City Hall’s ‘Not-in-My-Charter-City’ Problem

DEEGAN ON LA-The Mayor, City Hall politicos, and land use developers have a serious “Not in My Charter City” threat breathing down their necks -- a looming problem in their own backyard and it includes all of LA.

This is almost existential, profoundly affecting how we will live and exist in Los Angeles if the threat coming from Sacramento – its desire to control LA despite our Charter City status that allows self-governing -- is permitted to come true. 

Nothing can cut more deeply into the sovereignty of LA than SB-50. Our Charter City status will be rendered irrelevant: Sacramento, not Los Angeles, will have the last word on land use issues. 

The threat to our self-governance is part of State Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) (photo above) SB-50 Planning and Zoning: Housing Development: incentives legislation now making its way through the State Legislature. It’s the son of SB-827, Wiener’s bill that was killed in committee in the last legislative session. The current iteration, SB-50, has already faced significant, but non-binding, opposition from unanimous votes against it by the San Francisco County Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council. 

Title Four of the California Government Code allows that a city may be organized either as a “general law city,” or a “charter city,” with the latter enjoying “home rule” by having more autonomy than the former. The Code allows Charter Cities to adopt their own procedures for matters that are considered “municipal affairs.” We, not the state, sign off on land use issues. But that will be revoked if SB-50 passes. 

Los Angeles became a Charter City though a vote in 1924, effective on July 1, 1925. We are one of the lucky cities with this status, along with San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco and others. Less than 17% of California cities enjoy this protection from Sacramento. 

Senator Wiener’s SB-50 attempts to interfere with our Charter status would leave Los Angeles (and other Charter Cities) with no say when it comes to how Wiener wants Sacramento to remotely and massively up-zone our city. 

There’s a lot at stake. The Charter City status of Los Angeles is more valuable than prime real estate. The Mayor and the politicos, as well as the developer class, may find our self-rule guarantee spoiled by SB-50. This is the second attempt by Scott Weiner to legally mandate that local land use issues here in LA be decided in Sacramento, not by us. 

As stated in the Legislative Counsel’s Digest of SB-50, the bill “applies to all cities…because the Legislature finds that the lack of housing, including emergency shelter, is a critical statewide problem…rather than a municipal affair and, therefore, apply to all cities, including charter cities.” 

On January 1, 2018, the “sanctuary city” law came into effect. Formally known as the California Values Act, it prohibits California cities from cooperating with Federal law enforcement agencies attempting immigration enforcement. Huntington Beach, a charter city, wants to jail immigrants. It challenged the sanctuary city law, saying the state could not tell them what to do. A judge has recently ruled in the city’s favor, setting up an appeal that will lead to a decision on how far the state can go in telling a city what to do. Perversely, the reaction of the state to Huntington Beach’s actions may provide a clue as to how we can thwart the attempt by the state to kill benefits of LA’s Charter City status. If SB-50 passes, Los Angeles may face a similar legal scenario in trying to stop the state’s attempt to control us by telling us how to deal with zoning and land use issues. 

While many community groups and housing activists have often successfully fought the local politicos and land use developers, they face a much bigger threat by not aligning with the very same former foes to fight SB-50’s attempt to remove LA’s Charter City protections. 

It could be that dealing with the czars we already know -- even if it does involve the corrupt pay-to-play culture at City Hall (that is slowly being cleaned up) -- is better than being controlled by the Sacramento czars we do not know.


(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.