William J. “Jim” Priest represents exclusively public agencies as of counsel in the Municipal Law practice group of Best Best & Krieger LLP. Operating out of the firm’s Ontario office, he provides both general and special counsel services to many cities, counties and special districts. Jim’s areas of practice include local elections, public finance, ethics, land use and public works law.
Jim is well versed in local elections laws, running the gamut from initiative, referendum and recall procedures, to political reform/campaign finance, to election recounts and contests. He represented the City of La Habra Heights concerning a controversial (and heavily litigated) “anti-fracking” initiative, as well as a ballot recount arising from their City Council election. He is working with dozens of client agencies throughout the State with local measures on the November 2016 General Election ballot – ranging from tax measures to land use restrictions to marijuana business regulations. He is also experienced in many types of local tax, assessment and fee/rate setting procedures under Propositions 13, 62, 218 and 26 (which often require an election or similar approval process). He regularly assists clients in finding solutions to their particular finance challenges, whether through local tax measures, property assessments, utility rates or other revenue sources.
Jim has extensive experience in land use, development and public works law. During his 12 years of service for the City of Covina, he served as general counsel to its Planning Commission and assisted the City with a variety of high-profile downtown development projects, including the Heritage Plaza Park, the Metrolink and Civic Center Parking Structures, City Ventures’ “Covina 2” and “Covina 3” projects, and the Olson Company’s “Vintage Walk” and “Citrus Walk” mixed-use developments. He assisted the City of Azusa in developing public parking facilities for its Metro Gold Line train stations, which opened in early 2016. He is assisting Azusa in forming a dedicated joint powers authority, which will long-term manage more than 200 acres of undeveloped hillside property overlooking the City for conservation purposes. Jim also served as general counsel to the City of Gardena Planning Commission from 2006 to 2009, where he assisted that City with its first comprehensive General Plan update in 30 years.
As part of his municipal practice, Jim frequently advises clients on issues regarding the State Planning and Zoning Law, Subdivision Map Act, Brown Act, Public Records Act and similar laws.
Jim returned to BB&K after spending several years with Oliver, Sandifer and Murphy in Los Angeles, where he served as assistant city attorney for the cities of Gardena and Downey. During his prior tenure with BB&K, he served many public agencies, including the cities of Fontana and Ontario, as well as the March Joint Powers Authority. In his earliest years of practice, Jim was a member of the Illinois Bar, serving as assistant city attorney for the cities of Maroa and Forsyth, Ill.
Jim is a native of the San Fernando Valley. He and wife, Mara, have been married for 15 years and have two children, Lauren and Jimmy. Jim is admitted to practice law in the states of California and Illinois.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale, J.D.
University of California, Los Angeles, B.A., social psychology, cum laude