New Counsel for Goleta City Council?

Legal Representation May Align Less With “Slow-Growth” Mentality

Goleta City Councilmembers jousted at an Oct. 15 meeting over the issue of whether to search for new municipal legal counsel. Former mayor Jonny Wallis accused her four fellow councilmembers of acceding to requests from developers who dislike the city’s present counsel, Julia Biggs of the law firm of Burke, Williams, and Sorenson. (The firm has represented the city since its inception six years ago; before that, it represented the slate of slow-growth candidates who became the city’s first city council.)

Three of Wallis’s colleagues hotly denied that they were lobbied, with Mayor Jean Blois calling Wallis’s accusations “pure conjecture.” At that, the fourth councilmember, Councilman Roger Aceves, leapt to Wallis’s defense even though he had initially spoken in favor of initiating the search. “Councilmember Wallis’s comments were not conjecture by any means,” Aceves declared. He said that he had been contacted by three separate parties, each of whom was a litigant suing the city, and all saying they would like to see a change in the city attorney.

In response, Councilmember Eric Onnen emphasized that he had not been contacted by a single developer, though he added that there “has been discussion in the community about changing legal counsel, absolutely. The issue is about being prudent custodians of the government’s money.” (Onnen is a member of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, whose members include several litigants against the city.) Councilmember Michael Bennett said the present counsel was aligned with the slow-growth segment of the population. The motion to search for new legal counsel passed 3-2, Aceves joining Wallis in dissent, saying he could not support the motion “at this time.”

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