Craig A. Steele is a shareholder in the Public Law Department at Richards, Watson & Gershon and serves on the Firm’s Management Committee. Mr. Steele has nearly 30 years of experience practicing local government law and has worked in government and politics for over 35 years. Mr. Steele is the City Attorney for the Cities of Monrovia and Seal Beach, General Counsel to the Nipomo Community Services District, and Senior Counsel to the Los Angeles County Children and Families First Proposition 10 Commission (“First 5 LA”). He served as Agoura Hills City Attorney from 1999-2012, Highland City Attorney from 2007-2019, General Counsel to First 5 LA from 2000-2022, and Interim CEO of First 5 LA throughout 2012.
A former political campaign manager, Mr. Steele is an expert in elections, voting rights, and government ethics laws and has frequently been asked to speak and teach about those subjects by the League of California Cities, California Special Districts Association, and other organizations.
Mr. Steele concentrates on the representation of public agency clients in a wide range of government law areas and has spoken and written extensively on open government issues including Public Entity Ballot Measures, Lobbying, Public Records, Open Meeting Laws, and Conflicts of Interest Law. His article “The Rules on Lobbying: What Every Local Official Should Know” was published in the January, 2010 issue of Western City Magazine. He is a past member of the FPPC Committee of the League of California Cities’ City Attorneys Department and also served on a task force of the Institute for Local Government drafting a resources book on open space acquisition by cities.
Mr. Steele is a past President of the Board of Directors of the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, former Vice President and a member of the Board of Directors of the Spartan Boosters, and served for several years as Chair of the La Cañada Unified School District’s Bond Oversight Committee. He was also an adjunct professor in the USC Price School of Public Policy in 2011 and 2012. He is a frequent speaker to classes at the USC Gould School of Law where his wife, Susan Wright, is Professor of Lawyering Skills and Director of Academic Success.
Work for Clients
As a public law attorney, Mr. Steele has broad experience with the legal issues that are important to public agencies of all types, structures, geography, and characteristics. He has served as a city attorney in charter cities and general law cities; in full-service cities and contract cities. Mr. Steele works with cities that provide police and fire services, utilities, and independent libraries, as well as cities that contract for such services. He has served in coastal communities, a foothill community with a wilderness preserve, and both built out and rural communities.
He has served as an independent investigator on campaign finance law issues for Ventura County, and has advised candidates for local, state, and federal offices and other private interests on a variety of election and political law matters. Mr. Steele is advising numerous public entities regarding voting rights, district election issues, and redistricting.
In the land use area, Mr. Steele has worked on a range of projects ranging from large (5,000+ planned units) residential subdivisions to small mixed use projects in historic downtowns. He has authored unique ordinances on such subjects as picketing in residential areas and food truck regulation. Mr. Steele also is the author of dozens of local ballot measures, including open space preservation, local taxes and bond measures, fireworks regulation, and transportation issues. Public agencies consult with him at all stages of the process of ballot measure process, from polling and strategic decisions, to drafting the measure, to advising about processes and permissible public agency involvement in ballot measure activities. Many entities with “in-house” City Attorneys and General Counsel have consulted with Mr. Steele on elections and voting issues, including the Cities of Compton, Redondo Beach, Hawthorne, Pasadena, Fremont, Livermore, San Luis Obispo, and the San Diego Association of Governments. In recent election cycles, Mr. Steele advised clients on issues as significant and diverse as the Los Angeles County and San Diego County sales tax proposals to fund transportation projects, marijuana taxes and regulations throughout the State, local land use measures on the Central Coast, and districting measures in Imperial, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties.
Prior to joining Richards, Watson & Gershon out of law school in 1992, Mr. Steele was a political campaign consultant and public affairs professional at Cerrell Associates, Inc., one of the nation’s most prominent public affairs firms. He worked on campaigns for state, local, and federal offices, including two presidential campaigns. He worked as advance staff for political figures such as U.S. Senators Albert Gore, Jr., Alan Simpson, and Lloyd Bentsen, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi. He also worked as advance staff in connection with events such as the 1984 Olympics and the Los Angeles visits of Pope John Paul II in 1987, and His Holiness Vazken I of the Armenian Apostolic Church in 1988.
Honors & Awards
City of Monrovia Community Policing Award, 2013
La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board’s Award for Service, 2007
Professional and Community Affiliations
Member, Los Angeles County Bar Association
HIGHLIGHTED PROJECTS (Public Law)
- First 5 LA – Interim CEO Appointment (2012). As longtime counsel to First 5 LA, a Los Angeles County public agency that invests tobacco tax dollars for the benefit of children aged 0-5 and their families, Craig advised the Board and agency through the departure of the agency’s CEO. After the separation, the Board asked Craig to serve as Interim CEO while a new CEO was recruited. He served in that position, running an agency with over 100 employees and an annual budget in excess of $170 million, for a year while also coordinating the search for a permanent CEO.
- City of Highland – Change to City Council Districts. In response to a claim of racially-polarized voting patterns under the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”), Craig advised the City throughout the process of creating a district-based election system. This work included drafting a ballot measure seeking voter approval of the district system, guiding the City through the public process to create districts, and advising the City Clerk and City Council throughout the first district-based elections.
- City of Monrovia – Opening of Hillside Wilderness Preserve. This nearly 20-year project created one of Southern California’s largest publicly-owned and publicly-accessible wilderness preserves in the foothills of Monrovia. Craig’s work on this started with drafting the initial ballot measure that created the General Plan designation and Specific Plans for the area, and then advising the City throughout the cooperative acquisition of the Preserve property from various private owners using a combination of grant funds and the proceeds of a City special tax. He helped to draft and implement a property management plan that survived a CEQA challenge and limited opposition from local residents. Craig then participated in the process of the City acquiring the final easements and accesses needed to facilitate public access and drafting public access and use rules. The Preserve opened to the public in 2017.
- Alert // Campaign Contributions Can Create Conflicts of Interest for Local Elected Officials Under New Law01.03.2023
- Alert // Proposed Ballot Measure Increasing Vote Requirement for Local Tax Measures Will NOT be on November Ballot; Local Soda Taxes Prohibited in Legislative Deal06.29.2018
- California Special Districts Association, 08.30.2023
- Event // Local Ballot Measures: Issues for City AttorneysBACA (Bay Area City Attorneys), 01.31.2020
- Event // Meeting Management: Tips for Efficient and Effective Public MeetingsUSC Sol Price School of Public Policy Local Leader Academy, 10.2019
- California Special Districts Association Annual Conference, September 25-28, 2019
- Event // Candidate & Ballot Measure Elections: The Role of District Board Secretaries and ClerksCalifornia Special Districts Association Board Secretary/Clerk Conference, 2018
- Event // Public Agency Advocacy: Rules Regarding Ballot Measures and LobbyingCalifornia Special Districts Association Annual Conference, 2018
- Event // The California Voting Rights Act and Imposed District ElectionsThe California Voting Rights Act and Imposed District Elections, 2016
- Event // Tips for Effective LawyeringUSC Gould School of Law First Year Class, 2015
- Event // Local Initiatives and Referenda: Key Considerations for City AttorneysLeague of California Cities City Attorneys Department, 2015
- Event // Dealing with Disruptions at Public MeetingsCLE International Municipal Law Conference, 2010
- July-Aug 2022California Special Districts, Volume 17, Issue 3
- Jul-Aug 2018California Special Districts, Volume 13, Issue 4
- The Rules on Lobbying: What Every Local Official Should Know01.10.2010Western Cities Magazine
- Proposition 208 Implementation Guide (contributor)2007League of California Cities
- New Election Law May Change the Face of Some Local Government Agencies2003Public Law Journal
J.D., University of Southern California Gould School of Law
B.A., University of Southern California