Legal Alerts Apr 06, 2020

California’s Voter Participation Rights Act Does Not Apply to Charter Cities

Appellate Court Takes on “Home Rule” in City of Redondo v. Alex Padilla

California’s Voter Participation Rights Act Does Not Apply to Charter Cities

The California Voter Participation Rights Act requires local agencies to consolidate their elections with statewide elections when their average voter turnout falls 25 percent or more below the average statewide voter turnout in the previous four general elections. An appellate court agreed with the City of Redondo Beach that this rule does not apply to charter cities.

The VPRA provides that “a political subdivision shall not hold an election other than on a statewide election date if holding an election on a nonconcurrent date has previously resulted in a significant decrease in voter turnout.” (Elections Code sections 14051 and 14052.) A “political subdivision” is defined to mean “a geographic area of representation . . . including, but not limited to, a city, a school district, a community college district, or other district organized pursuant to state law.” (Elections Code section 14051(a).)

Redondo Beach is a charter city with a charter that requires all municipal and school board elections to be held on “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each succeeding odd-numbered year. . . .” Redondo Beach’s local election turnout was more than 25 percent below that of the preceding four statewide elections. Therefore, under the VPRA, the City would have been required to adopt an ordinance consolidating its elections schedule with the state general election schedule. However, Redondo Beach argued that, as a charter city, under the “home rule” doctrine, these rules did not apply. Many cities, including some charter cities, have already enacted election ordinances to comply with the VPRA.

Redondo Beach challenged the VPRA on the ground that it improperly infringed on the full authority conferred on charter cities by article XI, section 5, of the California Constitution to schedule their own elections for local offices. In a court action, the City sought to prohibit the  Secretary of State’s application of the VPRA to the City and a judicial declaration that the VPRA is unconstitutional as applied to charter cities.

The Los Angeles Superior Court upheld Redondo Beach’s challenge, issued a writ of mandate barring the Secretary from enforcing the VPRA against the City and declared it unconstitutional as applied to charter cities. The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the judgement to the extent it restrained the Secretary from enforcing the VPRA against the City.

In its opinion issued on March 23 in City of Redondo Beach v. Padilla, the appellate court recognized a charter city’s broad authority with respect to municipal affairs (i.e., the home rule doctrine) and set forth the analytical framework to determine the constitutionality of a state statute that appeared to infringe upon a charter city’s home rule authority. As a threshold matter, a court must determine whether the statutory language was intended to apply to charter cities.

The appellate court analyzed whether the VPRA was intended to apply to charter cities by interpreting the words of the statute and considering the legislative history of the bill. The court declined to infer an intent to contravene charter cities’ full authority to set the timing of their own elections. Because the law could not pass this threshold test, the appellate court held it could not be enforced against the City.

For more information or any questions regarding this decision, please contact the authors of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group or your BB&K attorney.

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