By Tiobe Baron
On Nov. 7, Ojai City Council members met to interview three more applicants for the position of city attorney. The candidates interviewed were Dave Aleshire of Aleshire and Wynder, LLP; Andre de Bortnowsky of Green, de Bortnowsky and Quintanilla, LLP; and Julie Biggs of Burke, Williams and Sorenson, LLP.
Biggs is currently serving the city of Wildomar as its city attorney. She has advised the communities of Laguna Woods, Claremont, Goleta, and others. She has worked with Ojai’s City Council in the past, on the state HUD housing element.
When asked about the contentious issue regarding Ojai trying to petition the California Public Utilities Commission for lower rates from Golden State Water Company, Biggs said, “Well, you certainly need to be heard by the CPUC, and need to have someone representing you who can, in fact, open those doors, because the CPUC kind of operates in the shadows. Good representation can at least make sure everyone’s aware of what needs to be done.”
De Bortnowsky, meanwhile, works with a firm that is strictly a public sector law firm; they don’t take private sector clients to avoid any possible conflict of interest. The firm has two offices, the main one in Calabasas, and a satellite office in Studio City. They tout themselves as being a “cost-effective law firm.” De Bortnowsky, who worked as the city attorney for Cathedral City for 16 years, Rancho Mirage for eight years, and Victorville for at least four years.
Blatz asked if the firm has any experience with quasi-public utility action, specifically condemnation, to which de Bortnowsky replied, “Actually, we have too much experience with that!”
In Victorville the firm helped the city convert an old military building into an electric utility company, and simultaneously took over the water company. “The process can be quite lengthy and somewhat contentious,” he said, “but if you do it right, certainly it can be done. You have the power and ability (to take that action) and sometimes when you do, you get a more reasonable voice at the table …”
Mayor Carol Smith wanted to know what advice he would offer when dealing with the CPUC. De Bortnowsky responded that “It’s a huge frustration for municipalities, it’s political, depends on what their affiliations are, many people (on the CPUC) have worked for water companies. It can be an expensive and consuming process.”
Aleshire is currently serving as city attorney for Banning, Signal Hill, and Bell. He says he is committed to public service, which is why he undertook, without charge, the case of Bell citizens to recall their city council. Because of the size of the case, and the time it took Ojai City Council to begin the interview process for the city attorney position, it would be Joe Pannone, another member of his firm, who would serve as primary counsel to Ojai City Council members.
Pannone, also city attorney to the city of Bell, started in municipal law in Culver City, and has been practicing public law for 18 years. He says, “I see myself as part of the city team, I do what you want to have done, but also have the ability to communicate limitations and options.”
Smith asked the firm about their experience with condemnation and eminent domain. Pannone said, “When I was with Culver City, we helped write two new franchise agreements: one with cable television, and one with what is now Golden State Water Company. We negotiated the purchase of the private water company through eminent domain, sold bonds to help fund it. The goal is to have the city eventually turn it over to another private company.”
He continued, “The fees are completely over the top, the only thing you can try to do is take it over until you get it into the hands of another entity.” He re-iterated that the firm has been involved with creative, unusual approaches, specifically with condemnation actions.
According to Steve McClary, assistant to the city manager, the City Council has decided to invite the firm of Aleshire and Wynder, LLP, as well as Joseph Fletcher, for a second round of interviews the week of Dec. 5. McClary said that this does not exclude the other applicants from consideration, but council members wished to have more information and time with these particular two.