The League of California Cities advocates before the courts through the Legal Advocacy Program because laws affecting cities are made in the courts as well as in the Legislature. Cal Cities weighs in on legal issues when participation is likely to affirmatively advance cities’ collective legal interests by establishing a legal precedent that will help cities more effectively serve their communities. For Cal Cities to become involved, cities should agree on the preferred outcome and no city should be adversely affected by its efforts.
Legal Advocacy Committee
Comprised of city attorneys from across California, the Legal Advocacy Committee helps Cal Cities determine which cases and Attorney General opinions — which hold “great weight” in the courts — merit statewide support. Legal advocacy often comes in the form of amicus assistance — a brief filed by an entity or individual who is not a party in a given lawsuit but may be affected by the outcome. Amicus briefs can take a broad perspective, advising the court about the implications of resolving the issues presented.
The full process for filing an amicus brief can take several months. It is critical that a request is made at the earliest possible opportunity. Amicus assistance is evaluated by the Legal Advocacy Committee, which meets quarterly. In certain cases, an executive committee meeting may be scheduled before the next full meeting.
Cal Cities Legal Advocacy Delivers
Together, with our members, the Cal Cities Legal Advocacy Program participates in cases of importance to cities statewide and influences appellate courts to issue rulings favorable to cities. The program accomplished the following in 2022:
considered by the Legal Advocacy Committee for amicus support
12 Amicus Briefs
or letters filed advancing arguments on behalf of cities
7 Favorable Rulings
issued in cases where Cal Cities provided amicus support
Notable Rulings and Legal Victories
The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District issued a favorable opinion in a case that challenged the water rates charged by the city of San Jose’s municipal water system, and the transfer of a portion of the revenues from those rates to the city’s general fund. The court found that the transfers did not violate Proposition 218. The court also ruled — consistent with the arguments made in Cal Cities’ friend-of-the-court brief — that the plaintiffs’ challenge to the tiered structure of the water rates was barred by the Government Claims Act, since the claim the plaintiffs submitted to the city before filing the lawsuit did not put the city on notice that the tiered structure was being attacked.
In a significant win for cities, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld cities’ discretion to interpret their land use plans. The court deferred to the city of Davis’s interpretation of its general and specific plans and held that the city acted within its discretion when approving a mixed-use development project. The court explained that a city council’s determination that a project is consistent with its general plan carries “a strong presumption of regularity” and can only be overturned if the city council abused its discretion. The opinion was unpublished, but upon request by Cal Cities, the court published the opinion, allowing it to be used as precedent in future cases.
The United States Supreme Court declined to review the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in a case that was initiated by a coalition of local governments and local government associations — including Cal Cities — against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The case challenged orders adopted by the FCC in 2018 to accelerate the deployment of 5G wireless technology by limiting local governments’ authority to regulate the installation of small cell wireless facilities. The Ninth Circuit’s decision was largely positive for local governments because it struck down aspects of the orders that limited cities’ ability to regulate the location and design of such facilities.
Consistent with arguments made by Cal Cities and others, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District published a favorable opinion holding that San Benito County did not enter into an implied contract with retirees and could modify its contributions to their health insurance premiums. The court explained that implied rights are not inferred without clear and convincing evidence and that the subjective understanding of certain board of supervisors is insufficient to establish legislative intent. The court then held that, because the resolution did not contain any express language vesting retiree health benefits in perpetuity, no such rights existed.
The California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District issued a favorable opinion regarding the city of Los Angeles’s approval of an environmental impact report for a mixed-use development. The court held — consistent with Cal Cities’ friend-of-the-court brief — that the report complied with the California Environmental Quality Act requirement that a project description be “accurate, stable, and finite.” The court explained that the requirement to contain an “accurate, stable, and finite” project description does not mean that a development proposal cannot evolve, or that the project entitlement cannot incorporate a degree of flexibility. Upon request by Cal Cities, the court published the opinion, allowing cities to use the opinion as judicial precedent in future cases.