Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Judge Beckloff’s Judgment Granting Writ Sought by Redondo Beach Is Affirmed, but C.A. Neither Agrees Nor Disagrees With His Conclusion That the Legislation Can’t Be Applied to Chartered Cities
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Seven of the Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff’s order to Secretary of State Alex Padilla not to interfere with Redondo Beach holding its elections in odd-numbered years, but sidestepped the question of whether a 2015 statute requiring local elections in even-numbered years is unconstitutional as applied to chartered cities.
Beckloff, in granting a writ of mandate and declaratory relief, as sought by the South Bay municipality, held on Oct. 25, 2018, that the California Voter Participation Rights Act (“CVPR”) impermissibly intrudes upon the province of chartered cities in dictating when they may hold their elections. Yesterday’s opinion, by Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss, neither agrees nor disagrees with the trial court judge’s conclusion.
Rather, the opinion says that the Legislature didn’t make it clear whether it intended the CVPR—which went into effect Jan. 1, 2018—to apply to chartered cities or not so, to avoid a constitutional controversy, it will be assumed there was no such intention.
Wording of Act
The act 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,” and a political subdivision is defined to include cities.
“ ‘Significant decrease in voter turnout’ means the voter turnout for a regularly scheduled election in a political subdivision is at least 25 percent less than the average v§oter turnout within that political subdivision for the previous four statewide general elections,” the act specifies.
Redondo Beach’s off-year elections draw in excess of 25 percent fewer voters than the statewide elections held in the city.
The CVPR conflicts with a provision of the Redondo Beach charter mandating that municipal and school board elections be held on “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each succeeding odd-numbered year....”
“The Secretary contends the plain language of the VPRA, which applies to a “political subdivision” defined as “a geographic area of representation created for the provision of government services, including, but not limited to, a city...,” establishes the Legislature’s intent that the VPRA applies to all cities, not just general law cities. The Legislature, however, is usually quite specific when it intends the term “political subdivision” to include charter cities. For instance, the Government Code often specifies ‘charter cities’ or ‘any city’ when defining or utilizing the term ‘political subdivision.’…
“Likewise, the Supreme Court and courts of appeal have often demanded a clearer indication than the use of a general term, be it ‘a political subdivision’ or ‘a city,’ before concluding a statute is intended to apply to charter cities.”
Attorney General Opinion
He said the Office of Attorney General, in an opinion declaring that the VPRA may be applied to charter cities without contravening the state constitutional grant of autonomy to cities as to municipal operations, “relied on the purported plain meaning of ‘city’ and ‘political subdivision,’ without confronting the inherent ambiguity of those terms.”
Avoiding the state constitutional question, Perluss said:
“[G]uided by the precept that, when reasonable, we will construe a statute to render it free from doubt as to its constitutionality, where the Constitution confers plenary authority on charter cities to set the timing of their elections, we will not infer an intent to contravene that authority without more explicit guidance from the Legislature.”
He added in a footnote:
“Because we affirm the superior court’s judgment issuing a writ of mandate prohibiting the Secretary of State from enforcing the VPRA against the City of Redondo Beach, we do not address the court’s declaration that the VPRA is unconstitutional.”
The case is City of Redondo Beach v. Padilla, 2020 S.O.S. 1317.
Other cities might not be anxious to adopt the same legal stance Redondo Beach has. That affluent city is pressing for its right to hold its elections separately from the statewide elections though the cost of stand-alone elections is estimated at between $588,000 and $593,000 and that of even-year elections at between $97,000 and $111,000.
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