarters that BCDC is seeking to increase its power over development in the Bay Area. What do you think BCDC’s role should be in helping to address climate change and sea-level rise, especially in areas outside of its jurisdiction? How will BCDC work with local governments and institutions on this issue?

LG: I and other BCDC Commissioners said more than once during the Bay Plan amendments process that we must be more effective in reaching out to, providing assistance for, and working with local governments. A major goal of mine is to conduct much of that outreach personally. And we shall work with our policy partners such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to collaborate with the Bay Area’s local government bodies–counties, cities, special districts, etc.

JW: Do you think that BCDC is currently sufficiently friendly to business? Sufficiently protective of the environment? What will you do to improve its performance in each of these areas?

LG: I agree with Will Travis who says that the most important word in BCDC is “and.” Our mission is both to conserve and protect the Bay and its resources, AND to ensure that its economic power can be harnessed to benefit all of our neighbors. On any given issue, BCDC has the opportunity to satisfy everybody, nobody, or some portion of the stakeholder community. BCDC does a balancing act–we insist on following state law, and there are no magic formulas in the legislation or regulations. Perhaps the best way that we can improve our performance is to be as consistent, transparent, and creative as possible.

JW: Before we conclude, I have to ask: what do you think of the proposal to build a new Warriors arena on the Bay? What are the key challenges and issues that must be addressed?

LG: Jon, you are making me feel like a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court – I can’t comment on a case that might come to me! That being said, our staff already is communicating with the State Lands Commission and San Francisco City and Port staffs about possible approaches to whatever the project might become.

Jon Welner is a partner in JMBM’s Government, Land Use, Environment and Energy (GLUEE) Department in San Francisco, and a planning commissioner for the Town of Tiburon. Contact Jon at or 415.984.9656.

JMBM represents clients in all aspects of development. We have experience and relationships that enable us to effectively represent clients in matters before all government agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area, including cities and counties; BCDC; the Ports of San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond; the Coastal Commission; the State Lands Commission; the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and other regulatory agencies.