Appellate Review Adds New Twist In Chargers Stadium Effort

The California Supreme Court recently made it a little harder for a new Chargers stadium to be approved with only a majority vote, rather than a two-thirds vote, in the upcoming November election.

As explained in an earlier post, the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s March of 2016 decision in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland suggested that a “special tax” placed on the ballot via citizen’s initiative, rather than by the government, needed only a majority vote to pass under the California Constitution instead of a two-thirds vote.  No prior Court of Appeal decision had taken up this issue, so the Upland decision was a new development.

Whether either of the two stadium voter initiatives that will appear on the November ballot qualify as imposing a special tax (rather than a “general tax”) is a topic of debate.  Regardless, the Upland decision represented a positive development for the prospect of a new Chargers stadium because if it was determined that either of these initiatives imposed a special tax, then Upland suggested only a majority vote was necessary to pass them.

The California Supreme Court, however, recently granted review of the Upland decision.  Pursuant to Rule 8.1115(e)(1) of the California Rules of Court, a published Court of Appeal opinion that has been taken up for review by the Supreme Court no longer has any binding or precedential effect.  Therefore, Upland may no longer be binding in determining the need for a majority versus supermajority vote.  And, based on the typical amount of time that transpires between the California Supreme Court granting review and subsequently rendering its decision, it is unlikely Upland will be upheld or overturned prior to California’s upcoming November 8 election.

As a result, if either of the two initiatives seeking to facilitate a new Chargers stadium are determined to be imposing a special tax, then any vote less than two-thirds in November would not be enough to move forward.  On the other hand, if either of the two initiatives seeking to facilitate a new Chargers stadium are determined to be imposing a general tax, then the prior Upland decision would have no effect anyway because general taxes only require a majority vote.  Given the multiple legal issues surrounding the Chargers’ stadium effort, it appears more likely than not that whatever happens at the ballot box on November 8th will not be the final word on the subject.