Michael Houston ’97 has been appointed Chief Counsel for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization. Houston, who has a BS in political science from Wilkinson College and a law degree from Vanderbilt University, has more than 20 years’ experience as a practicing lawyer, mainly focusing on public agency law, governance, public ethics, real estate, economic development and land use.
Before joining SCAG, he served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary to the Tejon Ranch Co., and as City Attorney for the City of Anaheim where he was instrumental in reshaping the city’s electoral system as it transitioned from an at-large system to election of councilmembers by district.
“I am honored to join SCAG’s leadership team and be part of its dynamic role in the region, as it assists its member agencies to formulate and implement policy for important issues affecting Southern California,” said Houston.
Who was the most influential person for you at Chapman? Why?
“I can’t only list one ‘most influential’ person. Professors Fred Smoller, Art Blaser, the late Don Will and Ron Steiner were teachers, mentors and friends. They taught me to challenge my own opinions. They helped me to grow in maturity and thought. They challenged me to see things through different lenses. I am so grateful for their being part of my education.”
If you could go back in time and experience one moment again from your time at Chapman, what would it be? Is there anything that you would do differently?
“Professor Fred Smoller gave me the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant for the OC Internship Program in 1997. It was a life changing opportunity because the opportunity gave me a taste of the education process from the non-student perspective.
“I’m sure there are many that I would do differently, too many to list. For starters, I probably should not have pushed off my physical education requirements to my senior year. I wound up having to take a bowling class from community college (my team’s name was ‘Bowloney’).”
What do you wish you knew at the time of your graduation (about life, career, family, best place for tacos, etc.) that you know now? What advice can you give to the students and/or recent graduates of today?
“I wish I understood the importance of being present in the moment. I’d urge students to take time to build meaningful personal relationships early. The friendships you cultivate in college will be personally and professionally helpful the rest of your life.”
How did Chapman prepare you for your career? How did your experience prepare you for the real world?
“Chapman’s individualized education, and the friendships that I made both from classmates and my professors, prepared me to work with individuals from many different backgrounds and viewpoints. My professors challenged me to think critically. Those experiences provided a foundation for me when I began to practice law, where it’s necessary to be both a counselor and an advocate.”
What were the most challenging social/societal issue in our country/world that you faced as a young college student? What was your perspective or how did you get involved?
“Political and community engagement were an important part of the university environment when I was at Chapman and I was eager to be a participant. I quickly learned that, as a young person with little money but plenty of time, I could engage in the political process by volunteering on campaigns and in legislative offices. Volunteering provided access to elected officials that was ‘free’ and didn’t require being a monetary contributor. I interned for a US Representative (retired Congressman Ed Royce) and later served on his district staff while I was at Chapman. The four years I spent at Chapman exposed me to diverse opinions and this helped broaden my views and open my mind to different ideas.”