San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors, No. S018200

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtPANELLI; LUCAS; MOSK; KENNARD
Citation7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245,2 Cal.4th 571,828 P.2d 147
Parties, 828 P.2d 147 SAN FRANCISCO TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF THE CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. S018200
Decision Date04 May 1992

Page 245

7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245
2 Cal.4th 571, 828 P.2d 147
SAN FRANCISCO TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF THE CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, Defendant and Appellant.
No. S018200.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
May 4, 1992.

Page 246

[2 Cal.4th 573] [828 P.2d 148] Anthony T. Caso, Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, for plaintiff and respondent.

Burk E. Delventhal, Deputy City Atty., San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.

PANELLI, Justice.

California's voters, by adopting Proposition 4, placed a constitutional spending limit on appropriations by the state and local governments. (See Cal.Const., art. XIII B, § 1, added by initiative measure in [2 Cal.4th 574] Special Statewide Elec. (Nov. 6, 1979).) The measure sets out, for the purpose of calculating each governmental entity's spending limit, those categories of appropriations that are and are not subject to limitation. We granted review to decide which of the measure's provisions determines the treatment of a city's contributions to employee retirement funds that were established before Proposition 4 took effect. Section 5 1 provides that appropriations to "retirement" funds are "subject to limitation." Section 9 provides that appropriations for [828 P.2d 149]

Page 247

"debt service" are not. In accordance with the plain language of section 5, the more specific provision, we hold that retirement contributions are subject to limitation.
BACKGROUND

The electorate approved Proposition 4 in 1979, thus adding article XIII B to the state Constitution. While the earlier Proposition 13 limited the state and local governments' power to increase taxes (see Cal.Const., art. XIII A, added by initiative measure in Primary Elect. (June 6, 1978)), Proposition 4, the so-called "Spirit of 13," imposed a complementary limit on the rate of growth in governmental spending. Article XIII B operates by subjecting each state and local governmental entity's appropriations to a limit equal to the entity's appropriations in the prior year, adjusted for changes in population and the cost of living. (§§ 1, 8, subds. (e), (f).)

Not all appropriations are subject to the constitutional spending limit. In general, " '[a]ppropriations subject to limitation' " include "any authorization to expend during a fiscal year the proceeds of taxes levied by or for that entity and the proceeds of state subventions to that entity...." (§ 8, subd. (b) [applicable to local governments].) However, the voters specifically excluded some categories of appropriations from the spending limit. Section 9, for example, permits appropriations beyond the limit for "[d]ebt service" and to "comply[ ] with mandates of the courts or the federal government...." (§ 9, subds. (a), (b).) Conversely, the voters specifically determined that the spending limit would apply to other types of appropriations. The provision at issue in this case, section 5, declares that contributions to a "retirement" fund are "subject to limitation."

Article XIII B took effect during the 1980-1981 fiscal year. Pursuant to its provisions, defendant and appellant Board of Supervisors (Board) of the City [2 Cal.4th 575] and County of San Francisco (City) established an appropriations limit that included the City's contributions to retirement funds. The Board continued to treat such contributions as subject to the spending limit for six consecutive fiscal years.

The Board changed its historical position in 1986. That year, the City Attorney advised the Board that appropriations for certain "mandatory employee benefits," including retirement contributions, were exempt from the spending limit as "debt service" under section 9. 2 Adopting that position, the Board revised the City's base-year spending limit by subtracting $59,388,698, which represented the amount of the City's appropriations for such benefits in the year the voters approved Proposition 4. The Board derived the 1986-1987 spending limit by adjusting the revised base-year limit to reflect intervening increases in population and the cost of living. (See § 1.) Each subsequent fiscal year's spending limit has excluded retirement contributions.

In September 1987, a decision of the Court of Appeal cast doubt on the City Attorney's interpretation of article XIII B. The County of Santa Barbara, like the City of San Francisco, had decided several years after Proposition 4 to exclude retirement contributions from its spending limit as "debt service." The Second District Court of Appeal rejected the county's position, holding that "the plain language of section 5 requires the inclusion of such contributions as appropriations subject to the appropriations limit" and that the more specific language of section 5 takes precedence over section 9, the more general provision governing debt service. (Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Assn. v. County of Santa Barbara (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 674, 678, 239 Cal.Rptr. 769 [hereafter Santa Barbara Taxpayers ].) We denied a petition for review in that case on November 18, 1987.

In calculating the City's spending limit for the 1988-1989 fiscal year, the Board recognized that its exclusion of retirement contributions was inconsistent with the Santa Barbara Taxpayers decision. Even

Page 248

[828 P.2d 150] without the benefit of the exclusion, the City's projected "appropriations subject to limitation" did not exceed its annual spending limit. However, based on the City Attorney's advice that the Court of Appeal's opinion was "wrongly decided" the Board determined to continue to exclude retirement contributions.

[2 Cal.4th 576] The consequence of the Board's decision was to increase by $40,336,171 the total amount ($97,640,070) by which the City's spending limit exceeded its appropriations subject to limitation in the 1988-1989 fiscal year. 3 However, based on the City Attorney's opinion that the decision would "entail time consuming and difficult litigation," the City Controller recommended that the Board not "collect or appropriate revenues based upon [the $40 million] spread until the impact of the Santa Barbara [Taxpayers] decision on the City of San Francisco has been clarified."

In December 1988, plaintiff and respondent San Francisco Taxpayers Association (hereafter Taxpayers) initiated this action to challenge the Board's exclusion of retirement contributions from the City's spending limit. Taxpayers alleged that the Board's action violated section 5, which provides that "contributions" to "retirement" funds are "subject to limitation." Following the Second District's decision in Santa Barbara Taxpayers (supra, 194 Cal.App.3d 674, 239 Cal.Rptr. 769), the superior court granted Taxpayers' motion for summary judgment and entered judgment against the Board. In its judgment, the court declared the Board's action invalid and ordered the Board, by injunction and writ of mandate, to revise the City's appropriations limit to include retirement contributions. On appeal, the First District declined to follow Santa Barbara Taxpayers and reversed the judgment. We granted review to resolve the conflict.

DISCUSSION

The question before us is whether section 5 or section 9 governs the treatment of retirement contributions for the purpose of calculating the City's spending limit. Section 5 expressly provides that a governmental entity's contributions to "retirement" funds are "subject to limitation." 4 [2 Cal.4th 577] Section 9, which does not mention retirement contributions, provides that appropriations for "debt service" are not subject to limitation. 5

Ordinary principles of interpretation point to the conclusion that section 5, the more specific provision, governs. "It is well settled ... that a general provision is controlled by one that is special, the latter being treated as an exception to the former. A specific provision relating to a particular subject will govern in respect to that subject, as against a general provision, although the latter, standing alone, would be broad enough to include the subject to

Page 249

[828 P.2d 151] which the more particular provision relates." (Rose v. State of California (1942) 19 Cal.2d 713, 723-724, 123 P.2d 505.) Thus, even if we were to assume for argument's sake that the term "debt service" (§§ 8(g), 9(a)) might be broad enough to include retirement contributions, the treatment of such contributions is nevertheless governed by the voters' specific declaration that they are "subject to limitation." (§ 5.) This was the correct conclusion of the Court of Appeal in Santa Barbara Taxpayers (supra, 194 Cal.App.3d at pp. 681-682, 239 Cal.Rptr. 769). 6

The Board does not view this case as an example of a specific provision taking precedence over a general provision. Instead, the Board argues that sections 5 and 9(a) conflict and that we should "harmonize" them by giving effect to both so far as possible. (Cf. Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735, 248 Cal.Rptr. 115, 755 P.2d 299; Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1379, 1387, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323.) The Board would achieve harmony by distinguishing between payments required by pension contracts, on one hand, and discretionary payments to reserve funds, on the other. As the Board would interpret the law, required payments constitute debt service while discretionary payments do not.

Two flaws render the Board's argument untenable. First, there is no conflict between sections 5 and 9(a) unless one assumes that the voters did not mean what they said in section 5--that "retirement" contributions are "subject to limitation." Read according to its plain meaning, section 5 creates an exception to section 9(a) rather than a conflict.

[2 Cal.4th 578] Second, the Board's argument would permit the City to evade section 5 completely, simply by satisfying its contractual obligations. According to the Board, so long as the City does not employ reserve funds for its own...

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    • United States
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    • December 29, 1995
    ...Stores (1995) 10 Cal.4th 424, 445, 41 Cal.Rptr.2d 362, 895 P.2d 469; San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 577, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147.) Or, in the words of Code of Civil Procedure section 1859, when a general statute conflicts with a particula......
  • People v. Superior Court (Romero), No. S045097
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    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 20, 1996
    ...(Miller v. Municipal Court (1943) 22 Cal.2d 818, 828, 142 P.2d 297; see also San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 581, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147; cf. Crowell v. Benson (1932) 285 U.S. 22, 62, 52 S.Ct. 285, 296, 76 L.Ed. 598 ["When the validity of......
  • Spanish Speaking Citizens' v. Low, No. A084024.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 29, 2000
    ...govern in respect to that subject, as against a general provision ....'" (San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 577, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147.) Petitioners point out that section 1861.05, subdivision (a) prohibits rates "in violation of this chap......
  • Alameda Cnty. Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n v. Alameda Cnty. Employees' Ret. Ass'n, S247095
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 30, 2020
    ...impairment of contractual relations triggers the contract clause. ( San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 583–584, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147 ; Eu , supra , 54 Cal.3d at p. 528, 286 Cal.Rptr. 283, 816 P.2d 1309 [contract clause protects against "un......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
135 cases
  • Citizens for Covenant Compliance v. Anderson, No. S043578
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 29, 1995
    ...Stores (1995) 10 Cal.4th 424, 445, 41 Cal.Rptr.2d 362, 895 P.2d 469; San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 577, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147.) Or, in the words of Code of Civil Procedure section 1859, when a general statute conflicts with a particula......
  • People v. Superior Court (Romero), No. S045097
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 20, 1996
    ...(Miller v. Municipal Court (1943) 22 Cal.2d 818, 828, 142 P.2d 297; see also San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 581, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147; cf. Crowell v. Benson (1932) 285 U.S. 22, 62, 52 S.Ct. 285, 296, 76 L.Ed. 598 ["When the validity of......
  • Spanish Speaking Citizens' v. Low, No. A084024.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 29, 2000
    ...govern in respect to that subject, as against a general provision ....'" (San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 577, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147.) Petitioners point out that section 1861.05, subdivision (a) prohibits rates "in violation of this chap......
  • Alameda Cnty. Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n v. Alameda Cnty. Employees' Ret. Ass'n, S247095
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 30, 2020
    ...impairment of contractual relations triggers the contract clause. ( San Francisco Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Supervisors (1992) 2 Cal.4th 571, 583–584, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 245, 828 P.2d 147 ; Eu , supra , 54 Cal.3d at p. 528, 286 Cal.Rptr. 283, 816 P.2d 1309 [contract clause protects against "un......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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