Board member profile: Stephen Velyvis, Legislative Director

Interviewed by Tom Holub, Technology Director

Stephen Velyvis is an environmental and land use attorney for Burke, Williams and Sorenson. In that role, he works with public agencies and private corporations on land use and CEQA compliance cases. He has been the Northern Section’s Legislative Director since 2016, and sat down with Technology Director Tom Holub to discuss his work on the board.

TH: What’s the focus of your work on the Northern Section board, and how did you get involved?

SV: My work on the board is primarily in two buckets. One is general participation at board meetings and committees: right now I’m helping to plan our “New Year, New Northern” holiday party, and I previously did extensive work on updating our organizational bylaws. I also work with Libby Tyler to put on a joint Ethics and Law training session.
The other is that I’m the main liaison between the Northern Section and the California Chapter on legislative issues. The chapter has a robust policy and legislation program, with a VP of Legislation (Eric Phillips) and a Lobbyist (Lauren De Valencia y Sanchez). I work with them to bring Northern Section members’ comments and concerns about state legislative initiatives forward.
I got involved when the previous director, Alexandra Barnhill stepped down. Alexandra was a colleague of mine and she recommended the board for me.

TH: What do you hope to do for Northern Section members as part of your role?

SV: I see my role as educating and informing our members about how legislative initiatives affect planning. I review the many bills working their way through the legislature, look at how they’ll impact planners, and sometimes make technical suggestions to improve the bills. Occasionally I’ll advocate for a position on legislation, but that’s usually done by the folks at the Chapter.
The Chapter has an amicus committee that I participate in; we participate in things like land use or CEQA lawsuits by providing commentary or amicus briefs on topics where planners have an interest. I help develop those.

TH: Is there something you’ve accomplished on the board that you’re particularly proud of?

SV: I led the project to update the board bylaws, and that was a big effort. Some of it was modernizing the language, but a big part of it was defining and codifying all of our board roles. It’s a big board, with over 30 positions, so looking at that took a long time. We also had to work with requirements from the state Chapter and the national APA to align our policies with the larger organization. It took a lot of collaboration, which was difficult and meaningful, and I’m proud of that.
I’ve also worked with the League of California Cities on the legislative review team, where I’ve helped catch problems or loopholes in proposed regulations. That’s the kind of thing I can provide help with.

TH: What should Section members do if they’d like your help?

SV: It’s important to hear from people working in the trenches. We have a democratic society; ideas should come from the people working and living in their communities. If you have concerns laws that aren’t working, or want to advocate for change, feel free to email me at

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