McGeorge School of Law

Profile: Dan Richard

Dan Richard
Dan Richard

Class of 1980

Chairman of the Board, High-Speed Rail Authority
Area of Practice:
Capital Lawyering

Dan Richard, '80, had just graduated from college with a political science degree and wanted a federal government job. He qualified for a management intern position, but the only department hiring was NASA.

Working for NASA from 1972 to 1978 was "the most fun I ever had," Richard says. He watched the rocket launches of two projects he worked on: the Apollo-Soyuz test project in 1975, a joint US-Russian mission to help ease Cold War tensions and the Landsat satellite mapping project. He got to meet Carl Sagan and Jacques Cousteau and worked for an Apollo 9 astronaut who recruited him to work on science and technology issues for Gov. Jerry Brown when he was elected the first time.

These positions would begin building a more than four decades-long career. Richard has combined his expertise in energy, transportation, science and technology issues and financing public infrastructure projects with public policy and law.

He is now chairman of the state's High-Speed Rail Authority Board, overseeing the planning of a multi-billon dollar project that if built, will serve a state with a population projected to reach 50 million people by 2050. Richard was appointed by Gov. Brown to the board and elected by his board colleagues to be its chairman. He says the job came up at the perfect time because it allows him to use all of his experience in the public and private sectors.

"It turned out to be at the intersection of everything I've learned and everyone I knew," he says.

Richard says a high-speed rail line that connects with other train service in California is one of the best ways to improve the economy, ease traffic and air congestion and prevent increased carbon emissions. He envisions that within the next 15 years, someone could take light rail from downtown Sacramento to a high-speed rail train and be in Los Angeles in less than three hours.

"It's a very different world than the one we live in now but it's not that difficult to get here," he says.

Richard had little intention of practicing law when he entered McGeorge as a night student, but saw the law as a key tool for public policy and business. While attending McGeorge, he served as deputy assistant for science and technology in the Brown administration from 1978 to 1979.

He worked for the Energy Commission as the advisor to the chairman on building power plants and energy policy for several years. Then he rejoined the governor's office, working on energy issues, and later became deputy legal affairs secretary from 1982 to 1983. In 1982, Richard launched an energy consulting company with friends. Morse, Richard, Weisenmiller & Associates helped private companies build cogeneration power plants, which generate electricity and steam.

In 1992, he was elected to the BART board, serving 12 years in this part-time position in which he helped oversee construction of the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport. From 1997 to 2006, Richard was senior vice president of public policy and government relations for PG&E. Not long after starting the job, deregulation restructured the electricity markets and the energy crisis ensued. Richard was promoted quickly and became in charge of government relations, regulatory relations, communications, public affairs and public policy, overseeing 300 people.

After he left PG&E, Richard became a partner and cofounder of Heritage Oak Capital Partners, an infrastructure finance firm that proposed investing labor union and public employee pension funds into public infrastructure projects, such as building bridges. But he launched the firm weeks before the housing market and economy collapsed, and the firm never made it. Richard also has his own consulting firm, Dan Richard Advisors. He mostly works with energy and transportation companies on regulatory or policy issues, focused on developing clean energy.

"The most rewarding thing for me is to participate in building things for the future of the state and the country," Richard says. "I'm not an engineer, but I enjoy being part of something that is going to leave a tangible legacy in terms of things that people actually use, that empower the economy and make people's lives better."