California Lawmakers Created New Public Agency Laws for 2019 on Elections, Road and Building Safety, Cannabis and Campaign Finance

By Best Best & Krieger LLP

From increasing transparency in campaign finance reporting to legalizing sidewalk vending, California lawmakers passed a number of laws in 2018 that have a significant impact on how public agencies do business now.

Local leaders should be aware of the numerous new laws that eliminate the impacts of past cannabis-related convictions, ease taxi regulations and increase fire department inspection liability, among other things. Below is a recap of these new laws, most of which went into effect Jan. 1.

Be sure to check out Part II Wednesday, which will discuss new laws addressing the state’s housing shortages, ensuring safety and prohibiting discrimination, and Part III on Thursday, which will focus on water and the environment.

Shedding Light on Campaign Financing, Reducing Voter Disenfranchisement

Coming off a big legislative push in 2017 to eliminate conflicts of interest and promote transparency in state elections, California lawmakers continued amending the Political Reform Act of 1974 to shed more light on campaign financing and grant voters the chance to verify the signature on their mail-in ballots.

  • Under Senate Bill 1239, all elected officials, candidates and committees must file their political contribution, expenditure and loan statements online or electronically with the Secretary of State’s office regardless of the monetary value.
  • Senate Bill 759 lifts a prohibition that barred elections officials from counting a mail-in ballot if a voter’s signature didn’t match their registration affidavit. Now, elections officials must notify the voter and give them an opportunity to verify their signature before certifying an election.

Taxis, Sidewalk Vendors, Utilities and Broadband Services

Various laws passed in 2018 tackle issues relating to public property, including: sidewalk vending and charitable feeding, taxis and broadband services as well as local water systems.

  • Senate Bill 946 decriminalizes sidewalk vending and allows a local authority to adopt a sidewalk vending regulatory program in accordance with the bill’s provisions. A local authority may adopt additional requirements regulating the time, place and manner of sidewalk vending if directly related to objective health, safety or welfare concerns, including requiring the vendor to obtain a valid permit or business license.
  • Assembly Bill 2178 allows limited service charitable feeding operations to distribute food in an outdoor location for up to four hours a day, using best management practices and subject to the approval of a local enforcement agency — with which the operation must be registered.
  • Assembly Bill 939 eases taxi regulations to level the playing field for traditional taxicab companies and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. This law makes it unlawful to operate a cab company in a city or county without a permit from where the company is “substantially located” and requires a permitting program be provided for taxicab drivers.
  • Assembly Bill 1999 expands the list of government entities expressly allowed to develop, own and provide public broadband services. Community services districts are no longer required to determine if a private party can provide local broadband services before delivering the service themselves. The law requires that these broadband providers adhere to net neutrality rules.
  • Assembly Bill 2179 simplified the voting requirements for a municipal utility to consolidate its sewer system with a neighboring utility. If a municipality wants to lease, sell or transfer part of its service to another entity, they may now do so with a simple majority vote.

Roadway Safety Changes for Rideshare Scooters, Helmets

As dockless, motorized scooters have become more prevalent on California streets, lawmakers passed a road-safety measure — Assembly Bill 2989 — requiring riders under age 18 to wear a helmet.

The state’s Vehicle Code now requires minors to wear a helmet when riding a bike, scooter, skateboard or skates on a public street, path or trail. A failure to do so could result in a citation and $25 fine.

Assembly Bill 3077 provides a corrective mechanism for minors cited or fined for not wearing a helmet. Agencies are now barred from transmitting citation records to courts and imposing fees if, within 120 days, the minor’s parent/guardian proves they own a helmet and have completed a bicycle safety course.

Previous law prohibited riders from exceeding speeds of 15 miles per hour on motorized scooters and from operating such vehicles on roadways with a posted speed limit over 25 mph, unless riding in a defined bike lane. Under AB 2989 municipalities can now allow motorized scooters on roads with speed limits over 35 mph, and on those with higher speed limits if being ridden in a separate bike lane. 

Parking Penalties & Vehicle Removals Get Added Driver Protections

Lawmakers added protections for California drivers in regard to late fees for parking penalties, unfair towing practices and unwarranted vehicle removals.

  • Parking Penalties: The Department of Motor Vehicles will collect unpaid parking citations and late fees for agencies when it collects a vehicle’s registration. Under Assembly Bill 2544, agencies are now required to provide drivers with a payment plan option and waive late fees for indigent drivers before sending itemized unpaid parking penalties to the DMV.
  • Warrantless Removals: Assembly Bill 2876 provides that warrantless vehicle removals must be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Warrantless removals based on community caretaking are only reasonable if, for example, it is done to ensure the safe flow of traffic or protect a property from theft or vandalism. “Reasonable” was not further defined by the law.
  • Towing Practices: Insurance trade groups, consumer advocates and tow truck associations supported Assembly Bill 2392 to combat abusive towing industry practices. The law requires companies (including repair garages and service stations) to only charge “reasonable” towing and storing fees and calls for their facilities be open and accessible during business hours.

Increased Department Accountability on Fire Safety Inspections

When the Ghost Ship Fire ripped through an Oakland warehouse killing 36 people in December 2016, there were no fire alarms, sprinklers or emergency or exit lighting. Three months later, a fire at an Oakland halfway house claimed four lives and sent some 100 residents fleeing for their safety.

Safety and building violations existed in both structures that witnesses say went unchecked for years.

A Bay Area News Group investigation in June 2018 revealed that many of the region’s major fire departments were months — even years — behind on their annual safety inspections of schools and apartments. In response, Senate Bill 1205 was introduced to increase accountability.

The law requires every city, county and district fire department to annually report their compliance with state safety inspections of schools, apartments, hotels, motels and other lodging houses.

New Rules for Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts

Enhanced infrastructure financing districts take on development projects for public facilities, affordable housing and economic revitalization with funding from voter-approved bonds. Under the Neighborhood Infill Finance and Transit Improvements Act, agencies can allocate tax revenues to an EIFD.

  • Senate Bill 961 enacts the Second Neighborhood Infill Finance and Transit Improvements Act. It follows provisions of the original act, provided the area financed is within a half mile of a major transit stop, and the issuance of bonds does not require voter approval. The act requires EIFD’s to follow certain notice, protest and election proceedings when adopting the financing plan.
  • Prior to Senate Bill 1145, governing bodies could establish an EIFD to finance capital facilities and certain community projects. Bonds to fund this work could be issue if 55 percent of voters approved. The law allows public agencies to finance ongoing and capitalized costs to maintain capital facilities, but prohibits the use of bond money to finance maintenance of any kind.

Easing the Effects of Past Cannabis Convictions

When California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016 legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, they also voted to eliminate several cannabis-related crimes.

The proposition applied retroactively to past convictions, but until the passage of Assembly Bill 1793, people convicted of possessing, processing, purchasing or transporting cannabis had few guidelines or mechanisms in place for expunging their record or having previous convictions reduced to misdemeanors.

Now, by July 1, the California Department of Justice must review the State’s criminal history database to identify cannabis convictions that are potentially eligible for dismissal, recall, sealing or redesignation. State prosecutors will then have one year to review all cases and decide whether to challenge the change.

If there is no challenge by July 2, 2020, courts must reduce or dismiss the conviction. Additionally, the state DOJ will have 30 days of a conviction modification to change an individual’s status in its database.

Local Government Omnibus Act Eliminates Redundancies in Statutes (Senate Bill 1498)

The state Legislature also compiled several minor, local government-related bills into a single omnibus bill. While many included changes are non-substantive technical updates, there are new rules that will allow cities and other local agencies to more efficiently and effectively communicate with constituents.

  • The Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 requires agencies to report information on community facilities districts’ bonds and expenditures to the State and to display this information prominently on their websites. Agencies can now link to the information on the Treasurer’s website.
  • Similarly, when forming an EIFD, cities are required to mail information about the proposed district to affected landowners. Cities can now mail a single-page notice that provides information regarding the website, where the full documents are available.
  • A redundancy in the process for forming a property and business improvement district was removed. Cities are no longer required to adopt a second formation resolution.

This piece touches on a small portion of the laws California legislators passed in 2018 that impact public agencies. Also running this week, part two of this series will cover laws affecting housing and land use, building standards, public contracts and the environment.

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Best Best & Krieger LLP focuses on environmental, municipal, special districts, employee benefits and telecommunications law for public agency clients. With more than 200 attorneys, the law firm has 10 offices nationwide, including Los Angeles, Irvine, Riverside and Sacramento. For more information, visit