Thomas Watson, Santa Maria’s newly installed city attorney, aims to serve the “highest public good” as he takes over the city’s top legal position.

The attorney joins the city following a 30-year law practice that has included representing more than a half dozen cities throughout California.

“The thing I like about municipal law is it gives you an opportunity to make something better,” Watson said. “While being a litigator, you’re basically someone who comes in to break things down. As a municipal lawyer, you can help a community. Our job is to facilitate solutions. And I like that; I like to build things.”

Watson, who replaced former City Attorney Gil Trujillo, now leads a department that provides legal services for the City Council, city boards and commissions and all 10 city departments.

He began his position June 17 following stints as the top lawyer for the cities of Tracy and South Lake Tahoe.

Raised in Seattle and the South San Francisco Bay area, Watson graduated from Fresno State University and completed his law degree in 1989 at Santa Clara University.

Following law school, he joined the Fresno law firm Kimble, MacMichael & Upton for three years and then joined the Tulare County Counsel’s Office, where he served as the Local Agency Formation Commission counsel for the city.

In 1994, Watson established a private law practice after being the recipient of good fortune on a trip to Las Vegas.

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“I had $100 in my pocket,” he said. "I sat at a $5 blackjack table and I won $14,000. Monday morning I came back, I quit my job and started my own law practice."

While running a private practice, Watson continued as a construction litigator and represented the cities of Woodlake, Porterville, Lindsey, Farmersville, Visalia and Mendota off and on from 1997 to 2013.

In 2013, Watson moved to South Lake Tahoe for his first job as a full-time, in-house city attorney.

Helping city governments tackle large problems is something he takes pride in, Watson said.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is helping create a police department in Mendota, where there was an MS-13 [gang] problem because they didn’t have a police department,” he said.

The rural city of around 11,000 people located west of Fresno had long been used by MS-13 members as a base of operations for crimes committed in Fresno County and other parts of the state.

In 2009, the city re-established a police department after 17 years without one.

“Those are the kinds of community activities you can do that makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “To help a community grow and expand and create something new is still thrilling to me.”

Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.

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