Instructor Spotlight: Terry Rivasplata

UC Davis Land Use and Natural Resources Instructor Terry Rivasplata

Terry Rivasplata is the recipient of the Association of Environmental Professionals’ (AEP) 2021 Al Reynolds Lifetime Achievement Award. In presenting their award, AEP recognized Rivasplata for superior achievement throughout his entire career. Rivasplata is considered a trailblazer in the environmental industry, working in both the public and private sectors, co-authoring comprehensive guides on the California Environmental Quality Act, including Practical CEQA and the CEQA Deskbook, and sharing his knowledge with other planners through years of teaching service.  

UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education is proud to count Rivasplata as a friend and colleague in our goal of contributing to the growth and professional development of California’s talented land use and environmental planners.

As an instructor in our Land Use and Natural Resources Program, we asked him to describe one of his most memorable teaching moments. He recalled from his early days of teaching that he would get nervous before each class. “There were a couple of times where a student would ask me a question I didn’t quite know the answer to, and I would break into a full body sweat.” Rivasplata smiled, “I was trying to remain calm, think quickly on my feet and, meanwhile, my entire body is sweating like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

Having now taught courses on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other subjects for over 20 years, Rivasplata doesn’t get too nervous before his classes anymore, but he still brings the same passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter that drew him to teaching in the first place.

“I enjoy teaching for two reasons,” he said. “One is the interaction with the students, and the other is just being able to keep up to date with what’s going on with CEQA.”

With over 40 years of professional experience in the environmental planning industry, it would be easy to assume that Rivasplata, who is a technical director at ICF International, could rest comfortably in the knowledge and experience he’s accumulated. But he knows that keeping himself current in the CEQA discipline is important both inside and outside the classroom.

“I work with a number of clients who demand a high level of expertise in CEQA, so I pay attention to litigation and what’s going on in the legislature,” Rivasplata said. “So, in my courses, I’ll talk about various court cases to give people an idea of how CEQA is being interpreted. Because if you just go by what the guidelines have to say, you’re not necessarily keeping up to date.”

Despite his highly technical understanding of the subject matter, Terry’s favorite course to teach is
still the introductory class, CEQA: A Step-by-Step Approach. “It’s fun because most of the students are beginners who don’t know anything about it,” he said. “So, they have lots of good questions.”

And when it comes to choosing an institution to learn about the complexities of CEQA and other planning-related topics, Rivasplata is decisive. “I think UC Davis has the best CEQA courses available in California, because they’re comprehensive, detailed and are taught by true professionals who keep up to date. Of course, I would say that since I help teach them,” he added with a laugh.

Watch the video below to hear from Terry Rivasplata on his experience and knowledge gained from a 40-year career in the environmental planning industry.

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