Planning Program Helps Give County Supervisor a Strong Foundation for a Career in Public Service
From an early age, Lucas Frerichs was exposed to the power of local government, particularly through the work of public servants like his grandfather—a long-time county supervisor—who dedicated his life to making positive changes for his community. “I really believe that government has the ability to help be a positive tool in people's lives,” he says, acknowledging that he too felt the pull to serve his community. Today, Frerichs is a member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and has a long tenure of public service, including as a staffer in the California State Assembly, associate director of state policy for The Nature Conservancy, a member of the Davis City Council and mayor of Davis.
As a 2012 graduate of UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education’s (CPE) Land Use and Environmental Planning Certificate Program, we reached out to Supervisor Frerichs about his fulfilling career and how the program has continued to benefit him over the years.
What motivated you to complete CPE’s Land Use and Environmental Planning Certificate Program?
I had just been appointed to the Davis City Council to serve on the planning commission and up to that point my entire planning background was copious amounts of Legos and SIM City. Those were my real exposures to the planning world. But, all kidding aside, I didn't have this professional background in planning and land use expertise. So, after getting appointed, I felt like I really needed to know more and get an in-depth background around some of the important issues that I was going to be responsible for. I was really drawn to the Land Use and Environmental Planning Certificate Program for those reasons.
What did you hope to accomplish going into the program?
I was really trying to have a better holistic understanding of the land use planning world. I felt as a new newly appointed planning commissioner without a lot of background in that subject matter, it was very important to me to gain a better understanding and have a sense of the planning world and some of the basics, but also to engage in a number of areas more in depth, such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), how to deal with issues around toxics in the environment, constitutional laws and case law examples. There's such a myriad of issues that the certificate program focused on and that were really helpful as I embarked on this new role serving my community.
After you completed the program, what were some of the immediate benefits to your work at the time?
After I completed the certificate program, I felt like I had a much better sense of all that land use planning encompasses, especially here in California. I felt like I had much more of a mastery over the issues around the nuts and bolts, but also how to go about making informed land use decisions that were going to affect my community. There are so many rules, regulations and laws that exist around this category of work, that it was such a benefit to have a tangible educational background around how some of these decisions occur and the many factors that go into planning.
There were a number of classmates who were planning commissioners and such in their communities, but also, there were many individuals who worked for either public agencies or in the private sector who were involved in day-to-day operations of land use-making decisions. We all found it to be very, very useful for our particular careers—very practical, hands-on examples and without the full amount of energy and time that was needed to pursue a master's degree in planning. It was just a real set of added benefits for us to participate in the certificate program.
What are some of the skills you gained?
Some of the skills that I learned through this program are the ability to listen and ask good questions—the right questions—to be able to filter through superfluous information and cut through to key issues that really matter. I've had several hearings on the Board of Supervisors here in Yolo County that I've participated in and being able to go straight to the core issues that matter land-use wise are very important.
I also think that learning about not just the land use policies, but also some of the very specific laws like CEQA and some of the cases that have emanated from the usage of CEQA over time, as well as knowing who the players are, some of the different interest groups and how the law was written and structured, how it is intended to work, and how it works in real life in terms of practicality was a huge help to me.
Looking back, how has the program benefited you in the long run?
Because land use planning is so complex here in California, having an educational background in these issues has continued to pay dividends for me time and time again. Learning the process of engaging with the public, how meetings are conducted, the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders and then also the applicant process have all been very helpful. The skills that I learned over the course of the program have helped make me a better policy maker and better decision maker.
Also, a number of the individuals that I was classmates with are still friends to this day and are also involved in the planning world and land use throughout California. It’s a huge benefit having a lot of friends throughout the State of California that have participated in the program.
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What excites you most about serving your county?
I'm most excited by the work I see on a day-to-day basis. A lot of people in California are really struggling right now—the cost of living is very expensive and prohibitive for a lot of people and the issues around inflation have really changed a lot of what people have available in their pockets—and I really believe that the government has the ability to help be a positive tool in people's lives to help solve problems and challenges that exist. I am so grateful for the people who choose to work in, especially in this case, county government. There's a lot of really dedicated public servants out there who have similar beliefs around helping individuals and assisting people who are in need. The work is very fulfilling.
What advice would you give to professionals who may be considering this program in terms of what they can expect to get out of it and the potential impact it can have on their careers?
One of my classmates in the program worked for a county and was involved in environmental health, which is pretty drastically different than planning and land use. But she was very interested in exploring planning and land use as a career and through the certificate program recognized what a valuable tool it would be in changing directions in her career. Now, about 15 years later, she has done exactly that. She's the planning department head for another county. My advice is to just to be willing to explore. It’s very important.