County of Santa Barbara v. City of Santa Barbara

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation130 Cal.Rptr. 615,59 Cal.App.3d 364
PartiesCOUNTY OF SANTA BARBARA, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. CITY OF SANTA BARBARA, a Municipal Corporation, et al., Defendants and Appellants. Civ. 46928.
Decision Date22 June 1976

Page 615

130 Cal.Rptr. 615
59 Cal.App.3d 364
COUNTY OF SANTA BARBARA, Plaintiff and Respondent,
CITY OF SANTA BARBARA, a Municipal Corporation, et al., Defendants and Appellants.
Civ. 46928.
Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 4, California.
June 22, 1976.
Hearing Denied Sept. 15, 1976.

[59 Cal.App.3d 367]

Page 617

Wilson, Jones, Morton & Lynch and Robert G. Auwbrey, San Mateo, for defendants and appellants.

George P. Kading, County Counsel, and Don H. Vickers, Deputy County Counsel, Santa Barbara, for plaintiff and respondent.

KINGSLEY, Associate Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment which declared that certain assessments and charges levied by the City of Santa Barbara against the County of Santa Barbara and property owned by it are invalid and which directed the issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate commanding the defendant city to set aside such assessments and charges.

In 1961 the City of Santa Barbara adopted Ordinance 2826 which established a procedure for the formation of off-street parking districts. Section 16 of the ordinance provided that bonds issued under the ordinance and the interest thereof 'shall be payable from annual ad valorem assessments

Page 618

levied on the taxable real property within the district.'

After the adoption of Ordinance 2826, the City of Santa Barbara proceeded to form two parking districts which later were consolidated into one district. The County of Santa Barbara owns various property [59 Cal.App.3d 368] within the parking district, but was not then assessed since the property was not 'taxable real property.'

In 1968 the City of Santa Barbara adopted Ordinance 3282 which established reassessment procedures applicable in districts formed under Ordinance 2826. Section 1 of the ordinance specifies grounds for reassessment.

In 1973, the City of Santa Barbara adopted Ordinance 3576 which amended section 16 of Ordinance 2826 to provide that bonds and interest thereon shall be payable 'from annual assessments levied upon all real property within the district which is subject to special assessment for benefits from local improvements under the State and Federal Constructions, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, real property belonging to any county, city, public agent, mandatory of the government, school board, educational, penal or reform institutions or institutions for the feeble minded or the insane, whether or not in use in the performance of any public function, but excepting privately owned tax exempt property. . . .'

Ordinance 3576 also added section 16B to Ordinance 2826 to authorize the imposition of 'charges against property owners of the parking district including owners of publicly owned property.'

The city then went through proceedings to reassess the property in the district, and added publicly owned property as subject to assessment. The announced basis for reassessment was that public interest requires the reassessment proceedings. Charges were imposed by the city in the amount of the assessment.

The trial court found that assessment and charges against the County of Santa Barbara were invalid and unenforceable. Although respondent county proposed a number of grounds the trial court found that the city lacked authority to assess county public use property unless permitted to do so by state law, and since that finding resolved the case the court did not rule on the other contentions raised by the briefs.

The issue before this court is whether the assessments and charges are valid.

59 Cal.App.3d 369


Appellant city's first argument is that public use, and not public ownership, governs assessability. The rule is that where publicly owned property is devoted to a public use, it is impliedly exempt from assessment. (City of Fresno v. Fresno Irr. District (1925) 72 Cal.App. 503, 507, 237 P. 772; City Street Imp. Co. v. Regents, etc. (1908) 153 Cal. 776, 96 P. 801.) Such publicly owned, publicly used property is exempt from assessment unless 'there is positive legislative authority therefor.' (City of Inglewood v. Co. of Los Angeles, (1929) 207 Cal. 697, 702, 704, 280 P. 360, 363.)


Appellant next argues that the original reason for disallowing assessment of publicly used property no longer exists. The city argues that enforcement of assessments against publicly used property originally meant foreclosure of an assessment lien against property used for public purposes, which interfered with the assessed property's ability to perform its public function. (Witter v. Mission School Dist. (1898) 121 Cal. 350, 351, 352, 53 P. 905.) But appellant argues that such reasoning is no longer applicable today because it is not necessary that the ability to foreclose exist in order to enforce the collection of the assessment levy. Appellant argues that a

Page 619

money judgment against the entity is sufficient 1 to enforce collection.

Therefore, appellant concludes, since the reason for the original rule no longer exists, this appellate court should now hold that publicly owned, publicly used property is not exempt from special assessment. The city's argument is superficially persuasive. However, foreclosure against a public entity is not the only way in which a public entity's function can be injuriously affected by an assessment. If a county is forced to pay assessments on publicly used property there will inevitably be a loss of funds available to county institutions and a resulting diminution of county services, or also an increased tax burden on the citizens.

The rule in this state is that public property, when actually devoted to public use, is exempt from special assessments. (City Street Improvement Co. v. [59 Cal.App.3d 370] Regents of the University of Calif. (1908) 153 Cal. 776, 96 P. 801.) If, as a matter of public policy, the county should properly bear its share of benefits for special assessments even though that county property is devoted to public use, that decision is not a matter that can be decided by a court.


Appellant argues that the city has power to assess publicly used property, on the grounds that levying assessments for improvements is a 'municipal affairs' power of a chartered city. Appellant argues that the city has adopted the fundamental municipal affairs power provided by the state Constitution (§ 400 of the City's charter), and power to assess public use property emanates therefrom.

The city correctly points out that the creation of a parking district is a municipal affair (City of Redwood City v. Moore (1965) 231 Cal.App.2d 563, 577, 42 Cal.Rptr. 72) 2 and parking palces benefit property and justify a levy of a special assessment. (Alexander v. Mitchell (1953) 119 Cal.App.2d 816, 260 P.2d 261.) The city argues that, since in a charter city the levying of assessments for improvements is a municipal affair, the city council of a charter city is 'the law making power as regards such exercise of the taxing power,' and 'the right to make exemptions is involved in the right to select the subjects of taxation.' (San Francisco v. McGovern (1915) 28 Cal.App. 491, 512, 152 P. 980.) Appellant concludes from the above cases that the charter city's fundamental municipal affairs and taxing power give the city the power to control the implied exemption of public use property by either allowing it to stand or removing it.

Appellant's arguments are not well taken. Although it has been held that a local body, such as a city, when exercising an interest in improvements which it deems will jointly benefit publicly owned and used property and private property, may include and assess in its discretion the property of the public entity (Sts. & Hy.Code, §§ 5301, 5302.5; City of Saratoga v. Huff (1972) 24 Cal.App.3d 978, 101 Cal.Rptr. 32, 102 Cal.Rptr. 376), the concept of allowing the assessing body to make such assessments is limited to situations where (Inglewood v. County of Los Angeles (Lnglewood v. County of Los Angeles (1929) 207 Cal. 697, 707, 280 P. 360.)

[59 Cal.App.3d 371] Allowing the assessing body discretion in the matter of assessing state used property has been provided for specifically by statute (Improvement Act of 1911 (see Sts. & Hy.Code, §§ 5301 and 5302.5, Municipal Improvement Act of 1913)). The city herein does not contend that it has assessed county property in accordance with the 1911 Improvement Act, and thus that

Page 620

act does not apply here. If the city had made its assessment on the basis of the 1911 act, our holding would be otherwise. Therefore, without legislation allowing the city to assess publicly owned, publicly used property, the city may not make the assessment.

Secondly, the assessment of county public use property for such local improvements as a parking district is not simply a municipal affair. Although assessments of parking districts are usually a municipal affair, general law prevails over local matters of a chartered city, even in regard to matters which would otherwise be deemed to be strictly municipal affairs, when the subject matter of the general law is of statewide concern. (Professional Fire Fighters, Inc. v. City of L.A. (1963) 60 Cal.2d 276, 292, 32 Cal.Rptr. 830, 384 P.2d 158.) 3 Since counties are political subdivisions of the state and perform many functions which are state functions (Co. of Los Angeles v. Riley (1936) 6 Cal.2d 625, 627, 59 P.2d 139; County of Marin v. Superior Court (1960) 53 Cal.2d 633, 638, 639, 2 Cal.Rptr. 758, 349 P.2d 526), it follows that operation and maintenance of county public use property are state functions which cities cannot properly regulate. A city cannot interfere with, or hamper, the county in the performance of those functions which are state functions, as distinct from purely local functions. Under certain circumstances, an act relating to property within a city may be of such general concern that local regulations concerning municipal affairs is inapplicable. (Co. of Los Angeles v....

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