David E. Watson


  • David E. Watson
  • Phone: +1 619 744 2289

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  • Duane Morris LLP
    750 B Street, Suite 2900
    San Diego, CA 92101-4681

David E. Watson practices in the area of real estate law, land use, planning and entitlement. Mr. Watson represents land developers and homebuilders, as well as clients in the education and tourism and hospitality industries. He has served as counsel in the development and approval of master plans for some of San Diego's major universities, tourism attractions, professional sports facilities and research institutions. He also served on the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Fair from 2011 to 2020, one of the five largest fairs in North America, appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Mr. Watson's experience includes planning and zoning law, the California Environmental Quality Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, the Coastal Act, the federal Clean Water Act and the California Porter-Cologne water statutes. He has represented clients in numerous matters involving federal, state and local regulations and approvals. His matters have involved discretionary approvals for general plans, community plans, specific plans, master planned communities, zoning, use permits, subdivisions and annexation. His environmental and planning experience involves work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Game, regional water quality control boards, the California Coastal Commission, local agency formation commissions, as well as several city and county governments and agencies.

Critical issues in Mr. Watson's practice involve climate change or global warming, water supply analysis, infrastructure financing, transportation management and biological impacts and mitigation.

In addition, Mr. Watson's practice includes vested rights, development agreements, dedications, exactions, special taxes and fees, affordable housing, infrastructure financing mechanisms such as Mello-Roos, and redevelopment.

Mr. Watson is a 1988 graduate of William and Mary Law School, where he was executive editor of the William and Mary Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif, and a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California.

Areas of Practice

  • Real Estate Law
  • Land Use, Planning and Entitlement
  • Environmental Planning Regulation

Representative Matters

  • Represented the owners of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay resort in obtaining unanimous California Coastal Commission approval of an agreement that resolved more than 15 years of disputes involving public access requirements for the hotel’s ocean bluff site.

  • Represented the Timken Museum of Art in obtaining unanimous San Diego City Council approval for a new 30-year lease in Balboa Park; the new lease substantially increases the size of Timken’s leasehold area to accommodate a new underground exhibition expansion area.

  • Represented 180-acre marine theme park in San Diego's Mission Bay Park, handling all City of San Diego and Coastal Commission environmental review and entitlement approvals for new master plan for development and renovation.

  • Represented internationally famous 125-acre zoological gardens in San Diego's Balboa Park, responsible for legal analysis, plan amendments, and environmental review in connection with City approvals for major expansion of exhibit areas and parking facilities.

  • Represented 1800-acre safari, savannah, exotic animal park in San Diego's San Pasqual Valley in connection with environmental review and obtaining approvals for permits allowing long-term development, renovation and expansion.

  • Represented private Catholic university in connection with City of San Diego environmental review and approvals for 30-year master plan for development.

  • Represented developer of 450-acres on the former Fort Ord in Monterey County for master planned community of residential, commercial, hotel, horse arena and thoroughbred race horse training facilities.

  • Represented developer of proposed high-end estate homes with horse stables and amenities in City of Orange.

  • Represented developer in approval of five-block development of hotel, multi-family and commercial facilities near ocean front in City of Oceanside.

  • Represented developer in connection with environmental review and approval of 156-acre, 656-home development in City of Carlsbad.

  • Represented developer in approval of two 22-story high rise apartment towers containing more than 900 units, the largest residential development in downtown San Diego.

  • Represented national historic landmark hotel resort in City of Coronado in connection with future development issues related to the State Aeronautics Act and Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan.

  • Represented developer in connection with City of Chula Vista approvals of final phases of EastLake master planned community.


  • California


  • College of William and Mary, Marshall-Wythe School of Law, J.D., 1988
    - Executive Editor, William and Mary Law Review
    - Order of the Coif
    - Lawrence W. I'Anson Award, presented by the Faculty in recognition of exceptional professional promise
  • University of Southern California, B.A., summa cum laude, 1979


  • Duane Morris LLP
    - Partner, 2010-present
  • Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg & Bagley
    - Partner, 2008-2010; 2002-2006
  • The Yokohl Ranch Company LLC, subsidiary of J.G. Boswell Company
    - Vice President, 2006-2008
  • Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich
    - Attorney, 1988-2002

Professional Activities

  • Building Industry Association of San Diego County
    - Chair, CEO Interview/Selection Committee, 2021
    - Board of Directors
    - Urban Council
    - Public Policy Council

  • Lambda Alpha International (An invitation-only honorary society for advancement of land economics)
  • California State Bar
    - Real Property Section
    - Environmental Law Section

Honors and Awards

  • Listed in The Best Lawyers in America, 2022-2024
  • San Diego Building Industry Association Chairman's Award, 2021
  • Casa Familiar, a social services agency in San Ysidro
    - Abrazo Award for community service, 2001
  • Tom Homann Law Association, San Diego's GLBT Bar Association
    - Co-President's Award for community service, 1999
  • AV Preeminent® Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell®

Civic and Charitable Activities

  • 22nd District Agricultural Association, San Diego County Fair Board of Directors, appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown, 2011-2020
  • State Race Track Leasing Commission and Del Mar Race Track Authority Board of Directors, appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown, 2012-2016
    - Representative of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, San Diego County Fair Board
  • Chula Vista Redevelopment Oversight Board of Directors, Chairman, appointed by County of San Diego Board of Supervisors, 2012-2018

  • Chula Vista Redevelopment Corporation, appointed by City of Chula Vista City Council
    - Board of Directors, 2011-2012
  • Chair of Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues, 2002-2003, appointed by City of San Diego City Council
  • San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau
    - Board of Directors, 2003-2006
  • City of San Diego Planning Commission, 1996-1999, appointed by City of San Diego City Council
  • Task Force on Ballpark Planning, 1997-1998, appointed by City of San Diego City Council
  • Casa Familiar, a social services agency in San Ysidro
    - Board of Directors, 2000-2004
  • Tom Homann Law Association, San Diego's GLBT Bar Association
    - Co-founder and Co-President, 1994
  • Mid-City Development Corporation Board of Directors, appointed by City of San Diego City Council
    - President, 1993-1996

Selected Publications

Selected Speaking Engagements

  • Speaker, "Land Use 101," American Plannning Association, Webinar, June 24, 2020
  • Speaker, "Land Use 101," Building Industry Association of San Diego County, San Diego, March 22, 2019

  • Speaker, Land Use 101 Seminar, Building Industry Association of San Diego, San Diego, May 31, 2017
  • Moderator, Public/Private Partnerships Forum on Petco Park, Counselors of Real Estate, San Diego, May 3, 2011
  • Moderator, San Diego Association of Governments' 2050 Regional Transportation Plan Update, San Diego, September 23, 2010