Legal Advocacy

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.

Woman holding law book city attorneys

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. 

 

 

Amicus Support

 

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. 

Request amicus support

Legal Advocacy Committee Members
President - Eric Danly, City Attorney, Petaluma
First Vice President - Joseph Montes, City Attorney, Alhambra, San Marino, and Santa Clarita
Second Vice President - Susana Alcala Wood, City Attorney, Sacramento
Department Director - Michael Colantuono, City Attorney, Grass Valley

Legal Advocacy Committee Meeting Dates  
In-person or virtual meetings are held quarterly and are tentatively scheduled at 10:00 a.m. and conclude by 1:00 p.m. Additionally, the Legal Advocacy Executive Committee has meetings on the third Thursday of every month at 2:30 p.m. Executive Committee meetings scheduled in January, March/April, June, and September/October are usually canceled due to in-person quarterly meetings. Download a PDF of 2023 meeting locations and dates. 
Legal Advocacy Committee and Board Guidelines
The Legal Advocacy program and committee are guided by a comprehensive set of guidelines.  


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:

 

14 Cases

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

See how else Cal Cities Delivers

Notable Rulings and Legal Victories 

Plata v. City of San Jose

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.

Old East Davis Neighborhood Association v. City of Davis

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. 

Austin v. Burbank Police Department
In a case that Cal Cities had previously filed a friend-of-the-court brief in, the Second District Court of Appeal granted Cal Cities’ publication request and certified its dismissal order. The plaintiff attempted to appeal a ruling denying him access to records sought from the city via a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request. The plaintiff failed to follow the appropriate appellate procedure and the city sought to dismiss the appeal. While the court had discretion to hear the matter, it declined to do so, noting the plaintiff’s numerous CPRA lawsuits against California cities. Cities can now rely on the published order as precedent for requiring repeat CPRA plaintiffs to follow the CPRA’s appellate procedure.
Alameda County Waste Management Association v. Waste Connections
In a favorable ruling for cities, the First District Court of Appeal held that Public Resources Code section 41821.5(g) authorizes a city to inspect and copy weight tags of waste haulers who dispose of waste generated within the city outside the city’s jurisdiction. Cal Cities had filed an amicus brief in support of ACWMA. Cities will be able to rely on the opinion as precedent to obtain waste hauling information that ensures the tracking of solid waste and enforcement of fees. 
City of Portland, et al. v. United States

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.

Wyatt v. City of Sacramento 
The California Court of Appeal for the Third District agreed with the argument Cal Cities made in its amicus brief: Cities are not prohibited from collecting general taxes on the use of water, sewer, garbage, and other property-related services, if those taxes are approved by a majority vote. 
Landwatch Monterey County v. County of Monterey 
In an unpublished decision, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District agreed with Cal Cities’ argument that revisions made in the county’s final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) pursuant to certain comments on the draft EIR did not constitute significant new information requiring recirculation of the final EIR. 
Newsom v. Gallagher 
The Third District Court of Appeal issued a favorable decision, overturning a trial court ruling that questioned the validity of the executive orders cities have relied on to conduct business throughout the pandemic. Cal Cities and the California State Association of Counties filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief, urging the court to overturn the trial court ruling due to its lack of clarity and potential to subject cities and counties to legal challenges.  
Rose v. County of San Benito

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. 

Kinney v. Superior Court
The California Court of Appeal for the Fifth District published a favorable opinion in a case concerning whether disclosure of arrest records under the California Public Records Act is limited to contemporaneous records. The court cited and agreed with the arguments outlined in a joint Cal Cities and California State Association of Counites friend-of-the-court brief that the information sought by the petitioner, which was nearly a year old when she filed her request, should not be considered “contemporaneous” information.
Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters v. City of Los Angeles

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.

Daly v. San Bernardino
In a case on a trial court order that required the removal and replacement of a county supervisor, the California Supreme Court found that the order should have been stayed pending appeal. The court reasoned that the order required the county to take an affirmative action to remove and replace the supervisor. This holding is consistent with the amicus brief filed by Cal Cities, which argued, in part, that an automatic stay should be issued pending the appeal in order to maintain the status quo and allow the regular functioning and efficiency of government during litigation.
Busker v. Wabtech
The California Supreme Court issued a favorable ruling on a case involving prevailing wages. In the case, the plaintiff argued that work they performed on a rail car was a “public work” subject to prevailing wage. The Supreme Court disagreed and held that “public works” are limited to construction or installation of structures fixed to real property and that work does not become a “public work” just because it is integral to another activity that itself is a public work. The court’s holding is consistent with arguments made by Cal Cities — along with other entities — in a local government coalition amicus brief. The California Supreme Court’s ruling narrows the kinds of work for which prevailing wages must be paid and provides local government more certainty when budgeting and planning for publicly funded projects.
Jacks v. City of Santa Barbara
On remand from the California Supreme Court, the Second District Court of Appeal held that the franchise fees at issue in the case bore a reasonable relationship to the value of the property granted. The Court of Appeal agreed, as argued in Cal Cities’ amicus brief, that the plaintiffs made no effort to challenge the trial court’s findings of a reasonable relationship between the fee and the value of the franchise rights transferred to the city. The court found that because the parties negotiated in good faith, the outcome of the negotiations between the parties was the best indicator of the value of the property interests. 
Davis v. Fresno Unified School District 
The California Supreme Court is poised to determine whether bond-funded lease-leaseback agreements are subject to validation statutes. Cal Cities filed an amicus letter supporting the petition for review, arguing that is important for local agencies to have the right to use the validation statutes to judicially validate bond-funded lease-leaseback agreements. 
Kaanaana v. Barrett Business Services, Inc.  
Cal Cities argued that “public works” for purposes of California’s prevailing wage laws only include construction or infrastructure work. Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the definition of “public works” includes all work done for irrigation, utility, reclamation, and improvement districts, and other districts of this type, with limited exceptions. 
Bezis v. City of Livermore 
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a favorable ruling in Bezis v. City of Livermore, in which Cal Cities filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the City. The ruling affirmed that the city council meeting at issue in the case was a limited public forum, and therefore the Livermore city council members were empowered to interrupt a speaker to remind them to limit remarks to the agenda topic at hand without violating the First Amendment. 

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