California Appellate Court Says Charter City Cannot Block California Values Act
In a significant decision addressing the tension between charter city “home rule” authority and state law, a California appellate court found that the California Values Act’s goal of promoting trust between the immigrant community and state and local agencies is a matter of “statewide concern.” This concern eclipses even the “municipal affair” of a city regulating its own police department, the court added.
In 2017, the Legislature enacted the California Values Act (Government Code section 7284 et. seq.) which prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from engaging in a host of activities for federal immigration enforcement purposes. The Legislature found that a “relationship of trust between California’s immigrant community is central to public safety” and that this “trust is threatened when state and local agencies are entangled with federal immigration enforcement, with the result that immigrant community members fear approaching police when they are victims of, and witnesses to crimes.”
The City of Huntington Beach, a charter city, filed a lawsuit to invalidate the CVA’s mandates. The City claimed the mandates impermissibly stripped its constitutionally protected charter authority — the so-called “home rule,” with respect to local “municipal affairs.” Namely, it impacted the City’s ability to regulate its own police department. The Orange County Superior Court sided with the City and against the State Attorney General. It found that police force regulation is a “quintessential municipal affair” and a “municipal prerogative” under the state Constitution. There is no “statewide concern” embodied in the CVA justifying the State regulating the Police Department’s activities. The Attorney General appealed. On Jan. 10, the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a published opinion reversing the Superior Court and upholding the CVA’s application to the Police Department’s activities. (City of Huntington Beach v. Xavier Becerra, as Attorney General)
Under Article XI, section 5 of the state Constitution, the “home rule” doctrine for charter cities is found, and it specifically authorizes them to govern themselves, free from state intrusion, as to matters deemed “municipal affairs.” One of the “core” categories of municipal affairs that is specifically described in section 5, subsection (b) is “the constitution, regulation and government of the city police department.”
However, California Supreme Court decisions over the years have held that charter cities can be subject to state laws that concern the regulation of municipal affairs when that legislation is a matter of “statewide concern” and not overbroad. That determination is a matter of law for the courts to decide. In so doing, the courts are to apply a four-part test asking:
- If the affected activity is a “municipal affair,”
- Whether there is an actual conflict between the provisions of local governance and the state law,
- Whether the state law addresses a matter of “statewide concern” and
- Whether the law is narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary interference with local governance.
The City first argued that, as to the “core” “municipal affairs,” the four-part “statewide concern” analysis does not apply at all. In essence, it argued, these affairs are immune from the application of any state legislation. In a lengthy review and analysis of the law, the appellate court rejected that claim.
The appellate court then applied the four-part “statewide concern” analysis. It found, in applying step one, that the City’s Charter and Code did regulate its police department’s governance.
As to step two, the court rejected the notion that there existed an “actual conflict” between the City’s Charter and Code provisions related to its police department’s governance and the CVA’s provisions that a charter city law is contradictory to state law only when it is “inimical thereto.” However, the court did find a conflict between a city charter provision granting the City full constitutional power to make laws regarding municipal affairs. This sweeping grant of power the court found was in conflict with the CVA prohibitions on certain activities related to immigration enforcement.
The court then moved to the critical third step, whether the CVA addresses a matter of statewide concern: a concern of “sufficient extramural dimension.” The court found that it does and that public safety is clearly a matter of statewide concern, as is public health, as well as the treatment and welfare of immigrants, regardless of their status. The court concluded that “uniform application of the CVA throughout the state is necessary to ensure it adequately addresses these statewide concerns.”
Finally, as to step four, the court concluded the CVA is reasonably related to the statewide concerns identified and narrowly tailored to address them while avoiding undue interference in local governance.
Because a city’s (or county’s ) governance of its police (or sheriff) is such an entrenched and well-recognized “municipal affair,” this decision signals that the courts will afford significant deference to state legislating even in this area of presumed “home rule.”