In 2016, Jared Blumenfeld ’92 got to indulge his love of nature in many unspoiled places while hiking the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
“It was like doing a silent meditation for 4½ months,” the longtime environmental advocate says.
Blumenfeld’s affinity for the outdoors has a fresh focus as secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. He is one of six Berkeley Law alumni to accept posts in the administration of new California Governor Gavin Newsom, joining Chief of Staff Ann O’Leary ’05, Office of Planning and Research Director Kate Gordon ’02, Deputy Legislative Secretary Tam Ma ’11, Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary Eliza Hersh ’05, and Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Chief of Staff Timothy Perry ’06.
At CalEPA, Blumenfeld oversees a $4.6 billion budget and 5,700 employees. Immediate priorities include ensuring access to clean drinking water for more than a million Californians who currently lack it, eliminating single-use plastics, and continuing the state’s robust recycling programs.
“Being able to focus on a forward-looking agenda for California when it comes to the environment … I wasn’t going to turn that down,” says Blumenfeld, who was administrator of the U.S. EPA’s San Francisco regional office in the Obama administration. “What’s at stake is living on a habitable planet.”
At Berkeley Law, he wrote his thesis on the connection between human rights and the environment when few were considering such a nexus. He calls his law school days a “seminal experience that helped me really understand this intersection.”
For O’Leary, joining Newsom’s team meant a pay cut from her position as a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, but the move allowed her to focus her career in public service on a grand scale. The former Berkeley Law lecturer previously served as legislative director to then-Senator Hillary Clinton, for whom she focused on children and family policy. She also was a senior policy adviser for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Leading a staff of 150, O’Leary is expected to help expand early childhood education, a stated priority of Newsom.
She will also help him promote a three-pronged “ambitious agenda” that focuses on making California more affordable; fostering “justice for all” (which included implementing a moratorium on capital punishment in March); and more broadly ensuring an “effective government” that allows the state to counter such challenges as climate change.
“I benefited through getting a tremendous education, including at Berkeley Law,” O’Leary says. “I feel that everybody should be awarded the same opportunities. The innovation we see in our country will only be as good as being able to lift up people and allowing them to thrive.”
O’Leary won the Sax Prize for Clinical Advocacy as Berkeley Law’s most outstanding clinic student in 2005, and she received its Young Alumni Award in 2017.
“Going to law school gave me an opportunity, after doing policy work for a number of years, to really stop and reflect on some of the issues I was working on,” she says. “It also gave me the tools to help further that agenda.”