The California Legislature just sent another “stop me before I vote again” bill to the Governor.  Assembly Bill 890 proposes to limit severely the scope of voter-sponsored, pro-development land use initiatives.  The Governor has until October 15th to decide whether to sign the bill into law.  The actual effect of AB 890, if enacted, may need to be resolved in litigation.

*** Update:  On October 15th, Governor Brown vetoed AB 890 ***

The bill would enact new provisions of the Government Code that delegate exclusive authority to city councils and boards of supervisors to determine certain general plan, specific plan and zoning decisions.  Courts have determined that when the legislature delegates authority over an issue exclusively to councils and boards, voter action regarding those issues is precluded.  However, AB 890 also purports to preserve to the voters their power of referendum, and to allow councils and boards of supervisors to place pro-development measures on the ballot.  AB 890 also proposes to prohibit the approval or amendment of a development agreement by initiative, while retaining provisions of existing law which state that a development agreement is a legislative act subject to referendum.  AB 890 states that it applies to charter cities as well as general law cities.

The general plan, specific plan and zoning decisions that would be exclusively delegated under AB 890 (and therefore could not be pursued in a voter-sponsored initiative) are those that would:

  • Convert a discretionary land use approval necessary for a project to a ministerial approval.
  • Change a land use designation or zoning district to a more intensive designation or district, with the most intense use defined as industrial uses, followed by commercial uses, office uses, residential uses, and then agricultural or open-space uses.
  • Authorize more intensive land uses within an existing designation or district.

Continue Reading Legislature Seeks To Prevent Local Voters From Enacting Many Types of Pro-Development Initiatives

The court of appeal has overturned a local initiative because the City Council failed to agendize its consideration of Walmart’s offer to fund election costs. The court also determined that the initiative measure did not run afoul of the constitutional prohibition against naming or benefitting a corporation, since it applied to any developer of the

When a referendum petition is presented against an ordinance and the board of supervisors decides to “entirely repeal the ordinance” rather than present it to the voters, the board must revoke the challenged ordinance in its entirety and may not take additional action that has the practical effect of implementing the essential feature of the ordinance. County of Kern v. TCEF, 246 Cal.App.4th 301 (2016)

In 2009, the Board of Supervisors of Kern County enacted a zoning ordinance that effectively allowed medical marijuana dispensaries in commercial zoning districts. In 2011, the Board enacted a new zoning ordinance, the Dispensary Ban Ordinance, which banned all medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the county’s jurisdiction. Opponents circulated a referendum petition, and obtained the requisite signatures. The Board responded by repealing the entire chapter of the zoning ordinance that included both the Dispensary Ban Ordinance and the 2009 ordinance allowing dispensaries in commercial zoning districts. The result was that dispensaries were not allowed in any zoning district anywhere in the county.

Elections Code section 9145 requires that when a county board of supervisors is presented with a qualified referendum petition, it must either “entirely repeal the ordinance against which a [referendum] petition is filed” or submit the ordinance to a vote. The court of appeal agreed with Kern County that this language did not necessarily require the county to return all circumstances to the status quo that existed before the Dispensary Ban Ordinance was enacted, and that the county had discretion to take other actions besides repealing the referended ordinance. However, this discretion is limited by the overriding principle that these actions may not have the practical effect of implementing the core element of the challenged ordinance.
Continue Reading County Board May Not Take Actions That Implement Essential Feature of a Referended Ordinance