WALNUT CREEK -- Paul Valle-Riestra, Walnut Creek's city attorney with a reputation as an expert on cable franchise law, died Thursday after a long illness.
Valle-Riestra, 52, had been assistant city attorney under his longtime friend and mentor Tom Haas since 1990, and succeeded Haas in 2006. Not only the city's lead counselor, Valle-Riestra was born and grew up in Walnut Creek, attending the now closed Walnut Creek Elementary, Walnut Creek Intermediate and Las Lomas High.
Patient, kind and the "genuine article" are words city employees used Friday to describe Valle-Riestra. Because a city attorney works with so many different departments, the news of his death hit many at city hall hard.
He will be greatly missed, said Mayor Cindy Silva.
"Paul will be remembered for his compassion for people, for his dedication to serving the community he loved, for his quiet strength and tenacity, and for his unwavering ethical standards," said Silva in a news release. "His legacy will live on in our community."
In a 2006 interview with the Times, he talked about playing as a young boy in the walnut orchards and creeks with his brother Chris, who is now also a lawyer.
His father Frank helped found the Mt. Diablo Interpretive Association, and his mother Edith was on the board of directors for the Lindsay Wildlife Museum.
Valle-Riestra attended UC Davis, where he got a bachelor's degree in political science. He then earned a law degree from the Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley.
He worked as staff attorney for the League of California Cities, as an attorney in private practice and as a clerk for the Media Access Project in Washington D.C.
In 2006, Valle-Riestra said he considered one of his greatest professional accomplishments to help bring Astound cable to Walnut Creek.
"You don't really see a cable company the same way you see a big building in town," he said. "And yet, in terms of the investment Astound has brought, it dwarfs most other developments. Just about everybody benefits from having the competition that Astound brings."
He made a name for himself nationally when he defended Walnut Creek's right to demand franchise agreements from AT&T and Comcast. Those agreements helped the city collect money to pay for its own government access television station, WCTV.
Valle-Riestra also became a nationally recognized expert in the telecommunications field, consulted by city attorneys across the country who faced similar cable battles. He also wrote a book on telecommunications law.
In 2006, as Haas was retiring, he predicted Valle-Riestra would serve the city well.
"Paul was ready to do this job a decade ago, " Haas said. "He's so capable and talented. It's going to be wonderful for him and it's going to be wonderful for the city."
Valle-Riestra worked on a number of community engagement programs, and was part of the team that created Walnut Creek's Citizens Institute in 2000. In November 2001, Valle-Riestra was named Employee of the Year.
"Paul had such a deeply felt passion for Walnut Creek and it showed in everything he did. He had an extraordinary gift for handling all issues with sheer brilliance, quiet wisdom, and dignified grace," said retired Public Information Officer Brad Rovanpera in the news release.
Valle-Riestra is survived by his wife Alice and their daughters Jenna and Cara; parents Edith and Frank Valle-Riestra; brother Chris; and nephew and niece-in-law Levi and Jill Snell.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.