City Charter
Characteristics of General Law Cities*
Characteristic General Law City Charter City
Form of Government City council/city manager form of government comprised of a part-time city council and administered by a professional administrator. See Cal. Gov't Code§ 34851. Can provide for any form of government, including mayor/city manager form of government.
City Council Qualifications
  • Registered voter
  • 18 years old
  • Resident of city for 29 days
See Cal. Gov't Code § 36502.
Can establish unique criteria for city office. Established criteria must not be discriminatory and residency requirements must not violate the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution.
Vacancies and Termination of Office Death, resignation, removal for failure to perform official duties, electorate irregularities, absence from meetings without permission, vacancy upon non-retirement. See Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 1770, 36502 and 36514. May establish criteria for vacating and terminating city offices.
Council Member Compensation
  • Salary ceiling set by city population.
  • Voters may approve a higher salary.
  • Reimbursement for actual and necessary expenses incurred in performance of duties.
See Cal. Gov’t Code § 36516.
May establish
  • Salaries
  • Expense reimbursement
  • Benefits
Election of Mayor and City Council
  • Mayor may be elected by the city council or by vote of the people. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 36801;
  • City council members elected by voters.
See Cal. Gov’t Code § 34903.
Charter may establish process for selecting officers.
Term Limits May be imposed. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 36502(b). May provide for term limits.
Legislative Authority Ordinances may not be passed within five days of introduction, unless they are urgency ordinances. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 36934. Ordinances may only be passed at a regular meeting, and must be read in full at time of introduction and passage. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 36934. All ordinances that are not urgent require three affirmative votes. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 36936. May establish method for enactment of local ordinances.
Resolutions May establish rules regarding the procedure to following in adopting, amending or repealing resolutions. May provide for adoption of resolution.
Quorum and Voting Requirements A majority of the city council constitutes a quorum for transaction of business. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 36810. May provide requirements for a quorum.
Rules Governing Procedure & Decorum Brown Act is applicable. See Cal. Gov’t Code §54950. Conflict of interest laws are applicable. See Cal. Gov’t Code §87300, et seq. Brown Act is applicable. Conflict of interest laws are applicable. May provide provisions related to ethics, conflicts, campaign financing and incompatibility of office.
Personnel Matters Civil service system. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 45000 et seq. Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, See Cal. Gov’t Code § 3500 applicable residence requirements for public employees. May establish standards, requirements, and procedures, including compensation, terms and conditions of employment for hiring personnel. Meyers-Milias-Brown Act applicable.
Contracting Services Authority to enter into contracts to carry out necessary functions, including those expressly granted and those implied by necessity. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 37103. Full authority to contract consistent with charter. May transfer some of its functions to the county. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 51330. May designated mode and method of contracting for services or public works.
Public Contracts Competitive bidding required for public works contracts over $5,000. See Cal. Pub. Cont. Code § 20162. Such contracts must be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 53068. If city elects to be subject to uniform construction accounting procedures, less formal procedures may be available for contracts less than $100,000. See Cal. Pub. Cont. Code §§ 22000 et seq. & Cal. Pub. Cont. Code § 22032. Contracts for professional services are not subject to competitive bidding. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 4526. Not required to comply with competitive bidding statutes. May use own forces to negotiate contracts, or other means not authorized in Public Contracts Code.
Payment of Prevailing Wages Generally prevailing wages must be paid on public works projects over $1,000. Exemptions to the above that do not require the payment of prevailing wages include:
  • Public works projects of $25,000 or less involving construction work; or
  • Public works projects of $15,000 or less when work is demolition, repair, alteration or maintenance.
See Cal. Labor Code § 1771, et seq.
Not required to pay prevailing wage as long as project is in realm of municipal affairs, and not projects of state concerns, or funded by state or federal grants.
Elections Municipal elections conducted in accordance with the California Elections Code. See Cal. Elec. Code § 10101 et seq. May establish election dates, rules and procedures. Not bound by state election laws or recall elections, but may adopt the general election law by reference. See Cal. Const. art. XI, § 5(b).
Methods of Elections Generally hold at-large elections whereby voters may vote for any candidate on the ballot. Cities may have district elections. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 34871. May hold at-large or district elections.
Public Funds for Candidates in Municipal Elections Prohibited from expending public funds to fund campaigns for public office. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 5300. Public financing of election campaigns are legal. No prohibition against expending or accepting public monies to seek elective office.
Finance and Taxing Power May impose the same kinds of taxes and assessment as charter cities. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 37100.5. Imposition of taxes and assessments subject to Proposition 218. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 53734; Cal. Const. art. XIIIC, § 2(b). Examples of common forms used in assessment district financing include:
  • Improvement Act of 1911; See Cal. Sts. & High. Code §§ 22500 et seq.
  • Municipal Improvement Act of 1913; See Cal. Sts. & High. Code §§ 10000 et seq.
  • Improvement Bond Act of 1915; See Cal. Sts. & High. Code §§ 8500 et seq.
  • Landscaping and Lighting Act of 1972; See Cal. Sts. & High. Code §§ 22500 et seq.
  • Benefit Assessment Act of 1982; See Cal. Gov’t Code § 54703 et seq.
May impose business license taxes for regulatory purposes, revenue purposes, or both. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 37101. May not impose documentary transfer tax. See Cal. Const. art. XIIIA, § 4; Cal. Gov’t Code § 53725.
Have the power to tax. See Cal. Const. art. XI, § 5. Have broader assessment powers than a general law city, as well as taxation power as determined on a case-by case basis. Imposition of taxes and assessments subject to Proposition 218. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 53734; Cal. Const. art. XIIIC, § 2(b). May enact procedural ordinances for assessment district formation and financing. See J.W. Jones Companies v. City of San Diego, 157 Cal. App. 3d 745, 203 Cal. Rptr. 580 (1984). May impose business license taxes for any purpose unless limited by state and federal constitutions, or charter. See Cal. Const. art. XI, § 5. May impose documentary transfer tax. Does not violate Cal. Const art. XIIIA or Cal. Gov’t Code § 53725.
Streets & Sidewalks State has preempted entire field of traffic control. See Cal. Veh. Code § 21. State has preempted entire field of traffic control. See Cal. Veh. Code § 21.
Penalties & Cost Recovery May impose fines, penalties and forfeitures with a fine not exceeding $1,000. May enact ordinance providing for different penalties. May determine maximum limit for penalties.
Public Utilities/Franchises May establish, purchase, and operate public works to furnish its inhabitants with electric power. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 39732; Cal. Const. art. XI, § 9 (a); Franchise Act of 1937; Cal. Pub. Util. Code §§ 620-6302. May grant franchises to use city streets to persons or corporations seeking to furnish light, water, power, heat, transportation or communication services in the city through a bidding process. See Cal. Pub. Util. Code §§ 6001-6092 (Broughton Act). Alternatively may grant franchises without a bidding process. See Cal. Pub. Util. Code §§ 6201-6302 (Franchise Act of 1937). Sale and distribution of electricity is a municipal affair. May own and operate utilities, water, sewer and energy. Franchise Act of 1937 is not applicable if charter provides. See Stats. 1951, ch. 764, § 6205. May establish conditions and regulations on the granting of franchises to use city streets to persons or corporations seeking to furnish light, water, power, heat, transportation or communication services in the city.
Zoning Zoning ordinances must be consistent with general plan. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 65860. Zoning ordinances are not required to be consistent with general plan.


* Adapted from memorandum written by Elise K. Traynum; Meyers Nave; 7/24/2000.