BOARD OF EDUCATION OF CITY OF LOS ANGELES v. WATSON

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District Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 1, California.

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF the CITY OF LOS ANGELES, Board of Education of the Alhambra City and High School Districts, Board of Trustees of Bassett Unified School Districts, Board of Trustees, Hudson School District, Board of Education of Pomona Unified School District, Board of Trustees of the San Gabriel School District, Petitioners, v. Philip E. WATSON, Assessor of Los Angeles County, Respondent.

Civ. 29428.

Decided: June 14, 1965

Jerry F. Halverson, Los Angeles, for petitioners. Harold W. Kennedy, County Counsel, A. R. Early, Deputy County Counsel, for respondent.

Petitioners seek a writ of mandate to compel the respondent to advise petitioners in writing of the estimated total assessed valuation of taxable property, assessed by him in each of their respective school districts for the fiscal year 1965–1966, together with the estimated total assessed valuation of all taxable property appearing on the secured roll, the unsecured roll, and solvent credits.

The petitioners, respectively, are the governing boards of the following named school districts whose boundaries are located within the County of Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles City Junior College District; the Alhambra City Elementary District and the Alhambra City High School District; the Bassett Unified School District; the Hudson Elementary School District; the Pomona Unified School District; and the San Gabriel Elementary School District.

The original petition was filed in the Supreme Court on April 30, 1965, and was transferred to the District Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, on May 12, 1965.

According to the petition and the respondent's points and authorities in opposition thereto, each of the petitioners, prior to February 20, 1965, submitted to the respondent a written request for the estimated total assessed valuation of taxable property in its school district for the fiscal year 1965–1966, together with the estimated total assessed valuation of all property within such district appearing on the secured roll, the unsecured roll, and solvent credits, excepting therefrom the assessed valuation for ‘State assessed property’ as defined by section 108 of the Revenue and Taxation Code and any property not assessed by the respondent. Petitioners assert that such written requests were made pursuant to and are authorized under the provisions of section 20811 of the Education Code,1 added by the Legislature in 1964. That by letters dated April 1, 1965, the respondent notified each petitioner that he would not provide the information. That respondent has refused and will continue to refuse to comply with the mandate of the section on the grounds that subdivisions (a) and (b) of such section violate article IV, section 25, of the California Constitution in that the statute is a local or special law ‘[f]or the assessment or collection of taxes' (item Tenth), ‘[c]reating offices, or prescribing the powers and duties of officers in counties, cities, cities and counties, townships, election or school districts' (item Twenty-eighth), and that such section violates item Thirty-third of Article IV, section 25, for the reason that the latter prohibits the Legislature from passing local or special laws in all other cases than those specified in items First to Thirty-second inclusive, ‘[w]here a general law can be made applicable’ (item Thirty-third in part). (Cal.Const., art. IV, § 25.)

Petitioners, in support of the validity of section 20811 of the Education Code and of the mandate therein contained, assert that section 20601 of the Education Code, among other things, requires each petitioner to file, on or before July 1st of each year, ‘with the county superintendent of schools a tentative budget showing all the purposes for which the school district will need money and the estimated amount of money that will be needed for each purpose for the ensuing fiscal year.’ It is further asserted that preparation of this budget commences in or before the month of December of the fiscal year previous to the fiscal year for which the budget is prepared. It is claimed that by the middle of May of each fiscal year it becomes essential that the government board of each petitioner be provided with information as to the approximate available tax resources within its district in order that a budget may be prepared which will provide sufficient funds with which to finance the necessary educational program without being based on a proposed tax rate which may be in excess of the rate authorized by law. Petitioners assert that such information is absolutely vital to all of them and in particular to petitioner Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles which, it is alleged, governs the second largest school system in the United States behind the New York City schools. That this board governs both the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles City Junior College District which presently have a combined enrollment in excess of 760,000 students, housed at over 594 separate schools (numbering over 20,000 classrooms) and whose education is facilitated by the annual employment of over 58,000 employees; that the total budget to plan and finance all educational programs and costs directed by this board of education for the 1964–1965 fiscal year was $510,570,478. That the annual increase in student enrollment for said board of education has been in the immediate past years and is expected to be in the fiscal year 1965–1966 in excess of 25,000 new and additional students. That in order to serve these additional students, said board of education will employ in excess of 1,000 new teachers in addition to new custodians and other necessary nonteaching personnel. It is further claimed that in order to plan the educational needs of this school district as well as the needs of the districts governed by the other petitioners, most of the preparation therefor must be completed before the close of school in the month of June since the teachers, vice principals, principals and many supervisors and other personnel are not employed during the summer months. In addition, the Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles must commence the recruitment and employment of the over one thousand new teachers and the employment of other necessary personnel, prior to the close of the spring school term. It is asserted that the same problems confront the other petitioners, but to a lesser degree. It is further claimed that in order to contract for the employment of these persons, information must be available upon which funds may be raised to pay such persons in the succeeding fiscal year. That the alternative is to schedule half-day sessions for students or to engage in other money saving, but educationally defective, practices, and equally if not more important than the foregoing factors is the sheer practical problem of assembling a budget in excess of one half billion dollars involving many educational programs and costs for hundreds of thousands of students, involving tens of thousands of employees. These factors require that budget planning shall start well before the close of the school year, and that information as to the available financial resources within the school district or districts be made available prior to the close of the academic year. It is further asserted that the importance of such financial information may also be illustrated by the fact that within the districts governed by the Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles, one cent of the tax rate will raise in excess of $600,000 of tax income, assuming one hundred percent collection.

Petitioners make it clear that they are not requesting information as to assessed value for ‘State assessed property’ as defined by section 108 of the Revenue and Taxation Code, nor as to any property not assessed by the respondent. However, the validity of section 20811 of the Education Code must be measured by its scope and not by the content of the request made under its authority.

The respondent's position is in substance as follows. Education Code section 20811 requires estimates of the ‘assessed valuation of all taxable property appearing on the secured roll, the unsecured roll, and solvent credits.’ All assessments are made as of the first Monday in March. (Rev. & Tax.Code §§ 405 and 753.) To assist the respondent assessor, all taxpayers must file with him between noon on the first Monday in March and 5 p. m. on the last Monday in May, annually, a written property statement. (Rev. & Tax.Code § 441; Cal.Const. art. XIII § 8.) Among other things, these property statements contain detailed information about inventories, work-in-process, machinery, solvent credits and other forms of taxable property the nature and quantity of which change annually. (Cf. Rev. & Tax.Code § 445.) The ‘secured roll’ referred to in section 20811 Education Code includes ‘State assessed property.’ (Rev. & Tax.Code § 109.) ‘State assessed property’ is not assessed by the respondent county assessor, but by the State Board of Equalization (Rev. & Tax.Code § 108) which is not required to complete its work until the first Monday in August (Rev. & Tax.Code § 753). The respondent assessor is required to complete the ‘local rool’ by the first Monday in July (Rev. & Tax.Code § 616), but this time limit may be extended thirty days by the State Board of Equalization (Rev. & Tax.Code § 155), and in 1964 it was extended until August 5th.

‘State assessed property’ includes pipelines not entirely within the limits of any one county, the property of railroad companies including street railways, car-loaning and other car companies operating upon the railroads within the State of California, express companies, telegraph and telephone companies, and gas and electric companies. (Cal.Const. art. XIII § 14.) The assessed value of such property in the County of Los Angeles for the year 1964 was the sum of $1,226,280,870. (Taxpayers Guide, 1964, Los Angeles County, p. 18.) The Constitution provides that such property shall be assessed for purposes of local taxation by the State Board of Equalization. (Cal. Const. art. XIII § 14.)

The record shows that on February 17, 1965, the respondent made written request to the State Board of Equalization for estimates of the assessed value of ‘State assessed property’ for 1965 for Los Angeles County by school districts and was given the reply in part as set out below.2

As heretofore pointed out, petition herein was first filed in the Supreme Court on April 30, 1965, and was transferred, on May 12, 1965, to this court for decision. The petition prays for an order to compel the respondent, not later than May 15, 1965, to perform a ministerial duty enjoined upon him by law, asserted by the petitioners to be a valid enactment of the Legislature. Sufficient time is not deemed to be available to hear the matter and pass upon the constitutional question involved, as it relates to the respondent's duty to act, if there is such a duty, on or before May 15, 1965. If this was the only act of respondent to be considered, the petition for writ of mandate should be dismissed as not having been timely filed. (Green v. Jordan, 216 Cal. 318, 319, 14 P.2d 297.) Where, however, the time has expired for the performance of a duty enjoined by law, but the performance thereof is a specific, continuing and recurring duty, then mandate is a proper remedy. (American Securities Co. v. Forward, 220 Cal. 566, 571–572, 32 P.2d 343, 96 A.L.R. 1268; Union Safe Deposit Bank v. City of Menlo Park, 3 Cal. 2d 264, 266, 43 P.2d 811; 34 Am.Jur., Mandamus, pp. 864–865.) In the case at bench the duty imposed upon respondent under the provisions of section 20811 Education Code is a specific and recurring duty; therefore, if petitioners are entitled to relief, mandate is the appropriate remedy.

The office of assessor is a county office established by the provisions of article IV, section 12, of the Charter of the County of Los Angeles, adopted pursuant to article XI, section 7 1/2 of the California Constitution. The county charte is silent as to the duties of the assessor and, therefore, such duties are controlled by the provisions of the general law. Article XI, section 5, of the California Constitution requires, among other things, that ‘[t]he Legislature, by general and uniform laws, shall provide for the election or appointment, in the several counties, of boards of supervisors, sheriffs, county clerks, district attorneys, and such other county, township, and municipal officers as public convenience may require, and shall prescribe their duties and fix their terms of office. * * *’ Furthermore, except for counties which have adopted a charter, under the provisions of section 7 1/2 of article XI of the California Constitution, for their own government, the Legislature, by general and uniform laws, shall regulate the compensation of boards of supervisors, district attorneys, and of auditors in the respective counties and for this purpose may classify the counties by population. (Cal.Const. art. XI § 5.) No specific authorization to classify counties by population, for the purpose of prescribing the duties of county officers, is given the Legislature as was done with respect to regulation of the compensation of such officers. Nevertheless, it is settled that, since the repeal of article XI, section 4, and the amendment to article XI, section 5, of the California Constitution, in 1933, the Legislature may classify counties according to population for the purpose of creating the office of county counsel. (Ogle v. Eckel, 49 Cal.App.2d 599, 605, 122 P.2d 67.) The county counsel, when sppointed, assumes and performs certain duties which otherwise would be performed by the district attorney. (Gov.Code §§ 27640–27645 and § 26529.) It is obvious that these sections prescribe the duties of county officers. Likewise it is settled, that where a general law has been enacted relating to the collection of taxes, special legislation on the same subject setting up special procedures applicable to a county classified as coming under the provisions of such special legislation on the basis of its population, the special legislation is unconstitutional as violative of article IV, section 25, item Tenth, of the California Constitution, unless it can be shown that there is a natural, intrinsic, or constitutional ground of distinction between the county classified by population and the other counties, which would justify the application of the special procedure to the county so classified. (Consolidated Printing & Pub. Co. v. Allen, 18 Cal.2d 63, 112 P.2d 884.)

It is conceded, and this court may take judicial knowledge of the fact, that the County of Los Angeles is the only county within the State of California having a population in excess of 4,000,000. Therefore, the mandate upon the county assessor contained in section 20811 Education Code would apply only to the Cunty Assessor of the County of Los Angeles.

It is the general rule that all presumptions and intendments are in favor of the constitutionality of a statute; that all doubts are to be resolved in favor of and not against the validity of a statute; that before an act of a coordinate branch of the government can be declared invalid by the judiciary for the reason that it is in conflict with the Constitution, such conflict must be clear, positive, abrupt, and unquestionable; and that in case of fair, or reasonable doubt of its constitutionality, the statute should be upheld, and the doubt resolved in favor of the express wishes of the people as set forth in the statute. (11 Cal.Jur.2d, Constitutional Law, pp. 407–408.)

While there was no other law in effect at the time of the enactment of section 20811 relating to the duty of the county assessor to furnish to the governing boards of school districts, upon request, the estimated total assessed valuation of property in such districts, as was the case in Consolidated Printing & Pub. Co., supra, where the question related to the duty to publish the delinquent tax lists, nevertheless, the constitutionality of the section must rest upon the showing that there is a natural, intrinsic, or constitutional ground of distinction between the county classified by population and other counties, which reasonably justifies difference in treatment. (Consolidated Printing & Pub. Co. v. Allen, supra; Lelande v. Lowery, 26 Cal.2d 224, 232, 157 P.2d 639, 175 A.L.R. 1109.)

To enforce the provisions of section 20811 Education Code, by mandate, under the circumstances here shown, would be to compel the County Assessor of the County of Los Angeles to advise in writing, upon request, the governing board of a school district, not later than the 15th day of May, in any fiscal year in which such request is made, the estimated total assessed valuation of all taxable property in the district for the next succeeding fiscal year on the secured roll which would include ‘State assessed property.’ The records containing the assessed value of ‘State assessed property’ are in the possession and under the control of the State Board of Equalization, and such board is not required to complete its work until the first Monday in August. Just how the respondent may be compelled to give petitioners the estimated total assessed valuation on ‘State assessed property’ not later than May 15th, where he has no authority or duty to assess such property, and where such assessed values may not be available to him until approximately two and a half months after the date upon which he is required, under section 20811 Education Code, to advise the district of the total assessed valuation of such property within the district, is not explained by petitioners, except to say that they did not request such advice. The section, nevertheless, would compel respondent to give this advice if requested.

Petitioners assert that this information is vital in order to plan the educational needs of their respective school districts. If this information is vital to petitioners for such purposes, it would appear to be equally vital to other school districts throughout the state. Furthermore, petitioners are districts within a large and heavily populated county, and as to petitioner Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles, funds made available to it for educational purposes, based upon its budget for the fiscal year 1964–1965, exceeded one half billion dollars. It is not suggested that the assistance of the respondent assessor was decisive in the preparation of this budget which leads us to the conclusion that such district was financially able to and did have in its employ, personnel of sufficient skill and experience to prepare a budget of this magnitude without the aid of the respondent assessor. It further appears that the preparation of a budget for the purpose of meeting the educational needs of a school district in a less populous county having a smaller tax base than that in which petitioners are situated, would also be vital and such district would not have the financial ability to employ experienced, skilled technicians to aid it in the preparation of its budget, and would, therefore, be much more in need of the services of the county assessor in advising it of the assessed value of property within such district upon which the school tax could be levied. Aside from the fact that section 20811 of the Education Code requires the Assessor of the County of Los Angeles to do an act which is impossible of performance, we can find no natural, intrinsic, or constitutional ground, upon which to sustain this legislation, applicable only to Los Angeles County because of its classification based upon population. The section, therefore, violates the provisions of article IV, section 25, items Tenth, Twenty-eighth and Thirty-third of the California Constitution.

The petition is denied.

FOOTNOTES

FOOTNOTE.  

1.  Section 20811 Education Code. ‘(a) This section shall only apply to those counties having a population in excess of 4,000,000 and to every school district within such a county for which the Board of Supervisors fixes the annual school district tax rate. Subdivision (c) of this section shall be operative until July 1, 1965, and shall have no force or effect after that date. (b) Upon written request of the governing board of any school district submitted to the county assessor on or before the 20th day of February, the county assessor shall not later than the succeeding 15th day of May advise in writing the governing board of the school district the estimated total assessed valuation of taxable property in the district for the next succeeding fiscal year, together with the estimated total assessed valuation of all taxable property appearing on the secured roll, the unsecured roll, and solvent credits. ‘(c) For each school year, the county auditor shall, prior to the date of the levy of school district taxes, estimate and report to the county board of supervisors the total tax revenue for each school district in the county computed at its maximum tax rate as provided pursuant to Section 20751 or 20803, whichever applies to the district. If the estimated tax revenue for the current school year falls below the tax revenue that would have been raised by said maximum tax rate for the last preceding school year, the maximum tax rate of the district shall be increased by the county board of supervisors by the number of cents required to raise as nearly as practicable the same tax revenue that would have been raised by the maximum district tax rate for the last preceding school year. Such increase in the tax rate of the district shall be effective for the current school year irrespective of any provisions of law fixing maximum school district tax rates which otherwise might be applicable. The provisions of this section shall not be construed as impairing or otherwise affecting the validity of any school district budget proceedings undertaken pursuant to Division 16 (commencing with Section 20501). Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 20951 and 21001 or any provision of this code to the contrary, the governing board of any school district may budget and use any unbudgeted district tax revenues provided during the current fiscal year pursuant to the provisions of this section without the requirement for repetition of any publication or any other budgeting procedures.’

2.  ‘This is in answer to your letter of February 17 concerning estimates of assessed value of state-assessed property for 1965 for Los Angeles County by school districts. ‘As you probably know, the unitary or operative properties of state assessees are completely revalued each year. For the year 1964, which was typical, the Board determined the first of the unitary values on May 13 and the final ones on June 23. The allocation of these unitary values to situs of the individual items of property, the major portion of which is accomplished by electronic data processing, is not completed until many weeks after your deadline of May 15. For this reason it would be impossible to make any dependable estimate of the assessed values segregated to school districts at the time it would be necessary for you to have them. A comment that I should probably make in relation to the date of April 20 mentioned in your letter is that the property statements of state assessees are not due until April 1, and if they are granted a 30-day extension by the Board, which is necessary for many of them to have, the statements are not filed until May 1. ‘The only answer to your problem that I can suggest is for you to use the totals of last year for your estimates.’

FRAMPTON, Justice pro tem.* FN* Assigned by the Chairman of the Judicial Council.

WOOD, P. J., and LILLIE, J., concur.