San Francisco

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San Francisco in California

San Francisco Content:

San Francisco Charter
San Francisco Ordinances
San Francisco Regulations
San Francisco Municipal Code, which is a Primary Legal Authority of San Francisco
San Francisco Planning and Zoning
California Municipal Law

Municipal Law

The U.S. legal system, together with federal and state law (california), is also based in counties and cities local laws. For William Blackstone (1827) municipal law is completely expressed by the first branch of the definition, A rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state.

Municipal Law Administrative Decisions:

Ordinance Codification

Code of Ordinances: Attorneys, architects, planners and law students frequently rely on codes of ordinance. There is not free online comprehensive source of Municipal Codes. If you need to csearch or compare the text of several municipal codes (Multiple code searching), you may use American Legal Publishing’s site, and subscribe to Municode. Municode provides access the municipal codes from 49 states (Idaho is not represented). To find local ordinances, visit the cities and/or counties websites clerk’s office, or at a local law or non-law library. You can find links to the researched local government at:


Individual agencies may also provide copies of the rules they enforce.

If you are looking for San Francisco’s municipal code, go to the San Francisco’s official Web site and look for a link directed to the code.

San Francisco Flex-Scheduling Law

by Kimberly Olson

Worker-friendly employment laws emanating from San Francisco have lawyers statewide on alert.

San Francisco – with a smaller population of kids (13.4 percent) than in any U.S. city near its size and the largest population (14 percent) age 65 and older – has tried several legal means to help workers who care for family members. The latest, the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, which took effect in January (see San Francisco Admin. Code, Ch. 12Z), gives San Francisco workers the right to request a flexible or predictable schedule so they can care for a child or parent or for another family member with a serious health condition. Employers are subject to it if they have 20 or more workers, but they may reject a staffer’s request if they give legitimate reasons. The ordinance builds on other local measures that are now being emulated across the country.
Several law firms issued client alerts as San Francisco this winter expanded the number of employers affected. According to Nixon Peabody, for instance, the ordinance imposes onerous paperwork and other requirements. The firm warned employers to expect similar legislation in other states and municipalities, though none has succeeded at the federal level.

Roland M. Juarez, an employment law partner at Hunton & Williams in Los Angeles, says the ordinance adds to the factors that make companies skittish about setting up shop in California. He says it’s unnecessary because businesses in competitive marketplaces like San Francisco already try to accommodate employees. “The main downside that I see is it’s just another layer of bureaucracy on employers. It’s a cost issue, and it’s also a burden.”
Says the measure’s author, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, a former prosecutor, civil rights attorney, and small business commissioner: “I wanted to do something to help San Franciscans who are in the difficult situation of having to choose between their jobs and the well-being of their … loved ones.”
Young families often leave San Francisco before their children start school, frequently citing the high cost of living and concerns about safety and school quality. Meanwhile, local workers also bear the burden of caring for older relatives.

Chiu aide Catherine Rauschuber says the supervisor researched similar legislation in several other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city with mandatory paid sick leave; New York, Seattle, and other cities and the state of Connecticut have followed suit. San Francisco also is among the few U.S. cities with its own minimum wage (higher than the state’s, which is higher than the federal). And it’s the only U.S. city to set a minimum amount employers must spend on health care for eligible workers if they don’t directly insure their employees.

Researchers at UC Berkeley who tracked 254 San Francisco restaurants against 100 in the East Bay found that San Francisco’s adoption of a minimum wage in 2003 had no effect on employment or business closures. And a survey of 26 San Francisco businesses, conducted by The Urban Institute, found they largely absorbed the cost, though many would have preferred a state or federal law that would impose the same costs on their competitors.

They’re starting to get their wish. State minimum wage hikes enacted in 2013 start taking effect next month. Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has proposed a statewide sick leave law (AB 1522), and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has called for a national requirement. But the Senate turned back President Barack Obama’s push for a higher federal minimum wage hike in April. Says Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education: “[Change] does bubble up, but it takes time.”

Taxing Partners of Partnerships in San Francisco

by Adele Nicholas (2011)

San Francisco law firms fight the city over partner profits.

San Francisco was staring into a budget crater in the end of 2011. According to the city controller’s office, it faded a deficit of $306 million in 2011 that was expected to rise to $480 million in 2012. City government was not abble to afford to leave a potential source of tax revenue on the table. Hence, Proposition Q.

Passed by voters in 2008, Prop. Q extends the city’s payroll expense tax – a levy of 1.5 percent on all wages employees performing work in the city are paid if their company has payroll expenses of at least $250,000 – to the money distributed to partners in “pass-through” entities such as law firms and hedge funds. The tax, which pulls about $10.5 million into city coffers each year, appears to be the only one like it in California.

But last fall three firms – Hanson Bridgett; Sideman & Bancroft; and Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass – filed three similar suits for refunds of the taxes they’ve paid under Prop. Q. (See Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, LLP v. City and County of San Francisco, No. CGC-11-514292 (San Francisco Super. Ct. filed Sept. 15, 2011).) Coblentz, for one, is looking to claw back about $195,000.

The firms argue that the tax is invalid for several reasons, including technical errors in the way the proposition was put before voters and that it amounts to a city income tax, which is illegal under California revenue and tax code law section 17041.5. Partners’ earnings cannot be classified as a payroll expense, the plaintiffs say, because law firms don’t compensate their equity partners for services and labor. Rather, partners’ earnings are a return on their investment in the enterprise.

“They have a strong argument,” says Karl Cole-Frieman, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in representing hedge funds. “The city is trying to circumvent the prohibition on income taxes by recharacterizing partners’ return on investment as a payroll expense.”

But the city disagrees. According to Deputy City Attorney James Emery, the rationale for imposing the payroll expense tax on partner earnings is a matter of fairness: Corporations pay the 1.5 percent tax on workers’ wages regardless of whether those individuals own part of the enterprise, but prior to Prop. Q organizations set up as partnerships were exempt from paying the tax on partner compensation.

“Partnerships use the civil infrastructure to earn money in San Francisco the same way corporations do,” Emery says. “Proposition Q, which San Francisco voters approved with 78 percent of the vote, is designed to level the playing field.”

The measure requires firms to declare some portion of partner compensation as wages for the work they performed in San Francisco, which are then subject to the payroll expense tax. Firms can choose to calculate that portion in one of several different ways.

San Francisco has long been after this untapped source of revenue. In 2004, voters defeated a ballot measure similar to Prop. Q. The following year, the city changed its administrative rules and announced that law firms would have to pay a payroll tax on 90 percent of any funds distributed to partners. After a suit was filed
challenging the change, the city backed down.

While a 1.5 percent tax on partner payouts doesn’t represent a huge portion of firms’ total tax liability, there is more at stake. Under California partnership law, any profit an equity partner earns on business conducted for the partnership belongs to the firm, not the individual lawyer. So if a lawyer leaves a firm and takes along a book of business, money earned on ongoing matters must be returned to the original partnership, even if it splits or goes bankrupt. Prop. Q, then, puts partners in a tough position. To keep their city tax liability low, it behooves them to characterize most of their income as partnership profits. But to protect their own interest in earnings in the event of a firm split or bankruptcy, it’s better to have characterized more of their income as compensation for services.

“That’s why this is a big issue,” says Edwin Reeser, former managing partner of SNR Denton’s Los Angeles office. “If a lawyer establishes a record of low compensation and high profit, it could be a ‘gotcha’ if the firm goes bankrupt. And that’s on people’s minds after [the demise of] Thelen and Heller Ehrman.”

City Independent Spirit: the Vigilantes

by Thomas L. Libby

On August 24, 1851, two refugees from Australian penal colonies were sentenced to public hanging by San Francisco’s Committee of Vigilance. The law-and-order group, whose members were known as Vigilantes, had been founded earlier that year in response to rampant and unprosecuted crime during the Gold Rush era. (Back then, public safety was an uncertain compromise between military rule and the remnants of Spanish and Mexican colonial structure; the Vigilantes stepped in to fill the void.)

The group soon disbanded, but a second committee re-formed in 1856 when law and order seemed to break down again. This revived “people’s court” took on the task of punishing perceived transgressors, and even managed to prosecute and jail a sitting state court justice for attacking one of its militiamen with a bowie knife. Certainly, not everyone supported the rogue organization: William Tecumseh Sherman, who would later gain notoriety as a Union general during the Civil War, opined that the city was “at the mercy of irresponsible masses.”

Nevertheless, with more than 6,000 members, the Vigilantes effectively ran San Francisco for a time, and California’s Gov. J. Neely Johnson was powerless to stop them. But in pioneering the creation and enforcement of novel local policies, the Vigilantes have inspired civil disobedience, militias, and self-help movements nationwide. And of course, this independent spirit is alive and well in present-day San Francisco, which has devised city laws that are sometimes in conflict with national statutes on such issues as gay marriage, gun ownership, and immigration.


Secondary Sources

Local and Municipal Law in Comparative Law

See Also

References and Further Reading

  • An Introduction to Municipal Law,John Norton Pomeroy, Hein Publishing (1997)
  • Interactions between international and municipal law:a comparative case law study. Lambertus Erades,T.M.C. Asser Instituut (1993)
  • Municipal Law. Charles S. Rhyne, National Institute of Municipal Law Officers (1957).
  • Municipal Law Court Decisions, Volumen 42. National Institute of Municipal Law Officers (U.S.) (1990).
  • State Succession in Municipal Law and International Law: Internal relations. Daniel Patrick O’Connell, Cambridge U.P. (1967).
  • The Enforcement of International Law Through Municipal Law in the United States. Quincy Wright, William s Hein & Company (2003).
  • Federal Preemption of State and Local Law: Legislation, Regulation, and Local Law. James T. O’Reilly
  • Reydams, Luc Universal Jurisdiction: International and Municipal Legal Perspectives, Oxford Monographs in International Law, Oxford University Press (2004)
  • Global business, local law: the Indian legal system as a communal resource in Foreign Investment Relations, Amanda Perry-Kessaris
  • Federalism, Regionalism, Local Autonomy and Minorities: Proceedings. Council of Europe
  • The Law of Municipal Corporations. McQuillin, Eugene (West, 1997-).
  • Municipality Liability: Law and Practice (2007-). Fonatana, Vincent.
  • Municipal Ordinances; Text and Forms (West Group,1998-). Matthews, Thomas A.
  • Home Rule in America: a Fifty-State Handbooks. Krane, Dale.

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