The Journal of San Diego History
January 1955, Volume 1, Number 1

By Edgar I. Kendall

Article II, Section 4, of the California Constitution of 1849 contained this provision:

“The Legislature shall establish a system of county and town governments
which shall be as nearly uniform as practical, throughout the State.”

The County of San Diego was created by the legislature which convened at San Jose, December 15, 1849. The Act creating the County was adapted February 18, 1850. The County as established included the present counties of San Diego, Riverside, Imperial ad San Bernardino and the easterly portion of Inyo. San Bernardino was transferred to Los Angeles County in 1851, Inyo was formed in 1866, Riverside in 1893, and Imperial in 1907.

The County was at first governed by the Court of Sessions consisting of the County Judge and two Justices of the Peace.

The first Board of Supervisors was elected in 1852 and convened for the first time on February 3, 1853. (Supervisors Minutes Volume, 1, Page 1, Entry 1).

The Constitution of 1849 did not grant to counties the right to enact ordinances, nor did the legislature see fit to grant such power directly to the counties until after the adoption of the Constitution of 1879.

It is not clear whether prior to 1879 counties had the implied power to legislate by the enactment of ordinances. Some of the earlier cases seem to hold that orders of Boards of Supervisors had the force and effect of ordinances. However, the Board of Supervisors of San Diego County did not attempt to exercise that power until 1883. A diligent search of the records of the Board of Supervisors from 1853 to 1883 fails to show anything resembling an ordinance.

The Constitution of 1879, Article XI, Section 11, provided that:

“Any county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local, police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws”; and Article II, Section 4: “The legislature shall establish a system of county governments which shall be uniform throughout the State.”

The power of the Board of Supervisors to enact ordinances was further enlarged as to administrative matters by the County Charter, adopted under the provisions of Section 7 1/2 of Article II, of the Constitution.

From 1883 to 1901 Counties had the power to license most kinds of lawful business for regulation and revenue. In 1901 the Legislature added Section 3366 to the Political Code and thereby deprived counties of the right to license for revenue. County of Plumas vs. Wheeler, 149 Cal. 758.

In 1941 the legislature restored the right to license hawkers and peddlers for revenue as well as for regulation. For many years the Political Code provided a complete scheme for licensing various kinds of businesses by counties and fixed the fees to be charged for such licenses. Gradually the power to license was restored to the Boards of Supervisors and the Business and Professions Code, Sections 16100 to 16103, now vests in such Boards the power to license any kind of business not prohibited by law for the purpose of regulation, and in addition gives them power to license hawkers and peddlers for revenue as well as for regulation.

Most of the licensing ordinances enacted prior to the adoption of the County Charter are obsolete and of doubtful validity due to the many changes in the Codes, and on our recommendation have been repealed by the Board of Supervisors.

Acting under the provisions of the Constitution of 1879 the Legislature adopted the “County Government Act” of 1883. This Act was amended from time to time and incorporated in the Political Code in codified form in 1907 and now has been transferred to the Government Code.

The Act of 1883 provided, and the Government Code now provides, among other things, that Boards of Supervisors shall keep “An Ordinance Book” in which all ordinances adopted by such Boards must be entered.

The Legislature of 1883 also added Section 4045 to the Political Code which authorized Boards of Supervisors in their respective counties to impose a license tax upon various kinds of businesses. Section 27 of the County Government Act of 1883, above referred to, gave Boards of Supervisors power to license for purposes of regulation and revenue all and every kind of business not prohibited by law and transacted or carried on in such county and all shows, exhibitions and lawful games carried on therein; to fix the rate of license tax upon the same, and to provide for the collection of the same by suit or otherwise.

Section 4045 of the Political Code became effective March 13, 1883 and the County Government Act of 1883 became effective the following day.

On May 19, 1883, the Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance No. 1, providing a comprehensive scheme for the licensing of many kinds of businesses in the County. This ordinance was amended several times and finally repealed by ordinance No. 607 (New Series) adopted May 12, 1947. From May 19, 1883 to June 30, 1933, the Supervisors enacted ordinances from No. 1 to No. 374, inclusive. Owing to defective numbering the actual number was 372.

When the County Charter became effective July 1, 1933, a new system of numbering was adopted starting with “No 1 (New Series).” Between July 1, 1933 and December 31, 1954, there were more than 1400 ordinances adopted.