Is the Issuance of a City Use Permit Referable? Not When It Is an Administrative Act

January 10, 2018
Adam E. Lang - Real Estate Litigation Blog

Arizona’s Constitution gives electors in cities, towns, and counties the ability to refer legislation that was enacted by their local elected officials to the ballot for popular vote. Ariz. Const. art. IV, Pt. 1 § 1(8). But only legislative acts are referable; administrative acts are not. In general, a legislative act makes new law and creates policy, is permanent in nature, and is generally applied. On the other hand, an administrative act is one that executes and implements a law already in place. Wennerstrom v. City of Mesa, 169 Ariz. 485, 489-90, 821 P.2d 146, 150-51 (1991).

For more than fifty years, Arizona courts have been clear: zoning and rezoning ordinances are legislative acts and therefore referable to popular vote. City of Phoenix v. Fehlner, 90 Ariz. 13, 17, 363 P.2d 607, 609 (1961) (holding that “what constitutes an appropriate zone is primarily for the legislature”); Fritz v. City of Kingman, 191 Ariz 432, 432, 957 P.2d 337, 337 (1998) (noting “we reaffirm our view that zoning decisions are legislative matters subject to referendum”); Pioneer Trust Co. of Arizona v. Pima Cty., 168 Ariz. 61, 64–65, 811 P.2d 22, 25–26 (1991) (holding “that, in Arizona, zoning decisions are legislative acts subject to referendum” and that even a “conditional approval of . . . rezoning was a legislative act”); Cottonwood Dev. v. Foothills Area Coal. of Tucson, Inc., 134 Ariz. 46, 653 P.2d 694 (1982) (analyzing whether zoning referendum complied with statutory requirements); Wait v. City of Scottsdale, 127 Ariz. 107, 108, 618 P.2d 601, 602 (1980) (noting “that the enactment and amendment of zoning ordinances constitute legislative action”); City of Phoenix v. Oglesby, 112 Ariz. 64, 65, 537 P.2d 934, 935 (1975) (“The matter of zoning is appropriately one for the legislative branch of government.”); Queen Creek Land & Cattle Corp. v. Yavapai Cty. Bd. of Sup’rs, 108 Ariz. 449, 452, 501 P.2d 391, 394 (1972) (denying an attempt to enjoin referendum on county’s zoning decision).

Mr. Lang may be contacted at


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