Photo of Deborah M. Rosenthal

Deborah M. Rosenthal

Orange County
T: 714.424.2821
F: 714.428.5932


  • J.D., Yale University, 1981
  • M.R.C.P., University of Oklahoma, 1978
  • B.A., University of Michigan, 1972
  • California
  • Illinois
  • United States Supreme Court
  • USDC, Central District of California
  • California Supreme Court
  • U.S. Court of Federal Claims
  • Supreme Court of Illinois
  • USDC, Northern District of Illinois
Publications & News

Deborah M. Rosenthal, AICP, is a partner in the Real Estate, Land Use and Natural Resources and Environmental Practice Group in the firm's Orange County Office.

Areas of Practice

Ms. Rosenthal devotes her practice to land use and environmental law and litigation.  She primarily represents landowners in complex permitting programs for large private development projects, requiring coordinated approvals at the local, state, and federal levels. Depending on location, these projects involve EIR preparation, drafting of General and Specific Plans, subdivision approvals, wetland or endangered species permitting, negotiation of development agreements, and water availability.

In addition, Ms. Rosenthal has extensive experience with the Coastal Act, the Mitigation Fee Act, the Williamson Act, the National Flood Insurance Program, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. She frequently works with historic preservation, non-conforming uses, easements and agricultural lands, representing private developers and advocacy groups.

  • University of Oklahoma, College of Architecture, Regional and City Planning, Outstanding Alumni (2013)
  • Top Rated Lawyer for Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources by American Lawyer Media (2013)
  • Top Rated Lawyer in Land Use and Zoning by American Lawyer Media (2013)
  • Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Rated Lawyer (current)
  • International Municipal Lawyers Association, Amicus Service Award (2011)
  • Southern California Super Lawyer for Land Use and Zoning (2005 through 2014)
  • California Preservation Foundation Service Award (2002)
  • Jewish Federation of Orange County, Jerusalem Leadership Award (1995)
  • Chamber of Commerce, Calabasas, President’s Individual Community Service Award for Outstanding (1991)

Representative Matters

Coastal Act

  • Defended private landowner in complex litigation challenging land use approvals under CEQA, Coastal Act and Planning and Zoning Laws.
  • Challenged Coastal Commission rejection of locally approved development project.
  • Challenged Coastal Commission approval of Local Coastal Plan Amendment.
  • Represented condominium association in connection with coastal access easement.


  • Represented private landowner in processing 2300-acre project in San Diego County, including EIR preparation.
  • Defended project approvals for 3200-acre project in Santa Barbara County.
  • Represented developer in EIR for 3 million square foot warehouse development in Rialto, California.
  • Represented golf course in amending approvals to use groundwater for irrigation.

Historic Preservation

  • Represented coalition of private property owners in protecting their interests during redrafting of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Ordinance.
  • Represented redeveloper of historic naval shipyard in Vallejo, California.
  • Represented community group challenging proposed amendment to preservation ordinance in Tustin, California.
  • Represented homeowner in a 5-day evidentiary hearing on use of non-conforming historic duplex.
  • Represented Los Angeles Conservancy in connection with proposed changes to Century Plaza Hotel

Endangered Species

  • Represented landowner in Section 7 consultation for gnatcatcher in North San Diego County.
  • Represented landowner in obtaining permits for development of project with 3 endangered and 1 threatened species in Ventura County.
  • Represented landowner in local and resource agency approvals for property with gnatcatcher habitat in North San Diego County.
  • Represented landowner in negotiating fee payment under approved Multi-Species Habitat Plan in Anaheim, California.

General Plan/Specific Plan

  • Represented private landowner in litigation defending General Plan and Zoning Code amendments.
  • Represented landowner obtaining general plan amendments, specific plan and rezoning in Santa Barbara, California.


  • Represented religious fellowship in application for conditional use permits in Santa Barbara County.
  • Represented American Planning Association as amicus in RMC v. Boulder County in Tenth Circuit.
  • Represented International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) as amicus in RM v. Boulder County on petition for certiorari in United States Supreme Court.


  • Represented landowner in litigation establishing abandonment of access easement in Los Angeles County.
  • Represented landowner in negotiations with title company to establish scope of easements over conservation easement property in San Diego County.
  • Negotiated and drafted conservation easements over habitat on behalf of property owners in Ventura and San Diego Counties.
  • Represented lender in claim against title company over condemnation of easement.

Climate Change

  • Defended EIR section addressing Greenhouse Gas Impacts of large industrial project in Riverside County.
  • Defended EIR section addressing Greenhouse Gas Impacts of residential project in Santa Barbara County.
  • Supervising preparation of first EIR section addressing Greenhouse Gas Impacts of large residential project in San Diego County.


  • Author, "Nollan, Dolan, and the Legislative Exception," Planning & Environmental Law, published by the American Planning Association, March 2014
  • Author, "Breaking The Stranglehold of Single-Family Zoning: Strategies and First Steps Toward Modernizing Local Codes," Planning & Environmental Law, published by the American Planning Association, February 2013
  • Author, "Breaking The Stranglehold of Single-Family Zoning," published by ALI-ABA Land Use Institute as part of the ALI-ABA 28th Annual Conference - Chicago, August 2012
  • Author, "Part Two: Non-Conforming Uses," The Commissioner, published by the American Planning Association, Winter 2011
  • Co-Author, "The Next Zoning Battleground: Trends and Challenges in Local Regulation of Medical Marijuana," Zoning Practice, published by the American Planning Association, July 2011
  • Author, "Part One: Non-Conforming Uses," The Commissioner, published by the American Planning Association, Fall 2010
  • Co-Author, "Nonconforming Uses: Amortization, Enlargement, and Rebuilding," The Practical Real Estate Lawyer, published by the American Law Institute / American Bar Association, May 2010
  • Author, "Enough is Enough: Amortization and the End of Uniformity," Planning & Environmental Law, published by the American Planning Association, April 2010
  • Author, "Religion and the Constitution," Religious Land Uses, Zoning and the Courts [Chapter One], RLUIPA Reader, published by the American Bar Association, April 2009
  • Co-Author, "Regulations for Condominium Hotels," Los Angeles Lawyer, published by the Los Angeles County Bar Association, January 2009
  • Co-Author, "NAFTA: Sleeping Giant or Just Sleeping," Urban Land, published by Urban Land Institute, October 2004

Real Estate, Land Use & Environmental Law Blog Posts

Speaking Engagements

  • Deborah has spoken on land use law before the UCLA Public Policy Program, American Planning Association, Zoning Institute, California Preservation Foundation, American Bar Association, California Judicial Conference on Land Use Planning and Regulation and many other professional and civic groups across the country.
  • October 23, 2014, UCI School of Law, Annual Fall Symposium on Emerging Issues in Environmental Law Practice, Harmonizing Marijuana Legalization with Environmental, Land Use, and Other Regulations, Zoning and Local Control of Marijuana Dispensaries.
  • September 15, 2014, American Planning Association – California Chapter, California Annual Conference, Fees and Exactions After Koontz and Creative Mitigation Strategies for Historic Properties.
  • July 24, 2014, Strafford Publications, Inc. webinar, Municipal Infrastructure Funding: Overcoming Legal Challenges with Exactions and Impact Fees – Navigating New Application of Essential Nexus and Relationship Standards, State Law, and Types of Exactions.
  • July 1, 2014, California Preservation Foundation webinar, California Environmental Quality Act, Part 2: CEQA Case Law.
  • June 25, 2014, American Planning Association webinar, 2014 Planning Law Review.
  • June 20, 2014, client presentation, All Wet: Regulating Waters and Wetlands.
  • June 19 and 24, 2014, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter &Hampton LLP presentation, Historic Buildings: Getting Ahead of the Development Curve.
  • April 26-30, 2014, American Planning Association's Annual National Planning Conference, Nollan and Dolan, The Legislative Exception.
  • April 22-25, 2014, California Preservation Foundation, 39th Annual Conference, The Use of Easements to Save the U.S. Post Offices.
  • March 19, 2014, California Preservation Foundation 2014 Workshops - The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Historic Preservation, CEQA and Historic Preservation - CEQA Case Law.
  • March 10, 2014, International Municipal Lawyers Association 2014 Teleconference Series, Comprehensive Plans.
  • October 13-16, 2013, APA Western Planner/Nevada Chapter Annual Conference, Planning Law Update and Talk With the Attorney – Q and A Session to Answer Your Questions About Court Decisions and Their Impact, A Career in Planning Law, and Other Things.
  • October 3-4, 2013, Touro Law Center 40th Anniversary Symposium - The Taking Issue, Partial Takings (Penn Central): Including Character of the Governmental Action and Economic Effects on the Landowner, Including Investment-Backed Expectations.
  • September 26, 2013, 13th Kratovil Conference on Real Estate Law & Practice, The John Marshall Law School Center for Real Estate Law, Local Governments Feel the Heat: Principles for Local Government Adaptation to the Impacts of Climate Change.
  • August 14-16, 2013, ALI-CLE Land Use Institute Conference, updates on (i) Wetlands Law, (ii) Agricultural Preservation/Urban Agriculture, (iii) Historic Preservation-Federal Law, (iv) Endangered Species Act, (v) Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, and (vi) FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program; and presentations on (vii) Comprehensive Planning and (viii) Disaster Planning and Recovery.
  • June 11, 2013, California Preservation Foundation Webinar, Primer on Preservation Law.
  • April 13-17, 2013, American Planning Association's 2013 National Conference, Mixing It Up With Nonconforming Uses, It's Getting Hot In Here, and Paying For It With Exactions and Impact Fees.
  • December 19, 2012, Strafford Webinars & Teleconferences, Local Land Use: Recent Developments in Federal Laws, Regulations and Programs regarding (i) Hazardous Materials - CERLA and RCRA, and (ii) Americans With Disabilities Act.
  • November 16, 2012, ALI-CLE Webinar, Tax Treatment of Conservation Easements: Navigating the Changes.
  • August 8 – 10, 2012, ALI-CLE Land Use Institute Conference, updates on (i) Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, (ii) Americans with Disabilities Act, (iii) Historic Preservation, and (iv) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Flood Insurance; and (v) Creating the Record for Zoning Appeals, (vi) Animals, Urban Farms and Food, (vii) The Future of Redevelopment and (viii) Breaking the Stranglehold of Single-Family Zoning.
  • July 20, 2012, MCLE presentation at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Whole Parcel Rule.
  • April 14-17, 2012, American Planning Association's 2012 National Conference, Environmental Set-Asides and The Whole Parcel Rule.
  • November 15, 2011, California Preservation Foundation Conference, Incentives that Work & the Case Studies that Prove It.
  • September 12, 2011, APA California Chapter Conference, Working with Religious Land Uses (RLUIPA).
  • August 18 - 19, 2011, ALI-ABA Land Use Institute Conference, (i) Update on Planning, Land Use, and Eminent Domain Decisions (Agricultural Land, American Disabilities Act, Administrative Exhaustion), (ii) Federal Laws, Regulations, and Programs Affecting Local Land Use Decision-Making (RLUIPA), (iii) Quasi-Judicial Hearings and Ex Parte Communications, and (iv) Permitting Mixed-Use Development.
  • May 16, 2011, California Preservation Foundation 36th Annual Conference, Incentives that Work and the Case Studies that Prove It
  • January 20, 2011, Lorman Education Services Teleconference, EPA's Rules on Compensatory Mitigation for Impact on Wetlands, Streams and Other Waters
  • November 15, 2010, Lambda Alpha – Orange County, California Environmental Quality Act: Who, What, When, Where, How?
  • October 22, 2010, Oklahoma Chapter of the American Planning Association Conference, Planning Pathways: Connecting People and Places, the Law
  • August 25 – 28, 2010, ALI-ABA Land Use Institute, (i) Managing the Development Team, (ii) Solutions to Land Use Issues Posed by Environmental Constraints, and (iii) Update on Federal Laws, Regulations, and Programs Affecting Local Land Use Decision-Making (RLUIPA; Non-Conforming Uses, Special Uses and Conditional Uses; Historic Preservation; and Katrina Litigation).
  • July 27, 2010, Lorman Education Services Teleconference, Introduction to California Subdivision Law.
  • June 30, 2010, APA Webinar, 2010 Planning Law Review.
  • June 25, 2010, MCLE presentation at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Non-Conforming Uses, Variances and Conditional Use Permits.
  • May 14, 2010, California Preservation Foundation 35th Annual Conference, Beyond Tax Credits: A Full Range of Financial Incentives in Preservation.
  • April 13, 2010, APA National Conference, Planning Law of the Past Year (Rocky Mountain Christian Church – RLUIPA).
  • January 21, 2010, Lorman Education Services Teleconference, Compensatory Mitigation Under Clean Water Act Section 404.
  • November 20, 2009, MCLE presentation at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Federal Regulations: Wetlands, Endangered Species, NEPA, Coastal Zone, and Historic Preservation.
  • August 26 – 29, 2009, ALI-ABA Land Use Institute Conference, Panel Presentations, (i) Non-Conforming Uses ("Rethinking Amortization: New Uses for An Old Tool"), (ii) Update on Federal Laws, Regulations, and Programs Affecting Local Land Use Decision Making (ADA Amendments & FEMA Map Modernization and Levee Certification Program Update), (iii) Update on (State) Planning, Land Use and Eminent Domain Decisions (ADA & Historic Preservation), (iv) SB 375 Smart Growth ("Planning for Climate Change: Is it Smart Growth?"), and (v) Dealing with Foreclosed Properties ("An Invitation to Replan").
  • July 8, 2009, Lorman Education Services Teleconference, New Rules for Compensatory Mitigation Under Clean Water Act Section 404.
  • May 15, 2009, MCLE presentation at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Development Impact Fees and Exactions.
  • May 6, 2009, The American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law Teleconference, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
  • April 24, 2009, MCLE presentation at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Land Use Overview: The Basics.
  • April 16, 2009, California Preservation Foundation Conference, Implementing CEQA for Historic Purposes.
  • March 6, 2009, Lorman Education Services, Santa Clara, CA, The Subdivision Map Act.
  • February 27, 2009, MCLE presentation at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Subdivision Law in California.
  • October 24, 2008, Lorman Education Services, San Diego, CA, Subdivision Law in California.
  • September 23, 2008, APA CA Conference 2008, The Ins and Outs of Conflicts and Public Notice.
  • May 21, 2008, MCLE presentation at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLC, Land Use Overview: The Basics.
  • April 28, 2008, APA 2008 National Conference, Bargaining for Development: Development and Annexation Agreements.
  • April 4, 2008, Lex and the City, The Central California Annual Land Use and Planning Law Conference, Updates, Trends, and Analyses.
  • March 19, 2008, APA Webinar, Confronting NIMBY's.
  • March 18, 2008, CLE International SuperConference, NEPA and Historic Resources.
  • January 27, 2008, Lorman Education Services Teleconference, New Rules for Compensatory Mitigation Under Clean Water Act Section 404.
  • January 18, 2008, State Bar of California Section Education Institute, The Law of Global Warming and Climate Change.
  • [listing only from 2008]


  • Member, American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)
  • Member, Amicus Curiae Committee, American Planning Association
  • Trustee, California Preservation Foundation
  • Member, Lambda Alpha International, Orange County Chapter
  • Associate Member, Urban Land Institute
  • Member, CPF Advocacy Committee
  • Advisory Board Member, JFFS Real Estate Council
  • Board of Visitors, Division of Regional & City Planning, University of Oklahoma
  • Former board member, Constitutional Rights Foundation of Orange County
  • Former board member, Hillel Foundation
  • Former chair, Planning and Law Division, American Planning Association
  • Former board member, Jewish Federation of Orange County
  • Past president, Jewish Family Service of Orange County
  • Past board member, Jamboree Housing Corporation
  • Founding director, Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation
  • Site Visitor, Planning Advisory Board