Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Constitutionality of "Police Powers"

The hard truths about laws are that they limit the absolute "freedom" of an individual do do as he pleases, and the laws carry with them the implied power to enforce compliance. Those are the reasons why laws must be adjudged as constitutional - or congruent with natural law. For believers, man's laws should be congruent with the laws of their God.

Last night's city council meeting got a little testy, with the mayor demeaning a citizen's qualifications to question constitutional issues of a proposed code enforcement hearings ordinance on the agenda and pulling the city attorney into the fray. The hard words compelled the citizen to speak out of order and prompted a short recess. In addition to pulling the item off the Consent Agenda for separate discussion, the short display of civil disobedience (ie., contravening Robert's Rules of Order) was probably the most effective way to give the item the public scrutiny it needs. (See Manteca Live! for Joe's posts.)

We were told that Manteca City Council meetings are now streamed to the WWW - the first time being last night's meeting. They can be found here.

Herewith are some discussion and references regarding the constitutionality of "police powers" as established by the people of California and the United States.

In 1917, the legislature of the State of California adopted an Enabling Act based on the California Constitution authorizing municipalities to establish - and enforce - zoning codes. In 1925, constitutional challenges brought the matter to the California Supreme Court in Miller v. Board of Public Works, 195 Cal. 477 (1925); 234 Pac.Rep. 881. The opinion lays out the court's interpretation of "police powers" within California's Constitution and a brief review of other states' supreme courts.  An excerpt is found below and more excerpts in this post. For the truly curious, the full opinion is available for free at this website. Just accept the terms, then type "195", "Cal." and "477" into the citation search boxes.

The very next year, in 1926, The US Supreme Court addressed these and other issues in Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926). Excerpts from that decision can be found in this post. For the truly curious, the full opinion is available for free at this URL.

Without doubt there exists the municipal power to enforce municipal codes. The only question is, Does this proposed ordinance, at its first reading, contain the necessary safeguards of Manteca's citizens' constitutional due process rights versus the power of the state, or, the City of Manteca, in this case.

City staff and the city attorney bear the burden of answering as many of those constitutional questions as possible. Also before adopting the ordinance, they must re-edit the processes outlined to delete duplications and provide for as much internal consistency and effectiveness as possible. Remember, these are "man made" laws - and made by men and women such as we have employeed at Manteca's City Hall.

God help us.

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Excerpts from Miller (1925):

". . . the power to do so is conferred upon municipalities in California by the fundamental law of the state and by a legislative [p.483] enabling act, entitled: An act to provide for the establishment within municipalities of districts or zones within which the use of property, height of improvements and required open spaces for light and ventilation of such buildings, may be regulated by ordinance. (Stats. 1917, p. 1419.)"

"The constitutional grant of power to the municipalities is to be found in section 11 of article XI of the constitution, which provides that:"

"Any county, city, town, or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local, police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws."

"The Enabling Act of 1917 declares that:"

"For the public interest, health, comfort, convenience, preservation of the public peace, safety, morals, order and the public welfare, the city council, board of trustees or other legislative body of any incorporated city and town of California, hereinafter referred to as the council, may by ordinance create or divide the city into districts within some of which it shall be unlawful to erect, construct, alter or maintain certain buildings, or to carry on certain trades or callings or within which the height and bulk of future buildings shall be limited. The council may by ordinance regulate, restrict and segregate the location of industries, the several classes of business, trades or callings, the location of apartment or tenement houses, club-houses, group residences, two-family dwellings, single family dwellings and several classes of public and semi-public buildings, and the location of buildings or property designed for specified uses, and may divide the city into districts of such number, shape and area as the council may deem best suited to carry out the purposes of this act. . . . For each such district regulations may be imposed designating the class of use that shall be excluded or subjected to special regulations and designating the uses for which buildings may not be erected or altered, or designating the class of use which only shall be permitted. . . . (Stats. 1917, p. 1419.)" (internal quotation marks removed)

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