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SF Urban Forest Coalition v. City and County of San Francisco

California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division

December 19, 2019

SF URBAN FOREST COALITION, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO et al., Defendants and Respondents.

          San Francisco City and County Superior Court No. CPF-18-516020 Hon. Harold Kahn Trial Judge

          Charles K. Seavey and Allen Grossman for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Nossaman, Stanley S. Taylor, III, Carl L. Blumenstein and Jennifer L. Meeker for Defendants and Respondents San Francisco County Transportation Authority, Tilly Chang, and Cynthia Fong.

          Dennis J. Herrera, City Attorney and Wayne K. Snodgrass, Deputy City Attorney for Defendant and Respondent City and County of San Francisco.

          MARGULIES, ACTING P. J.

         This appeal arises from a dispute between appellant SF Urban Forest Coalition (SF Urban) and respondents the City and County of San Francisco (City), San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA), Tilly Chang, and Cynthia Fong (jointly respondents) regarding whether the SFCTA is subject to the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance of 1999 (S.F. Admin. Code, § 67.1, et seq.; Sunshine Ordinance). The trial court concluded the SFCTA is not an agency of the City and thus is not subject to the Sunshine Ordinance. On appeal, SF Urban disputes the trial court's holding. It further contends the SFCTA, even if it were a state agency, is subject to the Sunshine Ordinance pursuant to City and County of San Francisco v. Regents of University of California (2019) 7 Cal.5th 536. We disagree and affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Statutory History

         1. Creation of the SFCTA

         The Bay Area County Traffic and Transportation Funding Act (Pub. Util. Code, § 131000 et seq.; Bay Area Transportation Act) “was adopted in 1986 after the Legislature found that the Bay Area was experiencing ‘serious traffic congestion and transit mobility problems that threaten the economic viability of the area and adversely impact the quality of life therein.' ([Pub. Util. Code, ] § 131001, subd. (a).) The Legislature addressed this problem by establishing a framework whereby ‘the counties and cities within the nine-county San Francisco Bay area' could ‘collectively develop and implement, on a county-by-county basis, near-term local traffic and transportation projects that responsibly and adequately deal with current and anticipated traffic congestion and transit mobility problems.' ([Id.] § 131001, subd. (c).) To this end, the [Bay Area Transportation] Act authorized the voters in each of the designated Bay Area counties to create a ‘county transportation authority' in order to ‘implement a retail transactions and use tax for the purpose of funding a local transportation expenditure plan....' ([Id.] § 131001, subd. (e).)” (Hayward Area Planning Assn. v. Alameda County Transportation Authority (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 95, 99, fn. omitted.) In the alternative, the voters could authorize the Metropolitan Transportation Commission[1] to perform this function. (Pub. Util. Code, § 131001, subd. (e).) Section 131240 of the Public Utilities Code sets forth the process for creating a “county transportation authority”: “Upon approval of a retail transactions and use tax at an election conducted pursuant to Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 131100) in a county with an adopted county transportation expenditure plan that includes a provision for the creation of a county transportation authority, the authority shall be created at that election.”

         In 1989, voters approved Proposition B, entitled “Sales Tax for Transportation.” (S.F. Voter Information Pamp. (Nov. 7, 1989) p. 23.) The text of Proposition B described its purpose as follows: “Pursuant to Division 12.5 of the Public Utilities Code, the San Francisco Transportation Committee has recommended that the Board of Supervisors submit to the voters of the City and County of San Francisco for their approval an ordinance which would, if so approved, create the [SFCTA], authorize the [SFCTA] to impose a one-half of one percent transactions and use tax for a period of twenty years to finance the transportation improvements set forth in the Transportation Expenditure Plan approved by the Board of Supervisors and to issue limited tax bonds in a total outstanding aggregate amount not to exceed $742, 000, 000.00.” (S.F. Voter Pamp., supra, text of Prop. B, p. 30.) The proposition explained the imposition of the transactions and use tax was “in accordance with... Sections 131100 et seq. of the California Public Utilities Code, which directs the County Board of Supervisors to adopt the tax ordinance for voter approval, exercising the taxing power granted to the [SFCTA] in Public Utilities Code Section 131102 on behalf of said Authority.” (S.F. Voter Pamp., supra, text of Prop. B, at pp. 30-31.) The proposition further noted its “ ‘Operative date' ” was set “pursuant to Public Utilities Code Section 131105(a), ” its “ ‘Effective date' ” was set “pursuant to Public Utilities Code Section 131102(c), ” the term of the tax was “pursuant to the authority granted by Section 131102(c) of the Public Utilities Code, ” and the SFCTA would have those powers “set forth in Division 12.5 (commencing with Section 131100) of the Public Utilities Code, ” including issuing limited tax bonds “pursuant to the provisions of California Public Utilities Code Sections 13109 et seq.” (S.F. Voter Pamp., supra, text of Prop. B, pp. 30, 31, 32.)

         2. The Sunshine Ordinance

         The Sunshine Ordinance, enacted in 1993, is based on the principle that “[g]overnment's duty is to serve the public, reaching its decisions in full view of the public.” (S.F. Admin. Code, § 67.1, subd. (a); see S.F. Voter Information Pamp. (Nov. 2, 1999) Text of Proposed Ordinance, p. 131.)

         In 1999, voters amended the Sunshine Ordinance via passage of Proposition G. (S.F. Voter Information Pamp. (Nov. 2, 1999) Sunshine Ordinance Amendment, p. 119.) Proposition G noted the then-current Sunshine Ordinance “provides rules and procedures for public access to City meetings and records.” (S.F. Voter Information Pamp., supra, Digest, p. 119.) It explained Proposition G would “clarify or extend the existing ordinance” by expanding public access to various meetings and records. (Ibid.) Proposition G clarified and expanded the Sunshine Ordinance's purpose, explaining, “Elected officials, commissions, boards, councils and other agencies of the City and County exist to conduct the people's business. The people do not cede to these entities the right to decide what the people should know about the operations of local government.” (S.F. Voter Information Pamp., supra, Text of Proposed Ordinance, p. 131; S.F. Admin. Code, § 67.1, subd. (b).) It further emphasized the importance of “a strong Open Government and Sunshine Ordinance” and “[t]he right of the people to know what their government and those acting on behalf of their government are doing....” (S.F. Voter Information Pamp., supra, Text of Proposed Ordinance, p. 131; S.F. Admin. Code, § 67.1, subds. (e), (d).)

         B. Procedural History of ...


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