Michelle Ouellette brings an in-depth understanding of environmental laws and knowledge of state and federal regulations that help her clients’ projects succeed in California. With more than 25 years of experience, she knows how to effectively and efficiently help cities, counties, special districts, developers and other clients in the private sector to navigate the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and state and federal endangered species laws. A trusted counselor and a successful litigator, Michelle works with her clients to reach their goals of building a project, developing a habitat conservation plan or defending environmental documents in court with a responsive and tenacious approach.
Customized CEQA Counsel
With hundreds of CEQA-related projects across California under her belt, Michelle’s experience reflects both depth and breadth: From a 3,000-unit residential development to major highway improvements to renewable energy projects. She provides customized CEQA counsel, depending on a client’s specific needs for projects that require compliance with the law. Her insight into the nuances of both CEQA and NEPA allows her to take a strategic approach when drafting or reviewing initial studies, negative declarations or environmental impact reports/statements so they not only comply with the law but also avoid problems that can lead to lawsuits. Michelle understands the steps required to take a project through the complicated regulatory process and works frequently with the agencies and regulators who issue the needed permits. In addition, she offers project management and advocates on her clients’ behalf before governmental bodies. Her years of experience coupled with her expertise give clients added confidence that their projects will gain approval and withstand potential legal attacks while minimizing delays and expenses.
Trusted Advisor for Habitat Conservation Plans
Michelle has successfully guided clients through the regulatory hurdles of state and federal endangered species laws, including Section 7 consultation and the creation of habitat conservation plans that protect endangered species while allowing key development to move forward. Her habitat conservation projects have ranged from a 10-acre property that harbors one species to some of the largest plans in the nation. The Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, for example, covers more than 1 million acres and protects nearly 150 species. Her commitment to these projects runs deep as they create open space for species and residents, while clearing the way for important projects and infrastructure to be built. With a proven ability to work with stakeholders and regulating agencies, Michelle is a trusted advisor who helps her clients understand each stage of the process and how the many pieces of such complex plans fit together.
Recognized Legal Practitioner and Scholar
A Daily Journal headline about Michelle once read, “Enough CEQA Wins to Fill a Bucket,” reflecting a string of courtroom victories for her clients. In 2017, the Daily Journal recognized her with the prestigious California Lawyer Attorney of the Year Award for Environmental Law. Her reputation as a successful attorney is so strong that her peers routinely select her for top attorney lists such as Super Lawyers® and Best Lawyers in America®. Locally, she was president of the Riverside County Bar Association. Internationally, she is senior vice chair of the International Bar Association’s Committee on Environment, Health & Safety Law. She first joined BB&K in 1989 as a member of the Environmental Law & Natural Resources practice group, and later was appointed as leader of that practice group. She quickly rose in the ranks to serve six years on BB&K’s Executive Committee, which makes key management decisions for the firm. Michelle has shared her wealth of legal knowledge by teaching classes in environmental law at the University of Southern California and at the University of California campuses in Irvine and Riverside. Additionally, she has authored several articles and frequently lectures on CEQA and endangered species laws.
Michelle lives in Riverside where she continues to improve her California native, drought-tolerant garden. She loves to cook, travel, practice yoga and dabble in creative writing. She is admitted to practice law in the State of California.
University of Southern California Gould School of Law, J.D.
University of California, Santa Cruz, B.A., honors