Local Agency Powers and Limitations in California

With the latest challenges across the US with regards to protests about the police behavior, we review the authority and limitations of local government. Local government agencies in California have powers granted to them in the state constitution, but they are also limited by a number of factors.

What is the authority of counties and cities?

Counties and cities are “general purpose governments,” meaning their authority is directly derived from the California Constitution. The constitution grants them the authority to make and enforce laws within their limits, or incorporated areas, and to regulate and protect public health, safety and welfare. This is often called the “police power.”

According to the Institute for Local Government, special districts are subject to state law, and draw their authorities from a statute authorizing the creation of the district. The do not have police power, unless it is specifically granted to the district by the state legislature. 

What happens if there are conflicts with federal and state laws? 

Restrictions on county or city’s authority may come if their actions are in conflict with federal or state laws. “Preemption” refers to the right of federal or state law to preempt the ability of local officials to legislate in certain areas. Local officials’ actions must always be in compliance with the US Constitution and all federal law.

Conflict between federal lay and local agencies may arise in a number of issues. Frequently, there is conflict over the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The California Constitution also has declarations of right and other provisions that may limit the actions of local governments.

For more information on the powers and limitations of local governments in California, contact our Coachella Valley public law attorney.