PAJARO VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT v. GARCIA

Reset A A Font size: Print

Court of Appeal, Sixth District, California.

PAJARO VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Raymond J. GARCIA, et al., Defendants and Appellants.

H000460.

Decided: February 19, 1986

Kelly J. Walker, Walker & Brock, Santa Cruz, for defendants and appellants. Robert E. Freitas, Thomas R. Shearer, Jr., Robert J. Favole, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, San Francisco, for plaintiff and respondent.

The issue on appeal is whether the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (School District) was authorized by the voters in 1975 to enter into more than one lease of school facilities to be financed by an increase in property taxes.   One lease was entered within a year after the vote, and the question now arises because the School District proposes to enter into additional leases.   We conclude the voters approved of only one lease, and did not authorize the School District to enter new leases a decade later.

The issue arose as follows:  Pursuant to former Education Code section 15708 (now § 39308;  all statutory citations are to the Education Code unless otherwise noted) the governing board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District obtained voter approval on March 4, 1975, of Proposition A, which asked:

‘Shall the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District purchase a site, prepare plans and specifications, and lease a site and buildings, to be constructed for use by the School District and consisting generally of:

‘(a)  A portable building leased for general educational purposes to be located on a site owned by the District, known as Salsipuedes Elementary School and located at 115 Casserly Road, Watsonville;”

‘(b)  A multi-purpose room with storage and kitchen, to be constructed on a site owned by the District, known as Rolling Hills Junior High School, and located at 130 Herman Avenue, Watsonville.”

‘(c)  The remodeling necessary to convert Aptos School, located at Aptos School Road, Aptos, a site owned by the Dsitrict [sic ], to an elementary school;”

‘(d)  Buildings and facilities to include library, music room, arts and crafts room, home economics laboratory, shop, multi-purpose room with kitchen, shower-locker building, administration building, and rest rooms, to be constructed on a site owned by the District, known as Valencia School, and located at 1001 Huntington Drive Aptos, the District reserving its right to construct and/or lease less than all of the said facilities;”

‘(e)  Library, cafeteria, kitchen, shops, home economics laboratories, art and music rooms, rest rooms and storage area, to be constructed on a site owned by the District, known as Aptos High School and located at 7301 Freedom Boulevard, Aptos, the District reserving the right to construct and/or lease less than all of the said facilities;”

‘(f)  A Special Services and Instructional Materials Center, including office, storage area and educational facilities to be constructed on a site known as Renaissance High School, a site currently under lease-purchase contract by the District and which will be owned by the District in 1977, and located at 440 Arthur Road, Watsonville;  and”

‘(g)  Classrooms, shops, home economics laboratory, storage area and rest rooms, to be constructed on a site owned by the District known as Pajaro School, located at 250 Salinas Road, Watsonville, and the purchase of an additional parcel of land adjacent to Parajo School, consisting of approximately four acres, on which will be constructed athletic facilities, the District reserving the right to construct and/or lease less than all of the said facilities;

‘And for such purposes shall the maximum tax rate of the District be increased by an amount not to exceed Nineteen Cents ($.19) such increase to be in effect within the Pajaro Valley Unified School District for the years 1975–76 to 2001–02, be authorized, and the amount of such increase used solely and exclusively for such purposes, the District reserving the right to construct and/or lease less than all of the above facilities?‘

Acting on this approval, the School District entered a site lease dated May 1, 1976, whereby it leased the six parcels described in proposition subdivisions (a), (b), (d), (e), (f), (g) to the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Building Corporation (Building Corporation) to enable the Building Corporation to construct some of the described improvements.   Concurrently, by a facility lease dated May 1, 1976, the School District subleased from the Building Corporation the improvements to be constructed.   There is no contention this transaction was unauthorized.   The original work, described as Project Phase I, has since been completed.

The controversy arose eight years later, when on June 13, 1984, the School District adopted two resolutions to lease additional buildings to be constructed as Phases II (No. 83–84–74) and III (No. 83–84–75) purportedly under the authority of the same Proposition A.   These resolutions propose two additional sets of site leases and facility subleases, Phase II involving the sites and some of the facilities described in Proposition A, subdivisions (d), (e), (f), (g), and Phase III involving the site and the improvement described in Proposition A, subdivision (c).1

The School District filed this action on June 22, 1984, seeking validation under Proposition A of the proposed leases.  (Code Civ.Proc., § 860.)   Defendants Raymond Garcia, John and Jean McGlaughlin, and Sue Milne (taxpayers) objected on the ground the additional leases were not authorized by Proposition A.   Both sides moved for summary judgment, the School District prevailed, and taxpayers appeal.   Since a summary judgment raises only questions of law regarding the construction and effect of the supporting and opposing papers (Code Civ.Proc., § 437c), we independently review them on appeal, employing the same analysis required of the trial court.  (LaRosa v. Superior Court (1981) 122 Cal.App.3d 741, 744–745, 176 Cal.Rptr. 224;  Bonus-Bilt, Inc. v. United Grocers, Ltd. (1982) 136 Cal.App.3d 429, 432, 186 Cal.Rptr. 357.)   Virtually all the material facts stated by each side are undisputed by the other.  (Code Civ.Proc., § 437c, subd. (b).)  In any event, construction of the controlling statute is a question of law.  (Estate of Madison (1945) 26 Cal.2d 453, 456, 159 P.2d 630.)

We embark on construction of these statutes, recalling:  “The general rules for the construction of statutes are contained in the preliminary provisions of the different codes.”  (Gov.Code, § 9603.)  ‘The code establishes the law of this state respecting the subjects to which it relates, and its provisions and all proceedings under it are to be liberally construed, with a view to effect its objects and to promote justice.”  (Educ.Code, § 2.)  ‘The provisions of this code, insofar as they are substantially the same as existing statutory provisions relating to the same subject matter, shall be construed as restatements and continuations, and not as new enactments.”  (§ 3.)  ‘The object of all construction of statutes is to get at, and give effect to, the intention of the Legislature.”  (The State v. Conkling (1861) 19 Cal. 501, 511;  Code Civ.Proc., § 1859.)  ‘In the construction of a statute or instrument, the office of the judge is simply to ascertain and declare what is in terms or in substance contained therein, not to insert what has been omitted, or to omit what has been inserted;  and where there are several provisions or particulars, such a construction is, if possible, to be adopted as will give effect to all.”  (Code Civ.Proc., § 1858.)

We are aided in construction of these sections by considering the surrounding sections.   The article containing them authorizes school district leasing of realty and buildings.  (§§ 39300–39325.)   In general, it provides for an election to obtain voter approval for a school district to enter a lease.  (§§ 39307, 39310.)   The election will either authorize (§ 39308) or ratify (§ 39311) the plans made by the district for a site and building lease (§§ 39302, 39314).   After the voters authorize a project, the School District has three years to enter ‘a lease.‘  (§ 39313.) 2

The changes in section 39308 (formerly § 15708) are instructive.   Originally (Stats.1959, § 15708, ch. 2, p. 1087), it provided:  ‘Before entering into a lease or agreement pursuant to this article (commencing at Section 15701), the governing board of the district shall call, hold, and conduct an election in the manner provided in Section 20803, except that the ballot used in the election shall contain substantially the words:  'shall the governing board of the _ District purchase a site, prepare plans and specifications, [the reference to the site and plans and specifications shall not be included if, prior to calling the election, the governing board of the district has acquired a site or proposes to lease a site and has prepared plans and specifications] and lease [a site and] a building to be constructed for use by the school district [designating the location of the site on which the building will be constructed and generally describing the building], and, for such purposes, shall the maximum tax rate of the district be increased from _ to _, such rate to be in effect in the _ District for the year 19_ to 19_, be authorized and the amount of such increase used solely and exclusively for such purposes?’ ‘

As the School District acknowledges, section 15708 originally contemplated a separate proposition for each building lease.   Amendments in 1974 to the Education Code (effective as an urgency statute on August 27, 1974;  Stats. 1974, ch. 547, § 30, p. 1372) allowed a school district to obtain voter approval of a multi-site, multi-building lease.   Amended section 15708 provided (Stats.1974, ch. 547, § 11, p. 1366):  “Before entering into a lease or agreement pursuant to this article (commencing at Section 15701), the governing board of the district shall call, hold, and conduct an election in the manner provided in Section 20803, or 20803.2, as the case may be, except that the ballot used in the election shall contain substantially the words:  ‘Shall the governing board of the _ District purchase (a site, sites) prepare plans and specifications, [the reference to the site or sites and plans and specifications shall not be included if, prior to calling the election, the governing board of the district has acquired a site or sites or proposes to lease a site or sites and has prepared plans and specifications] and lease (a site and, sites and) (a building, buildings) to be constructed for use by the school district [designating the location of the site or sites on which the building or buildings will be constructed and generally describing the building or buildings], and, for such purposes, shall the maximum tax rate of the district be increased by not to exceed _, such increase to be in effect in the _ District for the years 19_ to _, be authorized and the amount of such increase used solely and exclusively for such purposes?’ ‘  Moreover, a school district was allowed to reserve the option of leasing less than all the proposed buildings in the ballot measure.  (§ 39309, formerly § 15708.3 (Stats.1974, ch. 547, § 12, p. 1366).)

We requested supplemental briefs on the question whether the statute allows voter approval of several leases in one proposition.   Both sides originally appeared to assume so.   The School District, naturally, continues to argue the voters may approve of a series of leases by one ballot measure.   Taxpayers now assert only one lease may be submitted per ballot measure.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary confirms the indefinite article “a” is interchangeable with “one” or “any,” but not “every,” “each” or “all.”   It may mean “one of several.”  (Cf. State of California v. Superior Court (Fuller) (1967) 252 Cal.App.2d 637, 639, 60 Cal.Rptr. 653.)

 We construe the plain meaning of section 39308 to be only one lease may be submitted to the voters in one proposition.   While the 1974 amendments allowed a lease of several sites and several buildings, they did not change the introductory language:  “Before entering into a lease or agreement.”   The failure to change this language while changing the one building—one site limitation indicates an intent not to change this aspect of the law.   Ordinarily, while a statutory amendment is construed as indicative of a legislative intent to change the law (People v. Weitzel (1927) 201 Cal. 116, 118–119, 255 P. 792), the re-enactment of a statute is indicative of a legislative intent it should receive the same construction as before.   (Lightner Mining Co. v. Lane (1911) 161 Cal. 689, 700, 120 P. 771;  Gov.Code, § 9605.)   We will not disregard the opening clause as the School District argues because other parts of section 39308 are unclear about how many leases are subject to the voters' consideration.

 The statutory scheme requires voter approval of one lease at a time, although the project may involve several sites and buildings.   We regard a lease-leaseback transaction such as involved in our case as one lease.   Since this is our interpretation of section 39308, it follows section 39313 requires the school district to enter into that one lease within three years after the election or the approved tax increase “shall become void.”   The time limit is imposed to compel the school district to conduct its prerequisite study and planning (§ 39302) within a reasonable period of time after obtaining voter authorization.

A contrary construction would minimize voter control of school district leasing.   A contrary construction would also, in this case, nullify the purpose of section 39313 requiring entry into a lease within three years under penalty of tax rate increase nullification.

The School District's position is:  it may offer to the voters a complex multi-stage project involving a series of leases of several sites and buildings and, so long as any lease, no matter how unimportant to the entire project, is entered into within three years, the district may proceed at its leisure to implement whatever additional leases it deems appropriate.   The voters' real concern is the tax rate, not how many building leases may be entered.   The School District argues it would be more administratively convenient if voter approval of every lease was not required.   It will be costly to call for a vote on every lease and more difficult for the district to engage in the necessary planning and timing of construction.   We have no doubt any statutory limit on the School District's authority is an inconvenience, but we perceive benefits in the statutory scheme.

Our construction allows the electorate to have more say in the operation of its schools.   At the same time, a school district is not disabled from obtaining voter approval of a series of leases, so long as each is offered as a separate proposition, perhaps in the same election.   This procedure should not involve great additional expense.   The school district may retain the right to implement less than the whole proposal, but the electorate is presented more directly graphically and comprehensibly with its options for school improvement.   The school district is required to proceed expeditiously once voter approval is obtained to implement the majority will.

 We hold the School District could not have obtained and did not obtain in a single ballot measure voter approval in March 1975 to enter into a series of leases.   It is beyond the power of the School District to undertake unauthorized construction and facility leases.  (Cf. O'Farrell v. County of Sonoma (1922) 189 Cal. 343, 347–349, 208 P. 117.)   The School District had the option of entering a single lease of all the facilities described in Proposition A within three years of obtaining voter approval.   Instead, it exercised its option of constructing and leasing less than all the facilities.   The lease-finance mechanism approved by the voters remains in place to finance the existing lease.3  But additional leasing and construction requires new voter approval.   The proposed leases are unauthorized and invalid.

We reverse the judgment in favor of the School District, and we direct entry of judgment in favor of taxpayers.

FOOTNOTES

1.   There is a question whether all the newly proposed improvements were contemplated by the original voter approval.   We find it unnecessary to answer this question.

2.   Education Code section 39313 provides in pertinent part:  “(a) ․ if the governing board of the district fails to enter into a lease pursuant to this article within three years after an election, held pursuant to Section 39308, at which a majority of the votes cast favors the proposition submitted, the authorization for an increase in the maximum tax rate shall become void.”   It derived from former section 15711, enacted in 1959 (Stats.1959, ch. 2, § 15711, p. 1088) and amended in 1970 (Stats.1970, ch. 1353, § 2, p. 2518).   It has always referred to ‘a lease agreement.‘The parties assume as do we, without deciding, section 39313 is retroactively applicable.   We note its enactment provided (Stats.1977, ch. 1005, § 2, p. 3027):  ‘This act shall operate retroactively to the extent that it shall apply even if the election was held, ․ before the effective date of this act.‘

3.   California Constitution article XIIIA, section 4 poses no problem in utilizing this property tax increase (compare City of San Marcos v. Board of Supervisors (1984) 159 Cal.App.3d 355, 205 Cal.Rptr. 566) because it obtained voter approval before the 1978 enactment of article XIIIA.  (Art. XIIIA, § 1, subd. (b);  cf. Las Virgenes Mun. Wat. Dist. v. Dorgelo (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 481, 484–486, 201 Cal.Rptr. 266.)

AGLIANO, Acting Presiding Justice.

BRAUER and O'FARRELL *, JJ., concur.