• Land Use Attorney Capitola

County Boards Of Education Lack Statutory Authority To Issue Zoning Exemptions For Charter Schools

In San Jose Unified School District v. Santa Clara County Office of Education, (6th Dist. 2017) 7 Cal.App.5th 967, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District (San Jose) held that county boards of education lack the statutory authority under CA Government Code section 53094 to issue zoning exemptions for charter schools.

In 2013, the San Jose Unified School District (“SJUSD”) brought suit against the Santa Clara County Board of Education (the “Board”) alleging that it impermissibly granted a zoning exemption to Rocketship Education (“Rocketship”) to operate a K-5 charter school on a lot owned by the City of San Jose (the “Property”). The Board previously granted a charter to Rocketship permitting the operation of up to 25 charter schools in Santa Clara County. Use of this particular parcel of Property for a school was not permitted under either the City of San Jose’s General Plan or its zoning ordinance. The Property was originally zoned for open space, parklands, and habitat.

In order to operate the school, Rocketship needed an exemption from the use restrictions applicable to the subject property under the City of San Jose’s General Plan and zoning ordinance, and it asked the Board to issue such an exemption pursuant to Government Code section 53094, subdivision (b), which provides that, “the governing board of a school district” may “render a city or county zoning ordinance inapplicable to a proposed use of property by the school district.” In January, 2013, the Board approved a resolution exempting the Property from the City’s General Plan and zoning ordinance under this authority.

The main issue in the case was whether Government Code section 53094 applied to county boards of education.  The trial court ruled that county boards of education are not “governing boards of a school district”, that the Board lacked the statutory authority to exempt the subject property from local zoning requirements, and it ordered Board to repeal its resolution and deny Rocketship’s request for a zoning exemption.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the trial court and rejected the Board’s contention that the Code’s “governing boards of a school district” language refers to any public agency that operates public schools, including county boards of education.  The Court noted that the legislative intent of Section 53094 is to prevent local interference with the state’s sovereign activities of school construction and school location by immunizing school districts, the entities the state had empowered to carry out those sovereign activities on its behalf, from local regulation. In this case, the Court held that the Board impermissibly interfered with the SJUSD’s sovereign power, granted to it by the state, to decide where the Rocketship Charter School could operate.

©2017 Miles J. Dolinger.  This article is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or a solicitation for the formation of an attorney-client relationship.

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Miles J. Dolinger
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