Leggo My Home Rule: Charter Cities and State Municipal Interference
By Catherine Ferguson*
Eyes are focused on the San Diego Superior Court as it gets set to hear the most recent case regarding the power of California Charter Cities and the hotly debated Senate Bill 7 ("SB 7"). SB 7 gave the State the authority to deny funding to charter cities that refuse to comply with the State’s prevailing wage for construction projects funded by local taxpayer money. The bill was passed in reaction to the Supreme Court striking down the State’s attempt to force cities to comply through direct legislation. Charter cities across the state are challenging the bill as violating the California Constitution’s guarantee that charter cities can run their own municipal affairs. Supported by the League of California Cities, approximately 12 charter cities, including the named cities of El Centro, Carlsbad, El Cajon, Fresno, Oceanside, and Vista are suing the State to have the bill struck down.
The current proceedings are comparable to litigation between the federal government and the states regarding Congress’ taxing and spending powers. The State and cities will likely look to the rulings that came out of those cases regarding the policies distinguishing financial coercion from financial motivation. This article will explore the foundation of charter cities in the state Constitution, the history of SB 7, and possible parallels to similar federal cases in order to predict possible outcomes of the litigation.