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Retiring Santa Monica City Attorney Bids Farewell

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 15, 2016 -- Twenty-two years after taking the job, Santa Monica’s retiring City Attorney Marsha Moutrie still remembers the moment she decided she wanted to sign on.

It had to do with dogs motoring through Santa Monica with their masters behind the wheel, and whether those pets, if from elsewhere, had the right to travel in or across the city without a dog license.

Moutrie and her husband had tuned in to watch the heated, long-ago City Council meeting. They were taken aback at first. But she applied shortly thereafter, impressed by the City’s willingness to dive into all matters, small or large, if it thought it could help.

“You believe government can make people’s lives better,” Moutrie told the council in a final public farewell at its Tuesday meeting. “You will tackle any problem. This City Council does that better than anyone.”

During her tenure, Moutrie has been at the legal helm as Santa Monica, known for its progressive ways, has taken on oil company giants over pollution of the city’s ground water, added tenant protections to its the 1978 rent control law, crafted some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on smoking and on Airbnb-style short-term rentals and advised on new anti-corruption laws.

One of the biggest legal battles during her two decades in office continues, as the City struggles against another giant -- the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-- to close the Santa Monica Airport.

Moutrie was described by the council and other city officials as having a “fierce” legal mind, unflagging loyalty to her office, the council and the public and a keen sense of politics.

“She says, ‘I’m not political.' But she is political,” said Council Member Tony Vazquez. “She has to be, to deal with the seven of us.”

Her admirers also thanked her taking flack on their behalf.

“In many cases, she acted as a human shield for us,” said Council Member Gleam Davis.

Moutrie said she had become accustomed to criticism, some of it “ugly,” and the outgrowth of Santa Monica’s fractious political scene.

It’s hard to listen to some of the bitterness from critics sometimes, she said. “But they have the right to say it.”

“I grabbed the brass ring when I got this job, and I know it,” Moutrie said.

By the City’s count, Moutrie spent 546 Tuesday nights at council meetings during her time as City Attorney. She served longer than 15 other City Attorneys, 16 city council members and longer than most of the City workforce.

“There are not trophies enough” to thank her, said Mayor Ted Winterer.

Through it all, Moutrie also demonstrated grace under fire, they said. Davis, who is also an attorney, said she admired Moutrie’s ability to balance the demands of her office while also raising a family -- a juggling act that Davis said she, too, performs on a daily basis.

“She is a role model,” Davis said.

Moutrie, who turns 70 next year, says she is retiring to spend more time with family, including her elderly mother ("Santa Monica City Attorney Announces Retirement," September 26, 2016).

“It’s time for new beginnings,” she said.

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