Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Page 3


Former Assistant City Attorney Kenneth W. Downey Dies at 78


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Retired Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Kenneth W. Downey has died.

Downey, who spent over 30 years with the city, including 29 years as water law counsel to the Department of Water and Power, passed away Monday at the age of 78, former colleague David Oliphant told the MetNews.

The cause of death was prostate cancer, Oliphant said.

As legal advisor to the water system, Downey represented the city in a broad variety of matters, including water rates, conservation, environment and intergovernmental relations.  

He represented the city in Bethlehem Steel v. Board of Commissioners, the “Buy American” case, successfully arguing that a law requiring cities to favor American bidders over lower foreign bidders, rather than awarding contracts to the lowest responsible bidder as required by the city charter, was unconstitutional.

He also argued the famous “Mono Lake case,” Audubon Society v. City of Los Angeles, in which the city held that the public’s right to environmental protection under the public trust doctrine had to be balanced against the city’s water rights, and that the state could cut back prior water allocations to protect the public trust but as a matter of practical necessity the state would have to approve appropriations despite foreseeable harm to public trust uses.     

He also litigated the Owens Valley groundwater cases, 24 years of litigation among the city, Inyo County, and others.

He continued to speak and write on water and energy issues after his retirement, serving on the board of the nonprofit public advocacy and educational group Water and Power Associates, Inc. He co-authored an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times in 2002, warning that residents of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood would face steep rate hikes if they seceded from Los Angeles.

Outside of his professional activities, son Jason “Jake” Downey said, he was an avid sportsman. Jake Downey said his father was a softball player, scuba diver, and skier, and played college football at Stanford University before giving up his scholarship because of injuries.

He was only able to finish college, his son explained, because he had delivered the Los Angeles Times as a youngster and received one of the scholarships that the paper gave to former delivery boys. He then went on to graduate from UCLA’s law school, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Survivors include his wife, Nancy Brinker Downey, sons Jason and Michael Downey, stepchildren David and Matthew Brill and Wendy Brill Wynkoop, and 11 grandchildren.

His first marriage, to now-retired attorney Julie P. Downey, ended in divorce.

There are no plans for public services, although family members and friends have been invited to gather at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Downey’s Encino home, Jake Downey said. The family is asking that any memorial donations be directed to Kaiser Foundation Hospital Hospice Program, 3652 Cantara St., Panorama City, CA 91402.


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