City of Santa Barbara v. Adamson

Decision Date15 May 1980
Citation27 Cal.3d 123,164 Cal.Rptr. 539,610 P.2d 436
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 610 P.2d 436, 12 A.L.R.4th 219 CITY OF SANTA BARBARA, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Beverly ADAMSON et al., Defendants and Appellants. L.A. 31126.
[610 P.2d 437] Meaney & Bycel, Benjamin Bycel and Bruce Wm. Plebuch, Santa Barbara, for defendants and appellants

William A. Resneck, Reed & Resneck, San Francisco, Fred Okrand, Mark Dale Rosenbaum and Terry Smerling, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of defendants and appellants.

Frederick W. Clough, City Atty., and Anthony C. Fischer, Asst. City Atty., for plaintiff and respondent.

Burt Pines, City Atty., Claude E. Hilker and William B. Burge, Asst. City Attys., Ann Hayes, Deputy City Atty., Los Angeles, Robert W. Parkin, City Atty., Long Beach, Arthur Y. Honda, Deputy City Atty., Donald S. Greenberg, City Atty., San Buenaventura, Elwyn L. Johnson, City Atty., Modesto, George D. Lindberg, City Atty., Chula Vista, William C. Marsh, City Atty., Monterey, Stanley E. Remelmeyer, City Atty., Torrance, James M. Ruddick, City Atty., Marysville, Robert R. Wellington, City Atty., Marina Del Rey Oaks, John W. Witt, City Atty., San Diego, and D. Dwight Worden, City Atty., Del Mar, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and respondent.

NEWMAN, Justice.

"All people . . . have inalienable rights", proclaims the California Constitution in the first sentence of article I. The second sentence reads: "Among these (inalienable rights) are enjoying life and liberty, . . . possessing . . . property, and pursuing and obtaining . . . happiness, and privacy." 1

Appellants argue that Santa Barbara and the trial court have violated those rights because the court, on request of the city, ordered appellants to comply with a city ordinance which requires, in the zone where appellants and other individuals live together, that all occupants of houses like that in which they reside be members of a family.

Section 28.10.030 of the ordinance commands that no premises be used "in any manner other than is permitted in the zones in which such . . . premises are located." Other sections describe the zones; those most directly involved here are the one-family, two-family, and multiple-family residence zones. The trial court concluded that appellants may not reside in such zones because they and individuals with whom they wish to live are not within the ordinance's definition of "family":

"28.04.230 Family.

1. An individual, or two (2) or more persons related by blood, marriage or legal adoption living together as a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit. . . .

2. A group of not to exceed five (5) persons, excluding servants, living together as a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit."

The record shows that appellants are three residents of a house in a single-family zone where the minimum lot-size is one acre. They and other individuals form a group of 12 adults who live in a 24-room, 10-bedroom, 6-bathroom house owned by appellant Adamson. The occupants are in their late 20's or early 30's and include a business woman, a graduate biochemistry student, a tractor-business operator, a real estate woman, a lawyer, and others. They are not related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

They moved into the house after Adamson acquired it on December 1, 1977. On February 9, 1978, following warnings, the city attorney sued for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction. A restraining order was issued on March 7, 1978; a preliminary injunction on March 29, 1978.

Appellants' household illustrates the kind of living arrangements prohibited by the ordinance's rule-of-five. (Section 28.04.230, subd. 2, supra.) They chose to reside with each other when Adamson made it known she was looking for congenial people with whom to share her house. Since then, they explain, they have become a close group with social, economic, and psychological commitments to each other. They share expenses, rotate chores, and eat evening meals together. Some have children who regularly visit. Two (not including Adamson) have contributed over $2,000 each to improving the house and defraying costs of this lawsuit. Emotional support and stability are provided by the members to each other; they enjoy recreational activities such as a trip to Mexico togethers they have chosen to live together mainly because of their compatibility.

Regarding physical environment, the house has 6,231 square feet of space and is hidden from the street by trees and a fence. It has off-street parking for at least 12 cars. Appellants have built a wall around part of the property and a new, private driveway to help isolate them from neighbors' houses. There is no evidence of overcrowding though, after appellants had arrived, some neighbors did notice a larger number of cars parked on the property and an understandable increase in the number of residents.

Appellants say that they regard their group as "a family" and that they seek to share several values of conventionally composed families. A living arrangement like theirs concededly does achieve many of the personal and practical needs served by traditional family living. It could be termed an alternate family. It meets half of Santa Barbara's definition because it is "a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit". It fails to meet the part of the definition that requires residents, if they are more than five and are not servants, to be related by blood, marriage, or adoption.


Valid laws can, of course, be written to help promote and protect values that family life enhances. The question in this case is whether that kind of law may deny to individuals who are not family members certain benefits that family members enjoy.

The ordinance at issue is 93 pages long. The words "family" and "families" are used at least 85 times. Because of various phrases in which the words are used it appears that, in Santa Barbara, appellants and their associates are denied the right to reside together in a one-family, two-family, or multiple-family dwelling, a "garden apartment development", and "a trailer or cabana or combination thereof". Other possible abodes not adaptable to their needs include hotel ("the more or less temporary abiding place of individuals who are lodged"), tourist court ("designated for . . . (use) temporarily by automobile tourists or transients"), and auto trailer ("designed . . . to travel on the public thoroughfares at the maximum allowable speed limit").

Where then, according to the ordinance, might they reside together? Apparently Second, if appellants could meet the requirements of section 28.94.001 they then might obtain from the Planning Commission a conditional use permit to maintain a boarding house in another zone, unlike where they now reside. (See § 28.94.030, subd. 17; also § 28.04.100, stating that a boarding house is "(a) building where meals and/or lodging are provided for compensation for six (6) or more persons by pre-arrangement for definite periods.")

[610 P.2d 439] nowhere, with three exceptions: First, if any five or less of them were acceptable as masters, perhaps the others then could sign on as servants. (See § 28.04.230, which in part defines family as any "group of not to exceed five (5) persons, excluding servants . . ."; cf. § 28.04.180: "all necessary servants and employees of such family." The legality of such clauses has not been argued here, but they appear to present equal protection questions.)

Third, they might apply for a variance pursuant to chapter 28.92 of the ordinance. (We discuss below this suggestion of the city attorney, as well as his "boarding house" suggestion.)

Do the ordinance's restrictions, with those three exceptions, respect the commands of the California Constitution concerning people's rights to enjoy life and liberty, to possess property, and to pursue and obtain happiness and privacy?

Our leading precedent on privacy is White v. Davis (1975) 13 Cal.3d 757, 120 Cal.Rptr. 94, 533 P.2d 222, where this court observed that "the general concept of privacy relates, of course, to an enormously broad and diverse field of personal action and belief . . . ." (Id., pp. 773-774, 120 Cal.Rptr. p. 105, 533 P.2d p. 233; and see fn. 10 regarding "the wide variety of contexts in which the constitutional privacy analysis has been employed"; Bostwick, A Taxonomy of Privacy: Repose, Sanctuary, and Intimate Decision (1976) 64 Cal.L.Rev. 1447, 1450: "Prosser, as a specialist on torts, focused his analysis on harm-causing activities that were proscribed rather than on zones to be protected. The (United States) Supreme Court rapidly outpaced his summary of the law of privacy and a new attempt at classification became necessary." See too Atkisson v. Kern County Housing Authority (1976) 59 Cal.App.3d 89, 98, 130 Cal.Rptr. 375, re ban against unmarried cohabiting adults.)

The court in White v. Davis quoted these words from "a statement drafted by the proponents of the provision (that added "privacy" to the California Constitution) and included in the state's election brochure" (13 Cal.3d at 774-775, 120 Cal.Rptr. at 105-106, 533 P.2d at 233-234):

"The right of privacy is the right to be left alone. It is a fundamental and compelling interest. It protects our homes, our families, our thoughts, our emotions, our expressions, our personalities, our freedom of communion and our freedom to associate with the people we choose. . . . (P) The right of privacy is an important American heritage and essential to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This right should be abridged only when there is a compelling public need. . . ." (Italics added.)

That ballot argument evidenced the voters' intent in 1972 to ensure a right of privacy not only in one's family but also in one's home....

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