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Serving as a city attorney during a pandemic and times of civil unrest requires an extra layer of balance, creativity and big-picture views. Best Best & Krieger LLP Partner Shawn Hagerty, who serves as city attorney to the City of Santee, was named a San Diego Best Attorney for 2021 by San Diego Metro Magazine for his ability to bring each of these skills to his role guiding the City, as well as other critical work for a variety of public agency clients.
When Santee, along with the rest of the world, was faced with moving its work to a virtual platform seemingly overnight, it faced issues that were unique and new to public agencies. Meetings still need to be accessible to the public, as do public records. Under Shawn’s guidance, Santee, its elected officials and staff were able to continue under the laws that govern public agencies.
Meanwhile, Shawn continued to work on projects of critical importance to the Santee community, including issues around land use, safety and housing, as well as water quality — which overlaps with Shawn’s other major area of focus. Shawn is a national leading authority in water quality law, helping cities, counties and special districts maintain clean water systems in compliance with local, state and federal standards.
On behalf of the City of Santee, Shawn’s water quality law practice is instrumental in helping address the bacteria levels of the San Diego River. While it was believed that homeless encampments along the River’s banks were a major contributor to the bacteria levels, recent studies are showing that the impact might not be as significant as once thought. Legally, understanding how and if these encampments impact water quality is important as regulations are developed to address homelessness.
For the expanded San Diego region, he helps numerous cities in San Diego County meet the required stormwater permitting standards through education and outreach on how to approach maintenance for storm drains and streets. He’s also litigating on behalf of these local public agencies in an effort to get the State to pay for some of the costs of this burden, especially since California’s standards are above-and-beyond the federal Clean Water Act’s standards.

Shawn’s other recent water quality work includes:

  • Representing a coalition of water interests as amici counsel in County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund. The U.S. Supreme Court’s April 2020 decision in the case established a national standard for when a federal permit is required under the CWA when pollutants flow through groundwater before reaching surface waters.
  • Representing the City of Ventura in a massive litigation involving the endangered steelhead trout and water usage in the Ventura River Watershed. The litigation presents an opportunity to protect the steelhead while allowing the local community to continue to access a vital resource, which is the only source of water for many in the area.
  • Representing the County of Amador in an action against the California Department of Corrections related to pollutant water discharges from Mule Creek State Prison.
  • Representing the Coachella Valley Water District in a number of critical water quality challenges related to the importation of Colorado River water and the use of the water to replenish the groundwater basin, as well as important issues regarding water reuse and the Salton Sea.
  • Representing the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway regarding water quality issues at both the Valley and Mountain stations.

Shawn also serves as general counsel to Civic San Diego. He has assisted this formerly quasi-public entity that was owned by the City of San Diego transition to a unique entity that delivers affordable housing and other critical support to disadvantaged communities.
In addition to his practice, Shawn serves the president of the City Attorneys Association of San Diego.


Best Best & Krieger LLP is a national law firm that focuses on environmental, business, education, municipal and telecommunications law for public agency and private clients. With more than 200 attorneys, the law firm has 10 offices nationwide, including Los Angeles, Ontario, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit or follow @BBKlaw on Twitter or @BestBestKrieger on LinkedIn.

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