Can the City Place Residency Requirements for Councilmembers Running for Council in Their Respective Districts?

Yes, but only residency requirements for 30 days. Legal residence is defined as physical presence combined with an intent to remain.[1] Durational residency requirements imposed as a precondition to candidacy for public policy have been found to implicate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, specifically the fundamental rights to vote and to travel. Five-year, three-year, two-year, and even one-year durational residency requirements have been struck down as a denial of equal protection of the laws, even for charter cities.[2] The California Supreme Court has stated that an entity may constitutionally require that the prospective candidate be a resident at the time that they file their nominating papers and for a period of not more than 30 days preceding their filing date.[3] It is not believed that anything in the Petaluma City Charter currently restricts Council from including in the district elections ordinance a durational requirement that prospective candidates must reside in their district as a precondition to run for City Council in their district; however anything beyond 30-days preceding when the candidate filed their election papers would likely be found unconstitutional.

It should be noted that an elected City Council member who moves their residence outside their district from which they were elected, immediately vacates their office.[4] As part of the ordinance that determines the district boundaries, City Council will also determine the sequential timing of when each district will be elected. For instance, in the first election the even numbered districts will be up for election and in the following election the odd numbered districts.

[1] Government Code Section 244

[2] See Smith v Evans (1974) 42 Cal. App. 3d 154, where the city of Chico’s one year residency requirement for City Council members charter provision was struck down as unconstitutional and a violation of equal protection.

[3] Thompson v. Mellon (1973) 9 Cal. 3d 96

[4] Government Code Section 34882

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