CERRITOS — Signatures are being gathered throughout the city to place a measure on the November ballot that could become the hottest political issue here since the early 1970s.
The proposed amendment to the city Charter would prohibit council members from serving more than two consecutive four-year terms.
Proponents of the measure last week asked the City Council to put the Charter amendment on the ballot itself, thus saving its sponsors the trouble of going door-to-door for roughly 2,300 signatures that are needed to qualify the measure for the November general election ballot. But the council refused, prompting supporters of the two-term limit to begin circulating petitions over the holiday weekend.
The deadline for gathering the signatures is June 7, according to Chris Fuentes, organizer of a group called Active Citizens Together.
Supporters say the measure would ensure a continuous infusion of new ideas and enthusiasm into city government and lessen the power of incumbency that they claim is a big advantage in raising money and votes at election time.
Refusal Not Surprising
Four of the five current council members oppose limiting council terms, so it came as no surprise when the council decided not to place the measure directly on the ballot.
Councilwoman Diana Needham said any move by the council to put the measure on the ballot might be construed as an "endorsement" or "tacit approval" of the two-term limit.
The aim of this measure, she said, is misguided. If approved by voters, Needham said, it would "weaken the electoral process" by limiting the number and types of candidates who can run for office.
"A person does not necessarily lose their effectiveness simply because they've served two terms," Needham said.
The three-term councilwoman also said that some of the leaders of the two-term movement are former council candidates who are "looking for another way into City Hall." Four of the more visible supporters of the measure--George Medina, Leora Einson, Angel Soto and Margurette Nicholson--have been unsuccessful council candidates in recent years.
To persuade council members to put the measure on the ballot, Fuentes urged them to follow the example set by the City of Irvine. In February, the Irvine council voted unanimously to put a similar limit of two consecutive council terms before the voters on next month's ballot.
"The action that Irvine has taken is more a reaffirmation of every voter's rights to self-determination than a stand for or against the issue itself," Fuentes told the council at its May 22 meeting. "The citizens of Cerritos deserve no less."
Only newly elected Councilwoman Ann Joynt favored council action to put the measure on the ballot.
Throughout her successful spring campaign, Joynt expressed strong support for the two-term measure, which does allow council members a chance to run again for office after a two-year break. At last week's council meeting, Joynt praised those behind the measure, calling the process a "healthy movement within the city."
If the measure reaches the ballot, the campaign could turn out to be one of the liveliest--and most expensive--since homeowners took control of the council from the city's founders, the dairymen, in the early 1970s.
Privately, several council members, including Councilman Daniel Wong, have pledged to raise several thousand dollars to defeat the measure.
Wong and Mayor Don Knabe stand to lose the most if a two-term limit is adopted because both are midway through their second terms and both have expressed intentions of running for third terms in April, 1988.
Even Needham, who a month ago said she would only speak out against the measure, now says she will take "an active role" in helping defeat the measure, including possible fund-raising efforts.
If passed, Cerritos would become the 17th charter city in the state to adopt such a restriction, according to the California League of Cities. Of the 441 municipalities in California, 82 are charter cities.