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California Court of Appeal Upholds Adoption of Voter Initiative, Finding the Initiative Did Not Require a Two-Thirds Majority to Pass

California Court of Appeal Upholds Adoption of Voter Initiative, Finding the Initiative Did Not Require a Two-Thirds Majority to Pass
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By James Purvis

Plaintiffs sued to invalidate “Proposition C,” an initiative entitled “Universal Childcare for San Francisco Families Initiative,” on the ground that it required a two-thirds majority vote to pass. The initiative had passed by a simple majority of voters. The trial court rejected their claims and plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeal for the First Judicial District, on January 27, 2021, upheld the trial court decision, adopting the reasoning of City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C, 51 Cal.App.5th 703 (2020), and rejecting plaintiffs’ contention that Proposition 13, Proposition 218, and the San Francisco City Charter compel a supermajority vote for passage. [Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. City and County of San Francisco, 60 Cal.App.5th 227 (1st Dist. 2021).]

Factual and Procedural Background

After gathering enough signatures to qualify, an initiative entitled the “Universal Childcare for San Francisco Families Initiative” was placed on San Francisco’s June 2018 ballot as Proposition C. The initiative sought to impose an additional tax on certain commercial rents to fund early childcare and education. Approximately 51 percent of voters voted in favor of Proposition C.

 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Building Owners and Managers Association of California, California Business Properties Association, and California Business Roundtable (collectively: Howard Jarvis) then filed the underlying action to invalidate Proposition C on the ground that it needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted San Francisco’s motion and denied Howard Jarvis’s motion, and subsequently entered judgment for San Francisco. An appeal then followed.

The Court of Appeal’s Decision

The parties did not dispute that Proposition C imposed a tax that, if it had been submitted to the voters by San Francisco’s board of supervisors would have needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass. The issue was whether a two-thirds majority vote also was required where the tax was presented to voters by way of a voter initiative. Howard Jarvis claimed that such a majority was required by: 1) Proposition 13, which added article XIII A to the California Constitution; 2) Proposition 218, which added article XIII C; and 3) the San Francisco Charter.

Analysis under the All Persons Interested in Proposition C Decision

The Court of Appeal began by noting that the same claims recently had been raised and rejected by the First Appellate District, Division Four, in City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C, 51 Cal.App.5th 703 (2020). That case had involved a challenge to a different Proposition C in a different San Francisco election. The Court of Appeal began with a discussion of All Persons, including several cases that All Persons itself relied on. It then found All Persons to be well-reasoned and sound, and it rejected Howard Jarvis’ various claims that All Personshad erred in certain respects.

Howard Jarvis in turn argued that the case was distinguishable from All Persons due to the involvement of an elected official in the voter initiative process. Specifically, it pointed to the undisputed facts that a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors was the proponent of Proposition C, submitted the written “Notice of Intent to Circulate Petitions” for Proposition C, turned in the signed initiative petition pages, signed ballot arguments in favor of Proposition C, and used his “Supervisor” title and City Hall address for various related documents. In addition, two ordinances nearly identical to Proposition C were pending before the board in early 2018, around the time of Proposition C’s qualification for the ballot. The board member withdrew his signature from one of these ordinances shortly after Proposition C qualified for the ballot.

Analysis under the Boling Decision

Howard Jarvis primarily relied on Boling v. Public Employment Relations Board, 5 Cal.5th 898 (2018), which concerned a statutory requirement for governing bodies “or other representatives” to meet and confer with unions on matters within the scope of representation prior to arriving at a determination of policy or course of action. There, a mayor (whose responsibilities included bargaining with city unions and complying with statutory meet and confer requirements) conceived the idea of a citizens’ initiative pension reform measure and negotiated with other interested parties before any citizen proponent stepped forward. He also relied on this position of authority and employed his staff throughout the process. The California Supreme Court found that the statute applied, and that the mayor had failed to meet and confer “prior to arriving at a determination of policy or course of action” on matters affecting the terms and conditions of employment.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with Howard Jarvis, finding that Boling did not suggest that imposing a meet and confer requirement resulted in any restriction on the initiative power. It did not, for instance, impose a meet and confer requirement on the initiative process—which remained unchanged by the decision—but rather on the designated representative’s pursuit of policy changes, regardless of the means chosen.

Analysis under the Rider Decision

Howard Jarvis also relied on Rider v. County of San Diego, 1 Cal.4th 1 (1991), which considered a local tax agency that had been created by legislative enactment solely for the purpose of avoiding the strictures of Proposition 13. But the Court of Appeal disagreed that a single official’s sponsorship of or involvement in an initiative would give rise to the inference that a city or county intentionally circumvented Propositions 13 and 218 or otherwise demonstrates that the official effectively controlled the initiative. More significantly, the Court of Appeal also noted, neither the text nor ballot materials provide the requisite “unambiguous indication” that the enactors of Proposition 13 and 218 intended to constrain the initiative power when an elected official is involved in the initiative process. Absent such a clear indication, the Court of Appeal declined to construe the two-thirds requirement to apply to such initiatives.

Conclusion and Implications

The case is significant because it contains a substantive discussion of voter initiatives, particularly as they relate to tax matters, and requisite voting requirements—especially as it relates to Proposition 13 and 218. The decision is available online at: The court’s opinion is available online at: