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Environmental Collections at The Bancroft Library: Legislation and Lawsuits

Overview of Collections

The Bancroft Library collects papers chronicling legislative battles waged by environmental groups for wide-ranging issues such as the preservation of natural spaces, protection of endangered species, nuclear energy safeguards, hazardous material regulation, and water management. Included are campaign materials, research files, and court cases.

In addition, The Bancroft Library holds the papers of various politicians such as state governors, senators, and congressmen, many with ties to California and the Bay Area. Within their collections are a variety of legislative files on environmental issues.

Land Cases

In 1851 the U.S. Congress passed "An Act to Ascertain and Settle Private Land Claims in the State of California," which required all holders of Spanish and Mexican land grants to present their title for confirmation before the Board of California Land Commissioners. Land from titles not confirmed became part of the public domain. This act placed the burden of proof of title on landholders and initiated a lengthy process of litigation that resulted in most Mexican Californians, or Californios, losing their titles.

The confirmation process required lawyers, translators, and surveyors, and took an average of seventeen years to resolve. The resulting court records—the land cases—include petitions, transcripts, witness depositions, materials presented as evidence, other legal documents, and maps. These land cases and accompanying maps have been used extensively in historical ecology studies throughout California to support the development of restoration strategies and management decisions for natural hydrology and habitats.

Land Case Map

Diseño del Rancho San Miguelito : Monterey County, Calif.
Image citation: Maps of private land grant cases of California, Land Case Map D-972, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

John T. Knox

John T. Knox, Democrat, was a California Assembly Member who served from 1960 to 1980, representing California's 11th District. He authored numerous assembly bills, including the McAteer-Petris Act, which established the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission in 1965 as well as the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970.

John Knox AB 2045 File Folder

Assembly Bill 2045 files
Image citation: John T. Knox papers, BANC MSS 81/58, Carton 1, Folder 5, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

David E. Pesonen

David E. Pesonen was an environmental activist, lawyer, and judge in the San Francisco Bay Area. After graduating from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, he began work at a San Francisco law firm and became involved in the anti-nuclear movement. He was elected chairman of Californians for Nuclear Safeguards and was one of the authors of Proposition 15, an unsuccessful 1976 ballot initiative to restrict nuclear power production in California. He was, however, involved in the successful opposition of proposed nuclear power plants near Bodega Bay, in Sonoma County, and Point Arena in Mendocino County. Pesonen also served as the director of the UC Berkeley Department of Forestry from 1979 to 1982.

Page from Bodega Bay Project Photo Album

Page from Bodega Bay Project Photo Album
Image citation: David E. Pesonen papers, BANC MSS 98/133, Carton 16, Folder 6, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Sierra Club

The Sierra Club California Legislative Office, located in Sacramento, began its work in the late 1960s. It was one of the first offices established to work strictly on state-level environmental legislation. The staff consists of a state director, legislative representatives, the editor of the Sierra Club California Legislative Agenda newsletter, and a fundraising coordinator. Some of the early successes under the leadership of John Zierold include the legislation that created the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the California State Solid Waste Management Board.

The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (SCLDF) was established in San Francisco in 1971, with funding from the Ford Foundation and the Sierra Club Foundation. Their first major case was against Walt Disney Productions to prevent the establishment of a major ski resort at Mineral King, California. The decade-long campaign to halt the developments, which began with the Sierra Club in 1969, resulted in the addition of Mineral King to Sequoia National Park in 1978. The SCLDF has since been involved in many other landmark environmental law cases throughout the United States, defending federally protected lands and communities from clearcutting, mining, power plants, and hazardous waste. In 1997, the SCLDF changed its name to Earthjustice.

Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund

California - Tulare County Hazardous Waste 1989 Folder
Image citation: Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund Records, BANC MSS 71/296, Carton 8, Folder 26, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Thomas J. Graff

Thomas J. Graff was the western regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), beginning in 1971. An environmentalist and an attorney, he was involved in shaping key legislation concerning water policy, climate issues, and ocean protection. He was instrumental in the passage Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1991, which established a "water market" through which farmers were allowed to sell unused water as an incentive to conserve. He led the campaign against a plan by the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) to tap into the American River. Graff also played a key role in the effort to pass AB32, legislation that requires California to cap its total greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020.

Solutions: Special California Bulletin

Solutions: Special California Bulletin
Image citation: Thomas J. Graff papers, BANC MSS 2009/134, Carton 15, Folder 19, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute

In 1965, the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute (MCLI) was founded in Berkeley, California, with the goal of uniting activists for civil liberties as well as documenting legal strategies for future use. While initially focused on developing legal strategies against the Vietnam War, racism in jury selection, and opposition to school integration, the MCLI rapidly expanded its interests to the defense of all aspects of human rights, including environmental protection to ensure quality of life. The MCLI continues to carry on a wide range of activities, including research, publication, advocacy, and education.

Docket case file request for Seacoast Anti-Pollution League v Costle

Docket case file request for Seacoast Anti-Pollution League v Costle
Image citation: Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute collections, BANC MSS 99/281, Carton 122, Folder 675.4, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley