On Monday night, the City of Santa Ana appointed its first ever Latina city attorney in a move that not only brings an experienced and preeminent legal authority to the city, but also helps save the city $30,000 a year.
Sonia Rubio Carvalho will work in a new, hybrid position. She will remain in the employ of Best Best and Kreiger, but will work from an office at City Hall and fulfill the duties that normally fall to the city attorney. Under this arrangement, the city will save by not having to pay her health and retirement benefits. Additionally, the arrangement will protect the city from severance pay, which cost the city $330,000 when its last city attorney left in 2010.
“I am honored to take on this unique role with Santa Ana, and I applaud them for thinking outside of the box and exploring a cost-savings business model,” she said.
With the Santa Ana City Council approving the contract with BB&K Monday night, Carvalho became the top legal chief of California’s 11th largest city and Orange County’s second-most populous city with 325,000 people.
“Sonia’s qualifications and years of experience make her an outstanding match for Santa Ana,” Mayor Miguel Pulido said. “I know the community will benefit from her expertise and sound approach to municipal law.”
Carvalho has served as city attorney for several cities, including Yorba Linda, Claremont, Azusa and Colton as part of her 20-year legal career.
Typically, city attorneys in California are either appointed by a city council to be in-house and full-time or hired as an outside contract employee. Carvalho’s position is a combination of the two, a hybrid model that has been used in a few cities such as Pasadena, Vista and Escondido over the years.
In her new role at Santa Ana, Carvalho will maintain an office at City Hall, where she will advise the City Council and the city’s various commissions and departments, supervise seven deputy city attorneys and staff, and serve on the city’s executive team.
Carvalho was recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Southern California Super Lawyer magazine in 2009 and 2011, and as one of Orange County’s top lawyers by OC Metro magazine in 2009. She is a frequent speaker on topics related to ethics, the Brown Act and land use issues. At BB&K, she is a co-chair of the firm’s public policy and ethics group, and she specializes in land use, ethics, open government laws and elections laws.