Housing Authority of City of Eureka v. Superior Court in and for Humboldt County

Decision Date21 June 1950
Citation219 P.2d 457,35 Cal.2d 550
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties. Sec. 6097. Supreme Court of California, in Bank

Woodman, Leddy & Sautter and Stanley Woodman, Eureka, for petitioner.

William A. O'Brien, San Francisco, amicus curiae on behalf of petitioner.

E. S. Mitchell, Eureka, for respondent.

EDMONDS, Justice.

By writ of prohibition, the petitioner is seeking to restrain the superior court from taking any further action in connection with two cases pending before it. The litigation under attack stems from the Authority's application to the federal government for a loan of money to be used in the construction of low-rent public housing, and the principal question here presented for decision is whether the city council of Eureka, in approving the transaction, was acting in an administrative or in a legislative capacity.

The United States Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1401-1430, established a federal housing agency authorized to make loans to state agencies for the purpose of slum clearance and low-rent housing projects. The California Legislature made the benefits of the federal act available to the cities and counties of this state by enacting the Housing Authorities Law, Stats. 1938, Ex. Sess. p. 9, Deering's Gen. Laws 1939 Supp. Act 3483. This statute expressly recognizes the existence of slum and substandard living areas within the state, and ennunciates the government's intention to eliminate them. The legislation created in each city and county of the state a public housing authority, of which the petitioner is one. The exercise of the powers entrusted by the Legislature to these agencies was made subject to the preliminary condition that the local governing body, in each case, must formally resolve that public housing is needed. Subject to this condition precedent to operation, each local authority is given extensive powers to administer the state and federal statutes. The Legislature also enacted two statutes, Stats. Ex. Sess. 1938, pp. 1, 2, Deering's Gen. Laws 1939 Supp. Acts 3484, 3485, authorizing cooperation of the cities and counties with the local housing authorities in reference to tax exemption, dedication of streets, the exercies of eminent domain and other functions.

The federal Housing Act of 1937, as amended in 1949, Public Law 171, 81st Congress, requires, among other things, that the governing body of any municipality in which a Housing Authority has been established must approve its application for a loan. Other conditions for obtaining federal funds are a 'No Litigation Certificate' and an agreement between the governing body and the Authority providing for local cooperation.

The Housing Authority of Eureka was approved by Resolution No. 3720 of the city council, which recognized the need for such agency. Eventually the Authority applied to the federal Public Housing Administration for a preliminary loan in the amount of $150,000 to cover the costs of surveys and planning in connection with the development of 500 dwelling units of low rent housing. The city council by resolution approved the application. The resolution, after reciting that the Authority had applied for a federal loan, stated, '* * * there exists in the City of Eureka a need for such low-rent public housing at rents within the means of low-income families, especially families of living or deceased veterans and servicemen * * * and * * * such a condition constitutes a menace to the health, safety, morals and welfare of the inhabitants of the City. * * *' The resolution also declared that the application was approved upon '* * * the distinct understanding that the City of Eureka shall not be obligated to the United States Government or the PHA (Public Housing Administration) for the repayment of any preliminary loans or any other loans or advances made to the local Housing Authority.'

Shortly after this resolution was adopted, the City of Eureka and the Authority entered into a cooperation agreement in accordance with the requirements of the applicable statutes. By this contract, the city declared that 'Under the constitution and statutes of the State of California, all Projects are exempt from all real and personal property taxes and special assessments levied or imposed by any Taxing Body' for the duration of the facilities' use for low-rent housing purposes or the period during which any bonds issued in connection with the housing should remain outstanding. The city also accepted the standard covenants under the federal law that it would provide the residents of the housing areas public facilities including educational, fire, police and health protection services; sewer systems; maintenance of public streets; street lighting; and garbage disposal. The City also agreed to grant easements, waive certain building laws and within five years to condemn ' * * * unsafe or insanitary dwelling units situated in the locality or metropolitan area of the City substantially equal in number to the number of newly constructed dwelling units provided by such Project. * * *'

Upon the filing of these documents, the United States Public Housing Administration issued to the local Authority a Program Reservation whereby the sum of $58,000 was reserved to the Authority for a period of 90 days, conditional upon its being able to furnish a 'No Litigation Certificate.' On the following day, a referendum petition bearing 1822 signatures was presented to the clerk of the city of Eureka, praying for the submission to the electorate of the question of acceptance or rejection of the resolution of the city council approving the Authority's application for a loan. The referendum petition was filed in reliance upon section 43 1/2 of the Freeholders Charter of Eureka, which provides, in part, as follows:

'If within * * * thirty days a petition * * * signed by (the required number of) qualified electors * * * is filed with the City Clerk, asking that any (ordinance or measure) adopted by the City Council, be submitted to the electorate, then such ordinance or measure must either be repealed or submitted to the electors for approval or rejection * * *; and if such ordinance or measure has not gone into effect before the filing of such petition or petitions, and said petition or petitions are signed by qualified electors of the city, in number equal to 15 per cent of said registration, then such ordinance or measure shall not go into effect until and unless adopted at such election. * * *' The petition which is here in controversy was signed by more than 15% of the electorate.

The city clerk refused to receive or file the petition. Certain electors of the city, acting on their own behalf and also for others similarly interested, then commenced an action in mandate for the purpose of requiring the city clerk to accept and file the referendum petition. Omicini v. Shanahan, No. 24,402. The same group of electors also sued to enjoin the members of the city council from proceeding with the housing program initiated and being carried out by the Authority. Cannam v. Local Housing Authority, No. 24,485. In the first action the superior court issued an alternative writ of mandate. In the second one it ordered the members of the city council to show cause why they should not be enjoined from taking any action in connection with the housing program.

As grounds for relief in the present proceeding, the Authority and the city clerk contend that the provisions of the charter of Eureka are inapplicable to the action of the city council in adopting Resolution 3911 because that body acted under the Federal Housing Act and the Housing Authorities Law of California. The action of the city council was administrative in nature, the Authority argues; therefore the superior court has no jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandate. Another point relied upon is that more than 30 days have elapsed since the resolution was adopted and the question as to the city clerk's duty to accept the referendum petition has become moot. As amicus curice on behalf of the petitioner here, the Housing Authority of the City and County of San Francisco insists that this proceeding is the only remedy available to prevent the destruction of the Eureka housing program and perhaps of similar programs throughout the state. The superior court has no jurisdiction, it declares, either to require the city clerk of Eureka to file the referendum petition or to enjoin the members of the local legislative body.

Peter Omicini and Curr W. Cannam, who are suing in the superior court, on their own behalf and for the other signatories of the referendum petition, insist that the superior court is not exceeding its jurisdiction, in that it has general power to entertain a mandate proceeding and has not yet issued a peremptory writ. It is argued that this court should not enticipate the final judgment of the superior court, since 'An Alternative Writ of Mandate is merely a process which brings the matter before a judicial tribunal,' and the superior court has jurisdiction to interpret any provision in the city charter. As further grounds for denying relief, it is argued that section 43 1/2 of the city charter requires the city clerk of Eureka to accept and file any referendum petition presented, the resolution of the city council is of local interest only, and the Authority is responsible for delaying the mandate proceeding by requesting a continuance.

To justify the issuance of a writ of prohibition, it must be shown that the act sought to be restrained is judicial in nature, Quinchard v. Board of Trustees, 113 Cal. 664, 45 P. 856; Duke v. Justice's Court, 42 Cal.App.2d 178, 108 P.2d 707; that there is a lack or an excess of jurisdiction, C.C.P. §§ 1068, 1074, 1102; Brock v. Superior Court, 29 Cal.2d 629, 177 P.2d 273, 170 A.L.R. 521; Howard v. Superior Court, 25 Cal.2d 784, 154 P.2d 849...

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