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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 26, 2016 -- City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, who has held Santa Monica’s top legal post for more than two decades and guided the City’s legal battles that often put it in the national spotlight, announced late Friday that she would retire at the end of the year.

After providing an often adventurous City Council with legal advice on cutting-edge issues since 1994, Moutrie said her retirement would allow her to spend more time with her husband and elderly mother.

"Santa Monica is an incredible place and my 22 action-packed years as City attorney have flown by," Moutrie said in a statement issued late Friday. "My husband has been retired for three years and on January 3, I'll turn 70. We want to see more of the world, together, while we can still explore on foot."

She added, "My dear mother is very elderly and bedridden. She needs more company to brighten her remaining days. Of course, it's hard to part. My clients, co-workers and this wonderfully engaged community will always have a special place in my heart."

Since taking the legal reins in January 1994, Moutrie has provided legal advice on everything from Santa Monica's overhaul of its homeless policies in the mid 1990s to her recent advice on the City's anti-corruption laws.

Some of the legal battles she led garnered national attention.

They include major legal settlements with oil companies and other violators over water pollution, as well as the defense of the City’s law regulating events in public spaces that went to the federal Court of Appeals (“City Gets $131 Million from Oil Giants,” December 2, 2006 and “Appeals Court Upholds Events Ordinance,” June 20, 2006).

Moutrie also crafted some of the nation's toughest anti-smoking laws, recovered back-wages for low-income car wash workers and defended numerous public projects and laws--some of which had statewide and national influence(“Council Expands Residential Smoking Ban,” July 29, 2010 and “Santa Monica Car Wash to Pay for Labor Violations,” November 14, 2013).

“I am proud of the work the office has done over the years to promote community welfare by effectuating [the] council's laws and policies, including those relating to housing, tenants' rights, homelessness, consumer protection and land use, among others,” Moutrie said.

City Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who has been on the dais for the majority of Moutrie’s tenure, praised her for “her excellent leadership for so many years.”

Mayor Tony Vazquez said Santa Monica “has been extremely fortunate to have Marsha leading our legal work.”

Moutrie has also had her critics over the years.

Some Santa Monica Airport opponents have noted her office’s losing record against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in court, although defenders say that is a battle stacked against the City.

There have also been criticisms of her office’s large staff size and its salaries, which rank among the highest in the State.

Defenders have said the City needs a large and well-compensated legal staff because it has more to do than the average municipality of its size, and the service comes at a cheaper cost than contracting the work to outside law firms.

Others have alleged Moutrie has taken the pro-development side in the City’s planning wars, an allegation she dismissed in an interview with The Lookout earlier this year, noting that her office does not establish City land-use policy.

Following a lengthy unrelated legal battle with the City, AIDS Walk Los Angeles founder Craig Miller attempted to place a measure on the ballot this year calling for the City attorney to be an elected position because he said that Moutrie had “not been held accountable.”

Miller eventually stopped pursuing the measure. Political observers said he was not close to collecting enough resident signatures to force the item onto the ballot ("Elected City Attorney Measure Not Headed to Santa Monica Ballot," May 26, 2016).

He and several other critics spoke against Moutrie at a May council meeting, some calling for her resignation or firing.

Responding to the critics, Moutrie told The Lookout, “While I disagree with much of the commentary last night, I respect the right of all community members to comment on their government and on the performance of public officials.”

Moutrie was hired by the City Council in late December 1993 by a unanimous vote. She had previously worked on the City’s legal staff and at the time was working for a private law firm.

Santa Monica had been without an official City attorney for more than two years because Moutrie’s predecessor, Robert Myers, was fired when he refused to draft and enforce laws intended to tackle local homeless issues.

Some council members told the Los Angeles Times on the day of Moutrie’s hiring that they favored her because she would not be political like Myers.

Moutrie told the Times that she had said to council members during the closed session that day, "If they had in mind a City attorney who would take public positions on issues and approach the job with their own political agenda, then I couldn't do it."

The council is expected to begin the process for selecting Moutrie’s replacement this week. McKeown said it would be a challenging transition for the City.

“[I am] grateful she leaves us such a highly skilled and motivated staff of attorneys to continue handling our legal workload while we seek a replacement,” he said. “We will find a new City Attorney, but never another Marsha Moutrie."

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