McGeorge School of Law

McGeorge alumnus thrives in broad scope of municipal law

June 5, 2020

Dan Hentschke ’77 has been fascinated by local, state and institutional law since taking a municipal law class at McGeorge School of Law in 1976.

“Having learned the broad range of issues related to government law, I found it interesting stuff,” recalled Hentschke, who was coaxed out of retirement in December 2017 to take the position of assistant city attorney in his hometown of Santa Barbara.

“Being a municipal lawyer is kind of like being a doctor who is a general practitioner because you must know the issues ranging from the First Amendment as applied to regulations to the different land use activities related to CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), to construction contracting, and exercise of regulatory activity. It’s fun.”

Hentschke previously served as general counsel for the San Diego County Water Authority, city attorney for the cities of Oceanside, San Marcos and Solana Beach, assistant city attorney for Carlsbad, and as a deputy city attorney for San Diego. He also was a partner with Brown, Diven & Hentschke LLP, a firm focusing on representing public agencies and public finance.

Lawyerly skills — tempered by a good sense of humor and the ability to understand the demands of various departments and elected officials — help in his work.

“You must listen to what your clients are saying and your clients can be entities or people,” he said. “You have to deal with the fact that entities are run by people.”

McGeorge prepared Hentschke for serving as a city attorney because of its Sacramento location with access to a network of different government agencies and the ways McGeorge faculty taught law.

“In those days you did your research by going to the law library,” he recalled. “What was really helpful was the kind of practical application to the instruction. The constitutional litigator who taught communications law instructed us from a practical standpoint as opposed to merely a theoretical discussion.

“At that time the folks who were teaching seemed to have a practical bent for the legal principals they were talking about,” Hentschke said. “I still remember my contracts professor saying that just because you walk into a classroom to talk about legal principles you don’t suspend your common sense. That remains an important legal concept.

“What prepared me for my legal career was taking specific classes from people who were clearly impassioned with government service and being municipal lawyers,” he said.

Hentschke employs a McGeorge alumnus and networks with other alumni, including preeminent water lawyers Scott S. Slater of Los Angeles and Stuart L. Somach of Colorado.

He advises students interested in municipal law to become familiar with government structures, read the League of California Cities’ municipal handbooks, and learn how governments function.

“Municipal law has become a lot more complicated, so it’s important to pay attention when you talk about it,” Hentschke said. “A lot of being a city attorney is personnel work and contracts, so a broad perspective on how things are connected is important.”

He has authored and co-authored numerous papers, pamphlets and other publications, and is a frequent speaker on a wide array of water, municipal and public finance topics. He co-authored the Propositions 218 and 26 implementation guides published by the League of California Cities and Association of California Water Agencies.

Hentschke served as president of the City Attorney’s Department of the League of California Cities in 1995-96 and as a member of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Association of California Water Agencies from 1998 to present. 

He is proud to serve the same community where he grew up attending local schools and graduating from UC Santa Barbara.