As a third-generation resident, some of my first memories are of playing at Saint Marks Nursery School on Moraga Way and shopping for candy and stickers at the Sandpiper toy store that used to be next door to Orinda Books. The fact that the nursery school chimes on, Orinda Books has bucked the trend and expanded, and our community now counts a farmer’s market where families can celebrate shopping together gives me a sense of calm as I drive past each of these places on the way to my law practice in downtown Orinda.
I was not always a lawyer. In my first year at University of California Santa Cruz, an older student introduced me to the school newspaper and I found my calling. I quickly proceeded on to working summers at the Santa Cruz County Sentinel and after graduating, worked as a newspaper reporter for nine years, first for the Fairfield Daily Republic, then moved on to what is now the East Bay Times and finally, The Modesto Bee. It was a tough way to make a living, but a wonderful training for life.
I sat through countless numbers of City Council meetings in communities including Dixon, Danville, San Ramon and Modesto and Boards of Supervisors meetings mostly in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties. I combed through campaign finance reports and city spending reports and followed innumerable general plan processes. Eventually, as my own journalist grandfather Wayne Miller had urged me, it would not be enough and I would want to do more – at some point in life I would want to shed my journalistic objectivity and participate as an active force in our community. I tested the waters by entering law school in 2008, half thinking that I would return to journalism after graduation with critical thinking skills to hone my craft.
Law School Leads to Property Law
Instead of returning the the field of journalism, I met my now husband, Paul Gilbert, on the first day of classes and we together found a passion for the law and particularly, property law, a construct that our property professor noted was so universal that even toddlers understood. A music fan, Paul gravitated toward representing the music houses in Los Angeles and I gravitated toward the City Attorney’s Land Use division where I worked as a hands-on “extern” drafting legal arguments to support the City of Los Angeles’s billboard restrictions, then before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
With the Los Angeles City Attorney hiring new lawyers only for unpaid work upon our graduation in the height of the Great Recession, we headed back to Orinda and gratefully accepted employment from my mother and her law partner at Timken Johnson LLP, where we had the opportunity to continue practicing property law. My mother Leslie Johnson and her law partner Heidi Timken also encouraged us to take time for community service.
Paul and I used that opportunity to continue at Antioch’s Deer Valley High School work we had begun introducing legal careers to youth in South Central Los Angeles. That work reminded me of the importance of programs not only within schools but also outside of school for young people, leading me to join the Orinda Parks Commission in 2011. Over the next few years, I also became involved with Commercial Real Estate Women, which strives to achieve parity in opportunity for women and with Las Trampas School, Inc., which assists members of our community with developmental disabilities, and I serve on the boards of both organizations.
When I was ready to open my own law practice in 2015, the question as to where was a no-brainer when my kindergarten classmate from Sleepy Hollow let me know he had an office available in his building, Village Court, in downtown Orinda. My office is next door to another of our classmates from Miramonte.
My practice focuses on assisting individuals and families to structure their real estate and business transactions. This ranges from assisting the owners of an apartment complex to refinance their building to assisting owners of a new business to negotiate a lease. It is a lot of reading, communicating and deal making and prepares me well to perform the work to serve as a thoughtful council person. I can think of no better way to thank this city that has given me so much that by serving on the City Council.