have the situation where, every year, the state promises to behave
better, only for cities to find that hope dashed once again. While
there were some direct hits for cities in this year's legislative
session, there were also some near misses.
One bill with a huge cost impact is Senate Bill 796, which allows
any "aggrieved employee" to act as a "private attorney general" and
file a civil action on behalf of himself and all other current or
former employees to recover civil penalties for any violation of the
Labor Code. If enacted, Senate Bill 796 will expose local agencies to
frivolous lawsuits and create a new litigation cottage industry for
trial attorneys. By way of example, if a city with 500 employees made
one simple inadvertent violation of the Labor Code, it could result
in civil penalties of a million dollars or more. Such lawsuits will
no doubt drive up costs to local governments and thereby further
California's reputation for having an unfair legal system. At this
writing, the governor has yet to sign or veto Senate Bill 796.
Assembly Bill 421 was destined to be a short-term version of an
earlier bill -- Assembly Bill 1221 requiring cities to swap sales tax
revenue for property tax revenue -- but this time effective for the
duration of the "triple flip" deal. It would have allowed cities and
counties to choose, effective for 2005-06, whether or not they wanted
their base amount of property tax received in 2004-05 under the
triple flip to grow by their sales tax growth rate (as under current
law) or assessed valuation growth. The choice would have been
voluntary for cities and counties -- they could stick with the sales
tax growth, or choose property tax growth, for the duration of the
swap. Cities were wary of the proposal because it was never a part of
the original triple-flip deal, and could have been a harbinger of a
more permanent swap. Worse, before a city could exercise the option,
it would have to be in compliance with its housing element.
Fortunately, it was defeated in the waning days of session.
Another "near miss," Assembly Bill 1160, proposed a slew of
"one-size-fits-all" zoning measures that would have seriously eroded
cities' land use control. For example, it would have required a city
to grant a 25% reduction in parking standards, and a 33% reduction if
the project is within one-quarter mile of a rail station or the
intersection of two or more major bus routes. This measure was
defeated in committee.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January next year, I would
encourage all Orange County cities to remain ever vigilant as I am
sure that "Lucy" will again try to pull the football away from the
cities at he last moment.
* EDITOR'S NOTE: Tom Harman is Huntington Beach's assemblyman.