Southcott v. Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Prot. Dist., D074324

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtNARES, J.
Citation32 Cal.App.5th 1020,244 Cal.Rptr.3d 472
Parties Dave SOUTHCOTT et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. JULIAN-CUYAMACA FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT et al., Defendants and Respondents; County of San Diego et al., Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.
Decision Date07 March 2019
Docket NumberD074324

32 Cal.App.5th 1020
244 Cal.Rptr.3d 472

Dave SOUTHCOTT et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
JULIAN-CUYAMACA FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT et al., Defendants and Respondents;

County of San Diego et al., Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.


Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1, California.

Filed March 7, 2019

Law Office of Craig A. Sherman and Craig A. Sherman for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

McDougal, Love, Boehmer, Foley, Lyon & Canlas, Morgan L. Foley, La Mesa, and Gena B. Burns, San Diego, for Defendants and Respondents Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District, Jack Shelver and Marcia Spahr.

No appearance for Real Party in Interest and Respondent County of San Diego.

Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, Holly O. Whatley, Pasadena, and Aleks R. Giragosian, for Real Party in Interest and Respondent San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission.


32 Cal.App.5th 1024

Pursuant to the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (Reorganization Act; Gov. Code, § 56000 et seq. ), the board of directors of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (District) passed a resolution to apply to the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (Commission) to dissolve the District. A group of Julian residents (plaintiffs) sought to prevent the District's dissolution by presenting a referendum petition to the District board (see Elec. Code, §§ 9144, 9340 ). The District did not act on the referendum petition, and the trial court denied plaintiffs' petition for writ of mandate to set an election on the District's resolution.

The issue presented in this appeal is whether the District's resolution to apply to the Commission for a dissolution may be challenged through the voter referendum process. We conclude the District's resolution is not subject to referendum because, among other reasons, the Reorganization Act prescribes the exclusive method for dissolving, and/or protesting the proposed dissolution of, a fire protection district ( Health & Saf. Code, § 13812 ; Gov. Code, §§ 56100, 56021 ) and the resolution was administrative in nature under the Reorganization Act. Accordingly, the trial court did not err, and the judgment is affirmed.


The District was formed pursuant to the Fire Protection District Law of 1987 (Fire District Law; Health & Saf. Code, § 13800 et seq. ), to provide fire protection and emergency medical services to the unincorporated communities of Julian and Lake Cuyamaca. Plaintiffs consist of volunteer firefighters, voters, and/or residents of Julian.

On April 10, 2018, the board of directors of the District passed a "resolution of application" to dissolve the District (Resolution). The Resolution, which recites that it is made "pursuant to the ... Reorganization Act,"

32 Cal.App.5th 1025

authorizes an application to the Commission for approval of a proposed dissolution plan wherein the territory served by the District would be served by the County of San Diego upon the District's dissolution. After adopting the Resolution, the District applied to the Commission to approve its proposed dissolution plan, submitting the Resolution with its application materials.

244 Cal.Rptr.3d 476

Within 30 days of adopting the Resolution, the District received a referendum petition to rescind the Resolution or have the Resolution set for an election under California's referendum process (Referendum Petition). The Referendum Petition ostensibly complied with voter signature requirements under the Elections Code.1 The District took no action to rescind or withdraw the Resolution or set the matter for election.

In May 2018, plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of mandate in superior court to compel the District to either rescind the Resolution or set the matter for election. In June 2018, following a hearing, the court denied plaintiffs' petition for writ of mandate. The court decided that the District's Resolution was "not subject to referendum" in light of the state's system of regulation over district dissolutions. Judgment was entered accordingly, and this appeal followed.2 ,3


I. The Reorganization Act

A. Background and Legislative Intent

In the Reorganization Act, "the Legislature enacted a broad statutory scheme covering changes of organization of districts as well as cities." ( Las Tunas Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement Dist. v. Superior Court (1995) 38 Cal.App.4th 1002, 1007, 45 Cal.Rptr.2d 529 ( Las Tunas Beach ).) Government Code section 56100 states in pertinent part: "[T]his division

32 Cal.App.5th 1026

provides the sole and exclusive authority and procedure for the initiation, conduct, and completion of changes of organization and reorganization for cities and districts." A change of organization is defined to include any of the following: city incorporation and disincorporation, district formation and dissolution , annexation to or detachment from a city or district, consolidation of cities or special districts, and a merger or establishment of a subsidiary district. ( Gov. Code, § 56021.) District dissolution is defined as "the disincorporation, extinguishment, or termination of the existence of a district and the cessation of all its corporate powers, except as the commission may otherwise provide ... or for the purpose of winding up the affairs of the district." ( Gov. Code, § 56035.)

The "Legislature has occupied the field with respect to changes of organizations of districts, thereby preempting local law[.]" ( Las Tunas Beach, supra , 38 Cal.App.4th at p. 1009, 45 Cal.Rptr.2d 529, italics omitted.) Preemption is based on "the policy of the state to encourage orderly growth and development which are essential to the social, fiscal, and economic well-being of the state." ( Gov. Code, § 56001.) The Reorganization Act was designed to halt the proliferation of special districts, contain urban sprawl, deal with annexations, and "guard against wasteful

244 Cal.Rptr.3d 477

duplication of services." ( Friends of Mount Diablo v. County of Contra Costa (1977) 72 Cal.App.3d 1006, 1011, 139 Cal.Rptr. 469 ( Friends of Mount Diablo ).)

Under the Reorganization Act, a local agency formation commission (LAFCO) exists within each county. ( Gov. Code, §§ 56027, 56325.) It is LAFCO's duty to "review and approve with or without amendment, wholly, partially, or conditionally, or disapprove proposals for changes of organization or reorganization ...." ( Gov. Code, § 56375, subd. (a)(1) ; see Fallbrook Sanitary Dist. v. San Diego Local Agency FormationCom. (1989) 208 Cal.App.3d 753, 760, 256 Cal.Rptr. 590 [LAFCO may make both additions and deletions to proposals so long as the general nature of subject matter is unchanged].)

Proceedings before LAFCO "for a change of organization or a reorganization may be initiated by petition or by resolution of application ...." ( Gov. Code, § 56650.) A resolution of application is a resolution adopted by the legislative body of an affected local agency proposing a change of organization. ( Gov. Code, § 56654.)

After approving a proposed change of organization, LAFCO conducts further proceedings on the proposal, such as holding a noticed hearing. ( Gov. Code, § 57000 et seq. ) At the hearing, LAFCO receives any protests, objections, or evidence on the proposal. ( Gov. Code, § 57050, subd. (b).)

32 Cal.App.5th 1027

In the case of a proposed dissolution, LAFCO determines the value of written protests that may have been filed, and if the protests are not in the majority, LAFCO, by resolution, orders the dissolution, with or without the confirmation of voters depending on whether certain requirements are met. ( Gov. Code, §§ 57052, 57077.1, 57078.)

B. Reconciling the Reorganization Act with Other Statutory Schemes That Address Particular Types of Districts

The Reorganization Act "is not the sole statutory scheme pertaining to district formation. It shares the field with other such statutory schemes applicable to particular types of districts." ( Las Tunas Beach, supra , 38 Cal.App.4th at p. 1009, 45 Cal.Rptr.2d 529 ; id. at pp. 1009-1010, 45 Cal.Rptr.2d...

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4 cases
  • Julian Volunteer Fire Co. v. Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Prot. Dist., D076639
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 30 Marzo 2021
    ...( §§ 56100, subd. (a), 56325, 56375, subd. (a)(1), (2)(B), 56668 ; see Southcott v. Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection Dist. (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 1020, 1026, 244 Cal.Rptr.3d 472 ( Southcott ).)As relevant here, a dissolution request is initiated by a "petition" or "resolution" ( § 56650 ) ado......
  • Wong v. Wong (In re Loy Tim), G057202
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 7 Marzo 2019
    ...not eliminating her from the case. (See Ingram v. Superior Court (1979) 98 Cal.App.3d 483, 489, 159 Cal.Rptr. 557 [challenged 244 Cal.Rptr.3d 472substitution order was not appealable and was properly challenged by writ petition].) To the extent appellant is trying to challenge the "removal"......
  • Barajas v. Sativa L. A. Cnty. Water Dist., B317653
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 25 Mayo 2023
    ...LAFCOs to serve as the 12 "'watchdog'" in each county.[5] (§§ 56027, 56325; Southcott v. Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection Dist. (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 1020, 1026 (Southcott); Timberidge Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Santa Rosa (1978) 86 Cal.App.3d 873, 884.) Each LAFCO is tasked with approving......
  • Contra Costa Cnty. v. Superior Court, A166024
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 8 Septiembre 2022
    ...or conditionally, or disapprove' the District's proposal" for dissolution. (Southcott v. Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Prot. Dist. (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 1020, 1029.) Thus, under the CKH Act, a proposal to dissolve the District must go through a local agency formation commission. The District may not......

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