Profiles: Brenda Olguin


Brenda Olguin

A Passion for Environmental Law

Brenda Olguin has wanted to be a lawyer since she was a child. She first became aware of her career ambitions in the second grade when she and her older four siblings would play “court”.

“We were inspired by historical events,” says Olguin. “It was the 90’s and we lived in Compton and my family lived through the LA riots and its aftermath.”

In high school she was dually enrolled in college courses, including some in Chicano studies, which, she says, “opened my eyes more to our justice system.”

In college, her focus began to shift from criminal law to environmental law. While an undergraduate at UC Riverside, she took a course in which the professor taught “toxic torts,” and assignments included OSHA cases that involved environmental issues. Meanwhile events in her own life and community of Southeast Los Angeles deepened her desire to pursue a career in environmental law.

Tragically, a friend of Olguin’s passed away at age 19 from acute myeloid leukemia. “That opened my mind to a lot of different issues,” says Olguin. Radiation and exposure to certain chemicals are known risk factors for the disease.

Then, six years ago when she was 21, Olguin was diagnosed with stage 1 thyroid cancer. Exposure to high levels of radiation is a known cause of the disease. Since then she has known others from her community who were diagnosed with AML and thyroid cancer.

Although it’s impossible to pinpoint one cause of diseases like AML or cancer, Olguin has no doubt that environmental pollution played a part.

“I am from the southeast region of Los Angeles County, where our communities are surrounded by major freeways and manufacturing companies,” she says. “In fact, the City of Vernon and the surrounding communities are undergoing evaluations for the extent of lead contamination caused by Exide Technologies, a battery recycling company that was shut down due to multiple regulation violations. The demographics in the southeast of Los Angeles are composed of predominantly immigrant communities with non-English, monolingual speakers. Resources for my community are limited to educate or even hold companies like this accountable. I want to study how regulatory law can maintain environmentally safe communities locally and provide a model for other cities affected by large contaminators.”

The first in her family to go to law school, and to graduate from a four-year university, Olguin sought out GGU Law because of its environmental law program. Now a few months into her first year, she’s getting acclimated to San Francisco, including her BART commute from Hayward to downtown San Francisco. Eventually, however, she plans to return to Southeast LA.

“I would like to represent my community because there are families who are affected by cancer and other health issues that are potentially linked to our environment,” she says. “Many of these families live in fear or do not know how to advocate for their legal rights. As a future lawyer, I seek to advocate for the betterment of my community in the southeast of Los Angeles.”