Jacks v. City of Santa Barbara, S225589

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCantil-Sakauye, C.J.
Citation397 P.3d 210,3 Cal.5th 248,219 Cal.Rptr.3d 859
Parties Rolland JACKS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CITY OF SANTA BARBARA, Defendant and Respondent.
Docket NumberS225589
Decision Date29 June 2017

3 Cal.5th 248
397 P.3d 210
219 Cal.Rptr.3d 859

Rolland JACKS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
CITY OF SANTA BARBARA, Defendant and Respondent.

S225589

Supreme Court of California

Filed June 29, 2017


Huskinson, Brown & Heidenreich, David W.T. Brown and Paul E. Heidenreich for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Trevor A. Grimm, Los Angeles, Jonathan M. Coupal, Timothy A. Bittle, Sacramento, and J. Ryan Cogdill for Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and California Taxpayers Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Ariel Pierre Calonne, City Attorney, Tom R. Shapiro, Assistant City Attorney; Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, Michael G. Colantuono, Ryan Thomas Dunn, Leonard P. Aslanian, Pasadena; Jarvis, Fay, Doporto & Gibson, Benjamin P. Fay, Rick W. Jarvis, Oakland, and Andrea Saltzman for Defendant and Respondent.

Hanson Bridgett, Adam W. Hofmann, San Francisco, and Caroline E. Lee for League of California Cities as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.

Cantil-Sakauye, C.J.

3 Cal.5th 254

Pursuant to an agreement between Southern California Edison (SCE) and defendant City of Santa Barbara (the City), SCE includes on its electricity bills to customers within the City a separate charge equal to 1 percent of SCE's gross receipts from the sale of electricity within the City, and transfers the revenues to the City. The City contends this separate charge, together with another charge equal to 1 percent of SCE's gross receipts that SCE includes in its electricity rates, is the fee paid by SCE for the privilege of using City property in connection with the delivery of electricity. Plaintiffs Rolland

397 P.3d 213

Jacks and Rove Enterprises, Inc., contend the 1 percent charge that is separately stated on electricity bills is not compensation for the privilege of using City property, but is instead a tax imposed without voter approval, in violation of Proposition 218. (Cal. Const., art. XIII C, § 2, added by Prop. 218.)

As we explain below, the right to use public streets or rights-of-way is a property interest, and Proposition 218 does not limit the authority of government to sell or lease its property and spend the compensation it receives for whatever purposes it chooses. Therefore, charges that constitute compensation for the use of government property are not subject to Proposition 218's voter approval requirements. To constitute compensation for a property interest, however, the amount of the charge must bear a reasonable relationship to the value of the property interest; to the extent the charge exceeds any reasonable value of the interest, it is a tax and therefore requires voter approval.

The litigation below did not address whether the charges bear a reasonable relationship to the value of the property interests. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal to the extent it reversed the trial court's grant of the City's motion for judgment on the pleadings, but we reverse the Court of Appeal's order that the trial court grant summary adjudication to plaintiffs.

219 Cal.Rptr.3d 863

I. FACTS

The parties stipulated to the following facts in the trial court. Beginning in 1959, the City and SCE entered into a series of franchise agreements granting SCE the privilege to construct and use equipment along, over, and under the City's streets to distribute electricity.1 At issue in this case is an agreement

3 Cal.5th 255

the City and SCE began negotiating in 1994, when their 1984 agreement was about to expire. The 1984 agreement required SCE to pay to the City a fee equal to 1 percent of the gross annual receipts from SCE's sale of electricity within the City in exchange for the franchise granted by the City. During the course of extended negotiations regarding a new agreement, the City and SCE extended the terms of the 1984 agreement five times, from September 1995 to December 1999.

In the negotiations for a long-term agreement, the City pursued a fee equal to 2 percent of SCE's gross annual receipts from the sale of electricity within the City. At some point in the negotiations, SCE proposed that it would remit to the City as a franchise fee 2 percent of its gross receipts if the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) consented to SCE's inclusion of the additional 1 percent as a surcharge on its bills to customers. Based on SCE's proposal, the City and SCE tentatively agreed to a 30-year agreement that included the provisions for payment of 2 percent of gross receipts. Following notice and a hearing, the City Council of Santa Barbara adopted the agreement as City Ordinance No. 5135 on December 7, 1999, with a term beginning on January 1, 2000 (the 1999 agreement). The ordinance was not submitted to the voters for their approval.

The 1999 agreement divides its 30-year period into two terms. The first two years were the "initial term," during which SCE was required to pay the City an "initial term fee" equal to 1 percent of its gross receipts from the sale of electricity within the City. The subsequent 28 years are the "extension term," during which SCE is to pay the additional 1 percent charge on its gross receipts, denominated the "recovery portion," for a total "extension term fee" of 2 percent of SCE's gross receipts from the sale of electricity within the City. At issue in this case is the recovery portion, which we, like the parties, refer to as the surcharge.

397 P.3d 214

The agreement required SCE to apply to the PUC by April 1, 2001, for approval to include the surcharge on its bills to ratepayers within the City, and to use its best efforts to obtain PUC approval by April 1, 2002. Approval was to be sought in accordance with the PUC's "Re Guidelines for the Equitable Treatment of Revenue-Producing Mechanisms Imposed by Local Government Entities on Public Utilities." (Investigation on the Commission's Own Motion to Establish Guidelines for the Equitable Treatment of Revenue-Producing Mechanisms Imposed by Local Government Entities on Public Utilities (1989) 32 Cal.P.U.C.2d 60, 63 [Cal. P.U.C. Dec. No. 89-05-063] (PUC Investigation ).) The agreement further provided that, in

219 Cal.Rptr.3d 864

the event the PUC did not give its approval by the end of the initial term, either party could terminate the agreement. Thereafter,

3 Cal.5th 256

the City agreed to delay the time within which SCE was required to seek approval from the PUC, but SCE eventually obtained PUC approval, and began billing its customers within the City for the full extension term fee in November 2005.

The agreement provided that half of the revenues generated by the surcharge were to be allocated to the City's general fund and half to a City undergrounding projects fund. In November 2009, however, the City Council decided to reallocate the revenues from the surcharge, directing that all of the funds be placed in the City's general fund without any limitation on the use of these funds.

In 2011, plaintiffs filed a class action complaint challenging the surcharge. In their first amended complaint, they alleged the surcharge was an illegal tax under Proposition 218, which requires voter approval for all local taxes. (Cal. Const., art. XIII C.) Plaintiffs sought refunds of the charges collected, as well as declaratory relief and injunctive relief requiring the City to discontinue collection of the surcharge.

On cross-motions for summary adjudication and the City's motion for summary judgment, the trial court ruled that a franchise fee is not a tax under Proposition 218. Its ruling was based largely on Santa Barbara County Taxpayer Assn., supra , 209 Cal.App.3d 940, 257 Cal.Rptr. 615, which held that franchise fees are not "proceeds of taxes" for purposes of calculating limits on state and local appropriations under article XIII B of the California Constitution. Notwithstanding this ruling, the trial court denied the motions, based on its view that Proposition 26, which was approved by the voters in 2010, retroactively altered the definition of a tax under Proposition 218 to encompass franchise fees. Therefore, the court concluded, the City had failed to establish that the surcharge did not violate Proposition 218 during the period after Proposition 26 was adopted in 2010.

Thereafter, the City moved for judgment on the pleadings, contending that Proposition 26 does not apply retroactively to the surcharge. The trial court agreed, citing Brooktrails Township Community Services Dist. v. Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 195, 159 Cal.Rptr.3d 424, which held that Proposition 26 does not apply retroactively. Based on its earlier conclusion that the surcharge, as a franchise fee, was not a tax under Proposition 218 (see Santa Barbara County Taxpayer Assn., supra , 209 Cal.App.3d 940, 257 Cal.Rptr. 615 ), and its additional conclusion that a franchise fee, as negotiated compensation, need not be based on the government's costs, the trial court ruled that the surcharge was not subject to the voter approval...

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