John E. Brown


Tel: (909) 483-6640


At a Glance

John represents public agencies including cities, special districts and school districts as both general and special counsel.
He serves as city attorney of Ontario
John is Martindale-Hubbell® AV Preeminent™ Rated.

For nearly 45 years, John E. Brown has represented a wide variety of California public agencies, including cities and special districts, as city attorney, general and special counsel and bond counsel. John got his first taste for public service when he was appointed acting city manager of the City of Unalaska (Dutch Harbor), Alaska while still in law school. He was there on a historic preservation planning internship when the city manager resigned shortly after his arrival. John’s lifelong interest in cities, and how they work, was sparked by that opportunity. This was the first of many “right time-right place” incidents in John’s public law career that kept him on a path paved by innovation, commitment to new ways of practicing public law — particularly through contract legal services — and professionalism and leadership.
Splitting his time between Best Best & Krieger LLP’s Ontario and Riverside offices, John is passionate about the importance of the general counsel role, particularly when his public agency clients encounter public policy or political crises. The public agencies he has served, and continues to serve, have been located in some of the fastest growing areas in California with equally changing demographics. Over the past four decades, he has assisted clients in addressing nearly every legal controversy involving public agencies. This includes growth moratoria, censure of public officials and the defense of numerous legal challenges to everything from city manager briefings of city council members on a weekly basis to city seals alleged to violate the separation of church and state. For many years John has worked to help a town acquire a local water system for more necessary public use.

City Attorney
John has served as the city attorney for the City of Ontario since 1997. He has also served as the city attorney for cities throughout California since 1976 when, as a first-year associate, he was appointed the city attorney of the City of Desert Hot Springs. He served in that role for a decade. In the years to follow, he served as city attorney nearly two dozen municipalities, including, the cities of Lafayette, San Jacinto, Corona, Redlands, La Habra Heights and the Town of Apple Valley. At a time when many smaller cities were turning to contract city attorneys, John counts himself as lucky to not only be able to serve these cities, but to be practicing public law during what became a time of tremendous expansion of the firm’s municipal and other special counsel public law practices.
Municipal and Redevelopment Law
John’s municipal law practice was bolstered by the passage of Proposition 13 in 1976, which capped ad valorem property tax revenues. As cities looked to California’s Community Redevelopment Law to retain property taxes in the form of a tax increment, John quickly became a go-to advisor on the law, representing both other affected taxing entities, like water and school districts, as well as newly formed redevelopment agencies. John began assisting redevelopment agencies with redevelopment projects throughout Southern California — from major urban renewal projects in downtown Fresno and downtown Redlands to redevelopment projects focused on auto sales and service centers in Indio and Cathedral City to big box retailers in Colton,  as well as major public infrastructure projects throughout the Coachella Valley.
General Counsel
John also acts as general counsel for special districts and other public agencies. He has served as general counsel to the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District for more than 40 years, as it grew from a small municipal water district principally serving the City of Lake Elsinore to a large municipal water and wastewater district that today serves nearly 50,000 customers from Corona to Temecula. He also serves as general counsel to the Hi-Desert Water District. John was appointed general counsel to the March Joint Powers Authority and the March Inland Port Airport Authority, the local reuse authorities for the former March Air Force Base in Southern California ,when it was formed and continued in that role for more than 20 years.
Public Education
Much of John’s early public law work focused on school construction, which included the firm’s innovative use of Education Code lease and leaseback provisions. This permitted school districts to pioneer some of the earliest use of alternative public works project delivery methods, including design-build, now commonly authorized by statute for a variety of public agencies throughout the State. Along with firm colleagues and through his affiliation with the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, John helped expand that legal authority to those other public agencies. John also represented a variety of school districts as general counsel, including the San Luis Coastal, Hemet, San Jacinto and Perris school districts as well as the, Anaheim Union and Anaheim City, and Santa Barbara school districts as special counsel. John recalls fondly telling NPR that it was difficult to sue Mickey Mouse when one of the Anaheim School districts filed a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit against Disneyland over its expansion many years ago. He counts among his career highlights taking part in BB&K’s formation of an Education Law practice group.

Public Agency Best Practices
With decades of experience working with public agencies, John continuously parlays lessons learned into best practices that he shares with public officials. He has shared on a variety of topics, everything from social media use at the California Special Districts Association conference to leading a workshop on handling governing board disputes for the CSDA leadership summit.

Firm Leader
John chaired the firm’s Municipal Law practice group from 1996 to 2008. He has also served on the firm’s Executive Committee and as its marketing partner. John takes pride in the tremendous success the firm has had in its decades-long effort to diversify and bolster its inclusionary hiring practices over the past decades. Along with his colleagues, John is committed to a concerted effort to ensure that the firm reflects the faces of its clients. BB&K went from no women or minority attorneys when John joined the firm to now earning national and state accolades for its racial and gender diversity.

Community Service
Early in his career, when BB&K routinely opened its doors every Friday to the public for pro bono legal aid, John learned the value of giving back to the communities the firm serves through service. Over the years, John has served in leadership roles for a variety of humanitarian, cultural, historical and educational organizations. He served on and chaired the boards of the Riverside Art Museum, the Riverside Downtown Partnership, the Riverside Public Library Foundation and the Mission Inn Foundation. He was the City of Riverside’s Homeless Advisory Commission chair for several years during a time when the Commission’s “continuum of care” model was developed — and to this day includes fulltime street outreach teams, women, women and children and men’s homelessness shelters, a social service village called Hulen Place and a “housing first” initiative now being used throughout the State to address homelessness. He served two terms as treasurer and one term as vice president of the California Historical Society Board. John has also served on the Board of Trustees, including two terms as president, of The White Mountain School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. He is currently president of the Board of Directors of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts , the vice president of the Friends of the California State Citrus Historic Park Board of Directors and a member of the City of Riverside’s Cultural Heritage Board.


  • University of California, Berkeley Law School, J.D.
  • Occidental College, M.A., urban studies (awarded as part of a CORO Foundation Fellowship, Los Angles 1971-1972)
  • Claremont McKenna College, B.A., magna cum laude


  • The Best Lawyers in America®, Municipal Law, 2012-2019
  • Martindale-Hubbell® AV Preeminent™ Rated, since 1995
  • Southern California Super Lawyers, 2007, 2010-2012 


  • California
  • American Planning Association
  • California Historical Society, Board Treasurer
  • The White Mountain School Bethlehem, New Hampshire, Board Member
  • Urban Land Institute
  • Citizens University Committee
  • Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts  
  • Riverside County Bar Association


  • “Will Driverless Car Regulations Leave People with Disabilities Behind?,” BBKnowledge, Feb. 24, 2016
  • “Social Media and Political Agencies,” BBKnowledge, Oct. 16, 2014


Best Lawyers in America Lists 27 BB&K Attorneys for 2019
Press Releases Aug 21, 2018

Best Lawyers in America Lists 27 BB&K Attorneys for 2019

Representing a Variety of Practice Areas

City of San Bernardino Retains BB&K
BB&K In the News Aug 21, 2018

City of San Bernardino Retains BB&K

California City News Reports

Ontario Students Received Backpacks on 1st Day of School
Press Releases Aug 8, 2018

Ontario Students Received Backpacks on 1st Day of School

BB&K’s Annual Operation Backpack Comes to Vista Grande Elementary

22 BB&K Attorneys  Earn Spot on Best Lawyers in America 2018 List
Press Releases Aug 15, 2017

22 BB&K Attorneys Earn Spot on Best Lawyers in America 2018 List

Two Recognized as Lawyers of the Year

Event Jun 26, 2017

Crisis Mode: Practical Advice for Special District Leaders for Handling Board Disputes

CSDA's 2017 General Manager Leadership Summit

John Brown Video Bio
Videos Nov 18, 2016

John Brown Video Bio


BB&K’s Reimagining the Cadillac Desert
BB&K In the News Oct 27, 2016

BB&K’s Reimagining the Cadillac Desert

Maven’s Notebook Shares Highlights from Water Event

Using Nature's Technology in Response to Drought
Videos Sep 15, 2016

Using Nature's Technology in Response to Drought

Reimagining the Cadillac Desert

Modern Urban Living in the Dry Age
Videos Sep 15, 2016

Modern Urban Living in the Dry Age

Reimagining the Cadillac Desert

Water and Technology
Videos Sep 15, 2016

Water and Technology

Reimagining the Cadillac Desert

Reimagining the Cadillac Desert
BB&K Event Sep 15, 2016

Reimagining the Cadillac Desert

BB&K's Inaugural Premier Event

How are Cities Looking at Water
Videos Sep 15, 2016

How are Cities Looking at Water

Reimagining the Cadillac Desert

Press Releases Aug 15, 2016

20 BB&K Attorneys Make Best Lawyers in America 2017 List

Two Named Lawyers of the Year

Press Releases Aug 17, 2015

19 BB&K Attorneys Included on the 2016 Best Lawyers in America List

Partner Iris Yang and Of Counsel Joseph Coomes Selected as Lawyers of the Year

Event Oct 1, 2014

Rate Setting Compliance, Social Media in Politics and CEQA

California Special Districts Association

Event Sep 15, 2014

New Uses of Social Media to Engage the Citizenry and Inform the Planning Process/Ethics and Conflicts of Interest in Land Use Approval Process

American Planning Association California Chapter

Event Sep 3, 2014

BB&K Attorneys Discussed Fair Housing Claims, Environmental Legal Issues and Social Media

League of California Cities Annual Conference

Press Releases Aug 19, 2014

Thirteen BB&K Attorneys Named to The Best Lawyers in America© 2015 List

The Included Attorneys Practice in BB&K Offices throughout California