VISTA — For over a decade, the city’s legal matters have been handled by City Attorney Darold Pieper, someone with far-reaching talents whose tenure is coming to an end on June 3.
City Attorney Darold Pieper has served Vista for 16 years — 17 years in September — leading the charter charge and supporting major changes in the city.
“[Pieper] is a fine man, an excellent public servant, and it’s a true loss that we’re going to be losing him,” said Deputy Mayor John Franklin.
From being a longtime Boy Scout to representing cities and public entities, Pieper has seen it all. While he’s not finished practicing law just yet, he does feel it’s time to step away from city hall.
“It’s time to let others take the helm,” Pieper said.
Pieper grew up in China Lake where he attended Sherman E. Burroughs High School, a place that harnessed the educational benefit of the Naval Air Weapons Station.
His hometown’s proximity to the base meant he was nearly surrounded by major projects and highly educated individuals.
“Scientists, engineers, physicists, chemists, mathematicians,” Pieper said.
“It was an impactful environment, and the schools leveraged it.”
During his junior and senior years of high school, through an outreach program, Pieper was able to clerk for the Weapons Planning Group at the Naval Weapons Center. He was soon recruited as a weapons research analyst, where he completed more complex tasks until 1969.
In 1970, Pieper joined Richards, Watson and Gershon, a law firm that focused on the general and special counsel to public entities in California. He would become a senior counsel and partner in 1975.
Pieper would leave the firm in 2005 after “a recruiter came to call” with a position in a city in North County. Pieper had grown up coming to the area and had always admired it from his L.A. offices.
“So I came,” Pieper said with a smile.
The Vista City Council appointed Pieper in 2005. Then, he got busy, namely helping form a city charter.
The Vista City Charter went to a public vote on June 5, 2007. The ballot explained to voters that moving from a general law city to a charter city expanded Vista’s control over municipal affairs — namely prevailing wage on construction projects.
The State Building Trades Council then sued the City of Vista, claiming certain contracts demanded prevailing wages per state law. The conflict was appealed twice by the State Building Trades Council and brought before the California Supreme Court in 2012.
“I was very proud of the fact that we had a charter city issue that went to the California Supreme Court and we won it,” Pieper said.
Pieper loves the people of Vista, and he’s grateful to have seen its rapid growth in the last few years. He had a hard time pinning standout moments because he cherished them all.
“There have been so many projects because the city has transformed so much in the last 16 years,” Pieper said.
“When I came here, I worked in a trailer that had things that lived under it and now we’ve moved on from that,” Pieper said from the four-story, modernized Vista Civic Center, which was built about 10 years ago.
Although he lives in Carlsbad, Pieper is a Vistan at heart, who loves Old Town and exploring Brengle Terrace Park. During the summers, Pieper’s a ticket holder to the Moonlight Amphitheatre.
“Vista is a very multicultural community that is filled with warm and friendly people,” Pieper said. “I have had a wonderful time in Vista. I have never for a moment regretted coming here to be the city attorney and I am exceptionally proud of all that we were able to accomplish during my tenure.”
The Vista City Council appoints two positions, the city manager and the city attorney. While no one has been named outside of closed session, Franklin said the process is underway.
“This council is going to act carefully and thoughtfully to make the decision,” Franklin said.
The Vista City Council is expected to name Deputy City Attorney Walter Chung in the interim before June 3 and will reconvene later this summer after researching the hiring process and recruitment costs.
“We are planning to officially address the position and a timeframe for an official hire after the July break,” said Councilmember Joe Green.
Pieper has an impressive list of achievements — with a five-page curriculum vitae. He’s been served four city governments and numerous public agencies since the 1970s