Michael H. Zischke



Mike has practiced land use and environmental law for 34 years, and is recognized for his extensive knowledge in California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) litigation and compliance. He co-authored the two-volume treatise Practice Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the CEQA treatise most often cited by California courts, which was first published in 1993, has been updated every calendar year since, and is now in its second edition. He is recognized in numerous publications as one of the leading environmental and land use lawyers in California, and he has been named as one of the top 100 Northern California lawyers for the last ten years.

Unparalleled Experience In Land Use And Environmental Law

Mike represents businesses and public agencies which are navigating California's permitting and environmental impact review processes with the goal of obtaining approval of development projects and plans, and associated environmental impact reports. He also represents businesses and agencies in defending project approvals against land use and environmental lawsuits challenging those approval decisions. 

Supreme Court, Appellate, And Trial Court Litigation Throughout California

Mike has represented clients in land use and environmental cases at all levels of the California courts and throughout the state. He has defended projects approvals against challenges under CEQA, the Planning and Zoning Law, and the initiative and referendum provisions of the Elections Code. He has litigated projects from the North Coast redwood forests to the Sierras to the Colorado River and desert highlands, in addition to downtown and suburban development.

Mike also has substantial experience in negotiating and settling land use disputes, and has reached favorable settlements in numerous matters, including port developments, aggregate and hard rock mines, planned residential communities, and environmental cleanups. He regularly represents clients in both mediations and in private settlement negotiations.

Environmental Impact Compliance And Litigation

Mike has a particular specialty in environmental impact reviews under CEQA and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and frequently handles cutting edge CEQA cases. He defended and successfully settled the first CEQA lawsuit over greenhouse gas emissions, the California Attorney General's challenge to the San Bernardino County general plan. He later worked with the County in formulating the greenhouse gas reduction plan and associated environmental impact report pursuant to that settlement.

State Agency Expertise

In addition to handling entitlement and environmental impact issues in numerous local jurisdictions, Mike has a broad range of experience in handling matters before specialized state agencies. Mike has handled matters before the State Lands Commission, the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission, regional water boards, the California Building Standards Commission, the Coastal Commission, the California Historical Resources Commission, and the California Native American Heritage Commission.

Land Use Ballot Measures And Litigation

Mike also advises clients and litigates in the area of land use ballot measures. This includes both the substantive validity of initiatives and referenda, as well as legal issues relating to ballot arguments and signature-gathering. Mike co-authored the Solano Press 1990 text, Land Use Initiatives and Referenda in California.


University Research Campus. For a national research campus, represented university in formulating and defending environmental impact report for 20-year long range development plan. Legal advice on specific development projects. Prevailed in every CEQA challenge filed over 15-year period.

Alternative Energy Projects. Defended several wind and solar projects in the central valley and desert regions against environmental impact challenges in federal and state court. Assisted project developers with completion of EIR and EIS documents under NEPA and CEQA.

Transmission Lines & Pipelines. Represented proponents of new transmission lines and pipelines in permitting and CEQA review, and in subsequent CEQA litigation successfully defending project approval.

Downtown Master Plans & Projects. Represented public agencies and project applicants in permitting and defending urban master planned projects, including substantial downtown retail and mixed-use projects in Northern and Southern California.

Public Agency CEQA Compliance & Litigation. Represented a variety of cities, counties, and special districts in CEQA compliance and litigation regarding general plans, specific plans, and agency-sponsored projects, including trial and appellate litigation. Projects have included airport and port expansions, rail transit projects, master planned residential projects, and downtown development and redevelopment projects.

Mining Projects. Represented mining clients in valley, foothill, Sierra and North Coast regions in permitting and defending hard rock, terrace and instream mining projects. Successfully settled CEQA litigation challenges, and prevailed in trial and appellate decisions on other projects.

Homebuilders. Represented a variety of homebuilders throughout the state in the permitting and CEQA review for residential development projects. Resolved tribal claims relating to implementation of approved projects. Represent homebuilding organizations in CEQA legislation in Sacramento, and amicus advocacy in appellate courts throughout the state.

In-fill Housing Developments. Advised a number of developers regarding in-fill development, including CEQA review, use of CEQA exemptions, and traffic mitigation and related issues.

Transportation Projects. Represented tribal government in completing the approval, environmental review, and construction of a new interchange to serve tribal lands. Represented local rail authority in preparing EIR for new rail line, and defending EIR at California Public Utilities Commission against legal challenges.

Solid Waste. Represented a variety of landfills and solid waste facilities in local and state permitting for expansions, additional waste streams, and proposed new landfills.

More »

Hospitals and Medical Campus Development. Successfully permitted and defended EIR for new hospital campus in Sonoma County, including defense of land use and CEQA claims. Advised both public and private developers on hospital projects.

Environmental Cleanups. Advised clients on environmental impact reports for major environmental cleanups, including resolution of environmental mitigation claims.

Publications &
Speaking Engagements

Recent Publications

Reported Land Use And Environmental Decisions

California Supreme Court Decisions

Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments, 3 Cal.5th 497 (2017)

Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, xx Cal.5th xx (2017)

California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 62 Cal. 4th 369 (2015)

Tomlinson v. County of Alameda, 54 Cal. 4th 281 (2012)

Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District, 48 Cal. 4th 310 (2010)

Friends of Sierra Madre v. City of Sierra Madre, 25 Cal. 4th 165 (2001)

Court of Appeal Decisions

Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians v. Brown, 220 Cal.App.4th 1416 (2014)

Jones v. Regents of University of California, 183 Cal. App. 4th 818 (2010)

Friends of Riverside’s Hills v. City of Riverside, 168 Cal. App. 4th 743 (2008)

Shea Homes Ltd. Partnership v. County of Alameda, 110 Cal. App. 4th 1246 (2003)

Natural Resources Defense Council v. City of Los Angeles, 103 Cal. App. 4th 268 (2002)

San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City & County of San Francisco, 102 Cal. App. 4th 656 (2002)

Placer Ranch Partners v. County of Placer, 91 Cal. App. 4th 1336 (2001)

Merritt v. City of Pleasanton, 89 Cal. App. 4th 1032 (2001)

Waste Management of Alameda County v. County of Alameda, 79 Cal. App. 4th 1223 (2000)

Speaking Engagements

CEQA Legislation & CEQA Case Law Update, CBIA's 45th Select Conference On Industry Litigation, 11/16/2013 

CBIA's 44th Select Conference On Industry Litigation, 4/21/2013

The California Environmental Quality Act: What's Happening In The Courts And The Legislature, Lambda Alpha Los Angeles Chapter, 2/27/2013

CEQA Update, UCLA Extension, 27th Annual Land Use Law & Planning Conference, 1/10/2013

CEQA Case Law Update 2011-2012, CLE International CEQA Conference, December 2012

CBIA's 43rd Select Conference On Industry Litigation, 11/17/2012

Conference Co-Chair And CEQA Update, Law Seminars International CEQA Conference, 4/30/2012

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plans: Lessons Learned – The San Bernardino County Experience, County Counsels Association Of California, May 2012

The Future Of CEQA At UC Davis Law School CEQA At 40: A Look Back, And Ahead, November 2011

Awards &

Awards & Recognition

  • Who’s Who Legal: Real Estate 2016
  • Legal 500, Land Use/Zoning, 2015
  • Best Lawyers, "Lawyers of the Year," 2012, 2014-2017
  • Best Lawyers, Environmental Law, Land Use and Zoning Law; Litigation-Environmental, Litigation-Land Use & Zoning; & Real Estate Law, 2018; ranked in various categories since 2008
  • Chambers USA, one of California’s leading attorneys in both environmental law and real estate/land use, 2003-2017
  • San Francisco Environmental Litigator of the Year, 2012
  • Northern California Super Lawyers, 2004-2017
  • Top 100 Northern California Super Lawyers, 2007-2017

Professional Affiliations

  • Real Property Advisory Committee, California Continuing Education of the Bar
  • Center for Law, Energy & Environment, Berkeley Law, Founding Member of Advisory Board
  • Lambda Alpha (honorary land economics society)
  • American College of Real Estate Lawyers
  • California Building Industry Association, Select Conference on Industry Litigation
  • San Francisco Lawyers Club, Board of Directors, 2001-2003
  • Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of California, Advisor, 1999-2004; Executive Committee, 1996-1999
  • Ecology Law Research Institute, Founding Member & Secretary, 1983-1999
  • Ecology Law Quarterly, Articles Editor, 1982
  • Legislative Assistant for Energy and Environmental Matters, Representative Bob Carr (D-Michigan) 1977-1979

Community Affiliations

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Oakland, Board of Advisors, 1997-present; Director, 1986-1996;
  • Child Care Law Center, Board of Directors, 1999-2008


Michael Zischke was named the 2017 Litigation – Real Estate “Lawyer of the Year” in San Francisco by The Best Lawyers in America®.

Michael Zischke was named the 2017 Litigation – Real Estate “Lawyer of the Year” in San Francisco by The Best Lawyers... More»

Bar and Court Admissions

  • State Bar of California
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • U.S. District Court for the Central, Northern, and Southern Districts of California


  • J.D., University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), 1982
  • B.A., Dartmouth College, 1977, magna cum laude