Moira O’Neill



J.D., University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco; B.A. Political Science and Legal Studies, Golden Gate University


Moira O’Neill is an Associate Professor in Urban and Environmental Planning. She also holds an academic appointment at the School of Law. O’Neill teaches Land Use Law, Local and State Government Law, and Community Development Planning. She is also an urban planning and public law scholar focused on land use, climate, resilience and equity. Her research blends legal research with planning research methods and supports state and local government efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change while also addressing inequality.

For several years, O’Neill has led the Comprehensive Assessment of Land Use Entitlements Study (CALES), a collaborative study that joins legal and planning scholars and students to understand how land use regulations influence residential development patterns.

CALES contributes novel data to housing policy debates about which regulations promote housing affordability, integration and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In California, CALES data and findings supported the 2018 Housing Accountability Act amendments, the development and implementation of California’s 10-year housing data strategy (codified in section 65940.1 to the California Government Code), the California Air Resources Board’s 2022 Scoping Plan for Achieving Carbon Neutrality (that implements the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act), and most recently the Department of Housing and Community Development’s first-ever Housing Policy and Practice Review of San Francisco. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, California’s Air Resources Board, and California’s Department of Housing and Community Development provided financial support for CALES.

O’Neill, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is also collaborating with UCLA scholars to explore fair housing questions.

Her research on sustainable public school meal reform initiatives has supported district-level and state policy implementation of sustainable school meal improvements to promote healthy eating and a circular food system. California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, the Stupski Foundation, the Berkeley Food Institute and Columbia University’s Population Research Center have supported this work. The Jeffress Trust has recently sponsored collaborative research in support of Virginia Food for Virginia Kids, with the Department of Education, other state departments and nonprofits.

She also contributes to ongoing research on local regulation of nonmedical outdoor cannabis cultivation. This study examines whether current regulation is advancing state policy to bring cultivation out of the illegal market to protect public health and the environment.

Before joining the University of Virginia, O’Neill was an associate research scholar and adjunct faculty member of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Prior to that, O’Neill was an assistant professor of teaching in the University of California at Berkeley’s department of City and Regional Planning in the College of Environmental Design and at Berkeley Law. She is presently an associate research scientist at UC Berkeley in the Institute of Urban and Regional Development. She is also an affiliated scholar of UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

O'Neill’s professional and legal experience involved representing public entities and universities in California for over a decade. In her legal practice, she represented public entities in appellate matters, writ proceedings and complex litigation. Her professional consulting supported local public entities through public policy analysis and the design and implementation of participatory processes for land development.

She received her J.D., Order of the Coif, from the University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco in 2006. She graduated law school with academic honors and awards, including recognition through membership in the Thurston Society. She also served as the executive managing editor for the Hastings Law Journal and worked as a teaching assistant in the Legal Educational Opportunity Program for first-year civil procedure, property and environmental law courses. Prior to law school, O’Neill completed her bachelor’s degree in political science and legal studies (magna cum laude) at Golden Gate University at night while working full-time during the day.

After graduating law school, O’Neill clerked for Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. During law school she externed for Associate Justice Martin J. Jenkins of the California Supreme Court, then of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. O’Neill is a member of the state bar of California.

Media Links

- Free Range with Mike Livermore, UVA Law PLACE podcast
"Moira O'Neill on Housing and Environmental Review", August 2022
- Fingers Always Point at NIMBYs, but Is Our Approval Process Fueling the Affordable Housing Crisis?
(Boston Globe), July 2022
- The Landmark Environmental Law Inside NIMBY Firestorm
(Bloomberg), April 2022
- Press Play with Madeline Brand, KCRW National Public Radio Los Angeles
“CEQA is meant to protect the environment from development. Is it leading to a lack of housing?”, March 2022
- Why is a Tenant Protection Bill Failing in the California Legislature, Again?
(Cal Matters), February 2022
- Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast 
"Could the Republican recall candidates create a housing boom through environmental reform?", Sept 2021


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