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Community Water Coalition v. Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission

November 18, 2011


Trial Court: Santa Cruz County Superior Court Superior Court No. CV167407 Trial Judge: Hon. Timothy R. Volkmann

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Premo, Acting P.J.


(Santa Cruz County Super. Ct. No. CV167407)


The University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) filed an application with the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), requesting approval of an agreement between it and the City of Santa Cruz (City) pursuant to which City would extend water and sewer services to UCSC's north campus, an area that is outside City's jurisdictional boundaries. Seeking to halt LAFCO's consideration of the application, appellant Community Water Coalition filed a complaint and petition for writ of mandate (Code Civ. Proc., § 1085), contending that LAFCO had no jurisdiction to consider the application since the prospective recipient of the services, rather than the service provider, had filed it. Even though City was a party to the agreement for which UCSC sought LAFCO approval, and even though City had submitted a letter to LAFCO stating that it was willing to provide the services if LAFCO approved, appellant maintained that under Government Code section 56133,*fn1 LAFCO had to dismiss the matter because City had not filed the application in its own name. The trial court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend, concluding that the operative subdivision of section 56133 does not specify which party must request LAFCO's approval.

Although we disagree with the trial court's interpretation of section 56133, we affirm the judgment. Under section 56133, the city or district that proposes to provide services outside its jurisdictional boundaries must request and receive approval from its local LAFCO. But the LAFCO's jurisdiction does not depend upon the identity of the person who filled out the application. The Legislature has given the LAFCOs power to decide whether to allow an extraterritorial extension of urban services. The fact that the prospective recipient of the services filed the application does not prevent the LAFCO from ruling upon the request so long as the city or district that will provide the services is a party to the agreement for which LAFCO approval is sought and joins the request by affirmatively indicating its willingness to provide the services.


In or about 2005 UCSC approved a long range development plan that called for a significant expansion of its student population and the addition of 3,175,000 gross square feet of building space. Concerned about the impact the proposed expansion would have upon City services, City and others attacked the plan with lawsuits of their own. In August 2008 those actions were resolved by a comprehensive settlement agreement. As part of that agreement, UCSC agreed to apply to LAFCO for an extension of City water and sewer services to the north campus area where a portion of the new construction would be located. City agreed to obtain LAFCO's approval to amend its sphere of influence to encompass the north campus area. Thereafter, UCSC submitted application No. 929 for extension of the water and sewer services and City applied to amend its sphere of influence.

Appellant filed suit against LAFCO on May 5, 2010. The suit included a petition for writ of mandate and requests for declaratory relief and an injunction. UCSC, University of California, Regents of the University of California, City, and the Santa Cruz City Council were identified as real parties in interest.*fn2 (We shall refer to LAFCO and real parties in interest, collectively, as respondents.) The entire matter was based upon appellant's reading of section 56133, subdivision (a), which, according to appellant, gave LAFCO jurisdiction to consider the request to extend services only if City filed the application. Respondents demurred, arguing that under section 56133 there were circumstances that required City to be the applicant and others that did not. According to respondents, application No. 929 falls under section 56133, subdivision (b), which says nothing about which party must make the application.

On August 20, 2010, the trial court ruled tentatively to sustain the demurrer, stating, "I am concluding that the respondent's view is the appropriate interpretation of Government Code Section 56133." The court's tentative ruling was that the pleading defect could not be cured "because it's based on what I believe is a good faith yet erroneous interpretation of the statute."

Appellant requested the opportunity to file an amended pleading, arguing: "We did not have the legislative history at the time we drafted our petition. We should be allowed to allege that and, you know, make the record clear as to what the basis of our position is." The court revised its tentative ruling, "in order to make certain that everyone has an opportunity to be completely heard" and sustained the demurrer with leave to amend, giving appellant 30 days to file an amended pleading.

Appellant's amended pleading added the allegation that the legislative history supported its reading of section 56133. It also attacked the environmental impact report (EIR) City had recently certified, which pertained to the proposed extension of water and sewer services to UCSC's north campus area. The amended pleading added City as a defendant and alleged that City's certification of the EIR violated the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code, § 21000 et seq. (CEQA)).

Respondents again demurred and real parties in interest also filed a motion to strike the CEQA cause of action on the ground that it exceeded the scope of the trial court's ruling. The trial court sustained the demurrer and granted the motion to strike. Judgment was entered February 7, 2011. This timely appeal followed.


A. Standard and Scope ...

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