People ex rel. Younger v. County of El Dorado

Decision Date17 August 1971
Citation96 Cal.Rptr. 553,487 P.2d 1193,5 Cal.3d 480
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 487 P.2d 1193, 3 ERC 1010, 1 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,429 The PEOPLE ex rel. Evelle J. YOUNGER, as Attorney General, etc., Petitioner, v. COUNTY OF EL DORADO et al., Respondents. Sac. 7896. In Bank

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Robert H. O'Brien and E. Clement Shute, Jr., Deputy Attys. Gen., for petitioner.

Noble Sprunger, County Counsel, for respondents.

Melvin E. Beverly, City Atty., South Lake Tahoe, and James L. Brunello, Deputy City Atty., as amici curiae for respondents.

SULLIVAN, Justice.

The Attorney General, on behalf of the People of the State of California, seeks a writ of mandate commanding the Counties of El Dorado and Placer to pay to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (Agency) the amounts of money respectively allotted to them by the Agency as being necessary to support its activities. We issued an alternative writ of mandate to which respondents have made return by answer. The issues thus presented to us are of great concern to California, to its neighbors and, indeed, to the entire country.

The controversy which we are required to review focuses upon the Lake Tahoe Basin--an area of unique and unsurpassed beauty situated high in the Sierras along the California-Nevada border. 1 Mark Twain, an early visitor to the region, viewed the lake as 'a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea * * * with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface * * * the fairest picture the whole earth affords.' 2 Year after year the lake and its surrounding mountains have attracted and captivated countless visitors from all over the world.

However, there is good reason to fear that the region's natural wealth contains the virus of its ultimate impoverishment. A staggering increase in population, a greater mobility of people, an affluent society and an incessant urge to invest, to develop, to acquire and merely to spend--all have combined to pose a severe threat to the Tahoe region. 3 Only recently has the public become aware of the delicate balance of the ecology, 4 and of the complex interrelated natural processes which keep the lake's waters clear and fresh, 5 preserve the mountains from unsightly erosion, and maintain all forms of wildlife at appropriate levels. Today, and for the foreseeable future, the ecology of Lake Tahoe stands in grave danger before a mounting wave of population and development.

In an imaginative and commendable effort to avert this imminent threat, California and Nevada, 6 with the approval of Congress (Pub.Law 91--148, 83 Stat. 360) entered into the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact (Compact) the provisions of which are found in Government Code section 66801. 7 The basic concept of the Compact is a simple one--to provide for the region as a whole the planning, conservation and resource development essential to accommodate a growing population within the region's relatively small area without destroying the environment.

To achieve this purpose, the Compact establishes the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency with jurisdiction over the entire region. (§ 66801, art. III, subd. (a).) The Agency has been given broad powers to make and enforce a regional plan of an unusually comprehensive scope. This plan, to be adopted on or before September 1, 1971, must include, as correlated elements, plans for land-use, transportation, conservation, recreation, and public services and facilities. (§ 66801, art. V., subd. (b).) 8 The Compact emphasizes that in formulating and maintaining this regional plan, the Agency 'shall take account of and shall seek to harmonize the needs of the region as a whole * * *.' (Id.)

The Agency is given the power to 'adopt all necessary ordinances, rules, regulations and policies to effectuate the adopted regional * * *.' plan. (§ 66801, art. VI, subd. (a).) While ordinances so enacted establish minimum standards applicable throughout the region, local political subdivisions may enact and enforce equal or higher standards. 'The regulations shall contain general, regional standards including but not limited to the following: water purity and clarity; subdivision; zoning; tree removal; solid waste disposal; sewage disposal; land fills, excavations, cuts and grading; piers, harbors, breakwaters; or channels and other shoreline developments; waste disposal in shoreline areas; waste disposal from boats; mobilehome parks; house relocation; outdoor advertising; flood plain protection; soil and sedimentation control; air pollution; and watershed protection. Whenever possible without diminishing the effectiveness of the * * * general plan, the ordinances, rules, regulations and policies shall be confined to matters which are general and regional in application, leaving to the jurisdiction of the respective states, counties and cities the enactment of specific and local ordinances, rules, regulations and policies which conform to the * * * general plan.' (Id.) The Compact also provides that '(v)iolation of any ordinance of the (A)gency is a misdemeanor.' (§ 66801, art. VI, subd. (f).) Finally, it states that 'all public works projects shall be reviewed prior to construction and (except for certain state public works projects) approved by the (A)gency as to the project's compliance with the adopted regional general plan.' (§ 66801, art. VI, subd. (c).)

The governing body of the Agency is composed of ten members, five from California and five from Nevada. The Boards of Supervisors of El Dorado and Placer Counties and the City Council of the City of South Lake Tahoe each appoint one member; '(e)ach (such) member shall be a member of the city council or county board of supervisors which he represents and, in the case of a supervisor, shall be a resident of a county supervisorial district lying wholly or partly within the region.' (§ 66801, art. III, subd. (a).) The Boards of County Commissioners of the Counties of Douglas, Ormsby and Washoe in the State of Nevada each select one member; each member must be a resident of the county from which he is appointed and may, in the discretion of the board of county commissioners, but is not required to be, a member of the board which appoints him and a resident or owner of real property in the region. The Administrator of the California Resources Agency, or his designee, and the Director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, or his designee, are Ex officio members of the board. Finally, the Governors of California and Nevada each appoint one member, who 'shall not be a resident of the region and shall represent the public at large.' (§ 66801, art. III, subd. (a).)

The Compact permits the Agency to receive fees for its services, gifts, grants and other financial aids. It also provides for Agency financing as follows: 'Except as provided in subdivision (e), 9 on or before December 30 of each calendar year the agency shall establish the amount of money necessary to support its activities for the next succeeding fiscal year commencing July 1 of the following year. The agency shall apportion not more than $150,000 of this amount among the counties within the region on the same ratio to the total sum required as the full cash valuation of taxable property within the region in each county bears to the total full cash valuation of taxable property within the region. Each county in California shall pay the sum allotted to it by the agency from any funds available therefor and may levy a tax on any taxable property within its boundaries sufficient to pay the amount so allocated to it. Each county in Nevada shall pay such sum from its general fund or from any other moneys available therefor.' (§ 66801, art. VII, subd. (a).)

After ratification of the Compact by Congress and upon proclamation of the Governors of California and Nevada, the Agency came into existence on March 19, 1970. It adopted a budget, pursuant to section 66801, article V, subdivisions (a) and (e), for the fourth quarter of the fiscal year 1969--1970--that is, for the months April through June 1970. Of the total budget 10 of $81,770.85, $22,344.68 was allotted to El Dorado County, and $10,322.98 to Placer County. However, no specific demand was made upon the counties to pay the amounts apportioned to them, and they have consistently refused to do so.

The Agency has also adopted a budget of $180,000 for the fiscal year 1970--1971. Of this sum, the amount apportioned to El Dorado County is $60,150 and that allotted to Placer County is $33,600. No demand was made upon either county for such sums until December 29, 1970. The counties have refused to pay the above sums or any part of them.

For the fiscal year 1971--1972, the Agency has adopted a budget of $222,400, of which El Dorado County's share is $54,450, and Placer County's share is $40,350. The Attorney General asserts that, absent an order of this court, the counties will refuse to pay these sums.

The positions of the parties before us may be summarized as follows: the Attorney General contends that the respondent counties have a clear duty, imposed by the Compact, to pay their share of the funds necessary to support the activities of the Agency and that we should compel the performance of this duty by a writ of mandate. The counties contend first, that they are not required to make any payments to the Agency because the Compact is unconstitutional and void and, secondly, that the remedy here sought is inappropriate because the People have a plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law. 11

I

We first inquire into the propriety of the remedy invoked by petitioner. A writ of mandate will lie to 'compel the performance of an act which the law specifically enjoins, as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station' (Code Civ.Proc., § 1085) 'upon the verified petition of the party beneficially interested,' in cases 'where...

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