Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 10, 2017

CA Appeals Court Holds County Boards of Education Had No Authority to Issue Zoning Exemptions Under Statute Granting Such Authority to a “Governing Board of a School District”

Appellants, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the Santa Clara County Board of Education, Rocketship Education, and Rocketship Eight Charter School, determined that county boards of education may issue zoning exemptions pursuant to section 53094. As such, the Santa Clara County Board of Education approved a resolution exempting from local zoning ordinances property to be used by Rocketship Education for a charter school. Respondents, San Jose Unified School District and Brett Bymaster, argued that county boards of education had no authority to issue zoning exemptions under section 53094. Government Code Section 53094 provides, “the governing board of a school district…by a vote of two-thirds of its members, may render a city or county zoning ordinance inapplicable to a proposed use of property by the school district.” The trial court ruled that the County Board lacked the authority to invoke section 53094.

The Government Code did not define the phrase “governing board of a school district,” or the term “school district,” for purposes of section 53094. The court found that the dictionary definition of the phrase “governing board of a school district” meant the “body that controls or manages public schools in a particular region.” However, the court determined that the term “school district” could also reasonably be construed more narrowly to refer only to those entities commonly referred to as “school districts.” After reviewing the legislative history, the court held that empowering county boards of education to issue zoning exemptions for charter school facilities would not advance the purpose of section 53094 to prevent local interference with the state’s sovereign activities. Accordingly, section 53094 was found not to authorize county boards of education to issue zoning exemptions for charter school facilities.

The court next found that the legislative scheme did not prevent charter schools from competing with school district schools, as the Legislature intended in enacting the Charter Schools Act. As such, the court declined to rewrite section 53094 under the absurd consequences doctrine. Additionally, the court rejected appellants’ argument that a construction of section 53094 in which county boards of education could issue zoning exemptions violated article IX, section 6 of the Constitution by giving cities the right to exclude county-run public schools. Here, the court determined that there was no risk of such exclusion due to the school district’s obligation to provide facilities. Lastly, appellants presented evidence that eight community college districts invoked the section 53094 zoning exemption on 10 occasions between 1996 and 2009; however, the court held that this evidence did not have any bearing on whether a county board of education could use the section 53094 exemption in connection with charter school facilities. The court therefore affirmed the trial court’s holding, and appellants’ claims were dismissed.

San Jose Unified School District v. Santa Clara County, 7 Cal.App.5th 967 (CA. App. 1/24/2017)


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