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Santa Monica Voters to Decide Term Limits for Council in November


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July 5, 2018 -- Santa Monica voters will decide in November whether to limit the length of time members can serve on the City Council, which has seen only two incumbents defeated in the past 24 years.

Measure TL, which was certified by the City Clerk Thursday morning, would amend the City Charter to limit each of the council’s seven members to three terms ("Proposed Ballot Measure Calls for Term Limits for Santa Monica Council Members," February 1, 2018).

The measure would become effective after the November election, which includes two incumbents, Pam O’Connor and Kevin McKeown, who have served 24 and 20 years on the Council respectively. Both oppose term limits.

Council member Sue Himmelrich, who is seeking a second term on November 6, co-sponsored the measure with The Santa Monica Transparency Project, a local government watchdog group.

“Term Limits will allow fresh perspectives and new ideas in our City government,” said Mary Marlow, who chairs of The Transparency Project. “We have a situation now where incumbents almost automatically get re-elected for decades.

"They are frequently backed by wealthy special interests with business before the Council who pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into each election cycle,” Marlow said.

When they choose to run for reelection, incumbents in Santa Monica almost always win.

Mike Feinstein in 2004 was the last incumbent not to succeed on Election Day. The last incumbent to lose prior to Feinstein was Councilmember Tony Vazquez in 1994. He returned to the council in 2012.

Two current Council members were appointed to fill vacancies created when longtime Council members died in office.

Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis joined the Council after Herb Katz died in January 2009 two months after being elected to a fifth four-year term ("Davis Picked to Fill Katz’s Seat," February 25, 2009).

Terry O'Day was appointed the following year after Ken Genser died during his 22nd year on the Council ("O'Day Picked for Vacant Council Seat," February 24, 2010).

Measure TL is not the first time Santa Monica voters will be asked to weigh in on term limits.

In 2002, voters rejected a measure that, among other things, would have limited Council members to two consecutive four-year terms.

In addition, the sweeping measure would have created a new position of an elected mayor and established by-district voting for council members, instead of the current at-large voting system.

Marlow has said it is hard to gauge the support for term limits in the 2002 measure since the provision was "lost somewhat in scuffle.”

But she believes the time for term limits has come ("Supporters Hope Term Limits for Santa Monica Council is Idea 'Whose Time Has Come,'" February 7, 2018)..

It is not an opinion widely shared by current council members.

When Councilmember Bob Holbrook stepped down in 2014 after 24 years in office, the Lookout asked Council candidates if Santa Monica should enact term limits ("Most City Council Candidates Oppose Term Limits," October 15, 2014).

"We do have term limits, called elections," McKeown said. "In the end, I trust in engaged, participatory democracy as the best 'term limit' mechanism for Santa Monica."

O'Connor also argued that term limits are unnecessary, noting that in 2014 the Council was "balanced with people with institutional memory along with new voices."

Sue Himmelrich was the only Councilmember elected who favored term limits.

"The absence of term limits," Himmelrich said, "is reflected in the votes of purported progressive council members who lean over time towards outside special interest groups.

"I hereby pledge that if I am elected, I will not seek a third term. Ever."


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