Connecting With Heather Baker, New City Attorney
December 2, 2021
The path that would lead Heather Baker to becoming City Attorney of Culver City started in a schoolyard and culminated in October, 2021 when the City Council voted to appoint her to replace Carol Schwab, who announced in July that she was leaving her post at the end of the year. Baker, who was Assistant City Attorney at the time, will take over as City Attorney on December 22. The office provides legal guidance, support and representation for all Culver City officials and staff on matters of law relating to their duties and responsibilities.
“The seed was first planted when I was 13 and providing pro bono services as the schoolyard mediator,” she explained. “An attorney seemed like a good fit, given my logical mind and openness to ideas and information from all sides of an issue.”
That good fit continued, resulting in Baker receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, her Juris Doctor from Western State University, College of Law (currently Western State College of Law), and being admitted to the State Bar of California in 1997.
Prior to joining the public sector, she worked for the Law Offices of Richard D. Jones (currently Jones & Mayer), which represented multiple cities, including, at that time, the cities of Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, Westminster and Whittier.
She started with Culver City in 2002 as a Deputy City Attorney and was promoted to Assistant City Attorney in 2007.
“It was rather serendipitous how I came to work for the City,” Baker recalled. “I stumbled upon the opportunity through a colleague who knew I was looking for a change. It was meant to be. I have now been with the City for 20 years and couldn’t be happier with where my career has taken me.”
For those interested in law as a career, Baker offered advice based upon her own experience: “Find your niche, where you are interested and confident. Use your passion, where you can experience growth and adventure; and one day, like it did for me, it may become your profession.”
And what an intriguing and varied profession it has been . . .
“For the last 23 years I have practiced municipal law,” she said. “Prior to that, I started out with a private law firm, dabbling briefly in personal injury and estate planning. There have been a lot of interesting issues I’ve been involved with over the last 20 years. Looking back, one of the more fulfilling aspects of my job has been to work with various departments and participate in the creation of something out of nothing, such as park renovations, including the construction of the first Culver City dog park; development projects; public and performing art, etc.”
Baker comes well prepared. Her background in all aspects of municipal law includes extensive experience advising the City Council, the City’s Commissions, Boards and Committees, and City staff in a wide variety of legal matters, including those relating to the First Amendment, the Brown Act, the Public Records Act, the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), conflicts of interest, land use, zoning and planning, real property entitlements, historic preservation, charter cities, code enforcement, intergovernmental relations, public contracting, employment, police records, emergency operations, and municipal elections. She has also served in a prosecutorial role representing the City’s interests.
In addition to providing general legal advice, she was lead counsel to the City’s Charter Review Committee (which ultimately resulted in the City’s voters approving a comprehensive update to the City’s Charter in 2006), has served as the Planning Commission’s legal advisor since 2007, and has been the City Attorney Department liason for several City Council subcommittees over the years.
Early in her career with the City, she participated in a Chapter Review Subcommittee of the Municipal Law Handbook Committee for the League of California Cities, assisting with the creation of the new Chapter 2 - Open Government and Ethics.
For the past several years, she has been a member of the Westside Urban Forum, a consortium of land use experts, developers, and governmental agency representatives. From 2015 – 2019 she served on the Board of the City Attorneys’ Association of Los Angeles County, serving as President in 2018. Over the years, she has also enjoyed collaboration with and attending events of local community organizations such as the Culver City Chamber of Commerce, the Culver City Historical Society, the Culver City Friends of the Library, the Downtown Business Association, the Friends of the Culver City dog park, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee.
Baker balances her very full plate of work and related responsibilities by engaging in physical fitness training with her husband, “who has coached me as a natural fitness competitor. We also enjoy traveling and exploring locations around the world.”
That sparked a question: Whom would she invite to dinner, if she could choose anyone in the world, and why?
Her heartfelt reply was “my maternal grandmother, ‘Grams,’ who passed away over 20 years ago. She modeled a life of quality, not quantity – experiences that leave an imprint versus incidentals that barely scratch the surface. Especially in times of stress, it would be nice to sit down to a meal with her and be reminded of what’s meaningful in a life well lived and worth remembering.”
Grams would undoubtedly be proud of how her granddaughter turned out, and gratified that the values she modeled for that thoughtful youngster deliberating in the schoolyard all those years ago had a powerful impact and will be reflected in our new City Attorney.
The Observer extends sincere congratulations to Heather Baker in her new post.