Zach Cowan retires as Berkeley city attorney, succeeded by Farimah Brown

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Zach Cowan retired from his city attorney position Friday after nearly 24 years of service with the city of Berkeley. He will be succeeded by Farimah Brown, a municipal attorney who has worked for various cities of the East Bay.

“It goes without saying that we will miss Mr. Cowan. His wealth of experience, insight, dedication and collaborative perspective have been invaluable,” said City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley in an April 17 memo to the city. “He has kept us effective while allowing the city to be ambitious. One of his enduring qualities is that he treats public service as a deep responsibility, a role that we are all fortunate to have shared with him.”

According to Dan Marks, former director of Berkeley’s Department of Planning and Development, Cowan and his team of attorneys garnered communitywide respect and were instrumental in avoiding lawsuits through their solid interpretation and application of ordinances.

“People on both sides of issues generally respect Zach, and that’s a tremendously impressive feat in a city like Berkeley,” Marks said.

Over the past 17 years, Cowan’s successor Farimah Brown has worked at the Livermore City Attorney’s Office, Oakland City Attorney’s Office and most recently, as the senior assistant city attorney for the city of Alameda.

The city attorney provides legal support to the city government, including City Council and the various city departments.

According to Brown, the city attorney’s office advises the city, determines the merits of claims, defends against lawsuits filed against the city and proactively files lawsuits on the city’s behalf regarding important community issues.

In an email, Brown wrote that Cowan left the office in a “really good position” and she hopes “to continue the tradition of providing excellent legal services to my clients in addition to being a resource to them.”

In a May 30 memo to the city announcing Brown’s appointment, Williams-Ridley said Brown has “extensive experience” in land-use issues and municipal law — such as with the California Environmental Quality Act, affordable housing and planning and zoning.

Brown, who studied at UC Berkeley and later the UC Hastings College of the Law, said over email that the city “holds a special place” in her heart.

“I vividly remember the first time I set foot in Berkeley as a 12 year old who had just moved to the US from a war-torn Iran. I was accompanying my brother who was a student at Cal and we walked through Sproul Plaza and saw thousands of students, faculty, and others protesting the apartheid regime in South Africa and I knew I was in a special place, “ Brown said in an email. “I am honored to be back here as the City’s lead lawyer and want to contribute to this diverse and vibrant community.”

Contact Christine Giuliano at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinegiul.